Thursday, November 29, 2018

Where's the snow? Where can you go play in the snow in SW and Central Idaho?

Pow day at Grand Targhee Resort ... a frequent occurrence these days ... Get there if you can! (courtesy Grand Targhee)
Head over to Sun Valley and carve some turns. See how long your legs can last. (Courtesy Sun Valley) 

Hi all,

With each passing snowstorm, the mountains are getting coated with fresh layers of snow, allowing the ski season to get started at least in a limited way since Thanksgiving.

I've been tracking this as a snow forecaster for OpenSnow.com, and I thought I'd devote this week's tip of the week to places where you can go play in the snow at the moment ...

Bear Basin by the trailhead (Courtesy Ed Roper) 
NORDIC - XC TRAILS - BACKCOUNTRY TRAILS

1. Bogus Basin has several Nordic trails open -- Nordic highway, Sapper's Return and Redtail are groomed.

2. Bear Basin in McCall  just groomed their system of xc trails today. Reporting a 9-inch base. I learned about it first-hand from Ed Roper who has maintained and groomed the Bear Basin trails for years. He said he just groomed the entire network of trails, but some of the loops like Mack's don't have enough coverage for recommended use. The main trails should be just fine, however!

3. Jug Mountain Ranch reports just rolled their xc trail system. Recommending snow-biking in the morning. JMR has excellent snow-biking trails!!! Highly recommend it!

4. North Valley Trail in McCall has been rolled with just a couple of inches of snow. Best for snow-biking.

5. Idaho City Park and Ski Trails - The snow phone, 208-514-2423, indicated that snow bases are minimal but trails are open for public use. Be sure to carry a shovel with you in case the parking areas haven't been plowed very well past Mores Creek Summit.

6. Mores Creek Summit - Snow conditions at Pilot Peak looked promising above 7,000 feet in a post by Chago on Avyscience.com. He reported 50 centimeters or almost 20 inches of snow in the upper portion of the mountain. Thanks Chago!

7. Wood River Valley - Portions of the Blaine County xc trail systems are open north of the Sawtooth NRA trailhead and at Galena Lodge. That'd be worth a trip if you have the time and a place to stay.

Snowcat view of fresh pow at Pomerelle
RESORT SKIING/RIDING

  • Sun Valley has top-to-bottom skiing on man-made and natural snow. That's 3,400 vertical feet of skiing, more than enough to test your legs and most likely kill your legs in a matter of a couple of hours. River Run, Lookout and Christmas lifts are running at the moment. They've got a great lodging deal going right now where you can stay at the Sun Valley Lodge for $129 a night and early-season lift tickets are $55. 
  • Brundage Mountain will be reopening its Easy Street beginner chairlift this weekend. Free skiing for kids and adults! Reporting 14 inches at the base and 22 inches at the summit. There's a storm system coming through on Friday, with an 80 percent chance of snow, but only an inch or so of accumulation expected. Dang! 
  • Pomerelle Mountain Resort will reopen on Saturday after getting at least 10 inches of new snow this week ... they're reporting 20 inches at the base area and 25 inches on top, with another foot of snow forecast tonight and tomorrow, perhaps more. The storm system coming through on Friday favors all of the ski resorts south of I-84, including Pomerelle, Magic Mountain, Pebble Creek and Kelly Canyon. 
  • Schweitzer Mountain is reopening Friday and remaining open for 7-day-a-week operations from that point forward. Reporting a 12-inch base at the base area and 15 inches mid-mountain, but that is packed snow, with man-made snow augmenting natural snow. 
  • Grand Targhee is in prime condition with a 50-inch base, 13 inches of freshies in the last 48 hours, 93 inches cumulative so far this year. Nearly 100 percent open! Road trip!  

Remember, these are early-season conditions, so don't take your best skis out quite yet.
- SS

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Looking ahead to winter ... What does a Mild El Nino really mean for SW/Central Idaho?

Courtesy National Weather Service 
Previous El Nino winters since 1950 in terms of precipitation. 1976-77 was my freshman year at the University of Montana, and it was absolutely one of the worst drought winters in the 1900s ... Montana Snow Bowl in Missoula never opened! 
Hi all,

I went to an early-season meeting with water and weather experts last week to learn more detail about what a mild El Nino winter really means, and what's expected?

The bad news is that if the experts are right, the El Nino winter will bring warmer-than-normal temperatures and drier-than-normal precipitation at least in the first half of the winter. The jet stream with storms is expected to set up to move across the southern tier of the United States, and more High Pressure weather patterns are expected to set up off the Pacific Coast.

