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The Folklife Fair & Sheepdog Trials

Learn About The Basque

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.

Trailing-Dogs

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)

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.

2012-Trailing-Of-The-Sheep

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)

Silverwood Amusement Park

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I’m from Ohio; not a fact I usually brag about, but it does come with some perks. For example, Ohio is home to the world’s greatest amusement park. Oh, shut your cheese-hole, Mickey. Disney World doesn’t hold a candle to Cedar Point, and you know it.

I only mention this, because growing up so close to Cedar Point has made me a little snobbish when it comes to theme parks. Before we even arrived at Silverwood, 30 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, I was scoffing. “Will they have seventeen roller coasters? Heh. Doubt it.”

Idaho Aftershock

To be honest, Silverwood is no Cedar Point. But that’s alright; it’s still the largest amusement park in the Pacific Northwest, with enough rides and entertainment to easily occupy a day.

We visited at the end of the season, when the park was busy transforming itself into Scarywood for Halloween. Normally, Silverwood projects an “Old West” sort of charm, but was busy ratcheting up the fright-factor: cobwebs had been draped atop the old-time general stores, vampires and mummies peered out from windows, and creepy huts were selling inedible monster-food like Dots Ice Cream.

After walking around and taking in the atmosphere, we had to make some tough decisions. We had arrived late in the day, after spending the morning on Kellogg’s gondola, and there was only enough time for two rides. Our first pick was easy. The Aftershock was a crazy-looking coaster which lifts you vertically into the air and then drops with terrifying speed, before sending you into loops and twists, and eventually dirtying your diapers with another vertical climb… which now drops you backwards.

Our second choice, the Timber Terror, was even better. Rickety and wooden, this was one of those old coasters which you’re sure is going to fall apart as you’re hurtling down at Mach Four. Adding to the fun, its cars had been positioned backwards in preparation for Scarywood. This one had our stomachs up in our mouths the whole time. Plus, there was the added fun of torturing children; two young girls were sitting behind us and we never stopped pretending that we were about to vomit on them.

If you’ve had enough of Idaho’s scenic byways, hikes and peaceful landscapes, and could use a good jolt of roller-coaster adrenaline, Silverwood manages to pack quite a lot into its modest size. We had a good time.

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October 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm Comments (2)

An Ice Cream Social in Historic Roseberry

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Maybe it was all the Mountain Dew we’d been drinking, but Jürgen and I woke up on Saturday morning with an unquenchable thirst for crazy action. “Dude!” I yelled at him. “Extreeeeme!” came his frenzied reply. Mouths frothing, we examined our options. Repelling in the Sawtooths? Lame. Kayaking in Hell’s Canyon? Snooze-ville. But what’s this? An ice cream social in historic Roseberry? Sounds like it’s time to get our party shoes on!

Ice Cream Social

In its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, Roseberry was among the most important towns in central Idaho, boasting two schools, a telephone exchange, stores, churches and a bank. But its fortunes changed irreversibly in 1914, when the railroad decided to build their line a mile and a half to the west, founding the new town of Donnelly. Businesses quickly abandoned Roseberry, even picking up entire structures and moving them down the road. By 1939, the last store had closed and it became little more than a ghost town.

But for the last few decades, there’s been a concentrated effort to bring life back to the town. The Long Valley Preservation Society has been working to turn old Roseberry into a place of historic interest. Barns have been rebuilt according to the original plans, the general store has been renovated, and the churches and houses now look much as they did in 1907.

Saturday’s ice cream social provided a great excuse to check it out. Houses were open to the public, and locals dressed in period garb were on-hand to relate Roseberry’s history and describe the buildings, most of which were Finnish in origin. We wandered from the “Barn at Roseberry” to the 1905 Arling House, and saw the 1898 Korvola Cabin… it was like a giant outdoor museum.

We had a great day out. The ice cream was free and delicious, and the town was packed full with visitors. We hovered around the proceedings a bit, checking out classic cars and eavesdropping on conversations. Everyone seemed to know each other, which I suppose isn’t surprising. We stayed until the bagpipe band finished their performance, then headed home.

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September 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm Comments (2)

The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic

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“Which one is it going to be?” I whispered to Jürgen after the pilots had finished up their morning briefing and were beginning to mingle with the passengers. “Hopefully that guy with the handlebar moustache!” As luck would have it, it was. The awesome dude with the handlebar moustache had seen his name on the placard we were holding, and approached us. “Quinn”, he said, putting his hand out. “Eric Quinn”.

