My time at Sun Valley came to an end, and my car pointed to Driggs, Idaho, a four-hour drive. There’s only one road south out of Ketchum, Hwy 75, the same road out that I took in. But instead of continuing south to Twin Falls, I cut to Hwy 20 east. This road skirts the mountain ranges that reach south into the valley like fingers. My first stop was at the Craters of the Moon National Monument visitors center. I was somewhat disappointed in that the center is located in a hilly and rough lava stone nook without a vista. As I had been driving east, hugging the base of the mountains, the vast expanse of the Snake River Valley stretched to the south and east. In the distance, volcanic cones poked skyward. From Google Maps, it would appear these peaks are Big Southern Butte, Middle Butte and East Butte. They are alluring, rising from the flats, snow-covered cones, beckoning. But I had miles to go, no chasing after shiny objects today.
From the time I had been a child I have known and romanticized about the Craters of the Moon. Part of the road we used to take from Montana to California brushed along the edge of the lava flow. I used to fantasize about the stark, foreign landscape as the car zipped through the flow. So part of the disappointment of the visitor’s center was my own inflated expectations. Like every visitor’s center I have ever been in, there’s something to learn every visit. On this visit it was, in particular, it was the “smile” that the Snake River valley creates on its way to the Pacific, which is also a volcanic path to Yellowstone.
I was meeting up with my friend Bill who was into his second-year teaching at Grand Targhee. It was Bill whom I had invited to ski at Sun Valley only to find he was in the hospital getting not one, but two heart stents. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I got to his seasonal rental house that he shared with another ski instructor, as he was only a week out of the hospital, recuperating. He told me to come on over when I got into Driggs.
Bill and housemate Jeff had supper for me when I arrived. It was such a pleasure to eat home-made food at a kitchen table. Outside the house, in a pile of leaves, a yearling moose was settling in for the night—right by the garage door and the house. It was amazing. Of course, I had to catch up on the medical emergency he had just gone through, but we also had much in common to talk about; Bill and I had worked at Cargill together and the three of us had our love of skiing, mountain towns, and our great escapes to discuss. We had a warm and friendly dinner and conversation. And Bill was fully engaged, even though he was a week out from surgery.
Only a week out from near death. We didn’t discuss it, but I know it was on our minds: that on a Friday evening May 18, 2018 my partner was not so lucky. His day came, the left ventricle completely blocked, no simple stent to save his life. But it is never simple. It isn’t what we expect. I thought we would go to the hospital and Scot would get a stent, and we would be home in three days. I never dreamed that he would never come home. Ever.
But my mission is not to mourn life, but to celebrate it. And here was living proof that there is much to celebrate; that while one man’s life was lost, another man is given another day, and another and another.
Bill was not skiing, but he did ride up to the mountain with me the next morning and got me a comp ticket!! Thanks!! As we were driving through town two full grown moose were strolling the main drag. It felt like we were on the movie set of the 1990s TV show, Northern Exposure.
I signed up for the Mountain Tour, this time with Carl, one of the seasoned veterans of the area and a friend of Bill’s. Carl knew so much about the area—One of the diamonds that he shared was that looking north on this bluebird day you could see Lone Peak at Big Sky. Big Sky (in Montana) is one of my favorite places in the world, and this connection made me feel close to home. Carl took us from north end to south end of Grand Targhee, skiing, talking, explaining. At the top of Sacajawea chair we stopped to talk to the ski patrol. Carl had been a patroller for years in the Sheridan, Wyoming area. One of the first ski areas I ever took my kids was Antelope Butte outside of Sheridan. Carl had just come from there doing some Patrol training.
On this lucky day, Carl suggested we might be able to meet one of the Avalanche dogs—and lo, the dog’s owner was right behind us off the chair. He asked us if we wanted to see a training demo—Which of course we did! They buried two patrollers in these snow mounds that have cavernous space inside, and on command they told Tele the one-year old rescue dog to “SEARCH!” Tele ran sniffing around, found the first patroller, and dug him out! They shouted praise and jumped around Tele, telling her what a good girl she was. Then the handler stopped, and settled her down. He shouted, “SEARCH!” and Tele began sniffing about. She found the second “victim” and got more praise and rewards. It was such a treat to watch them work with this dog, preparing to save a life someday.
