August 07, 2010

Summer Road Trip - Stanley, Idaho

I am still lying in my bed in the Eurovan when I hear Rose say softly, from the top bunk, "I don't think I am going to hike today. I think I am going to relax by the lake, maybe swim and read. But if you want to go on your hike, I hope you still go."  I am relieved. Not relieved that Rose is not going or that I want some time to myself, but I am relieved she is doing and saying what she wants and does not feel obligated to accompany me on the hike.
After some cereal and tea I set about prepping for my day hike in the mountains and Rose starts her detailed pasta sauce clean up in the van. I feel a little bad that I am not doing more to help her, but it is hard to have two people in that small space. Since we have been staying up late, we have also been getting up late. Its after noon before I leave the campground. I drive back down highway 75 north toward the small town of Stanley. I have not yet seen this countryside directly outside Stanley in the daylight.
Stanely. Stanley, Idaho. Oh, I am... speechless.
There is no way to adequately, accurately describe Stanley. Words, photographs, even film, could never explain this place or give you a sense of it. It is not just a place, it is an experience. To know it, you must be part of it, to be in Stanley, to absorb all of it, occupying all the senses, even those senses beyond the five we know. I can not know how someone can come here and not be awestruck. But since you are not in Stanley and maybe have never been, I will attempt to describe my time there with some photographs and with words I might manage to find.
The river along Highway 75
Stanley. Stanley, Idaho. Where was I? Oh yes, I was driving north on highway 75, four miles south of town...
About one mile south of Stanley, on highway 75, the rolling green mountains dotted with pine trees are on my right. The Sawtooth Mountains, tucked behind pine forests are on my left. I stop at a pullout to gaze in awe at a wide, shallow river flowing between the road and a green pasture along the hills.
Downtown Stanley
I turn left onto Highway 21, right on the edge of Stanley. Stanley's population is about 100 people, that is, permanent population. I guess quite a few people only live in Stanley in the summer. Stanley has no traffic lights and a few stop signs. Highway 21 goes right through Stanley with a few buildings on either side. Turning left onto a very wide, dirt road and then a quick right at the stop sign will bring you to downtown Stanley, another wide dirt road with a scattering of shops and restaurants on either side. Stanley is two blocks deep and behind it, green pastures stretch out flat to the Sawtooth mountains to the south. To the north, the river and a few houses reach toward the rolling mountains.
View just outside of Stanley, looking south
View just outside of Stanley, looking north
I drive downtown and pull into a parking spot in front of the Stanley Baking Co. to get some coffee. The end of the road ends at a gate with a road extending beyond it into a field. I order my coffee and chat with the cashier, she is a young woman who is cheerful and lives in Stanley in the summer. I find that people here are nice, they wave to every car they pass on the road and say hello if you happen to pass them while walking. My coffee is really good and I get back in my car to drive towards the trailhead of my planned day hike.
My planned hike is the Iron Creek trail to Sawtooth Lake, a very ambitious day hike, especially for someone getting such a late start, but I am here to do this hike. I drive the three miles outside of Stanley on Highway 21 until I reach the Iron Creek road, a rocky, pot-hold filled gravel and dirt road. It heads up at a slight incline and I drive slow so I don't get a flat tire. As I round a bend a large animal is in the road and it moves into the field and behind a very broken fence. It is an Elk, I think. It almost looks slender and graceful enough to be a deer, not stocky like I would expect for an elk. I stop my car and watch the herd graze and slowly make there way across the pasture. The seem mildly interested in me and look up occasionally from their grazing to check out what I am doing.
The road to the trailhead
After a bit, I continue up the road passing another dirt road turn and then a tiny campground full of trailers and tents. I enter a forest and round the bend only to find several utility trucks and a huge backhoe digging and working on the dirt road. The have a small, feeble, wooden barrier up with a sign saying "Men Working". The left side of the road seems to be completely blocked. Some of the men glance up at me and then continue their work. I immediately do a many-pointed turn to turn around and head back down the road I came up.