That's the pattern we have right now affecting Southwest Idaho ... we've had High Pressure systems dominating the region, with cold and clear nights, cold mornings, and warmer afternoons suitable for hiking, biking and running.

This weather is expected to persist until the end of next week, when there's a chance of storms moving in on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The official 6- to 10-day forecast calls for above-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation for this region ... guess we'll see if the above-normal precipitation kicks in over Thanksgiving weekend.

So for the short term, if you're excited to see some snow fall in SW Idaho, you'll have to wait until then. And if you want to go skiing, you'll need to look for opportunities where resorts are making snow. Sun Valley always comes through with at least some limited skiing/riding available with its world-class snowmaking system. Brundage Mountain will be making snow on the bunny hill and at the Activity Barn, the tubing hill and xc area south of McCall. Bogus Basin also is firing up its snow-making system to provide some early-season skiing.

Going back to El Nino winter predictions, Troy Lindquist with the National Weather Service indicated that "not all El Nino events are the same." They printed a series of maps of El Nino winters to show how things really play out. "You see a lot of variabilities in there."

Long-term precipitation trends also may not be as dry as predicted, Lindquist said. "With the precipitation index, there is not as strong of an indicator one way or the other," he said.

Looking at the latest 30-day and 90-day forecasts, Lindquist is right ... all of the long-term forecasts are predicting above-normal temperatures, but as you look at the 30-day and 90-day forecasts, the chance of precipitation is showing more like "Equal Chances" (which is good) or even "Above Normal."

What this means is that depending on how many degrees above-normal temperatures we get, the snow level may rise higher than we'd like ... the base area of most ski resorts in Idaho is at about 6,000 feet. If the freezing level is more like 7,000 feet, you know what that means ... pretty soggy conditions at the base area ... and poor snow quality. 

Here's a series of maps showing their precipitation predictions:

8-14 day outlook shows a good chance of above-normal precipitation ... 

30-day outlook calls for Equal Chances or above-normal precipitation in E. Idaho 
90-day outlook calls for Equal Chances of precipitation. That's good! 
The bottom line is you should hope for a cold and snowy winter and hope the weather people are WRONG! Grow a beard! Women could grow hairy legs. Do a snow dance. Do whatever you think will bring snowy conditions!

This is what we're hoping for! Big *pow*! 
Every El Nino winter is different!
- SS
 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

IDPR names a new yurt "The Hennessy" to honor non-motorized trails expert Leo Hennessy

Ribbon-cutting occurred today for The Hennessy Yurt, named for Leo Hennessy, cutting the ribbon, who started the
Idaho City Park'n Ski Yurt system for IDPR back in the 1990s and built it into what it is today with help from many volunteers and the Boise National Forest. L-R, Madonna Lengerich, John Wallace, Acting Idaho City District Ranger,
Leo, Keith Hobbs of IDPR, Innis Wright, Linda Moore, and Leslie Tengleson is on the far right, with Forest, their
trusty dog, looking on. Photo courtesy Jennifer Okerlund, IDPR
Hi all,

I'm so glad to see that the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department is naming a new yurt after Leo Hennessy, long-time non-motorized trails coordinator for the agency for 30+ years. They're calling it "The Hennessy" yurt. 

Leo's partner Leslie Tengleson and I have been talking for several months about doing something special in recognition of Leo's many contributions to the improvement of trails and recreation in Idaho. At one point, we were thinking about naming a trail after him. But to have a yurt named after him is PERFECT! 

There was a ribbon-cutting for The Hennessy yurt today. It replaces the Whispering Pines yurt, which was burned by the Pioneer Fire two years ago. As IDPR Operations Administrator Keith Hobbs said, "No other name seemed appropriate, aside from “The Hennessy,” named in honor of the man who brought the Idaho City Backcountry Yurt Program to fruition. This program exists as it does today due to the tireless efforts of one man, Leo Hennessy."

Leo checks out the Owyhee Canyonlands on a backpack trip.
He used to carry Spam for food, but over time, he
improved his backcountry cooking motif. 
"Leo has dedicated his career to the state of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and non-motorized trails enthusiasts statewide. In his three (plus) decades of service, he has been an inspiration to all that it means to manage recreation in Idaho – personalizing every moment and sharing his passion with those lucky enough to work alongside him… or join him on an adventure," Hobbs says.

"Leo is a testament to the magic that occurs when the central focus of your career is sincerely loving what you do and we are all the beneficiaries. Experiences like this (the backcountry yurt system), the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and the latest Ashton-to Tetonia Trail are all projects that Leo worked to bring to fruition. A life’s work … to benefit others and ensure recreational access."