I clocked over 15,000 vertical feet, riding all chairs but Shoshone, the beginner chair. I have skied Grand Targhee before, and I do think their beginner area off the Shoshone lift is one of the best I have ever seen. It is gentle, but interesting. There are trees and glades and nice open runs. The perfect place to learn. And yet Grand Targhee has some of the most challenging blues and blacks, and it is known for its powder. They have beautiful treed glades that are wide yet challenging. It is a well-kept secret, and if you ask the locals, they would like to keep it that way.
I had been trying to learn more about the communities I had been visiting in addition to the ski experience. Since I had been to Targhee before, and since Bill couldn’t ski, we decided to “tour the valley” the next day and see what we could see.
The three of us, Bill, Jeff and I, began by hitting the Daydreams Expresso coffee hut off Hwy 33. We got our coffees and chai and a gooey cinnamon role that Jeff and I split. Across the street is the Teton Geotourism Center and city hall. The center hadn’t opened yet because the one Saturday volunteer was sick, but there was a farmer’s market going on. Though only ten or so booths, it was fun looking at the jams, jellies, jewelry. There were a couple voting registration tables, and a quilt exhibit on the walls. I left with a jar of jam, a loaf of bread and a little glass dish.
From there we hit the local thrift store! It was great fun rummaging through the stuff, even though I didn’t find a treasure. Jeff found a book that looked interesting. When we got back to the car, we saw that the Geotourism center was opened, so we wandered in. The museum had local history, wildlife and information on seasonal activities on the area. It was well worth the stop.
We left town and drove west towards the Teton River. It looked like a prime fishing stream and I heard rumor that the fishing access bathrooms have interesting wall murals, but everything was closed because of the deep snow. We just wandered the country roads. At one junction we saw spray painted on the snowbank, RACE ß so we followed the arrow. We had no idea what kind of race we might find, but not too far down the road there were snowmobiles racing around a snow track! And what was really fun was that these weren’t men racing, but kids from the ages of five or six to sixteen! They had little snowmobiles for the little kids and full-sized sleds for the big boys. I had never seen snowmobiles racing up close and personal. We were on the side where the moms were cheering their kids on. Most racers were boys, but there were a few girls, too. It was impressive—not only the kids, but the pick-ups and trailers that lined up in the field. They had come from Wyoming and Idaho, but they said competitions draw from far and wide.
Just north of town at the airport there’s the Warbirds restaurant and museum. Some collector donated his restored planes to the museum. We only saw a small percentage of the planes in the collection—only those that would fit into the one hangar—other hangars housed more of the planes.
We continued north on Hwy 33 to the bend in the road, around the 5800 street. Like Salt Lake, the roads numbered from the center of Driggs for every mile another 1000. Thus 5800 street would be 5.8 miles from the center of town. We headed east on 5800.
The views of the Grand Tetons were spectacular from these country roads. They looked so close you could touch them. We drove east until we hit Stateline Road which divides Wyoming and Idaho. Driving south on Stateline we had a perfect view of Grand Targhee ski area. I didn’t realize how North/South it ran, nor how west facing it was. We could see the chairs moving, and if my eyesight were better, I could probably have seen little skiers going down the mountain, as well!
It was about 4 when we got back to town, so we went to the house and snacked on cheese, crackers and Jeff and I split the better part of a bottle of wine; Bill had his four ounces. We went to dinner at the Bangkok Kitchen, pretty decent Thai food. But you could tell we were all tired—or at least I can say I was. It was a full day of touring around. I went back to my AirBnB on the east end of town, and finished packing up my gear. I had been so busy I hadn’t seen the owner since checking in three days prior. I had the whole basement to myself, and I’m not sure either of us knew if the other was around the whole stay.
Bill was doing well, and Utah was calling to me.
Next stop: Worldmark Midway.