Sawtooth Scenic Byway and Stanley, Idaho – Picturesque!

Stanley Lake Idaho

Stanley Lake

Stanley Lake Idaho

Creek near Stanley Lake

Stanley Lake Idaho

Stanley Lake

Stanley Idaho camping Stanley Idaho campground

Camping at Stanley Lake

Stanley Idaho

Scenery near Stanley.

Stanley Idaho

Sawtooth Mountains.

Stanley Idaho

Sawtooth Luce's.

Stanley Idaho

Homes perched on the hills in Stanley

Redfish Lake Idaho beach

Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake Idaho beach

Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake Idaho kayaking

Beach at Redfish Lodge

Redfish Lake Idaho kayaking

Ghosting along on Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake Idaho kayaking Redfish Lake Idaho kayaking

Private boat-in campsite on Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake Idaho kayaking Stanley Idaho Salmon Festival

Salmon Festival in Stanley

Stanley Idaho Salmon Festival

Namesake for Redfish Lake

Sawtooth Mountains

Cattle enjoy a nice view.

Sawtooth Mountains Sawtooth Mountains

Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley.

Sawtooth Mountains Stanley Lake Idaho

"Ahhh" moment as we walk towards Stanley Lake.

Stanley Lake Idaho Stanley Lake Idaho

Sunrise on our final morning

Salmon River Idaho

Salmon River

Salmon River Idaho

Drive along the Salmon River

Stanley, Idaho

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


and several

hiking trails

around Stanley

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

wonderfully white.

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.

Many evergreen

trees along the

shore were red.

They were going

through their

death throes as

beetles invaded

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

the sky.

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

Stevensville, Montana.