I've worked with Leo on trail projects since the 1980s. We're both U of Montana alums, but didn't know each other in college. Leo was there when we formed the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association (SWIMBA) in 1992, and he helped with countless trail-maintenance and new trail construction projects in the Boise Foothills over the years. He was active with the nonprofit "Nordic Voice" cross-country ski group that supported the beginning of the Idaho City Park 'n Ski Trails system and the construction of all the yurts built out there from Day 1.

Uh-oh ... Leo rescues a snowshoer buried in
in the snow. 
Back in the day, we had a fabulous working relationship with Boise REI when I was leading SWIMBA. We would line up crew leaders for new trails projects, including Leo, Boise REI would sign up dozens of volunteers, Ridge to Rivers provided the tools and we'd knock out projects in a day or several days. Tim Breuer was the Ridge to Rivers trail coordinator at the time, and he also was a great trail advocate. 

Tom Chelstrom, former Boise REI store manager, recalls that, "We did so many projects together that they all run together. I remember working together on Ridge to Rivers Trails, working alongside his daughter, Jennie, building the first yurts, he was just always there, always happy, having a good time, coaching people and being a cheerleader for all of those projects." 

Leo also was active with the now-defunct Idaho Trails Council back in the 1990s when I was president of that statewide group. He supported the late Roger Williams in his quest to create the Idaho Centennial Trail and make that a Lasting Legacy project for the Idaho Centennial Commission. Leo pushed Forest Service rangers to get engaged in the ICT project, sign the trail, and make sure it was cleared and ready for public use each year. Sadly, his efforts in that regard did not bear fruit with all of the national forests and rangers in Idaho. Some of them didn't cooperate or do anything, and today, that shows in a glaring way. 

That's why people like Leo are so rare among our public agencies. You need great, proactive land managers and recreation managers to get things done. Rangers with the Forest Service and the BLM come and go. Leo was there for the long-haul. He knew he was fortunate to have a job that he loved, and he never took that for granted. He worked together with eager recreation groups like SWIMBA, Nordic Voice and the Idaho Trails Council to leverage public dollars and resources to get things done. Build partnerships. Make it fun. He knew how to do that, and his following grew over time. 

Snowshoe adventure in the Boise National Forest. 
I remember when Leo was researching the possibility of building yurts in the Idaho City Park 'n Ski Trails system. He discovered that Oregon was building new yurts at a very high rate of speed because as soon as they put them in, they were popular and booked for the season. He thought there would be enough rental demand to pay for the yurts with rental revenue, and perhaps build more. Turns out, he was right! We built the yurts with volunteer labor with assistance from IDPR and the Idaho City Ranger District, and it was fun to go stay at a yurt that you had helped build, and tell your friends about it. 

Leo also was very generous with his personal time after his kids were grown. He started leading hiking and snowshoeing trips through the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo Group, and pretty soon, if you went on one of those trips, there might be 25 people or more signed up. Those groups gave rise to the Facebook Meet Up groups and the Idaho Hiking Club. 

He fell for Leslie on a group outing to the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha, and he made many other friends in his outdoor trips on weekends. Brenda Adams is a good friend of Leo's who met him as a frequent volunteer.

"All of the accolades for Leo are well-deserved," Adams says. "Nothing in a yurt is there by accident, the time and thought put into every aspect, from the positioning of each window to the placement of the dustpan, is considered and deliberate. Leo is obsessed with making every yurt visitor’s experience as optimal as possible. This attention to detail has paid off, and we have Leo to thank for these beautiful,comfortable wilderness yurts.

Brenda Adams, left, and Leo at Stargaze Yurt, which has one of the best views of the Sawtooths from the deck. 
"Leo loves the outdoors but he also loves seeing other people enjoy outdoor activities and has been extraordinarily generous in planning and executing shared adventures that are challenging, inspiring and downright fun," she continues. "Anyone who has been on a few of his trips is familiar with the phrase, “It was a ‘Leo trip’” - usually uttered with a groan and a laugh as you recall thrashing through the off-trail underbrush on a “not dangerous, just a little risky “ side trip to some incredible canyon or peak. The man has an encyclopedic knowledge of Idaho terrain and an uncanny ability to navigate through it."

Madonna Lengerich is another long-time friend who's helped Leo on projects for 30+ years. Madonna remembers getting the Idaho Legislature to approve the Park 'n Ski sticker program to pay for the grooming of the parking lots in 1979. Thanks Madonna!

Leo shared a cool mountain bike ride with us that circumnavigates the Silver City basin. 
Just think about the thousands of people who will stay at The Hennessy Yurt in the future, and enjoy some fantastic views of the Boise National Forest amid the Gold Fork xc trail system.

