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From the Peaks to the Craters

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After an extended stay in Sun Valley, we got back on the road. Destination: Arco. We took Highway 26, which is also known as the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway. It couldn’t be more perfectly named. The picturesque aspen-covered mountains of Sun Valley slowly give way to the bizarre lava-formed landscape of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. We were lucky to have stunning weather during the drive: a perfect showcase for Idaho’s stunning natural diversity.

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November 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm Comments (4)

More Photos from the Trailing of the Sheep

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We spent a total of four days in Idaho’s Sun Valley, during the annual Trailing of the Sheep festival, and had a blast. Whether we were eating lamb, meeting ranchers, touring galleries and museums, or just enjoying the lovely weather, we kept busy and took a ton of photos. Sun Valley is certainly a photogenic little place.

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November 27, 2012 at 2:21 pm Comments (0)

Juergen and the Sheep

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Oh no. I’ve seen that look before. The crazed eyes, the tightly-clenched jaw. The obliviousness to what I’m saying. The nervous, darting gaze. Once again, cool, rational Jürgen has vanished, replaced by some sort of deranged photo-taking beast. Since none of my arguments are going to penetrate his ears nor reach his little brain, I don’t even try and protest. Do whatever it is you have to do, however insane. Go get your damn picture.

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And, hey, there you go scurrying up a mountain in search of a flock of sheep. I’ll just wait down here, and watch you thrash through the brush, occasionally falling over in your mad hurry to get the picture. Hope the bruises and sore muscles are worth it.

Wow, look at that. Congratulations. In your fury to take high-altitude pictures of sheep, you’ve scaled a cliff and trapped yourself. The rock beneath your feet is crumbling, and you’re in very real danger of falling forty feet to the ground. You’re looking at me for help, and I’m considering ignoring you. Who the hell told you to scale that cliff? It wasn’t me! It was that crazy voice in your stupid brain whispering “gotta get the picture”. Don’t cry for help, now!

Sheep are pretty elusive creatures and I’ve never seen Jürgen work so hard for pictures, nor risk so much; the cliff-climbing was a particularly dangerous idea. Maybe in the end, the pictures were worth the effort. I’m just glad it wasn’t me who had to take them.

-The Trailing Of The Sheep

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November 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm Comments (7)

The Old Man and the Potato – Hemingway in Idaho

Ernest Hemingway’s Master Pieces

Ernest Hemingway might have gained fame for his escapades in Spain, Cuba, Italy and Africa, but the final years of his life were spent in Idaho. He first came to the Sun Valley region in 1939, and was a frequent summer visitor for years before buying a house and settling down permanently in 1959. But he didn’t stay for long; on July 2, 1961, he shot himself in the head in his Ketchum home.

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Like every American fascinated by foreign lands, I’ve read many of Hemingway’s novels, and considered myself fairly familiar with his life. But I had never known about his relationship with Idaho, nor the fact that he died here, until our visit to Sun Valley. When you think “Hemingway”, Idaho is certainly not the first place that springs to mind. But perhaps it should be. Hemingway loved it here; the nature, the skiing and the hunting all fit nicely into his concept of paradise.

Hemingway first arrived in Idaho on the invitation of Averell Harriman, who wanted to bring a bit of celebrity to his new ski resort. As a favored guest, Hemingway spent summers hunting and fishing, and throwing raucous parties in the Trail Creek Lodge with friends like Gary Cooper. He returned year after year, and during the troubled final years of his life, chose Ketchum as his home.

For a town of its size, being the resting place of America’s most famous novelist should be a huge deal, but classy Ketchum never overplays its hand. There’s a small memorial bust of Hemingway overlooking his beloved Trail Creek, and a couple pictures around town, but you could conceivably spend a week there without knowing that you’re in the same place that Hemingway lived and died. Even his grave in the town cemetery is an understated tribute. Just a flat plaque on the ground. When we visited, there was an old, weather-beaten copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls and a couple bottles of beer left on top of the grave in his memory.

