Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Road Trip: Idaho

Even though central Idaho's not really on the direct road to anywhere, I've broken up all of my preceding 6 cross-country roadtrips with a deliberate and prolonged pit stop in my native land. Since I left just over 10 years ago, I have found that nothing really recharges my batteries better than a visit to the central-Idaho Rockies in and around Sun Valley.

We pulled in late the day of the drive across Nevada and were treated to a lasting day in the Northern Rockies . Idaho, by dint of being in the northwest corner of the Mountain Time Zone, has extremely late evenings in the summertime, with ample light available until well after 10pm around the solstice.

Being before the 4th of July, the tourist seas
on hadn't quite kicked in and we basically had the place to oursleves. Plus which, the spring had been kind to the land with mild temperatures and more rain than the area typically sees. June, it would later turn out, was a record-setting month for Sun Valley with over 5.5 inches of rain, and we caught the margin between the bad and the good weather. The land was lush and green and the streams flowed fully.

Daily hikes from mellow (Adam's Gulch) to grueling (Pioneer Cabin via Corral Creek) were the order of the day and provided the full range of nature experiences, including the death defying when a surprise thunderstorm chased us down
hill from a 9000' ridge with uncomfortably close lighting strikes, crashing thunder, cold wind and pelting hail stones the size of grapes.

Summit Creek was perhaps the ideal blend of wild, high scenery and good weather. We got a late start, leaving Sun Valley around 4pm, which is insane if you know anything about mountain weather. But we got lucky and enjoyed blue-bird skies into the mid-evening and were the only people exploring a lush alpine valley with extensive beaver dams and excellent views of the northern end of the Pioneer range. The terrain was a little muddy in places, after the wet spring, and we were surprised by a lot of snow still clinging in the shadier parts of the trail. But all in all this is a great hike, with a gentle uphill and a great payoff for the effort.

On the way back down we surprised a cow moose who'd been grazing in the willows. She crashed out of the creek bottom like a freight train and headed up the opposite side of the ravine, stopping after about 50 yards and looking back to check us out.

1 comment:

  1. LABOR DAY, September 7th, we took your suggestion and made the Summit Creek hike the centerpiece of the day. You are absolutely right....the payoff is worth the last mile grunt to 9,500 feet! Rounding the final ridge, the dramatic Devil's Bedstead instantly fills your spirits, and resets your heart rate. The pacific, tarnless cirque beckons and raises your desire into conflict with flagging limbs over the prospect of the immense beauty that lies just above its rim another 1000 feet up the other side. The argument conceded by a check of our time schedule, we nestled down in the blue, yellow and purple wildflower meadow to eat a little lunch which, within this panorama, seemed to be full of new flavors drawn from nature.
    My indispensable and omnipresent iPhone met its match on this trip as the shortcomings of its camera were instantly revealed against the immensity and beauty of this place.....closeups, yes, it's still in the game, but one needs a camera that can capture the tableaux encountered all along this hike.
    The beaver have been busier since you were here....the trail has some new detours around their newly engineered water control systems and drainages.
    And those early summer rains you mention have provided an explosion of color throughout these magnificent mountains....everywhere....and, knock on wood, we have not seen any significant fires.
    After watching the "60 Minutes" story last week of the devastating fires of '07, we reprised some of our observations from hikes into the burned forests this summer. The amazing regeneration process in these forests reminded me of nature battling its way into its natural state following Mt St Helens' complete redrawing of the landscape in 1981. On several hikes, and depending on exposure, proximity to water, and other factors, we could readily mark the process as its stages were evident from the soil, to the mushrooms and wild flowers. On Fox Creek, just north of Sun Valley, the charred mountaintop became an unbroken 4-5 Acre sea of bright pink, waist high hollyhocks. Amidst the dramatic, charred spikes of burned mountain fir and aspen, it was as if one was taken on a colorful carpet ride to another place on earth, or one could expect to run into Dorothy and friends in this colorful field just near the Emerald City. Truly otherworldly and unforgettable. Again, the iPhone failed to begin to be satisfactorily so we returned two more times with our Nikon to take care of the big-boy photography.
    Next year, with other weather and a landscape further changed by the regeneration process, there is no guarantee we will find this unique wonderland again....but we'll be back to try. And we do rest assured that Mother will have something special for us...regardless.

    Phil and Barbara