"We will be forever thankful for Leo’s contributions to non-motorized recreation in Idaho," Hobbs  says. "There is no more fitting tribute than to name the Hennessy Yurt in Leo’s honor and officially open it alongside you all today."

Leo plans to retire sometime this year. I hope you get a chance to meet him before he moves on to his private retired life. But I suspect that he'll stay involved in any type of project that improves non-motorized trails in Idaho. And I expect that he will travel the world to fulfill a very lengthy bucket list of hiking trips in spectacular locations that he hasn't had time to visit in his busy working life.

Hats off to you, Leo, my friend, for all you have done to make Idaho a better place for everyone! You deserve a "Take Pride in Idaho" award, and hopefully a private party where we can roast you in fine fashion!

Be sure to visit IDPR's yurt page to reserve a yurt if you haven't done so for this winter. All of them are 2-3 miles from the highway, accessible for xc skiers or snowshoers. Enjoy!
- SS      

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ever tried to find the "Old man of the Owyhees" aka "The Owyhee Face"?

The "Old Man of the Owyhees" - Ever been there/  
Hi all,

Well, the weather doesn't look all that promising this weekend in Marsing, but I've got a suggestion for the coming weeks when the weather is dry or you're up for a bit of an adventure.

Have you every tried to find the "Old man of the Owyhees" aka "The Owyhee Face"?

That's what a gentlemen asked me at one of my presentations at Boise REI ... and honestly, I've never seen it up close and personal, and never knew anything about it until he mentioned it to me.

I've got the hike to Jump Creek Falls in my Owyhee Canyonlands and Boise Trail Guide, and I have hiked up canyon a bit when I've been out to Jump Creek.

Here are some directions to the rock from Jason's Backcountry Adventures and a video ... See if you can find that cool rock face! You're going to have to do a little scrambling and bushwacking, but doesn't sound too bad!



Let me know how it goes!

Don't forget about the Ski Swap this weekend at the Fairgrounds. It opens at 3 p.m. on Friday and the sale continues through Sunday. See web site for details.

And did you see my story about a Boise guy who had to walk down Mount Borah with only one shoe in the Idaho Press?
- SS










Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hike the Sawpit Mountain Loop in Silver City - perfect fall adventure before the snow flies!

Wendy enjoys the fall colors on the Silver City hike.  

We all wore bright colors because we did the hike during deer hunting season. 

Feeling good at the top of the hike, with big views all around. 

Sawpit Mountain is off to the right. We are beginning our descent from the high ridge back to Silver City on a jeep trail. 

A glimpse of Silver City dwellings ... very charming place.  
Hi all,

The weather looks perfect this weekend for hiking in Silver City, a quaint "ghost" town in the Owyhee Mountains. Temperatures Saturday are supposed to be in the mid-60s in Murphy, and 70 on Sunday. Sweet!

I wrote up one of my favorite hikes in my Owyhee Canyonlands hiking/biking guide called the Sawpit Mountain Loop for the Idaho Press Outdoors section this week. It's great to be writing for the Idaho Press Outdoors in addition to the Statesman Outdoors, Lewiston Tribune Outdoors and Spokesman-Review Outdoors.

Click on this link to read all about the Sawpit Mountain Loop, including blow-by-blow hiking directions and driving directions to Silver City. It's an 8-5-mile loop that circumnavigates a timbered mountain with a bald pointy cap that looms over Silver City in the high-elevation community in the Owyhees. It's rated moderate to strenuous. Be sure to bring plenty of water, a lunch and snacks for your day hike. Fall colors should be glowing.

Enjoy!
- SS

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hike Celebration Park and see birds of prey artwork, plus Sweet Connie and Boise trails

Norm Nelson, son of Morley Nelson, has some beautiful oil paintings on display
at the Celebration Park Visitor Center. 
We did a group hike to Halverson Lake last spring for the 25th anniversary of the final protection of the
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. 
The golden eagle eyes piece is one of my favorites. The other two are quite something, too! 
Hi all,

Well, the weather forecast this weekend is pretty darn stellar for October! Nothing but clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s or 70 Friday-Sunday in the Boise area. How can you go wrong?

The weather should be great for just about anything outdoors! I'm sure some families will be taking their kids to corn and hay mazes for Halloween. But I'm going to recommend four destinations close to home for a fun adventure.