When Sun Valley’s publicist Gene Van Guilder died in a hunting accident, Hemingway composed a eulogy about his friend’s appreciation for nature. But the verse was so lovely, and applied so well to Hemingway himself, that it’s been inscribed underneath his memorial bust at Trail Creek. It’s not hard to see what attracted the great man to Idaho, but let’s allow him to explain…

Best of all he loved the fall
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
Leaves floating on the trout streams
And above the hills
The high blue windless skies
Now he will be a part of them forever

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November 25, 2012 at 12:05 am Comment (1)

Sun Valley – America’s First Ski Resort

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Older than Vail, Jackson Hole, Aspen or Lake Tahoe, Sun Valley was America’s very first winter resort, hosting celebrities, families and skiing fanatics since 1936. We spent two autumn nights there, basking in its classic elegance.

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In 1935, Averell Harriman, the owner of the Union Pacific Railroad, had a brilliant idea to increase ridership on his western trains. A ski resort! Harriman enlisted the Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch to scout for locations which were close by Union Pacific stations. Schaffgotsch considered sites in Colorado and Wyoming but it wasn’t until he arrived in a small, end-of-the-line community called Ketchum, Idaho, that he fell in love.

It’s not hard to see what caught the Count’s eye. The name “Sun Valley” was invented as a marketing ploy, but this part of central Idaho does see an unfair amount of sun. Aspen trees adorn the rolling mountains, which provide both capitvating scenery and excellent skiing. Harriman wasted no time in leaping on the opportunity. Construction projects moved quicker back in the 30s, and less than a year after being “discovered”, Sun Valley was ready for business.

Harriman shrewdly marketed his resort to celebrities, even going so far as to producing a film at the resort; Sun Valley Serenade is a fun light-weight musical that stars John Payne, Sonja Henie and a young Milton Berle, and plays repeatedly on channel 67 in all the lodge’s rooms. The most famous celebrities of the day spent their vacations here; Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and the Kennedys were habitual guests. The resort’s reputation as a VIP-friendly escape hasn’t diminished throughout the years; today it’s common to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood on the slopes.

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Sun Valley might be far away from major population centers, but the isolation works to its advantage, since there are never lift lines, nor crushing crowds. Harriman built his resort to last, with a timeless grace to the rooms and facilities. We spent some time in the outdoor pool, unchanged since 1936, and visited the wonderfully retro bowling alley. For a couple morning hours, I worked in one of the lobby’s plush lounge chairs next to the fireplace, with classical music playing in the background, and a member of the staff coming by occasionally to refill my coffee. It’s not hard to understand why 75% of the resort’s guests are return visitors.

The Sun Valley Lodge is impressive enough by itself, but the facilities and recreation opportunities in the village which surround it are even better. One of the country’s few year-round outdoor ice skating rinks. Heated sidewalks. An amphitheater built from the same stone as Rome’s Colosseum. 45 holes of golf. Some of the country’s best Nordic skiing. An Olympic-sized pool. A shooting range. Wintertime sleigh rides to the Trail Creek Lodge. Miles and miles of biking and hiking trails. Tennis courts. An opera house, for Christ’s sake.

But skiing is what most visitors come for. There are two mountains at the resort: Dollar and Bald Mountain. Dollar is known as one of the best learning hills in the world, with a number of easy slopes perfect for beginners. It’s also famous for having the world’s very first chairlift. Baldy is much bigger, with 66 runs and 12 lifts. In contrast to Dollar, the slopes here are no cakewalk; the steep, blue runs of Baldy would be black at most other resorts.

We were at Sun Valley a month before ski season kicks off, which was a little sad. The resort and its surrounding village were lovely during the autumn, with the Aspen trees changing colors on the hills, but winter must be something else. So we’ve vowed to return. We often make such promises to ourselves, but this is one I plan on keeping.

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November 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm Comment (1)

The Folklife Fair & Sheepdog Trials

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The day before the parade of sheep occupies downtown Ketchum, the nearby town of Hailey enjoys the focus of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. The Folklife Fair brings the traditional music of faraway lands into the Sun Valley, along with activities and food. And in a nearby field, the Championship Sheepdog Trials are held.

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I had never before considered that sheepdogs might have their own competition, but why not? These animals are as highly trained in their profession as Michael Phelps is in swimming (though they don’t look as good in a Speedo). A competition to crown the very best sheepdog makes sense. We grabbed our binoculars and joined the surprisingly large crowd who had shown up on the sidelines.