Field of cows and the Sawtooth Mountains
My feeling is panicked, bitter disappointment. Disappointment, because I had driven two days to do this hike. Bitter, because it looked like they had just started working today, so if I had gotten there earlier in the day I might have gotten through. Panicked, because my bitterness and especially my disappointment were so overwhelming that I could barely handle it. By panicking, I put a lid on the other two feelings, clamping them down, containing them, hiding them away by not feeling or dealing with them. This has been my pattern in life. In bitterness, I always blame myself. I could have been smarter, stronger, harder working, more prepared. In disappointment, maybe my greatest fear, then I have to admit that I do have feelings, even though they may be packed and hidden away, because if you don't care you won't be disappointed. In admitting disappointment, not only do I have a feeling but also a expectation, a need, a desire that went unfulfilled. It is so hard for me to allow myself to want something, that I often only allow myself to want something guaranteed, not take risks. Maybe this is not what I seem like to some people, maybe it is, but this feels like truth, internally, for me.
My car alongside Highway 21
I proceed to yell at myself, for having such high expectations, for not being more flexible, for not being able to let go of my negativity and change my course. I yell at myself for being so negative where, just ten minutes before, I was awestruck by the beauty of this place. It is still beautiful, that has not changed. I yell at myself for fleeing from the scene so quickly, for not inquiring whether I could somehow pass through, since there had been no "Road Closed" sign. I drive back to the scene and I notice, this time, that there now is a sign indicating the road is closed and, from the looks of it, it does not look like a car could pass through at all. I feel better. There is nothing I can do. The road is closed, I will not get to the trailhead. I accept this and my disappointment starts to fade, although not right away and not quickly, but it does fade.
A view of Stanley, looking east from Highway 21
I head back to town to go to the tourist office to inquire about another hike. At the tourist office an older man with a thick southern accent is talking to another guy. When they are done I express my awe and speechlessness of the beauty of the place and ask him about a four hour hike. We chat a bit about how he came to be in Stanley. He lives outside Birmingham and discovered, with a friend, whitewater rafting later in life. Then his friend somehow heard about the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, supposedly the best whitewater rafting in the country. They came to Stanley to do the week long rafting trip and feel in love with the area. Now, he comes up to Stanley every other summer. I can tell he appreciates my appreciation of the place, as maybe being the same as he felt, when he first came here, years ago. He sizes me up. Youngish woman, in relatively good shape, experienced hiker, but she is alone. He suggests the Bridalveil Falls trail and assures me that there will be other people on the trail, although this had not been a requirement of mine. But I take his suggestion, the maps and his help with gratitude and head back out of Stanley.
The marshy area alongside the trail
I drive to Stanley Lake, about five miles out of town. It is a beautiful lake with lots of campers. I park and walk down the dirt road toward the trailhead. I pass a marshy area and then come to the lake, another beautiful mountain lake. I gaze at the lake for a few minutes, then continue on the trail for Bridalveil Falls. The trail leads me through a meadow alongside a creek and then into a lodgepole forest. It alternates like this, back and forth throughout the trail. Sometimes it heads up and gets a bit rocky. The open areas are scattered with wildflowers. I cross the shallow creek by walking across the thin trunks of fallen and washed away trees. The bank along the creek gets steeper and steeper. I come across a threesome with overnight backpacks, a father and his two young sons, who both look under twelve. We chat a bit about how much further the falls are and he offers me some mosquito spray, since they are getting quite bad. He was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hayward, but did not say where he was raised. He lives in Boise now, where his wife is from. This is his first time coming to this area, to Stanley. After our chat I continue ahead of them and see a small wooden sign, nailed to a tree, with an arrow pointing toward the right for Bridalveil Falls.