1. Go hiking at Celebration Park next to the Snake River, and while you're there, check out the birds of prey artwork in the Visitor Center. My friend Norm Nelson has some of his oil paintings on display, and there are other works there as well. You can enjoy a very moderate 6-mile round-trip hike to Halverson Lake and enjoy some fall colors next to the Snake. Driving directions: From downtown Boise, take I-84 west to Nampa. Take the Franklin Road exit (City Center) in Nampa. Go left. Follow Franklin to the intersection with 11th Street. Turn right and take 11th into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for ID 45 south. Proceed several miles south to Walters Ferry at the Snake River. Just before the river crossing, turn left on Ferry Road. Follow Ferry to Hill Road. Go right on Hill. Follow Hill to Sinker Road; turn right on Sinker and proceed to Celebration Park. You can see petroglyphs on boulders next to the parking lot, and learn about the Bonneville Flood. The artwork on display can be seen between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. 

2. Head to Bogus Basin to go hiking or biking. The conditions are perfect for fall hiking and biking right now! You can do my Bogus Basin Contour Special (6 miles round-trip, rated moderate to strenuous for hiking), or ride Around the Mountain, a 10-mile ride that IMBA rated as the best in Idaho. Both rides start at the base of Bogus Basin by the lower lodge.

3. Do a super-cool grand descent bike ride. Go up to the Eastside Trailhead (Mile 12 on Bogus Basin Roads), and ride Eastside over to Stack Rock, and at the junction, keep going straight and do a grand descent on Sweet Connie and then turn onto Chukar Butte to gravity ride all the way to Hidden Springs. Leave a shuttle rig at Hidden Springs and shuttle your way to the Eastside Trailhead (or be a stud and do it all by bike). I'm not sure how many miles that is, but somewhere in the 20-mile range. Advanced riding skills required. Here's a cool video of the Chukar Butte trail.

4. Hike or ride a trail in the Boise Foothills to enjoy the fall colors. Hulls Gulch, Military Reserve, Corrals Trail, Cottonwood Creek, Dry Creek and Watchman are all good bets!
Watchman Trail as the colors are beginning to turn ... 
Want to learn more about the Idaho Centennial Trail? Go to an ICT discussion at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Foothills Learning Center on 8th Street.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Be aware: Hunting season is underway! Try Snowbank Mountain for a colorful escape

Snowbank Mountain in the spring (courtesy John Platt)
You'll see the trailhead for Blue Lake on the way up to Snowbank. Nice spot! (from Boise Trail Guide)
Hi all,

Well it's that time of year when deer and elk hunters are roaming the woods in search of game. That increases the level of danger for non-hunters who may be out hiking, trail-running or biking on  Idaho's public lands, so be sure to wear bright colors and put bright colors on your pets.

Just so you know, general deer season started on Wednesday, Oct. 10, statewide, and in some areas, elk season started on the same day or will follow soon thereafter. There are multiple big game seasons throughout October and November depending on location, so be safe out there.

In the meantime, the fall colors are really popping in the higher elevations right now. I had to drive from Boise up to Whitebird earlier this week, and I saw the tamarack trees beginning to turn in Long Valley, while the aspens are turning yellow, orange and red, and the shrubs are doing the same.

So I have four recommendations for outdoor outings this week:

1.  Go visit Snowbank Mountain in Valley County to enjoy fall colors and maybe go for a walk at the top of the mountain or over to Blue Lake. It's hard to say how much snow is on top of Snowbank, but as things warm up in the next day or so, I don't think that will be an impediment to reach the mountain top if you have a solid 4WD vehicle. If snow is an issue, you could always stop earlier and go for a walk on the road in your snow boots.

Snowbank Mountain is accessible via Cabarton Road, past the put-in for the Cabarton reach of the Payette River. The turnoff is on your left. A well-maintained dirt road winds its way to the top of the mountain, where a FAA site is maintained and there are many cell towers, etc. Elevation is over 8,000 feet, so the views are spectacular.

Wendy on the Crown Point Trail 
2. Crown Point Trail - This is another spot in the Cascasde area where you could enjoy fall colors on a wide dirt road. The 3-mile old RR grade non-motorized trail goes along Cascade Reservoir, providing fetching views of West Mountain across the lake. You can hike it, run it or bike it. Three miles out, three miles back. Rated easy. There are choice areas with lots of sandy beachfront below the trail where you could stop, eat lunch and enjoy the scenery. The trailhead is by the Crown Point Campground in Cascade, near Cascade Dam.

Taking your kids up to the Intermountain Bird Observatory
offers a chance for them to release a banded hawk ... 
3. Go visit the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Lucky Peak - Professionals will be up there netting songbirds and birds of prey as they migrate to the south and get drawn to the top of Lucky Peak mountain by crafty quail traps that the bird-handlers provide. You can combine a trip to Lucky Peak by hiking to the top or mountain biking to the top, or you can drive to the top in a solid 4WD high-clearance vehicle. See more details about the bird observatory here.

