Western road trip 4: Idaho, Wyoming

Kayak-view of Squaretop Mountain from lower Green River Lake in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Holy crap. It’s been more than six months since my summer road trip and I’m finally getting around to my post on the last leg — from Ketchum, Ida. to the Wind Rivers and Jackson, Wyo. Right now this area is under a ton of snow, but we experienced everything from record-breaking heat to thunderstorms, double rainbows and bluebird skies, along with superb kayaking, great food and not-so-great fishing.

TetonsFor those not keeping track, I took a month-long West Coast/interior mountains road trip in late June and early July and chronicled the California and Oregon coasts in Road trip part 1 and part 2, and Portland and the Columbia River Gorge area in part 3.


I would’ve posted something sooner, but a certain equine has been monopolizing my time lately. No complaints tho. Flash, Gelding Azteca of SoCal (not exactly Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, but close) has been a barrel of fun

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That’s him at right…in California, not Idaho or Wyoming…but somehow I think he’d feel right at home on a Sawtooth Mountains ranch.

Speaking of the Sawtooths, these central Idaho mountains reminded us so much of our beloved home range of the Sierra Nevada that we trekked about 45 minutes there every day during our week-long stay in Ketchum.

View of Sawtooth Valley between Ketchum and Stanley.
View of Sawtooth Valley between Ketchum and Stanley.

Yeah, we got real familiar with Highway 75, which stretches about 60 miles between Ketchum and Stanley — a smidge of a town that has got to be in the most spectacular setting in the country (be sure to check out Stanley Baking Company’s amazing oatmeal pancakes). With mountains on both sides and the Salmon River winding along its length, the scenic byway is stunning pretty much the whole time and simply jaw-dropping as you go over Galena Summit, at 8,701 feet. And there’s plenty of recreation along the way, including numerous trailheads and several world-class drive-to lakes. That’s Pettit Lake shown below, with what we think is/was Bruce Willis’ house along the shoreline.

Steve kayak:Pettit L

Well-kept ranches abound in the Wood River Valley, and with Sun Valley Resort just up the road, Ketchum is kind of a rustic Aspen, but with more cowboy hats than fur coats. It makes the perfect base for outdoor adventures, with the Big Wood River, Warm Springs Creek and Trail Creek all within a fly cast. The Sawtooth Valley is the headwaters of the renowned Salmon River.

Palomino on ranch near Stanley.
Palomino on ranch near Stanley.

One day, we rented bikes at Sturtevant’s in Ketchum and rode them along the Wood River Trail to Sun Valley, stopping to fish along the way before checking out the iconic Sun Valley Lodge. The trail is a first-class example of how the county recreation district has its act together. The 32 miles of year-round paved trail has numerous river access points and connects Sun Valley and Ketchum to Hailey and Bellevue further south. And then there’s the 19-mile Harriman Trail further north near Galena Lodge. I don’t know of many areas that have their outdoor recreation shit together to this extent. It’s impressive.

Downtown Ketchum.

At any rate, after several weeks of stifling heat in Oregon — and even in Ketchum for a few days — a couple storms rolled through and left us with (mostly) bluebird skies and puffy clouds. And — this being early summer not long after the spring snow runoff — there were swarms of mosquitoes. On our first hike in the Sawtooths, an easy 4-mile-roundtrip to Fourth of July Lake, I made the major tactical error of not bringing a long-sleeved shirt (too hot!) and leaving my bug juice in the car. I paid the price with itchy skeeter-bitten arms that were swollen like Popeye’s for the rest of the trip.

Sawtooth Lake flowers

Sawtooths daisiesBut the upside to all that moisture was green, green meadows and tons of wildflowers, a welcome sight to us drought-weary Southern Californians.

And speaking of Fourth of July, is there any better place to spend it than a small town in the West? We’d spent the last few Independence Days enjoying the holiday in Bend, Ore., a tough act to top. I’d have to say, Hailey (Ketchum’s more down-to-earth down-valley neighbor) ranks right up there. After the Old West parade down its main street during the day, we returned that night for the rodeo — Idaho’s version of Friday Night Lights.

