Creek near Stanley Lake
Camping at Stanley Lake
Scenery near Stanley.
Homes perched on the hills in Stanley
Beach at Redfish Lodge
Ghosting along on Redfish Lake
Private boat-in campsite on Redfish Lake
Salmon Festival in Stanley
Namesake for Redfish Lake
Cattle enjoy a nice view.
Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley.
"Ahhh" moment as we walk towards Stanley Lake.
Sunrise on our final morning
Drive along the Salmon River
Late August, 2009 - We drove
north from Ketchum/Sun
Valley to Stanley Idaho along
the Sawtooth Scenic Highway.
As with Indiana's Amish
Heritage Trail that we had
recently driven, we discovered
the tourism folks of central
Idaho have created a series of
CDs to accompany the
beautiful scenic drives through
their state. Complete with mile
marker indicators, music and
driving instructions, the
recording was expertly made and we enjoyed having a tour guide right there in the truck with
us. We learned tidbits about the mining history, Indian history and geology of the area, and
the CD recommended some excellent stops at scenic viewpoint along the way.
Stanley is a tiny hamlet with just 40 year-round residents, although the population soars to
300 each summer. It is frequently the coldest place in the continental US in the wintertime, but in summer the days are hot. We
rode our bikes to Stanley Lake and found crystal clear water sleepily lapping the shores of towering mountains.
We returned with the kayak and spent a blissful morning drifting across
the mirrored reflections of the rugged peaks. As we floated into the cool
shade under the thick pines on the far side of the lake, we felt intoxicated
by their heady, pungent scent. We laid back and lazily watched the
rainbow trout jumping for moths. Each foolish bug would flirt with the
water's surface until his wings got wet, and then he'd start a spinning
death spiral that ended with the gulp of a fish.
There is a
Lake as well.
We made a few trips to the lake
over the next week, each time
enjoying that burst of "ahhh" as
the trees parted and the lake
came into view.
It seemed like a perfect spot to
bring the family for a week of
camping. The sites are
perched right on the water's
edge and there are endless
activities to keep kids amused
along the shore.
The early mornings were cold
and quiet, but as each day
wore on and the sun flooded
the shore, the sounds of kids
voices carried across the
The Sawtooth Mountains line the horizon like the cutting edge of
a saw blade, and everywhere we turned their snowcapped tops
formed a backdrop. Stanley sits at the intersection of three of
Idaho's official "scenic highways," and there are viewpoint pullouts
and photo-op spots all over town.
One afternoon we got a pizza at Sawtooth Luce's. This little log cabin
eaterie has been in the same family for several generations, and our
waiter proudly announced that three weeks earlier the owners had just
given Stanley its first locally born baby in 30 years.
We took the kayak to Redfish Lake, another
expanse of clear, turquoise water set against a
wide mural of the Rockies. The water was
cool, but so inviting, with every rock and fallen
log clearly visible many feet below the surface.
There were several beaches, some accessible
by car and others, we later learned, accessible
only by boat. The sand on every beach was
We cast about for a while to find a good launching spot and settled
on the beach by Redfish Lodge. This is a fun and busy place.
There are cabins, a lodge, a camp store, boat rentals, a marina
with slips and moorings for powerboats and sailboats alike, and a
white sand beach loaded with families. It is an ideal swimming
area, as the water is shallow for a long distance, keeping it
somewhat warm. We quickly inflated the kayak and cast off.
It didn't take long for the playful voices from the beach to fade into
the distance as we pedaled our way along one shore. There was
a point in the distance that lured us, tantalizing us with images of
what might lie beyond. The crests of a few jagged peaks poked
above the nearby trees, promising a dramatic view once we
rounded the point. It seemed like we would never get there, but
suddenly the point swung wide, like a door opening to another
land, and we found ourselves in an emerald green pool of
shallows at the feet of two majestic mountains.
trees along the
shore were red.
They were going
death throes as
the tender flesh under their bark. This made for interesting colors among the
trees, but was disconcerting in a forest that should be solid deep green. From a
distance much of the forest high up on the ridge was grey, as many trees had
already succumbed to the armies of invading pests. In places it seemed just one
in ten trees was wearing its intended green hue.