4. Stay close to home and visit Boise Foothills trails. You're not likely to encounter any deer hunters in the Boise foothills except for maybe off of Rocky Canyon Road. The colors are beginning to change in Military Reserve, Hulls Gulch, Dry Creek, Five Mile Trail, Watchman Trail and Peggy's Trail. But the colors will not be as impressive as they are at higher elevations in Valley County.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, October 4, 2018

State Parks special! Five fall hikes in SW Idaho - Bruneau Dunes, Dry Creek and more

On a clear day, you can see a long ways across the Snake River Plain from the top of Bruneau Dunes 
Hi all,

Sure nice to get some moisture today, we certainly need it, but a continued unstable weather pattern will bring us more moisture on Saturday as well. That leaves Friday and Sunday as the best days to get outside and play this weekend.

I gave a presentation on my favorite fall/winter hikes close to home last night at Boise REI, so it seemed like a good idea to share a few of those gems with you for my outdoor tip of the week.

I touched on 25+ hikes from my Boise Trail Guide and Owyhee Canyonlands guides, so that's WAY too much info. to share here, so I'll shake the dice and deliver five of them ... suitable for this weekend:

  • Bruneau Dunes State Park, south of Mountain Home - Take the kids and go play in the sand. Take your camping stuff if you're so included (check on space with IDPR). Easy to do in a day trip or overnight. Bruneau Dunes has a 470-foot high sandy mountain inside the park. Take a hike on the ridge of the dune. People also try to ski and snowboard the dunes. It's always a cool place to explore. 
    These were our GPS tracks of doing a loop around the dunes (light green line)
  • Eagle Island State Park in west Eagle - Take a 5-mile hike in the park to tour both channels of the Boise River. The trails in the park are generally well-drained with gravel along the river. Hiking time: 2 hours; Vertical rise: 55 feet (essentially flat). Rated: Easy. Make sure you buy one of those $10 annual park passes with your vehicle registration so you have a free pass to get into any state parks in Idaho. Well worth it!! 
 


  • Huckleberry Trail in Ponderosa State Park - If you happen to be in McCall, the "Huck" is especially colorful right now. Wendy and I did the loop 2 weeks ago, and it was really starting to light up! It's about 3.5 miles to do the loop. 400 feet of vertical gain. Hiking time: 2 hours. Biking time is 45 minutes to 1+ hours, depending on your speed. The trail has lots of rocks and roots, but the views are wonderful -- you look out on Payette Lake as you tour of the peninsula. You can climb to the top of Osprey Point at the mid-point for a nice overview of Payette Lake and the surrounding mountains. Do this hike on Sunday. The air will be crisp in McCall -- a high of 52 is forecast. 
    Wendy enjoyed the fall colors on the Huckleberry Trail in Ponderosa State Park. 
  • Charcoal Gulch, Idaho City - Take a drive to Idaho City and go for a nice colorful hike on the Charcoal Gulch Trail, just on the outskirts of town. Find the trail by the Idaho City Airport (ever been there?) on the south side of town. There's a little trailhead on the north side of the airport. Take the Buena Vista Trail along the edge of the mountain, and then you'll see the junction for Charcoal Gulch. There are aspens and pines along the way, plus a small creek.  
    Charcoal Gulch Trail weaves through ponderosa pine trees and aspens near Idaho City. (Courtesy Visit Idaho) 
  • Dry Creek out and back, Boise Foothills - Friday afternoon or Sunday should be a good day to go for a walk on Dry Creek. The colors should be getting good up there, too! The trailhead is off of Bogus Basin Road, several miles up from Boise, on the right side, as the road begins a series of hairpin switchbacks. You'll see other cars at the trailhead. It's a big day to hike to the top of the Boise Ridge via Dry Creek (7.5 miles, 2000+ vertical feet), so just take your time and go as far as you want.
    Steve rides one of the nice bridges across the Dry Creek
    Trail in the upper Boise Foothills. 
  • Bonus #6: Head up to Bogus Bogus, ride the chairlift and go for a bike ride or hike from the top of Deer Point lift. I saw that they are running the lifts on Saturdays and Sundays through October. The promotion this weekend is that if parents buy their college student a season pass ($160), the whole family gets to ride the chairlift for free.   
---------------------------------------------
A few notes:

  • Our friends at the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands wanted me to share that they have raised enough money to pay for restoring the Plantation pedestrian bridge on the Boise River Greenbelt. It may be installed by next spring! 
  • The Idaho Whitewater Association will be doing a litter pickup project along the Payette River on Saturday. See Facebook event for more information.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Explore five scenic drives in Southwest Idaho where you're guaranteed to see fall colors

Scenic vistas of the Sawtooth Mountains (courtesy iexplore.com) 
Upper Payette River along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway
Classic scene at the Rainbow Bridge on Idaho 55, Payette River Scenic Byway
Idaho scenic byway routes in Southern Idaho
North Fork Owyhee River canyon 
Silver City - hiking up Jordan Creek with Wendy
Hi all,

Fall colors are beginning to pop everywhere right now. What better way to enjoy the colors than to take a scenic drive?

