Boulder Basin came to mind when the need for a getaway arose. It’s about as far removed from civilization as you can get in an automobile around here, enough of a trip that you’d best plan on spending the night.
These distinctive rocks were a waypoint along the northern alternate to the Oregon Trail,¹ a diversion meant to avoid conflicts with native peoples on the Snake River Plain.
A few minutes to cut across Skull Rock dirt road is a welcome break from highway wind noise. We have the Jeep top on for the forty-percent chance of afternoon rain but the doors off to better appreciate the harrowing climb to come.
We can’t help but notice the universal symbol, across cultures and millennia, of male frustration and self-doubt. “Shall we get a group picture by ‘cock rock’?” I ask in jest.
“That might be awkward,” Mike answers.
Three of us, Mike, Chris and myself, are heading a few hours from Boise to the big mountains above Sun Valley. We usually spend our days together in a downtown office. This is our first adventure.
Southern Idaho is a land of contrasts — beauty punctuating banality, emptiness leading to interest in an experiential yin-yang.
A small group of formally attired young people at the highway turn-off north of Ketchum cause us to speculate we’ve come upon the white whale of the wilderness, a back-woods bachelorette party. I’ve heard rumors of such things.¹
We pause to celebrate our inaugural, up-in-the-trees creek crossing. We’re not in the office anymore.
Mike and I poke around a small waterfall while Chris contents himself with the view from the Jeep. “I don’t care for the rain,” he explains (being from Britain, and all).
The onset of rain makes us glad for the roof decision. It will be amazing to see the bachelorettes make it up here in their Ford Fiesta.
We enter the high basin after five miles of rock scrambles. The rain has stopped, clouds are parting and the Jeep splashes gleefully through deep puddles.
This area was once a town called Boulder City, only the second to be established around the Wood River Valley. “By 1882, Boulder had a hotel, store, corral, and saloon, along with a post office.”¹ Though mining continued for decades after, “the town was abandoned in 1890.”²
star1986 photo from Victoria Mitchell, Idaho Geological Survey, “History of the Boulder Mines Group”: idahogeology.org/…/S-97-3
We are able to access this historic site because the Wills and Campbell families donated fifty acres of old mining claims to the Forest Service as a memorial to daughter Sarah Campbell, who was killed in 2000.¹
We climb a bit higher to the lake and begin setting up camp. It looks like we have the whole basin to ourselves.
The opportunity to share these awesome places with others is thrilling.
After camp is set up, we set out for a short hike above the lake before dinner.
From past exploration with the kids I know a small tunnel is hidden above the trail. It isn’t long but it has a couple deep holes so you’d best enter with a light.
We exit the tunnel above a scree slide after just twenty feet or so. It still feels manly and dangerous.
We each enjoy the surrounding symphony of details in plants and stones, stooping to examine several shapes and colors as we continue the upward hike.
Mike shot-puts large rocks over the cliffs facing the lake below. Some land on shelves and explode. “We’re going to have to give you a nickname,” I suggest. The crusher? Pulverizer?
Hunger pangs signal the end of our short trek. We stand a moment surveying the massive Eocene outcrops that surround our lakeside campsite.
Chris and I volunteer Mike, the rock crusher, to break some dry branches off a snag to improve our wet wood situation back at camp.
Back at camp, fire restored, Mike whittles two thin branches to points, adding to the telescoping skewer I brought. Now we don’t have to share.
As we wait for coals to develop, I realize this might be new to Chris. This is his first camping trip in the U.S. “Have you roasted a hot dog before?” I ask.
The basin peaks glow with twilight rays; time to get in a final post-dinner walk around the small lake.
The water is like blue-green glass within a garland of small wildflowers. It is fed by clear water trickling through deep moss and over dark, angular rocks, its burbles occasionally audible at camp.
The shortest return to camp requires a little wading. I step into the water but Mike and Chris are wearing shoes. Chris circles back while Mike climbs over rocks.
Information technology is predicated on abstraction, discovering and applying patterns across a set of particulars. Occasionally in life we are overwhelmed by particulars. We can’t see beyond what’s come before us. It is then we may benefit from what seems the antithesis of technology, wild places exhibiting boundless space and time, helping us regain sight of cosmic patterns to re-abstract ourselves.
As we sit later in the thickening gloom of a moonless night we suddenly hear hollow but heavy concussions reverberating around the basin. What the …? Our minds flip to danger mode a second before we realize we’re hearing a large rock slide in the basin above, where we earlier hiked.
The others are curious, as am I, to stay up for the full symphony of stars. “Will we be able to see the Milky Way?” Chris wonders.
“Yeah,” I assure him. At least that’s what I remember.
It is likely to dip near freezing tonight. Mike and Chris both had to buy sleeping bags for this trip. I hope they’re warm enough.
Mike is up first. I listen for the sound of crackling fire before I venture out. Christ must have been listening for both fire and food.
Good thing I brought the backup fuel canister. The first fizzles before achieving percolation.
We make no hurry of the morning. Before leaving the basin, we follow the trail to its highest point, where Jessica and I once camped.¹
The three of us spend several minutes separately taking in the expansive view and our small place within it.
The weather has been perfectly accommodating. Rain to settle dust then clear skies the rest of the time. We begin the slow descent to civilization.
The beauty of the place continues to amaze. Thank you Mike and Chris for joining me. Abandoning the comforts of home isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I hope you found a bit of adventure rejuvenating as I do.