We found a perfect spot to land for a shore-side snack. It was actually a boat-in campsite,
complete with a fire ring, a wood pile left by a previous camper, and a table. A tiny beach
stretched along the shore,
and a large rock sat out a
ways in the lake. Mark was
tempted to go swimming,
but he didn't want to be
soggy wet and cold for the
return trip. So he settled
for wading out towards the
big rock, carefully hiking his
shorts up higher and higher
as he went. He stepped
gingerly from one submerged rock to another, leap-frogging
towards the big boulder. Just as it looked like he'd made it to the rock
island, his foot slipped on some algae and he doused himself thoroughly.
Oh well, so much for staying dry.
After kayaking a little further we turned around, leaving the dramatic
rocky horizon behind us. Before long, the sounds of kids playing in
the water at Redfish Lodge pierced our little oasis of silence, and
we paddled our way back into the hustle and bustle of a hot
summer day at the beach. Kids licking ice cream cones, parents sipping cold beer, and sunbathing teens changing from white to
pink greeted us as we deflated the kayak and folded it back into its bag.
That weekend the town of Stanley hosted the Salmon Festival, a fair
celebrating the local salmon. We knew nothing about salmon when we got
there, other than how to grill it, but by the end of the day we had learned
many amazing things about the life cycle of these intrepid fish. We were
astonished to learn that when 3-year-old salmon make their way from
Stanley down the Salmon River to the Snake River to the Columbia River to
the ocean some 900 miles away, they make a mental note of the smells
along the way so they can sniff their way back home a year or two later,
never making a wrong turn up a wrong tributary. Once home, they flirt with
each other and the females choose their mates. The males quiver
alongside their females, waiting impatiently for them to lay their eggs so
they can be fertilized. Once the seeds for the next generation have been
sown, the parents die.
We had known that salmon fishing
had deteriorated badly in recent
years, but were shocked to learn
that in the decade of the 1990's
only 10 local salmon made it
back to Stanley to spawn, putting
them on the endangered species
list. This year 750 or so are
expected to return, a recovery
attributed to the removal of many
dams along the rivers and
meticulous breeding in
hatcheries. We had known that
river dams impeded salmon
migration, but were stunned to
find out the trouble is during
their trip down to the ocean, not during their return up river to spawn years later. Young
salmon approaching a dam as they swim towards the ocean are guided out of the river to
be loaded onto trucks and barges so they can be taken around the dam and then returned
to the river on the other side where they continue their swim to the ocean. For Stanley
area salmon this happens at four dams on the Snake River and four on the Columbia.
That's a lot of corralling, loading and unloading for a six inch fish that is designed just to
swim with the current to the ocean. Most don't make it. The young are tagged with
microchips before they leave the hatchery so they can be identified upon their return from
the ocean, at which point they have grown to recognizable salmon size. The
microchip tags aid in isolating a few fish for hatchery breeding when they return,
keeping the hatchery DNA pool as wide as possible.
This was a lot to take in and gave us a far greater appreciation for the wild caught
filets we buy at the supermarket. Mulling it all over, we wandered about the town
of Stanley, taking several bike rides along the scenic highways. The views
everywhere were breathtaking.
We went to a lecture at the Stanley
Museum given by a man who had
kayaked the same route that the salmon
take: the Salmon River to the Snake River
to the Columbia River to the ocean. He covered the
distance in 52 days in 2001, experiencing some of the
same hassles the fish do at the dams as he took his
kayak through the lock systems.
Stanley also has a mining history, but we didn't stay long
enough to delve into it too deeply. There are some
intriguing mining relics and ghost towns in the area that
we decided to save for a return trip another year.
We took one last hike out to the far end of Stanley
Lake and breathed in the moist pine scent.
On our final day in the area
the sun cast an orange
glow on the rocky peaks for
a few moments as it rose in
Then we started a two-day
trip down the road along the Salmon River, thinking of the salmon and of the kayaker as
we drove. The river was our constant companion as we descended northwards towards