Our second morning in Sun Valley we got up before the butt-crack of dawn and headed to Galena Summit. Our goal? Two-fold: sunrise and a day trip in the Sawtooth National Forest. You’ve heard of Sawtooth. Looks something like this:
Yeah. For real.
We drove to the summit in silence. It was dark. It was early. We arrived. Not much of a sunrise. We think we weren’t in quite the right spot. These things happen.
The view was actually more impressive after cresting the summit and heading down the other side when the Sawtooth Valley opened up before us. We stopped at a pullover. Actually, we stopped at a lot of pullovers that day. And non-pullovers. And sometimes we idled in the middle of the road. Good thing it was off-season. Before us lay the valley, still shaded. We watched as the sun slowly began climbing down the hills surrounding it. Aspen were scattered about in clusters, most just starting to turn.
The road curved gently down into the valley. Next stop, Alturas Lake, which I shared about last week. Before reaching the turnoff I spotted dots on a hillside that turned out to be pronghorn antelope. That was exciting. We had hoped to see some and there they were, though quite far away. I knew that neither my 50mm nor 70-200 lens would be able to capture them at that distance, so we decided to walk up a gravel road to get a bit closer. We knew our chances were slim as they’re known for having excellent hearing. Sure enough, the minute we stepped off the paved road onto gravel the signal went out amongst them and they scattered into the trees. Foiled by antelope.
After leaving the shores of Alturas Lake we headed down the road to Redfish lake. It was named for the sockeye salmon that once returned from the Pacific Ocean in such huge quantities during spawning season that the lake shimmered red.
While Redfish lake was beautiful, and allowed for some stunning photos, we found it a bit too developed for our taste. Not in the sense of condos or anything, but there was a small lodge with cabins scattered along one part of the shore and boat launches and parks and campgrounds around another part of the shore. While peaceful in the off-season I would imagine that it bustles during the summer, which would, in my opinion, distract from the beauty of the area.
On our way back to the main road we stopped by Little Redfish lake and captured some stunning photos of the Sawtooth range reflecting in the calm waters. Absolutely no complaints about that.
Let’s have a little history lesson: the first people that used the lands that now make up the Sawtooth National Forest occupied the area between 8000-7000 BC. After 1700 BC the Shoshone lived in small bands in the northern end of the forest.
Trappers and explorers arrived in southern Idaho by the early 19th century and by 1849 immigrant trails were established through the southern end of the forest. Mining in Idaho started in the early 1860’s and peaked in the 1880’s. Cattle and sheep grazing was the primary large-scale land use on the forest for much of the 20th century. The Sawtooth National Forest was established in 1905 by President Roosevelt.
The Sawtooth National Forest covers 2.1 million acres. It has two distinct geographic units separated by the Snake River Plain–Idaho’s “potato belt.” South of the Snake River Plain, the forest is part of the basin and range geologic province of western Utah, Nevada and southeastern Idaho. The climate in that area is desert-like.
Two-thirds of the forest lies north of the Snake River Plain. This area includes the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which is where we visited. Contained within its 756,000 acres are most of four mountain ranges (Sawtooth, Smoky, Boulder and White Cloud, the headwaters of four major rivers (Payette, Salmon, Boise, and Big Wood), hundreds of alpine lakes, over 1000 miles of streams and at least 50 peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation. Repeat after me: breathtaking. You’ve heard the saying, “God’s Country”? This is it.
After leaving Redfish Lake we headed to Stanley, ID. Stanley, touted as an “Old West” community, has the dubious honor of experiencing, on average, frost 290 mornings a year. It reaches 0 degrees fahrenheit 60 nights a year. The average low in January? -1.7. Average high in January? 25.8. Where will I never live? Stanley, ID. But, you can’t beat our lunch view from a park just above town:
After lunch we headed on up the road, which followed the Salmon River, to our turn-around spot at Sunbeam Dam. There is a remnants of a dam there, which was rather cool. The husband said he remembered hearing that the dam was built by sheepherders in the area who then became embroiled in some sort of land dispute with cattle herders in the area…or maybe it was the other way around…and that one (or the other) blew up the dam. He was somewhat disappointed to read a historical marker at the site which informed us that the dam was originally built by a gold mining company to provide power for their mill 13 miles up the Yankee River. The mine eventually closed, the dam fell into disrepair and, in 1934, Idaho Fish & Game contracted to have the dam partially blown up to allow for easier fish passage.
Our last stop for the day (well, except for more of those pull outs that were required on our return trip) was the Sunbeam hot springs. The spring runs down a hillside into the river below and looked absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, due to poor planning on our part, we didn’t bring bathing suits or any other suitable clothing…and birthday suits were not encouraged as the pools sat just below the main highway. Yes, it was a quiet September day…but not that quiet (though it would have made for a good story: “And that’s how we got kicked out of the Sawtooth National Forest.”)
It will be a day that I will remember for a very long time. A stunner. A+++.