At the end of a huge field, a group of five wild sheep is released. The competing dog is dispatched to retrieve them, in a very specific way. First he has to circle and approach the sheep slowly, “introducing” himself. Then, he has to wrangle the sheep through a couple fences and bring them to the other end of the field. His next task is to separate two sheep from the other three, and then get the whole flock into a cage. The dogs are amazing, especially considering that their trainers have to remain in one spot on the field, issuing commands only with a whistle.

The nearby Folklife Fair was just as entertaining. After gorging ourselves on lamb-burgers and lamb-gyros, we grabbed a seat for a series of performances from around the world. Polish Highlanders were followed by amazing Basque Dancers. There was a bagpipe-toting group of Scottish Highlanders and a Peruvian band rocking out to traditional songs. Stands in the fair were selling clothes made of wool, shearing sheep, and providing information about the shepherding life.

We also attended a “foodie fest” in Ketchum called For the Love of Lamb. Walking from restaurant to restaurant, we joined long lines and sampled dishes of lamb that ranged from the exotic to the familiar. The amount of lamb I consumed during our stay in Sun Valley was probably more than I’d eaten in my entire life combined. And it was all delicious. Lamb, veal, duckling… when you consider it, it’s startling how tasteful and tender baby meat is.

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November 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm Comments (5)

For 91 Days on KTVB

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Last night, we had the honor of being interviewed by KTVB’s Dee Sarton on their evening news. If you’d like, please check out the video below!

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November 16, 2012 at 5:26 pm Comment (1)

Basque Shepherds and Arborglyphs

Learn About The Basque Culture

Our first morning in Sun Valley was rather appropriately spent in a sunny valley. We hiked through the Colorado Gulch just outside Hailey and into a grove of Aspen trees which feature arborglyphs: a unique form of graffiti left by Basque shepherds during their lonely days spent on the hills.

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The Basques began emigrating in the 1800s, due to financial troubles back home. The rolling landscape of south-central Idaho suited them, reminiscent of the hills in northern Spain, and they settled in nicely here. The men were honest and the women hard-working, and the newcomers were welcomed with open arms by Idahoans. Another wave of Basques arrived in the mid-20th century, fleeing the brutal anti-Basque policies of Francisco Franco. As a result, Idaho lays claim to America’s strongest population of people of Basque descent.

While in the Sun Valley, we had the opportunity to meet a couple of transplanted Basques, including Alberto Uranga, who came to America in 1968. Back in the Basque country, he had been a tuna fisherman, but in Idaho he was put to work tending sheep. Apparently, that’s just what Idaho believed Basques excelled at. Alberto is fluent in Basque, English and Spanish, and eventually left sheep for finance, founding a retirement investment firm in Boise. After finding out that Jürgen and I are based in Spain, he engaged us in conversation, boasting about the resurgent Real Sociedad soccer team, and bitterly recounting the story of his departure, which had been so rushed and chaotic that he didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to his father.

Tree Art

During the boring hours, days, and even weeks which they spent in the hills tending sheep, Sun Valley’s Basque shepherds left their mark on the land by carving into the Aspen trees. These markings are called arborglyphs and are now considered an important cultural relic. They take the form of names or phrases, in Basque and English, and sometimes drawings. A house, for instance, which reminded the artist of his home. Or the shapely curves of a buxom lady.

We took a gorgeous hike through Colorado Gulch to find some of the arborglyphs. The Aspen trees were in their autumnal glory, with leaves glowing yellow, and we hiked for about a mile into the hills before encountering some of the tree carvings. Nearby, was a modern-day shepherd’s trailer. The shepherd was nowhere to be found, out tending his flock, so we chanced a peek through the windows of his trailer. Very simple, just a bed, some canned food and a few empty soda cans. Nowadays, I suppose shepherds have cellphones to stay entertained and connected, but 50 years ago? I can’t even imagine how lonely it must have been.

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November 15, 2012 at 3:20 am Comments (5)

The Trailing of the Sheep

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It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Along with the entire town of Ketchum, we were waiting on Main Street for a parade which was thirty minutes late. Just as I was starting to feel the first pangs of boredom: they were there. Thousands of sheep running, sprinting down the street, bleating and panicked and jumping over each other, trying to escape through the crowd, getting reined in by barking dogs, cheered on by screaming kids, and blessed with holy water by a courageous preacher standing his ground in the middle of the street. And then it was over.

