Friday, June 16, 2006 through Sunday, June 18, 2006
Leave Craters of the Moon National Monument @ 10:00 a.m. Mountain Time
Arrive Stanley, Idaho, 1:00 p.m.
Routes Traveled: U. S. 93/20/26 and Idaho 75 (Sawtooth Scenic Byway)
Miles: 136 miles (Craters to Stanley), 167 within Stanley
Before we left the Park, there was one other sight to experience...the caves. These former lava tubes fascinated us and the idea of walking through a part of the earth where lava once flowed piqued our inquisitive minds. There are four 'wild' caves open to the public: Indian Tunnel, Beauty, Boy Scout and Dewdrop, and they are considered wild caves because each is undeveloped with no trails or artificial lighting. We arrived at the cave parking lot just before 8:00 a.m. and set off on an asphalt path across the expansive black lava flows.
First on the list, Indian Tunnel, the largest of the four. Access to the cave is made by way of metal stairs, the only man-made improvement. This cave was deep, and I felt a tinge of apprehension as we stepped down the staircase. Visitors are advised to take flashlights and wear helmets due to the instability of the cave structures; falling rocks and collapsing ceilings are a constant hazard. This was clearly apparent from the beginning, since the cave entrance and each of it's 'sky lights' were openings created by the collapse of the ceiling. Picking our way through the piles of rock we heard the constant sound of water dripping which surprised me; don't know why but I wasn't expecting to hear that sound inside a lava tube. And wouldn't you know it, nature called on me halfway through the cave. I hate it when that happens and I'd love to have a chat with the person who persuaded my Mom to use running water as a potty training method. The cave exit was also unexpected; that was accomplished by popping up through a hole in the ceiling after climbing a steep pile of rocks. Learned another photo lesson; cave photography is quite a challenge.
We wanted to see the other caves, and I did my best to delay an early return to the parking lot, but exploring these caves involved a lot of squatting and that kept sending the wrong signal to my brain. So we briskly returned to the cave parking lot...much to my relief. Ahhhhh. Then it was back to the campground to hitch up and head down the road.
Once we got past the construction we made good time until we neared the towns of Hailey and Ketchum. At Hailey we passed the recently expanded airport and spotted at least thirty Lear jets parked along the tarmac, and another twenty or more privately owned hangers. From that point on it was obvious we were getting closer to the Ketchum/Sun Valley area; the traffic quadrupled and the homes lining the highway were all gated. We were both relieved to put Ketchum behind us. Then he hit Galena Summit and man, what a view!!!! No photo of the Sawtooth Mountains ever do them justice and I tried. Standing in the viewpoint parking lot with the Stanley basin and Sawtooth laid out before me was awe inspiring; the sight just stopped me in my tracks. Idaho is a beautiful state and her mountains go on forever.
Next stop, the town of Stanley, where we planned to stay the night, which turned out to be three nights. We found an RV park, set up camp and then set off to explore; we spent the next three days exploring this area and there was so much to see...alpine lakes, ghost towns, pioneer cemeteries, rivers and streams, wildlife trails. We took in as much as we could. From the start I thought the mountains had an unusual quality about them; something beyond the jagged peaks...in the early morning and late evening light they seemed to...glow. Turns out my eyes were not exactly playing tricks on me, as the Sawtooth Mountains are composed of a rosy pink granite, as opposed to the gray granite so common throughout Idaho.
The view from our trailer at Stanley.
During our stay we noticed Stanley is a popular place, especially for two different groups of people; motorcyclists and rafters. With a population of about 130 people, it was easy to pick the visitor's out from the locals. Each time we passed the main shopping area the parking lots were filled with people, some dressed head to toe in black leather and some dressed in tank tops and shorts. And then there were all those motorcycles...we saw some real beauties and works of art. Wowsa.
There was so much to explore. On Saturday we drove to Stanley Lake, Little Redfish Lake and Redfish Lake, each a serene mountain gem. There were the ghost towns of Custer and Bonanza with their rustic charm, and a couple of abandoned homesteads on Nip N Tuck Road. Sunday we spent touring the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery, then drove back to Redfish Lake to ride our bikes around the lake; it was a beautiful day and perfect for that activity. Took me back to days spent at Lake Tahoe during the 80s.