THIS is heaven. My car is parked beside what I surmise is the outlet of Alturas Lake which feeds into the famed Salmon River which in turn flows into the Snake River, which defines the westward flow of precipitation from the central United States into the Pacific Ocean.
Less than a month ago I was a world traveler, high on sights, sounds, and smells of life in another hemisphere. But this evening I’m in my own backyard, luxuriating in a special nirvana that is mine alone. I left the comforts of home mid-afternoon. Now the sun is minutes from sliding from view behind the eastward peaks of the Sawtooth mountain range.
Along the way, I cruised by some of the most picturesque campsites in Idaho—perched beside Redfish Lake, with the iconic Sawtooths rising in snowy defiance to the west. It is early in a wet and difficult season. More than three quarters of the camp sites were available. But the pristine camp pads rimming the lake deflected me. All that black top, the cleanly swept pavilions, the leveled tent and trailer pads glared back at me. Those campsites looked more like the floor of a BMW garage than a wilderness experience. And then I’d peer at the campers who would be my neighbors for the night. They were expending so much energy and money trying to be uncivilized. I anticipated the compressors, the i-Pod docking stations, the kids with their super-sized squirt guns, the dogs fighting over camp scraps. I drove on by.
It was getting late; I was getting hungry—ready to break into my cooler of provisions. But I wanted the right location. I bypassed all the turnoffs I’ve already explored. Then, in desperation I jerked westward toward Alturas Lake. I sensed there would be some interesting side roads before I got to the “improved campsite” area.
I careened onto the first two-track path I saw and followed it for longer than I thought prudent. But it was a nice path; the sense of adventure beckoned until the road turned abruptly to the right at a calm, but wide river.
Here I sit, gazing at the sedate water that barely ripples in front of me. The only sounds are those of birds chipping and twittering in the spindly canopy of evergreens that surround me and my car.
After the sun disappears, the cold will drive me into the back of my car where I will curl up in my sleeping bag, listening for night sounds and waiting for the moon. I will wake as the sun rises in the morning and head for Sun Valley—civilization and a hike with the Idaho Conservation League.