Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tour de Idaho, Part Three: Boise Bounty

On our third morning in McCall, we awoke to this. The trails we had hoped to explore were mostly under snow, so we decided to head south for the lower elevations and warmer climes of Boise. If those trails were also "under the weather," we could at least catch a movie or hit the mall.

To our delight, Boise was nearly twenty degrees warmer, with clear skies and a bounty of possible activities. Being from Driggs (where we somehow live with no Wal-Mart, movie theater or university), we spent the evening taking advantage of those "city things." Namely, a nice downtown dinner and a movie. There's a cool collegiate vibe throughout Boise, especially downtown, and it was fun to go with it.

Our urban experience continued the next morning with some whirlwind shopping and a stop at Ken's Bicycle Warehouse (great shop, excellent service). We picked up River-to-Ridge trail maps, and got detailed ride recommendations from Ken. It was time for some outdoor adventure.

The riding was supreme. An amazing network of trails are woven into the foothills just north of downtown Boise, continuing all the way to Bogus Basin Ski Area. Walking trails, mountain biking trails, and motorized trails are all sensibly designated and offer fun, scenic challenges. After about twenty minutes of riding, we had the trails nearly all to ourselves. At the turnaround spot, with over 2,000 feet of climbing in the bag, we watched a jet take off from the airport far below and had a clear view of the state capitol. Not a bad scene. If I ever have to live in an actual city again, Boise is at the top of my list.

And so the Tour de Idaho came to a close, as we jumped back on I-84 and headed east towards Driggs. Calling friends, we learned it had snowed there that morning. Watching the temperature drop as we drove, it was clear the seasons had changed. As we unloaded the blazer in the dark at home, elk were bugling practically in our backyard.

The variety of fall is matched only by its purity, and it seems to be everyone's favorite season. We'll be embracing it here in Teton Valley during the coming weeks.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tour de Idaho, Part Two: Tasting Tamarack

Tamarack Resort is a new all-season destination resort about 20 minutes southwest of McCall. Nestled at the base of Tamarack Mountain, overlooking Osprey Meadows Golf Course and Cascade Lake, it really does have a lot to offer. Winter brings plenty to do with downhill and nordic skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, but summer is where it differentiates itself. Lake activities, golf, lift-served mountain biking, zip-line, hiking, disc golf, amphitheatre...are you tired yet?

There will soon be a Fairmont Hotel on site, as well, with Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf partnering on that project. We're talking high-end property, folks. They even greet you with chocolate chip cookies!

We were a little fatigued from our previous big day in McCall, plus dreary weather had set in, making it doubly difficult to get motivated. But, we rallied, packed several layers and hit it.

I know you'll all be surprised, but we chose mountain biking as our activity for the day :-) If it had been another bluebird day, we probably would have opted for some sort of water pursuit; there's always next time for that.

$25 gets you an all-day lift pass for 12 miles of downhill mountain biking, and several people were utilizing that service. But, being the endurance crack-heads we are, we had no choice but to pedal up the 2,000 feet using our legs rather than the lift. The downhill is so much sweeter when you earn it, not to mention how much better dinner tastes after some true suffering.

Joanne prepares to ride the "Dirty Blonde" trail...'nuff said.

We felt so charged after descending the mountain on trails like Pura Vida, Apollo and Show Low - complete with banked turns and just enough obstacles - that we wanted a little more. Hence, the Piece de Resistance was riding the rolling terrain of "The Meadows" at the base area, the only place we've ever been where dirt singletrack meanders through trees alongside a golf course. It was pretty cool.

Hunger set in quickly after nearly three hours of pedaling in drizzly 40-something degree weather. So, after loading the bikes and grabbing our bags with dry clothes, we headed into Osprey Meadows Lodge in hopes of cleaning up and eating. Kenny the Concierge hooked us up with free passes to their spa, sans massage but still stylin' (were we really that smooth, or just that dirty?). We also got a bonus tour of some rooms plus dinner arrangements. We were set...and thank you, Kenny.

