Motoring Across America

With James "Alex" Alexander

with James "Alex" Alexander


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Travel Blog 264: Sawtooth

Challis to Stanley

From Challis we headed west on Idaho 75, the pretty but winding road that parallels the Salmon River, passing by Sunbeam all the way through Lower Stanley, and then turning north on Idaho 21 at Stanley for six miles to our campground, Elk Mountain RV Resort. Another gorgeous setting with the jutting and dramatic Sawtooth Mountain Range dominating the view. Our campground was full of chipmunks and whistlepigs (that’s what folks call groundhogs or woodchucks in this area).



Morning Trip to Lowman

Elk Mountain to Lowman, ID

Just after sunrise we headed north on 21 for a mile, and then turned onto Stanley Lake Road. There we took a loop tour on Forest Road 455 that took us through a dense portion of the Sawtooth National Forest. After spotting a young buck deer and a large, well-fed coyote, we exited the lake area and again went north on 21 for about five miles before exiting on Forest Road 203 that took us through the Cape Horn Wetland—moose country. Alas, we saw no moose, but did see a pronghorn, more deer, some whistlepigs, a variety of birds, and many wildflowers that Jan enjoyed identifying.

Killdeer Family

Sleeping Lab

After about a dozen miles, our dirt road reconnected with 21 that took us up and around, down over Banner Summit, and south, all the way down the mountains into the little burg of Lowman, where we stopped for a late breakfast at a roadside restaurant. For about 15 miles the highway was side-by-side the South Fork of the Payette River, whose rushing emerald green waters produced dozens of oohs , lots of ahs, and a continuous stream of wows.

Redfish Lake
Late afternoon we gassed up at Stanley, and then drove south to check out the very popular Redfish Lake. With paved roads and lots of amenities it reminded us a little of Estes Park. After our initial exploration, we decide to get off the beaten path, turning southeast on Forest Road 210. I envisioned in my mind that this rocky path would take us above the congestion of the lake, providing a quiet location with magnificent vistas that we alone would share…well, good luck on that! The rocky road got really rocky, and my planned mountaintop view never materialized. After investing a half hour of bumpy travel, we decided to just keep going, as this path eventually connected with the highway. Just as I figured we were close, a fallen tree across our path brought us to a halt. After confirming that the tree could not be easily moved nor could we drive around it, we blew the bugle of retreat, completed a 26-point turn of the Jeep, and limped back to camp.

Trip Over

Pettit Lake
Early one morning we again headed south on ID 75 stopping by the side of the road to shoot the Sawtooth Range with cattle and fog in the foreground. We then turned west on Forest Road 208 due to Pettit Lake. Without a soul in sight we took a few pics in the brisk morning air. From there we headed south again to check out Alturas Lake. South of the lake we went off-road again taking Forest Road 204 south and west past the (very little) remains of the original Sawtooth City and on down to the end of the road at the Pilgrim Mine.

Sawtooth Range and Cattle

Pettit Lake Pano

Pilgrim Mine

A Day at the Beach (sort of)
After exploring both Stanley and Lower Stanley, touring the local museum, and taking a short drive on the highway (where Jan spotted a couple river otters playing in the Salmon River), we decided to hang out by the water. There are many, many choices within a few miles of our campground that fit that criteria, but we decided to find some solitude and headed down a gravel road to a spot along Kelly Creek. Here we pulled out our picnic supplies, set up our gear, and sat by the edge of the running creek with dozens of varieties of wildflowers all around us and the mountains in the background.

Jan Along Meadows Creek

Jan and Mitzy Along Meadows Creek

Sunrise Shoot at Stanley Lake
We left the coach at 5:15 a.m. leaving in plenty of time for pre-dawn set up on the east side of Stanley Lake just 10 minutes from camp. The moon was full, the air was calm, and as we waited we saw the gradual transitions of sky colors from grays to pinks to golds. Just beautiful.

Stanley Lake Pre-Dawn

Stanley Lake Pre-Dawn 2

Stanley Sunrise

This Sawtooth area is magnificent.

See you next week.