Hailey rodeo crowd

Hailey rodeo

Over the next few days, we kayaked, hiked and fished throughout the Stanley Basin and Sawtooths (tho scenic, we done got skunked on that front).

Steve fish:Stanley

The week’s highlight hike was the 8.5-mile roundtrip to Sawtooth Lake, which sits at an elevation of 8,430 feet just southwest of Stanley. Right from the start at the Iron Creek Trailhead, we ran into alternating rain and thunder and had to calm our frightened pit bull, Blue, who hid under a rock along the trail:

Blue/Sawtooth Lake

But luckily we persevered, and despite the weather (which cleared after we got to the lake) and 1,700 feet of elevation gain, it was well worth it. Postcard-perfect Sawtooth Lake is one of the most popular and most photographed in the Sawtooths, and for good reason:


Sawtooth Lake

When planning this trip, we were unsure how accessible the lakes in the Sawtooths would be, but it was well worth lugging the kayaks all the way from SoCal. During our week there we also paddled at beautiful Alturas Lake and at Redfish Lake, with its funky old-time resort. (Hint: bring your own lunch).

The kayaks take a rest on the shore of Alturas Lake.
The kayaks take a rest on the shore of Alturas Lake.

After a week, it was time to head to Wyoming, and we had to tear ourselves away from Ketchum. If we didn’t have reservations in Pinedale, we’d probably still be there. Our spirits lifted on the drive to Wyoming, though. Miles and miles of hayfields eventually led to the geological wonderland of Craters of the Moon National Monument, a wild landscape of desert scrub, lava fields and cinder cones.

View of the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long series of fissures that last erupted 2,000 years ago.
View of the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long series of fissures that last erupted 2,000 years ago.

Along the way, we passed through funky towns like Arco, Idaho, the “first town to be lit by atomic power” (the mysterious-looking Idaho National Laboratory is nearby). And the photo gods blessed us with alternating bands of storms and amazing clouds:

Dark sky:Idaho rd

After countless photo stops, we finally made it to Wyoming. Following a quick stop in Jackson (the Disneyland of the Rockies, IMO), our base for a few days would be Pinedale, a no-frills western town just about the polar opposite of Ketchum. We totally lucked out as it was the weekend of the Green River Rendezvous, a celebration of all things Mountain Man (no sign of Leo, The Revenant or any man-eating grizzly, tho this guy showed up at a state fish & game wildlife display):

Grizz display:Pinedale

And of course, there was a parade:

Pinedale parade

We’d been wanting to visit the nearby Wind River Range for a long time and figured Pinedale would be a good base. We got a basic taste of the Winds, but the best way to experience these wild mountains is probably by backpack or horse pack trip, so we’re filing that away for the future. We got a history of the area after a visit to the Museum of the Mountain Man (of course), and did a day trip to Green River Lakes for more kayaking and fishing. The lakes are the headwaters of the Green River, the main tributary to the Colorado River.

Green River
Green River, en route to Green River Lakes near Pinedale, Wyo.

Trout were rising on the river as a storm rolled in, but nobody rose to our bait.

Green River fishing

We were treated, however, to an amazing double rainbow:

Wyoming rainbow

We skedaddled from that fishing spot after: A. the rain started; B. we heard gunshots; and C. a driver passing by told us he’d just spotted grizzly cubs not far from our turnout.

After a few days in Pinedale, we ended the trip grandly, at Grand Teton National Park. We lucked out yet again, meeting up with Canuckian friends on their own road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver. We spent far too little time in this amazing park of spectacular scenery and even more kayakable lakes.

Steve kayak:Jackson L
A peaceful paddle on photogenic Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

We camped a night at Jackson Lake’s Colter Bay, one of the few times we made last-minute camping reservations. And the only time we got rained on while camping during the entire trip. After a fun presentation about grizzly bears at Jackson Lodge, we squeaked in dinner before the rain started, grilling fabulous fresh kabobs from Jackson Whole Grocer.

On our way out of the park the next day, we stopped at photogenic Jenny Lake and the adjacent lodge:

Jenny Lake

And so, after a month on the road, it was time to head back to California. Logan, Utah would be our next stop, then St. George and on to SoCal. I’d love to say we drove off into the sunset shown below, but this was one of many in the Sawtooths, a fitting end of another perfect road trip day:

Sawtooths sunset


Wild horses and wolves, oh my

Photo courtesy of Return To Freedom
Photo courtesy of Return To Freedom

I recently came across a few most excellent multimedia presentations on two of my favorite topics: canines and equines.

