…or “Idaho, what the #@*!?”
The last, the best, the greatest of all weekend daytrips was last weekend’s jaunt to Ketchum/Sun Valley. I plan to tell you about it. But before I do, there’s some stuff I’ve neglected to report on, so it’s all going in here: Twin Falls, random Idaho stuff, and Sun Valley. Flee this post now, or forever hold your peace.
The first thing to understand, if you’re going anywhere in Idaho, is that they don’t put signs on things. Well, from time to time they do, just to mix it up, but only right as you get to whatever it is you’re looking for. Not with any time to prepare, signal, slow down, all the niceties of vehicular etiquette. And ideally, when posting a sign in Idaho, you want it to face away from the road, thereby making it invisible to the driver who’s looking for it. I say this not because Sun Valley is especially hard to find, because it isn’t (although we did end up taking a brief detour due to the aforementioned “sign-facing-away-from-field-of-vision” policy), but just as general information pertaining to all the weekend driving we’ve been doing. Also, if something is clearly marked on the map and the street it’s on is also clearly labeled, it is 100% guaranteed to be either closed by the time you get there, or out of business altogether.
There is one other key element you should know when navigating Idaho. Everything here looks like it’s just flat – plains or desert, smooth level valleys in between towering mountains. This is one of the reasons why we have so keenly felt the lack of signs. You’d think that if you were looking for a city made of rocks, it would stand out in the landscape, but that’s not really the case. Huge geological formations hide in plain sight (pun not intended at first, but really very apt…), tucked behind a slight rise, or a single sagebrush. Or not tucked anywhere at all, but simply appearing beneath your feet, as in the case of the Snake River Canyon at the north end of Twin Falls. Imagine you’re traveling south on 93, approaching Twin Falls. The view out your window will look something like this:
Note the vast expanse of nothingness. Note the trees in the very far background, towards the left of the photo. Is there anything in this picture to indicate that between you and those trees there lies the following 500 foot deep hole in the ground?
The Snake River Canyon is an extreme example, but the phenomenon exists all over this great state. Faith and I have spent countless hours driving around, looking out the window, smiling at the vast expanse of nothingness, when suddenly one or the other of us will crane our necks out the window and shriek, “Hole in the ground! HOLE IN THE GROUND!” And with nary a word of warning. Imagine being an early settler, rumbling along in your covered wagon, already enduring terrible hardships and deprivation, but seeing somewhere up ahead an area that appears to be greener than the rest of the land around you. You think to yourself, “In half a day’s time, we’ll be at that greener area, and perhaps there will be a water source and somewhere for us to rest.” And then you come upon the Hole in the Ground. And eight months later, after sliding down one side of the canyon and dragging up the other, you’ve reached the green spot that lay not half a mile away from you when you first laid eyes on it last June. It boggles the mind.
Here are some pictures I took for scale. I zoomed in on a hiker climbing around inside the canyon to give an idea of how huge it is. Here he is, near one of the enormous concrete feet:
Anyway. It turned out to be incredibly easy to get to Sun Valley. It’s only about an hour and fifteen minutes from Twin, and it’s literally in a straight line. You don’t turn once, not even when you get to Ketchum. You just pull slightly to the right, and park. And then, if you’re lucky, you go the Kneadery and eat a delicious breakfast, as we did, of french press, mimosas, sourdough toast and omelettes. Faith had a potato omelette, and I had the Idahoan, which consists of smoked Idaho rainbow trout, dill, green onion and swiss cheese. They were both amazing, and we got a late start enjoying the rest of the town because we lingered over our fat and satisfying breakfast for a long time, watching paragliders circle overhead.
We then spent nearly two hours in Iconoclast Books on Main Street, browsing their thorough and appealing selection of new and used books, including an impressive art collection. We, of course, bought several things each. Since Faith has no fixed abode, and I live in a studio apartment already full to the concrete rafters with books. Having been told that there’s an impressive local art scene in Sun Valley/Ketchum, we tried a number of galleries, but we both found them disappointing. Everything we saw seemed mass-produced or airbrushed or not up to par in some way. There was a little pottery shop that looked promising, but it was closed. Faith found a yarn shop, however, and bought some lovely things. We wandered around taking several more pictures of the town, which I’ll put in a separate post, since this is getting long.
And then we found it. We ran into an incredibly tiny house which claimed to house a pottery studio and shop, as well as the artists’ home. There was a tent set up in the driveway, with buckets of clay and porcelain, and a potters wheel in the center. I thought Faith was going to pass out from jealousy on the spot. She certainly swooned a little. Inside this candy-house-for-the-art-lover we found the following rich delights, of which we bought several.
All of these pieces were made by a man named Elmer Taylor, except for the ones in the last picture. Those were made by a student of his (I’ve forgotten her name, unfortunately), and you can’t tell from the picture, but she’s perfected a technique of making screw-top lids for the pieces pictured. Several of these pieces, including the one in the third picture (the brown and blue jug) and those of the student, were wood-fired. All of Elmer Taylor’s pieces have fascinating signature markings and unusual bases. I don’t think you can purchase pieces off their website, but most of the ones I took pictures of have their prices clearly marked, and you can contact the store, Taylormade Pottery, at 888-494-1064 if you’re interested. They’re well worth a look.
On our way out of Sun Valley, we stopped at the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens to see their Tibetan Prayer Wheel, one of only two in North America (I believe) and the only one to be blessed by the Dalai Lama. I was inclined to skip it by that time, since I was hoping to make it to a bead shop in Hailey on the way home (which, being clearly labeled on the map, was of course closed when we got there. See rules for driving in Idaho, above.) But The Gimlet, as she has come to be known, said, “We’re only here once, and it’s so easy to find the gardens. They’re right there. You’ll be sorry.” So we went. “Botanical Garden” is a somewhat optimistic term for what we actually found. It turns out that the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens, although lovely, consist entirely of a handful of rose bushes and garden-variety succulents scattered amongst interesting arrangements of rock, the whole of which was obviously created as a setting for the prayer wheel, and the prayer wheel alone. It’s less than an acre of space, altogether, with a little man-made stream flowing through it. The water is intended to power the prayer wheel and turn it so that the bell rings and the prayers are distributed in all four directions, but the level of the stream isn’t high enough, and the wheel doesn’t actually turn. It’s still fairly impressive, and the stream was cool and refreshing (you’re probably not supposed to wade in it, but there wasn’t anyone around and we were hot, so we did).