Podunk Meets Paradise

Musings from Central Idaho

Archive for the tag “salmon-challis national forest”

Forced Family Fun: Episode 2016.1

My sidekick Lucy was out of town for the weekend and Podunk had buckets of snow. So, I strapped on some new skiiing buddies and headed for the hills. As you may know, Lucy and I, along with our friends Zephyr and Piso Mojado, form the elite mountain bike team known only as the “Lost Riders.” We have yet to find any nearby x-country ski competitions worthy of our fantastic skills, but if we did, we would most certainly be the “Lost Skiiers.” Sense of direction is not our strong suit under any climate conditions.

So, when I had the unique opportunity to ski with Iron Chef, Odd Number, and his gal, I knew I had to demonstrate best behavior because all they ever hear about is misadventure. On Saturday, I selected a known, traveled route, rich with signs and comforting blue diamonds affixed to lodgepole pine. The snow was lovely, the skiing barely invigorating, the vehicle obvious at the trailhead. Responsible recreation success!

Sunday, Iron Chef had to attend to his duties as King of Podunk Hockey, so Her Royal Highness stepped in for Forced Family Fun. I found myself recommending a new route, a trail I knew about but had not actually skiied myself. This trail not only had a trailhead, but a carved wooden map, unheard of in these parts, where our trail signing motto is, “If you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t belong here.”


Her Royal Highness is so far not concerned that we have lost the Blue Diamonds.

The skiing rookies were terrific sports as the trail, not a groomed trail but a mashed down by snowshoers and their dogs kind of trail, soon became unfettered powder. Pure, steep-slope, unfettered hip-deep powder. My colleagues remained in good humor as I expressed the benefit of being able to traverse uphill for long periods on one’s backcountry skis. And they mostly believed me as dramatic views of the Podunkian valley emerged.


Before the children lost all hope.

But then, the comforting blue diamonds went away, and my genetic disposition against retreat kicked in. “It’s not a crevasse — it’s an adventure,” I jingoed, pretending that I didn’t hear some of the words coming from my 16-year-old’s mouth.

“I have matches and a headlamp,” I offered, intending to inspire confidence in my party. Alas, the confidence was in short supply, and dejected, I led the group on a quite invigorating descent to the trusty Honda Pilot (see Honda, this could by your sponsored spot).

I believe the children questioned whether our 2 minutes of downhill bliss were worth the 1.5 hours we had plodded through the powder and pines. I missed Lucy, who like me, would simply marvel that we had ever found the vehicle.



Tell Me Where to Go

Meadow Lake

Meadow Lake

I read somewhere that the Salmon-Challis National Forest is like the Sawtooth National Recreation Area but with fewer people. The truth is, once you get away from Ketchum’s Main Street, there aren’t that many people in the SNRA either. A more accurate statement is the Salmon-Challis is like the SNRA but without any signs.

The Salmon-Challis is home to the Lemhi, Salmon River and Beaverhead Mountains with gorgeous alpine lakes, streams, and views unparalleled. But there is a cultural aversion to telling anyone about it.

So one has to have a keen sense of direction (which I don’t) or be willing to take chances (which I am). As part of my eternal quest to make the trip to-and-from Idaho Falls bearable, I finally made it to Meadow Lake. About 65 miles from Salmon, Meadow Lake is reportedly the highest alpine lake in Idaho you can reach by car. It’s at 9200′ and the drive is an easy 5 or 6 miles from Highway 28. Bonus.

My traveling companion and 13-year-old son, the Odd Number, reluctantly agreed to check out the hiking trail at the end of the lake. This trail had a very helpful sign that read “Foot Traffic Only.” Even though the Salmon-Challis did not want to let me know where it went, the trail was beautifully maintained — wide and smooth with real-live bridges that crossed the unnamed creeks — and definitely led SOMEWHERE. They went to the trouble of placing nice overlooky benches along the trail.

Odd# and Podunk on Meadow Lake Trail

Odd# and Podunk on Meadow Lake Trail

The trouble is, the Odd Number is not a big fan of hiking. So if my gamble that we were on a loop trail did not pay off, I was going to have some serious explaining to do and an incredibly cranky hiking partner. This would be hard for me to take after traveling from Mud Lake and through the Idaho National Laboratory botanical garden on Highway 28. But I saw a fork in the trail and a sign in the distance so I knew I could clear this matter up in a hurry.

When we arrived at the fork, the sign that pointed up the hill read “Divide.” No mileage, no further explanation and no mention of where the trail that we were on went. Let’s see, it didn’t seem like in 20 minutes we’d hiked far enough to be near the town of Divide, Montana. And I was fairly certain we were on the wrong side of the Lemhi Valley to be heading toward the Continental Divide Trail.

We took the low road and ended up on the other side of the campground. I went home and looked at my Eastern Idaho Trail guide and discovered that we were on the handicapped-accessible 1-mile Meadow Lake campground trail. But, shhh, don’t tell anyone.

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