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Screen grab from opening of NPR’s Wolves At the Door.

Earlier this week, NPR did a good radio report on the wolf situation in the West, paired with a great online presentation. After being stripped of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act several years ago, wolves in the Northern Rockies are now in the hands of individual states in that region. Meaning Idaho, Montana and Wyoming now have wolf hunting seasons. The Humane Society says methods of killing wolves include steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill them.

The chart I did below shows wolf population and hunting, aka “harvesting,” since the hunts began in the Northern Rockies states. At the end of 2012, about 1,700 wolves resided in that region. Long-term, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service aims to maintain a population of about 1,000.

The numbers below are estimates that I cobbled together from the Humane Society and the states’ various fish and game departments, so don’t take them as gospel. I know from my last job that gathering data like this is always a challenge. Hunting seasons straddle two calendar years, and population figures are always estimates anyway. For example, the 2013 population figure I show for Montana accounts for the wolves killed in 2013 and so far in 2014, but doesn’t account for other deaths. But you get the idea.

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Needless to say, it’s a contentious issue pitting animal lovers and environmentalists against ranchers and hunters in states where wolves reside. Ranchers say wolves kill their livestock, and hunters claim they decimate the elk population (something that was recently found not to be true). NPR does a great job of outlining the debate and updating us on the issue.

The other great media presentation I came across this week was from Oregon Public Broadcasting on the issue of wild horses in the West. Horse preservationists say mustangs are a vital part of the West’s open spaces, while ranchers and others think there are too many horses vying with their Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 7.41.50 PMlivestock over grazing land.

Wild horses have been protected under the federal Wild Horse and Burro Act since 1971. Since then, their numbers have increased, and the Bureau of Land Management manages the population by periodically culling the herds through public adoptions. Removed horses are adopted or end up in holding facilities. In 2013, the 49,500 horses and burros in long-term holding facilities surpassed the estimated range population.

Now, I’m totally against the “harvesting” of wolves, and clearly something needs to be done to protect wild horses competing for grazing space. The BLM hasn’t exactly done a bang-up job of managing the situation. I highly recommend the two multimedia presentations here. To find out more about the gray wolf — which USFSW is proposing to remove entirely from the threatened and endangered species act — read up on the issue and have your say. Public comment is being reopened starting Mon., Feb. 10 and you have til March 27 to make your voice heard.

Funny how public broadcasting is doing such a great job covering these Western issues in mulitimedia form compared to other major print media outlets. With the exception, of course, of the New York Times’ fabulous Avalanche At Tunnel Creek multimedia project in 2012, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

The horses of the Rose Parade


Here are some images from Sunday’s Equestfest, the shindig at the L.A. Equestrian Center where all the equine participants get to strut their stuff. A fun time, but frankly the best part is being able to stroll the barns and meet the horses after the show.

The Budweiser Clydesdales are always a crowd favorite and who can blame anyone? They’re the kings of the horse world. That’s Fez above, soon to be a star of the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial next month, or so we were told. Here are some fun facts:

  • To qualify as a hitch horse (beer wagon puller), a Clydesdale must be a gelding at least 4 years old, stand 72 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds.
  • Each horse consumes 50-60 pounds of hay and 30 gallons of water a day.
  • Each harness and collar weighs about 130 pounds.

Here’s Archie….you can tell him apart from the others by his unique blaze…is he a looker or what?:


We also fell in love with the Norwegian Fjord Horses, which are making a first-time appearance at the parade. We were, um, a little obsessed with their manes. They’re trimmed to keep them from tangling with tack, etc. They’re super cute and have tons of personality. And their people were extremely patient with allllll the questions that visitors were asking.

Fjord hedshot

Fjord horse w:man

Fjord mane1

Fjord mane3

Fjord symbol

Fjord eye

And my personal favorites are always the equestrian drill team All-American Cowgirl Chicks who….totally….rock:

Cowgirl horse


Happy New Year, y’all…!