A four-star shrimp salad (plus soup & sandwiches) and very content conversation capped the day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tour de Idaho, Part One: McCall Calling

Joanne and I had our 14th Wedding Anniversary last week, and we've made a tradition of taking a long weekend to celebrate. It's usually a trip over to Ketchum for some mountain biking/hiking/swimming/dining, but the big Castle Rock fire last month closed most of those trails. So, in Huck Finn style, we decided to strike out for new territory: a "Tour de Idaho," with stops in McCall, Tamarack and Boise before returning home to Driggs. I'll make each stop a separate post, beginning here with McCall.

We had heard a lot about McCall and how beautiful it is, but neither of us had ever been there. Situated on the southern shore of Payette Lake, it's 100 miles straight north of Boise, which doesn't sound bad. But, they are 100 very twisty-narrow-high-traffic-car-sick-along-the-Payette-River-miles. We were ready for the hot tub once we finally arrived at the Hunt Lodge in McCall.

In all, it was an 8-hour drive from Driggs, a bit more of a journey than we'd bargained for. But, we were happy to be there and ready to explore. Curiously, we noticed a large number of firefighting signs, command centers, equipment and personnel on the drive. We soon learned that over a million acres of forest was burning to the north and east of McCall. That's a lot of forest.

The weather forecast was perfect for the first day, so we wanted to take advantage by mountain biking an IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) "Epic Trail": Loon Lake, a 21 mile loop consisting of serene backcountry singletrack. Off we went to a local bike shop, excited to get new maps and information.

The excitement was quickly quelled upon learning the Loon Lake trail was closed due to fire. Doh!!!

So, we went to Plan B and headed up Lick Creek road to the "East Fork" trail for a nice ride. Well, it was nice once we quit carrying our bikes and found the actual trail. Colors were starting to emerge in the high country, and temperatures were absolutely perfect. The camera died near the top of the ride, of course, so we missed out on photos at the very scenic turn-around spot. Doh! again. Trust me: it was a high alpine cirque with fall colors, a crystal clear creek, and an abundance of perfect granite boulders for our lunch break. The descent back down was glorious.

We finished the day with a scenic stop at Little Payette Lake to cavort with drought-revealed tree remains, then a drive up to McCall's Brundage Ski Area. It was noticeably smaller than Grand Targhee, but nice. We read about their summer activities, which last all the way from July through August; apparently their summers are even shorter than ours ;-)

The sky was that brilliant, unique Indian Summer blue.

Some quick, final McCall observations: smaller, less developed yet more expensive than expected; lots and lots of trees; great lake and water scene; very low-key unpretentious locals; big hockey arena on prime main street property; elevation about 5,000 feet (1,200 feet lower than Driggs).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Teton Trifecta: Spectating, Working, Exploring

My headline coming off the weekend is a huge CONGRATS to my buddy Dave B., for his super-strong 2nd Place finish at the Grand Targhee 24-hour mountain bike race. Couldn't be more proud of you, man. Joanne and I introduced Dave and his wife Michelle to mtn. biking seven years ago, when they moved from Dallas to Driggs (yes, a big move). Dave has since left me in the dust, but we've shared some epic rides and adventures along the way. From noon Saturday until noon Sunday, he logged 25 laps around Grand Targhee's course (only one lap less than the winner, legendary JayP from Jackson) for a total of about 195 miles and nearly 30,000 feet of climbing...and he was still alive, smiling.

Because I mention the word "work" in the sub-title of this blog, I probably need to actually write about it from time to time. I'm in the midst of putting this year's R.U. Outside catalog together: writing the copy, sketching the layout and coordinating the ensuing process with my graphic designer. Saturday afternoon was a photo shoot at the studio over in Jackson, getting some nice pics of new products. Anthony and Lauren modeled (they are naturals), Dave and Alli coordinated, Garth photographed...and I supervised.