Overall, the trail had been pleasant, although not spectacular. While I hiked I went back and forth between admiring my surroundings and concentrating on my posture while walking. Sometimes, my mind wandered. I love hiking because you are moving outdoors. I like movement, I think it soothes my mind, it pulls everything together and focus becomes easier. I like the outdoors because it is refreshing and rejuvenating and nourishing. I like the smells in the air and the earth under my feet. I like to be amongst other living things, plants and trees, but also a habitat, an environment, it has a life of its own, maybe like decorating a living room, interior design, it is nature's "exterior" design and it is wonderful.
The trail seems to end at the creek again, which is wide and shallow and salmon colored. I wonder if this is how it got its name, not from the fish, since it seems impossible that they could exist here, but from the color of the rocks. I am hungry, so I sit right at the water's edge and eat some dried fruit and buffalo jerky that I brought with me. The father and his boys appear and ask me if I found a good place to cross. No I hadn't, maybe I would turn around here and go back, I tell them. Then two men, maybe in their late thirties, appear and also look for a place to cross. There are six of us, a temporary community of hikers, trying to solve the problem on how to cross the creek.
I take my shoes and socks off and carefully cross. I head uphill toward the sound of the falls, but the trail gets vague. I see the two men coming back down the trail and I ask them if they saw the falls. They said no, the trail got thick and hairy, and looked like there was a lot of poison oak, so they turned around. We chat for a while. One of them is from Minneapolis and one is from Chicago. The guy from Chicago is quieter and seems nice. The one from Minneapolis does more talking, asks questions and then interrupts my answers, he must be too busy listening to himself. I had already decided I did not need to see the falls, I wanted just to hike and I was satisfied. It was getting late in the day and the sun looked close to dipping behind the tall, jagged peak of the Sawtooths, so I decide to turn around. The two men get ahead of me as I stop to photograph a patch of wildflowers. I do this several times on my way back, since the light is getting slanted in the sky and is catching nicely on the wildflowers.
While crouched quietly in the forest, changing the settings and focus on my camera, I become nearly silent. I am no longer moving through the forest, but the forest moves around me. I hear the animals, the insects, the breeze. The air becomes more fragrant and the surroundings more focused. You are no longer an intruder, a visitor, you are part of it and it is part of you.
A mountain meadow along the trail, late in the day
I am getting a bit anxious since I told Rose I would be back around the same time that we got back yesterday. The sun is dipping quickly and I don't want her to worry, although I don't know if she is the worrying type. I start to job along the flat straightaways and downhill, holding my camera against my body so it doesn't bounce. I think about how completely dorky I must look, jogging with a camelback and a camera in the woods, but there is no one around, but I still feel dorky anyway. Again, the elevation causes me to be out of breath quickly so I take breaks. I am sweating and out of breath, this is how I like to know a place. If the sun of a place can make you sweat, if you take big gulps of the surrounding air while out in the open nature, then maybe you can know a place like you can't from a car or from sitting still. It becomes part of you. It is calming. It is like discovering new things about yourself, or old things, that you had forgotten.
Stillness and brisk movement. This is how I feel most alive. I like to be still and I like to move quickly and all the places in between are like drinking coffee that is no longer hot, it just resembles what it was supposed to taste like. It drains me, the in-between.
Stanley Lake
I arrive back at my car and head back toward the main road. I stop along Stanley Lake and take a few pictures. Back in Stanley, I pull off on the side of the road to call Paul, where I know I will have cell phone reception. I miss him. I am grateful for our talks, reconnecting, even if just for a short time. Back at camp Rose has started making dinner. I start a fire and we eat stir fry and roast some hot dogs over the campfire. We talk again and share what we each did that day. It sounds like she had a nice day and I am glad. It was nice to go off by myself for a several hours and what makes it nicer is, at the end of it, to have some good company. Later, we make S'mores with dark chocolate and then go to bed early, early for us, that is. Tomorrow we leave. I drive to Salt Lake City and Rose drives back to Bend, Oregon. It was really nice to hang out with Rose, to get to know her better, to have someone else get to know me. I fall asleep feeling thankful.
A view from Stanley, looking north.


  1. Sounds like an adventure I would have liked to experience. I wish I could come with you some day.