Sheep Blessing

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival has been held in Sun Valley every year since 1997 but its roots are far older than that. This has been sheep land since John Hailey first brought his flock here in the 1860s. Land of the Basques, who were emigrated here in droves to work as herders and never went back home.

The parade of sheep through the center of Ketchum was the culmination of the four-day festival; other events included a Sheep Dog Championship, a Folklife Fair, lamb cooking classes, lamb tastings, sheep photography classes, lectures about sheep, traditional dancing… and did I mention anything about admiring sheep or eating lamb? Because there was a lot of it. We participated in everything, but will focus first on the parade which marked the festival’s end.

Long before the Trailing of the Sheep became an official event and captured Ketchum’s heart, it was something of a nuisance. Festival or not, those sheep still came through town at the end of every summer on the way to their winter feeding grounds. But turning it into a celebration made all the difference in public opinion. Where homeowners once grumbled about trampled flowerbeds and streets smeared with sheep poop, now they cock their heads nostalgically to the side and congratulate each other on their shared heritage.

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On their way into town for this year’s parade, the sheep had ended up on the wrong trail, delaying their appearance for about 30 minutes. So the rest of the parade walked very slowly through town — a group of girl scouts, then traditionally-dressed Peruvians, who have replaced the Basques as the region’s imported shepherds du jour. It would have been dull, if not for the parade’s Master of Ceremony, who kept the jokes coming at a rapid-fire pace, some of them hilariously off-color for such a community-oriented event. I mentioned to Jürgen that the MC must have been a stand-up before this gig, and a woman standing behind us confirmed that he was.

Eventually, the sheep found the right path and came storming through Ketchum. It was over almost before it began, but the brief minutes that they were running past us were exhilarating. Sheep are skittish by nature, and running through a relatively narrow corridor of people had them in full-on panic mode. A priest was standing in the center of the Wool Storm, blessing the terrified creatures with holy water.

Our day ended in a field just south of Ketchum, where the weary sheep were finally allowed to rest under the ever-watchful gaze of their Pyrenees guard dogs. They would sleep here before continuing their southward journey on the next day. Different groups began arriving to the field; a Basque Dancing troupe from Boise, Polish Sheep Herders from Chicago, the ranchers and their friends. It was a surreal end to a strange and wonderful festival.

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November 13, 2012 at 6:51 pm Comments (3)

Around Redfish Lake on Horseback

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We had done whitewater rafting, zip lining, mountain biking and a whole lot of hiking — but there was still one more outdoor activity we wanted to try: horseback riding. And we couldn’t have chosen a better place to knock it off our list than in the Sawtooth Mountains around Redfish Lake.

Idaho Cowboy

Our trip was organized with the friendly folks at Redfish Lake Corrals. It was right at the end of the season, a spectacular fall day, when we met our guide Cody at the corrals. Cody the Cowboy. Perfectly named and a great guide; friendly, knowledgeable about the area, and patient with our bumbling horse skills.

I was eight years old the last time I was on a horse, and Jürgen has kept his distance ever since one bit him as a child. So we’re not exactly expert riders. Luckily, our horses, Bennett and Wyman, were tame as could be and easy to manage. After a few tips from Cody, I was up in the saddle and steering Bennett around with no problem. I asked Cody how I was doing. “Pretty good!” Just like a real cowboy, huh? [... silence].

Our 90-minute “Alpine Ride” took us up into the hills around Little Redfish Lake, offering unforgettable views of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. I was surprised by how quickly I became accustomed to being on horseback; it was comfortable and I liked getting out into nature without having to do any exercise myself. Bennett didn’t seem to mind carrying me around. He was a trusty walker… kind of gassy, but that only won him points since Jürgen was right behind us, groaning with every sloshy-sounding fart.

It was a memorable day out, and one I’d repeat in a heartbeat. If you’re interested, get in touch with the guys at Redfish Lake Corrals. I doubt it’s even possible you could be dissatisfied.

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November 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm Comments (0)

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