The drive over Teton Pass and back was beautiful; Jackson is finally starting to slow down a bit from the summer tourist season, and fall colors are coming on fast.

A bonus upon arriving home was seeing my Utah Utes on t.v., absolutely crushing 11th ranked UCLA! No one saw it coming; the final was swarmed the field and coach Whittingham went from doghouse to penthouse in a few short hours. Gotta love the emotion of college sports.

The weekend's Grand Finale was a serious mtn. bike ride with Joanne on Sunday afternoon. We opted to complete a loop on the south end of the valley (partly involving Pole Canyon) that we'd figured out on the map, but had never ridden in its entirety. After 13 summers of Teton Valley riding, there aren't many sections of trail we don't know, so it was fun to explore...if your definition of "fun" is lactate threshold training. Like many rides around here, it essentially went straight up-up-up to a ridgeline, then up-up-up some more before finally giving us a break with some rolling terrain and stunning views.

Yes, the 2,500 feet of climbing was worth it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Driggs Development

Webster defines develop as follows: " cause to expand or grow gradually." Here in Driggs, the valley is certainly developing, but there's nothing "gradual" about it; it's more like a race against some unseen clock. As an Economics major, I understand that it's all about supply and demand. As a citizen witnessing the change, it's a little unsettling.

Teton County, Idaho's documented population grew 30% between 2000 and 2006, from about 6,000 to 8,000. What that figure doesn't reflect, however, are three other significant numbers: (1) second and third home owners who spend considerable time here, but do not claim the county as their primary residence; (2) illegals; (3) tourists. When combined, this is a large number of additional people, and probably pushes the real population of the county closer to 15,000. I know, we're talking relatively small numbers; there are blocks in Manhattan with more people. It simply feels dramatic because of the pace of change, and because the county's infrastructure hasn't kept pace. It's like this throughout the West, really. As the nation's population continues to explode - from 300 million now to 400 million by 2040 - this will become the norm. If an area is desirable, it's growing, and this brings challenges.

The two-lane Highway 33 connecting Driggs to Victor - which continues on to Jackson - has become clogged (I now almost feel safer driving through Salt Lake City on multiple lanes of I-15 than I do driving from Victor to Driggs, which is crazy). It's scheduled for reconstruction from 2010-2012, possibly (and hopefully) into a 4-lane divided highway with turn lanes. In the meantime, drivers merge, turn, slide and stop in increasingly tight spaces. Driving between towns the other day, I was shocked to see a school bus actually stopping and letting kids off...right on the highway! As Bob Dylan said, times are a-changin', and the roads, water systems, sewer systems, power company, phone company, and landfills have their work cut out for them keeping up.

In the end, Teton Valley still beats nearly anywhere else on the planet as a place to live, work and play. The scenery remains spectacular, recreation options are endless and nearby, and the quality of life and people here are unmatched. We're simply in the midst of an awkward adolescence, like my dog Bridger. With proper leadership and work, the infrastructure will catch up, available services and amenities will improve, and the final result should be worth the wait.

It's time to go walk Bridger dog.

Monday, September 10, 2007


It was only a matter of time before horses showed up on this blog. I've never been a cowboy, but I grew up around horses, ride pretty well and ended up with a gal who lives and breathes them. When I met Joanne, she was spending summers guiding pack trips in the Teton Wilderness. I joined her a few times, and they are great memories. We're talking 5-10 days completely off-the-grid: several paying guests, a wrangler, a cook, a "boss" (Joanne), 10-15 horses, covering 20-60 miles, camping, dutch oven cooking, fishing at lakes that see only a few people each year, coming upon herds of 200+ elk, grizzlies, and views that overwhelm the senses. If you want to truly "get away," pack trips are the answer.

