Clayton, ID (population 7) is nothing more than a wide spot on a bend in the highway, between Challis and Stanley.
I had seen it on a Google map so already knew that, but the size of it caught LC off guard.
I had seen the bend in the road. The Salmon River flowing to the left of it, weaving its way in and around the canyons that surrounded the town.
I had also seen their website that shows that the town depends absolutely on tourism through the summer.
As we pulled into this tiny little community we quickly looked at each of the single level and slightly dilapidated structures that lined both sides of the road.
They were all small businesses.
They were all closed.
It was Sunday. It was January. I am not sure whether or not any of these little places are open at all right now, but I somehow doubt it.
There is just no reason for people to be coming through this town unless (like us) they were simply exploring.
Pulling into the driveway of a combination residential/commercial building that we had seen on line, we gratefully climbed out of the Tahoe.
My right hip was tight. A running injury that I have reluctantly resigned myself to acknowledging is a chronic injury. It's there for the duration and as I have become accustomed to doing, I quickly stretched it out.
And then began to walk around the building.
Much to her noisy disgust, we left Kory in the truck.
The place had potential. Was run down. Had obviously not been lived in for a long time.
As LC and I walked around the entire place the early signs of water leaks and foundation problems were obvious among the soggy fallen leaves that nobody had raked up the previous fall.
Quickly losing interest in a building that we had been curious about, I turned back in the direction of the Tahoe, in search of the familiar shadow of quirky puppy-ears.
She was looking at us through the window and (smiling at her) I walked back to retrieve my dog, who was silently pleading with me to spring her and let her wander.
Having seen the lighted sign of a bar on the outskirts of town, LC went in search of a restroom.
Walking to the far left side of the house we had looked over, I headed with Kory towards this little museum.
It was closed of course, but that was OK................
A livery stable next door to the museum...........
My pup and I briefly wandered around the grounds between the two structures, quickly reading the information signs and then weaving in and out of rusted metal, enjoying (as always) the sight of old farm and mining equipment.
They were beautiful pieces. Rusted and functional, with forms now beautiful enough to be classified as works of art.................
I don't know who Roland was, but he has his own rock..............
I had barely had a chance to see even a part of this very small town, when I saw LC headed back our way.
The sign had been lit, but the bar was closed.
Needing a restroom and clearly unimpressed with Clayton, it was obvious that my Mountain Boy was ready to move on.
I had wanted to wander some more - see everything that was in this little town and then head over to the opposite side of the road to see if there was an easy way down to the Salmon River.
We knew that we would be back up this way again during the summer.
We had already talked about camping and fishing on the lakes in Stanley.
With a recon of Stanley still on the agenda for the day, my dog and I piled back into the Tahoe.
Within a few minutes of leaving Clayton, we began to see more - and then much more - snow.............
A quick stop at the only store between Clayton and Stanley, and we were ready to move on once again................
This trip had been very surprising for me to this point, mainly because of the snow patterns that we had encountered.
There was a whole lot of snow in Mackay, but little between Mackay and Challis.
There was little snow between Challis and Clayton, but only a few minutes beyond Clayton we immediately began to run into snow.
And the snow had only increased the closer we got to Stanley.
It wasn't due to extreme elevation changes.
The only reason I could think of for the snow patterns, were the mountains.
And perhaps the winds.
I had made the assumption that we would encounter more and more snow the further north we traveled.
But that was definitely not the case............
In the thirty miles between Clayton and Stanley we passed many pull-offs on the opposite side of the road.
LC and I both resolved to stop at some of them on the way home.
Finally we turned a bend in the road and the Sawtooth Mountains suddenly dominated our view.
I looked at them in awe.
There were stunningly beautiful.
There were stunningly beautiful.
They were magnificent...............
As we slowly began to drive through the small town of Stanley, we wondered where the lakes were.
The lakes that LC wanted to fish and that I wanted to kayak this coming summer.
Pulling into a gas station we slowly drove over to a small group of people readying to go snow mobiling.
They let us know that all the roads up to all of the lakes were closed at this time of year, and then they helpfully pointed us in the direction of a road that would take us up a hill so that we could look out over the entire town.
As we slowly continued driving through the small town I wanted to walk, but I knew that LC would have no interest in wading through snow watching me take pictures of stupid crap.
On this day we were on recon - wanting to be in snow, be in the mountains, be close to water and tall pine trees, and wanting to see this place that we had heard so much about.
The place where you could very easily spend $100,000 (and more) for one acre of ground.
The place with the Sawtooth Mountains, and with the Salmon River running right through it.
As soon as we pulled into a parking space in a school lot at the top of the hill, I climbed out and looked across at something that did not look quite.........right.
I had heard about them but never seen one.
A microwave tower disguised as a pine tree........................
LC grabbed Kory and together they walked in one direction, while I grabbed my camera and walked in the opposite direction.
The world was completely covered in snow.
I could hear snowmobiles roaring in the hills, but could not see them.
As we had climbed the hill I noticed a small sign posted outside a large wooden building, telling me that it was a meditation hall.
As I looked down over part of town, and then looked beyond the similar looking wood structures and saw the endless snow-covered valley, and then looked beyond the valley to the endless snow-covered mountains, I knew that this place was so beautiful.
And that you needed to have one hell of a lot of money to live here.
In this part of the country you had to pay big for things that people back east take for granted. Want a mountain? You gotta pay. Want a river? You gotta pay. Want some trees? Gotta pay. And if you want all three you gotta pay big.
That sounds crazy but it is what it is.
I stood looking out over this valley, completely in awe.
It was a stunningly beautiful day, and we were in a stunningly beautiful place.
Next time we came this way it would look just as beautiful but also very different................
I wandered around the icy parking lot, looking out over the valley and downtown, and then walked behind the elementary school.
Playground equipment was standing in knee deep snow, and behind the swings and slides and monkey bars was the Sawtooth mountain range.
My first thought was how wonderful it must be to be a kid on a swing with THOSE mountains in the background.
And then I realized that kids wouldn't even notice the mountains. Would simply take them for granted (as kids always do and as kids are supposed to).................
We wandered in the snow for a long time, and before we left the school parking lot we decided that it was time to eat lunch before beginning the journey home.
It was early afternoon and Kory jumped into the back of the Tahoe as LC and I sat on the tailgate.
All three of us ate ham and cheese sandwiches and cookies, and Kory drank water while we drank coffee.
Well fed, it WAS time to move on.
There were plenty of river pull-offs on the way back that we wanted to stop at.................
Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction - so easy to lapse into - that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us...........Robert Macfarlane