I recently traveled to Salmon and back via Idaho 93, Idaho 75, Idaho 21 and the Banks to Lowman highway, and I saw aspen trees and cottonwoods turning yellow, and the shrubs are glowing orange, yellow and red, particularly at higher elevations.

To enjoy the colors, I'm recommending five scenic drives. Click on the links to see the scenic byway detailed descriptions via VisitIdaho:

1. Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway - Idaho 21 and the Banks-to-Lowman Highway. I saw full mountainsides glowing red this week near Grand Jean and Lowman.

2. Sawtooth Scenic Byway - The Sawtooth Valley is at a higher elevation and thus, the colors are happening big-time right now. Following Idaho State Highway 75 through Ketchum-Sun Valley and then over Galena Summit into the Sawtooth Valley should be spectacular. Do the big loop by combining the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Highway on Idaho 21 from Boise with the Sawtooth Scenic Byway on the way home, going from Stanley to Ketchum and then back to the Treasure Valley via U.S. 20. Stop for lunch in Ketchum. There are many great restaurants to choose from. I personally like the Pioneer, Whiskey Jacques, and Lefty's.

3. Payette River Scenic Byway - Take Idaho 55 north to McCall to enjoy fall colors along the North Fork of the Payette River and in the Payette National Forest. Once in McCall, keep going north on Warren Wagon Road toward Upper Payette Lake and Burgdorf Hot Springs to see even more brilliant colors. Bring a swimsuit and towel to enjoy the natural geothermal hot water at Burgdorf. The hot springs won't be accessible by vehicle much longer until snow shuts the road and turns it into a snowmobile highway. That usually happens in late November. Stop for lunch in McCall -- there's a great sushi place as well as multiple other venues with sandwiches and burgers.

4. Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway - Take a big drive from Grand View to Jordan Valley, Oregon on this scenic byway on backcountry dirt and gravel roads. It's about 100 miles and full day's drive to cover the byway. Beyond the BLM online guide, we provide all the details on this scenic drive in our popular guidebook, The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guideby yours truly and fine arts photographer Mark Lisk. There are restaurants and services in Grand View and Jordan Valley. Make sure you top off your gas tank before venturing off into the Owyhees!

5. Take a scenic drive to Silver City in the Owyhee Mountains. The aspen trees are turning color in the quaint mining ghost town, located near Murphy. There are places to go hiking and mountain biking in Silver City. Details are available in The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure GuideTo reach Silver City, go south of Nampa on Idaho 45 to the Snake River and junction with Idaho 78. Turn left to head for Murphy and watch for a signed right-hand turn to Silver City. It's paved road for a while, and then it turns to dirt. Pack a lunch and enjoy the day!

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Try Cycle Oregon for week of challenging, scenic road biking with friends

Happy rider grinding up the hill on Day 1 to Halfway, OR
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon 
Wendy found an unexpected friend in the Blue Mountains 
Leaving Wallowa Lake and heading for Elgin on Day 3 ... cool, beautiful morning. 
Hi all,

I'm happy to say that Wendy and I survived Cycle Oregon last week, a big event with 2,000 fellow road bikers who rode 383 miles and climbed 23,612 vertical feet over six days of riding. Whew!

Passing through a rainbow of balloons at the finish line in Baker, Oregon, last Saturday afternoon, after riding 60 miles from La Grande to Baker on scenic back roads, I felt a major rush of happiness overtake my body, a feeling of accomplishment, and a feeling of freedom -- getting my life back after being engulfed in a pretty intense drill of road-biking boot camp for 7 days in a row. 

The route Cycle Oregon selected this year was absolutely beautiful in NE Oregon. That was a big draw for me since I lived in La Grande as a cub reporter for the Observer in the early '80s, and I used to ride my road bike everywhere in the Grande Ronde Valley in my free time. I even did some long-distance rides from La Grande to Wallowa Lake, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Main Stage in La Grande ... Karaoke night. Kind of a stich! 
We also were motivated to participate in Cycle Oregon because some friends of ours from Portland were signed up, and I thought it would be a cool thing to do in my 60th year. Road biking really helps me burn calories and improve fitness in a way that's superior to mountain biking. And I thought the challenge of doing Cycle Oregon might be appealing to Wendy after her Mom died in late May. It would give her a fitness goal and something positive to do while working through the grieving process. She had 3 months to train! Wendy liked the idea, she took ownership of it, and did fantastic.