Joanne's family had a dude ranch just outside Dubois, WY throughout her childhood. They sold the ranch when she was in college, but still own some acreage down the Wind River Valley, near Riverton. It's filled with sandhill cranes, lots of horses and even a few Mules . Anyone who has spent time around horses knows they entail a lot of work, which seems to be part of the appeal to "horse people." It's also why horse people are some of the highest-character folks you'll meet. Here are Joanne, her dad and brother working with a couple of their mules yesterday.

Our weekend was spent driving three horses over Teton Pass and Togwotee Pass to the big pasture ground near Riverton. After a nice family get-together, we then loaded two mules up for the trip back to Driggs. Construction over Togwotee is pretty intense at the moment, but otherwise it's a beautiful drive. It was the first time I had driven a loaded trailer over Teton Pass, and I was sure glad all the gears and brakes worked. I also realized why it's so hard pedaling a bike up there...that bugger is steep!

I'll leave you with a photo of Rio, the Tennessee Walker stud horse, wondering what we're doing on his turf.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ahhh, Teton Valley Rain

Well, my last post must have worked. Complaining about the prolonged summer heat somehow made it rain, and temperatures have dropped a good twenty-degrees since Monday. It feels good, and smells even better. This photo is off my back porch this morning, showing the low cloud ceiling.

So, this should settle the dust on the trails, initiate Indian Summer, and help dowse the awful Castle Rock Fire just outside Sun Valley (nation's first ski area and great outdoor town), about 150 miles west of Driggs. With luck, we may have seen the end of smoky skies for the year.

Speaking of Indian Summer: I had to include a photo of what's to come over the next few weeks. This was taken last year, during "peak color" week. There's a reason fall is the favorite season for many around here. Actually, there are numerous reasons: cool nights, warm days; fewer tourists; no bugs; hunting season; approaching ski season; snowy peaks, colorful foothills; that unique, fall-blue sky around the autumnal equinox. I'm looking forward to it all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Driggs, Idaho Summer '07: Heat, Smoke and Fun

Ironically, in a town known for snow and cold, my first blog entry is about the heat. And smoke. Fires burning to the west (Ketchum) and south of Teton Valley have frequently cloaked the valley in a veil of smoke this summer. It hasn't slowed down our daily quest for adventure, but it has certainly tempered the usually brilliant blue days of summer. So, while much of the year is spent wishing for warmer temperatures, we found ourselves praying for snow in July...and still hoping for relief now as we enter September.

Regarding the quest for adventure: it's been stellar, as always around here. Yes, winter brings great snow for skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and even snow biking (more on that this winter). But, after 12 years in the valley, I can tell you that summer is where it's at. There's no place on the planet I'd rather be from June-September, with no end to the outdoor options. This week alone, between my wife, myself and a few friends, the activities have included horseback riding, mountain biking, golfing, fishing, hiking, boating, floating, softball, bar-b-queing and swimming. The outings are epic, along clear streams, in quiet forests, with endless payoff vistas. Makes it difficult to stop playing and go to work.

Driggs is booming (much more on that as time goes on), but the trails are still relatively empty. Just a few minutes from the pavement and you're alone with your thoughts, the breeze and the ever-present Tetons. As the valley continues to develop at a stunning rate, I will chronicle some of the issues this growth entails. A short time ago this was rural America; hay, barley and potato fields filled the valley and lent a pure feel to life. Evenings were spent watching the sun set over the Big Hole mountains to the west, as sprinklers worked their magic on farmers' fields across the valley. But, that scene is quickly giving way to golf course developments, condominiums, expanding gravel pits and even traffic. The growing pains become more acute by the week, and our planning & zoning committee, county commissioners and city councils are faced with the nearly impossible task of managing this explosion. Hopefully, it won't become an implosion.

So, we go about our days making a more and more conscious effort to remember why we moved here: the mountains, the snow, the trails, the adventure, the like-minded friends...and last but not least, the authentic old-time ranchers, farmers and cowboys. We'll enjoy it all while it lasts, 'cause they just don't make people or places like this anymore.

Now, back to praying for snow...