Here it is nearly the middle of October and I have yet to complete reporting on the road trip the lovely wife and I took this past August. One of these days I am going to take some time and get organized but perhaps that task is best saved for another day.
If you have always wanted to see majestic mountains and your were unsure where to visit, make a trip to Idaho. No mater where you travel in the state, the mountains are nearby. To me, Idaho is all about the mountains.
Just ten miles northeast of Boise taken in the early morning when the light is soft and sweet
Even a road trip to Idaho requires an intended destination and for this portion of the journey, our mission was to visit Lowman. Lowman could best be describes as being in the middle of no where. Despite being only seventy miles from Boise, the drive will take you about two hours as you wind your way up the mountains. Lowman is situated in the heart of the Boise National Forest and was my first duty station as a young forester. Thirty-five years had pasted since I was last there so a return visit was long over due.
Highway 21 connects Boise and Lowman and even crazy people seldom drive over 35 miles per hour
On the day of our journey, we left Boise in the early morning hours so as to have sufficient time to enjoy the sights along the way. When I left Lowman in late November of 1976, I carried all my worldly possessions in the back seat of my VW bug. I also had a lot more hair and my beard was definitely not gray! I was excited to see how Lowman had changed over the past thirty-five years. As the road descended into the South Fork of the Payette River valley, I spotted the roadside pull off once known as the Lowman Overlook. At first I was confused because Lowman was no where to be seen, but then it hit me, the trees had grown and obscured the view of the valley below. Yes, even in Idaho given 35 years, the trees will grow taller unless they are reduced to ash by a forest fire.
When I departed Lowman in 1976, the resident population was maybe 12, the 2010 census places the population at 42. When I lived there, the heart and soul of the town unquestionably was the South Fork Lodge. It was a combination summer motel, gas station, general store, post office, and restaurant. The South Fork, as it was known had it all and if they didn’t, your choices were to drive back to Boise or live without it. The second choice was frequently made by many a young forester.
The old South Fork Lodge was destroyed by fire several years ago and the new building, in my opinion, is lacking in character. Perhaps I’m indulging in a little nostalgia but the old lodge had charm in a 1950s sort of way. Due to the elevation, even in the summer, the evening temperatures were on the brisk side so venues for indoor recreation were always a high priority. I remember spending one evening in September of 1976 watching the Ford – Carter presidential debate. It wasn’t that any of us were especially interested in presidential politics, it’s just that the only television in Lowman happened to be in the lobby of the South Fork Lodge. The reception on the black and white television was nearly nonexistent but it beat the alternatives.
Sadly all that remains of the old South Fork Lodge is the service station’s office
Present day Lowman as seen looking south across the South Fork of the Payette River
In the 1970s, living in Lowman you often felt isolated and disconnected from the rest of society. I suppose that since we only received mail twice a week and the nearest telephone was thirty-five miles away might have contributed to that state of mind. Today, things have changed on the communication front as I noticed an exterior community mail box and a public pay phone. I didn’t try my cell phone but given the mountainous terrain and the small population, cell service is likely nonexistent.
This pay phone and mail boxes are the new “heart of Lowman”
In July of 1989 a massive fire burned in and around much of Lowman altering the landscape. Even as a forester who once worked on fires I was somewhat taken back by the level of damage. I just had to remind myself that the fire was but one event in the very long life of the forest. Despite the damage, the area still offers the unsurpassed beauty I remembered.
Steep rocky slopes with huge Ponderosa pines reaching for the sky
A close look at the Ponderosa pine that inhabit the lower elevations
As you continue driving north and east of Lowman along Highway 21, you will eventually end up in the community of Stanley, AKA as the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains. Stanley sits at just over 6,200 feet in elevation so it’s not unusual for even a summer evening to dip into the thirties. Winter temperatures can be brutal; it’s not unusual for Stanley to have the lowest recorded temperature in the lower forty-eight states. If you ever plan to go to Stanley, do not forget to bring a warm coat. Judging by the number of people I saw in town talking on cell phones, it must be the first service opportunity for many miles. I just wanted to scream “drop you phones and enjoy the mountains!”
The main street of Stanley with the Sawtooth Mountain looming in the distance
The Sawtooth Mountains looking across Little Red Fish Lake
From Stanley we continued our drive south with plans for spending the night in Ketchum. The highway slowly climbs until reaching Galena Summit, the elevation is just a few feet over 8,700 feet. The views from the Galena Overlook are second to none.
The view from Galena Overlook looking north with the headwaters of the Salmon River in center of the image
After a long day, we arrived in Ketchum late in the afternoon and were fortunate to get the last room available. Ketchum and adjacent Sun Valley are noted for their world class skiing so who would have thought they would be so busy in the dead of summer. As it turns out, the area is a mecca for summer recreational activities such as golf, mountain biking, and white water rafting.
Our room was in the resort that overlooked the ski area
The following morning we once again headed south and east back into Idaho’s lowlands and the part of the state through which the Oregon Trail once passed. Our destination for the day was a visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument. The details and photos will be the subject of my next post.