Wendy had never ridden 80 miles in a day in her life, until she did Cycle Oregon. She wondered out loud, in a joking way, why she had waited until she was 61 to tackle a big week of road riding! Oh well! 

On Day 2 of Cycle Oregon, we camped at Wallowa Lake State Park, with the Eagle Cap Wilderness towering above us, at the end of a grueling ride, the most challenging day of the whole journey. The Day 2 itinerary motivated us to do big training rides, because we had to ride 78 miles over three mountain passes from Halfway to Wallowa Lake, climbing 6,682 feet along the way. Like we used to say in Minnesota ... OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOFFFFTA. That's a big day!

Morning sunlight greets us on the ominous Day 2
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon 
Weeks before we did Cycle Oregon, I'd wake up with a knot in my gut, thinking about whether I was ready for Day 2. And that would motivate me to go do a training ride, perhaps ride Bogus, or do some other bigger ride with at least 4,000 feet of climbing and 60+ miles.

And you know what? Weeks of training paid off. I focused on pacing myself on Day 2; I would enjoy the scenery no matter what. After I crossed the first summit and descended to the Imnaha River for lunch, I felt that I had done a good job conserving energy for the next two summits. But ... an annoying little twinge surfaced in the back of my right leg as I started to climb that afternoon. That was weird. I stopped to stretch that out, and tried to spin easier gears on the climbs so I didn't cramp up or aggravate that weird twinge. That strategy worked.

At the final summit, we had great views of the Wallowas and Hells Canyon, and Cycle Oregon dished up the best snack stop we'd seen yet. They had Gatorade on ice, Diet Coke, Snickers bars, apples,  grapes, peanut butter treats, Goo, and more, and I gobbled all of that down while sitting on a spare lawn chair. I'd already burned over 6,000 calories on the climbs, and I still had 20 miles to go!

Those treats got me to Wallowa Lake State Park. I arrived at 4 p.m., set up camp, and watched for Wendy. She rolled in at 5:30 p.m. She had done it. I was so proud of her! 

Heading to lunch stop in North Powder, with the Elkhorns in the background. Can you see the fresh cheapseal? Boo!
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon
People who are thinking about getting into road biking or trying something like Ride Idaho or Cycle Oregon should be inspired by Wendy's story. If she can do it, anyone can who puts their mind to it. It helps to do long-distance rides with big groups. Your fellow riders motivate you. You might meet a friend along the way. Or someone might pull up behind you and draft; and then lead later on. It's fun to ride in a draft line with people riding at the same relative speed; it's a great way to preserve energy.

Friend Sue Hartford, a Boise nurse, has ridden Cycle Oregon several times. These were her thoughts about the ride this year. "Cycle Oregon was a challenging week of riding with always-fun "after-spots," she says. "Beautiful scenery ending in a cute welcoming town or beautiful park! They set up an amazing city in itself. It was a time to also get reaquainted with old friends and make new ones. Thank you Cycle Oregon once again!" 

Cycle Oregon makes things fun by carrying all of your gear, providing excellent hearty hot meals at breakfast and dinner, and they have a main stage that travels to base camp each day. Live music cranks up at 3:30 p.m., and the beer taps are flowing and the wine bar is open. Some groups bring RVs and extra supplies so they have their own food and party materials to supplement what's provided by Cycle Oregon.

At the finish line in Baker ... happy to be done! 
Cycle Oregon also gives back to the local communities. They have announcements on the main stage each evening at 7:30 p.m., and give the riders a chance to be welcomed by local people and hear about their communities. We even heard from a Nez Perce tribal elder at Wallowa Lake.

After 4 days of riding, we earned a rest day in Pendleton, site of the famous Pendleton Round Up, which was in full swing. We bought tickets to see the rodeo events that day, and had the privilege of watching Native Americans compete in a bareback relay race. That was the most exciting thing we saw all day!

Mostly, however, we enjoyed resting our legs for 24 hours. The annoying little twinge went away in my right leg from the rest. Wendy and I took naps. And in the late afternoon, we had more time to enjoy the beer garden, and had wine with dinner with friends. We had a substantial climb to La Grande the next day, but only 55 miles. We were on the downward side of the hump.

I highly recommend Cycle Oregon, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Ride Idaho, too. Get some friends together and make it a goal! Think of it as a present to you!
- SS
She did it! Yay Wendy Wilson!