Hot-Air-Ballon-Tours-Idaho

We were at the Spirit of Boise Baloon Classic, and had just met our pilot for the day. He introduced us to his team, which included his wife Tara, and then put us to work preparing the balloon. Tara is a pilot, too, and we would later learn that the Quinns’ incursion into the world of ballooning had been her idea to begin with. She was the one who had become enraptured of the idea, and was also the first to obtain a license. And the balloon we’d be riding in, the Millennium Spirit, had been a birthday present from him to her. (Which, I hate to point out, makes the sweater I got last year look pretty lame, Jürgen!)

Setting up the balloon was a lot of fun, and enough work to keep the eight members of our team busy. After filling it with air, it was time for Jürgen and I to step into the basket. At this point, the butterflies seriously began tickling my stomach — I was just about to fret to Jürgen about the take-off, when I realized that we were already airborne. It had been so smooth, I hadn’t even noticed leaving the ground. The whole trip, in fact, was more serene than I had expected. We were just floating; there was nothing the least bit jerky or jarring about it.

It was amazing. This had been something I’d always wanted to experience, and now here we were, soaring above Boise. Eric could raise the balloon by blasting the fire, or lower it by letting air into the top. He was even able to roughly control the direction in which we floated by monitoring the air currents at different altitudes. At one level, we’d be going west, and then we’d ascend twenty feet and be pushed toward the south.

Loaf-In-The-Oven

We weren’t alone in the sky. There were about thirty balloons participating in the Classic, which has been held annually since 1991. One of Eric’s friends, who was piloting a balloon similar in design to ours, approached and gave us a “kiss” — which meant bumping the balloons together. “Hey Eric”, he called over from his basket, “That was nice, but I would have rather kissed your wife!”

After we had landed and everything was packed, Jürgen and I began to say our goodbyes, but the Quinns stopped us short. “Whoa, you’re not going anywhere yet!” Oh, no? “Nope. You’re first-timers, and that means you’ll have to complete… [boom boom boom] The Ceremony!!!” They took us into a grassy field and laid out a small carpet. We knelt before Eric while he related the tale of history’s original balloon trip. Then after swearing an oath, we bent over, took our paper champagne glasses between our teeth, and drained them without using our hands.

It was an incredible day out and we couldn’t have found a better team to ride with than the Quinns. Hot air ballooning is now something I can scratch off my life’s “to-do list”. Although, maybe I won’t. I wouldn’t mind the excuse to do it again. Floating silently through the air, carried by the wind, looking down on the tiny people waving up at me… it’s something I could get addicted to.

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September 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm Comments (6)

The Western Idaho Fair

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With a history stretching back to 1897, the Western Idaho Fair is one of the state’s biggest annual celebrations. Concerts, competitions, rides, games, crazy food and an overabundance of stinking, dusty farm animals occupy the large fairground for a week on the northern end of Boise. We couldn’t resist checking it out, and showed up on the fair’s final day.

Bending Over

We started at a horse show, which we hoped might involve trick riding or barrel racing. But it was more like the Westminster Dog Show for horses. Riders simply walked their steeds around in a circle while a panel of experts them on… something. Their gait? Musculature? I have no idea and apparently wouldn’t make a good horse judge, seeing as how my favorites finished dependably in last place.

The entertainment factor picked up considerably at the next event: the Mountain Boarding Big Air Show. Three extreme dudes put on a death-defying performance, hurtling down a steep ramp and leaping over a truck. We had missed the fair’s concerts earlier in the week, including Styx and Weird Al Yankovich, but this was a decent consolation prize. And I needed it! Because after realizing that we’d lost the opportunity to see Weird Al live, I was practically inconsolable.

We headed deeper into the fair, past stands selling Idaho Tater-Dogs (hot dogs shoved into potatoes) and wound up at a petting zoo. A wide variety of creatures were on-hand, from baby pigs to the giant Brazilian Zebu. I’m not much of an animal-toucher, but enjoy petting zoos because there’s nothing better than watching a toddler with a cup full of food pellets get too close to the goat cage. Curiosity, bravery, glee, terror, anger and disappointment, all in the span of about five seconds.

A giant exhibition hall in the middle of the fairgrounds held the arts and crafts competitions, with photographs, pumpkins and quilts joining ceramics and floral arrangements. And we made sure to tour the various animal halls, where I saw what must be the world’s largest rabbit, and tried to figure out the qualities that make for a blue-ribbon chicken.

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August 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm Comments (0)