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Stanley Baking Company
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The old Stanley Hotel
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Downtown Stanley, Idaho
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Main Lodge at Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch
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View from the Salmon River Valley
As I described in my Flames blog, Stanley, Idaho is a VERY small town in the Salmon River valley. To the immediate west are the sharp rocky Sawtooth Mountains which look like what the Rocky Mountains SHOULD look like. A bit further to the east lie the White Cloud Mountains.
The tranquil little valley in the middle is maybe 40 miles long by 4 miles wide, dotted with log cabin homes that have weathered decades of brutal winters and others of newer and fancier vintage. But all are few and far between. It would not be a quick hike from one ranch to the next.
Meandering through the valley is the Salmon River, originally called The River of No Return. It drops 7000 feet before it meets up with the Snake River, eventually draining into the Columbia River. The river banks are gravel and open onto grassland, home to a few dozen grazing cattle. The Salmon is a calm and gentle river, ideal for fly fishermen and easy to cross on horseback. Beyond the valley, it narrows into a canyon, picking up speed and is host to many white water rafting trips.
Stanley sits in this valley at the intersection of two lightly traveled state highways. Its two "town" roads are two blocks of dusty gravel lined with small log cabin style hotels. There is one gas station, a small grocery, and a half dozen white water outfitters.
Restaurants include the fantastic Stanley Bakery (see photos and my description in the previous blog), the Kasino Club and the old Sawtooth Hotel (see photo). The food is plentiful, relies heavily on fresh Idaho or Oregon fish and produce and is prepared beautifully. You would really be surprised.
For summer vacationers wanting out of the heat, Stanley is regularly listed as the coldest spot in the continental U.S. Temperatures typically range from 30s at night to mid-80s in the day!
What to do? Hiking up the Sawtooths, horseback riding, fly fishing, white water rafting, canoeing in Red Fish Lake, watching antelope in the fields in the morning and elk in the evening, hearing coyotes howl in the middle of the night.
We stay a couple miles south of "town" at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, built in 1930. It sits on 1000 acres in the middle of the largest protected wilderness area in the lower 48 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Each historic log cabin (I think there are 15. ) features a huge stone fireplace dominating one wall and chairs on the front porch for watching the sun go down behind the silhouetted Sawtooths.
My favorite memory? A twilight dip in the hot spring fed pool at the edge of the Salmon River. As you soak, watching - first - Venus and then other stars pop out, you hear a sound...first faint and distant, then closer. You look out between the fence posts into near darkness to see the ranch's horses galloping - free - out to pasture for the night. They play, roll in the dust, run around in every direction, before finally settling down to graze. I am not particularly a horse person, but I will tell you this is one of the most beautiful and special sights I have ever seen.
Stanley, Idaho - while certainly not everyone's cup of tea - is a unique place in our world of cookie cutter hotels and summer campgrounds crowded with RVs and noisy frisbee-throwing kids.
A previous blog mentioned the forest fires in Stanley. Given how beautiful we feel this area is, you can imagine how distressed we were to see it scarred by what we assumed was human carelessness. So - a word about forest fires:
Our travels from ID into OR and on into CA continued to be affected by forest fires, sometimes with health alerts urging people to stay indoors. Outdoor performances at the Shakespeare Theatre in Ashland, OR were canceled for the first time in history.
The fires are caused by lightening strikes, sloppy campfire practices and just unfortunate conditions. For example, the Stanley fire was caused when a chain connecting an SUV and a loaded trailer hit a rock causing a spark. Apparently it is relatively easy for firefighters to identify both the cause and the source of fires.
Locals say this year's fires are more frequent than usual. Winter snowfall was down nearly 40% from average. High elevation snow pack, fairly common in most years, is virtually nonexistent. The drought continued into the Spring, creating dry dangerous conditions. Summer temperatures have also been significantly warmer than historical averages.
A final factor in this combustible equation: the large amount of dead trees throughout the west stricken by the pine beetle. Yes, the pine beetle is native and has existed for thousands of years. However, drought conditions make the trees more vulnerable and less able to fight off the little guys. Secondly, warm temperatures enable the beetle to lay eggs twice per season, creating a larger voracious population to feed on the pines.
Watching the effort of man and machine required to control these fires, the infrastructure (food, bathrooms, lodging, fuel, etc.) required to support the firefighters, was more educational than the 20 second news clips we see on TV.