Uh oh, this is going to be a long one! Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy!
There’s a long narrow strip of western Idaho that’s lush, gorgeous, and green, all the way from Boise in the south to tiny Bonner’s Ferry up in the panhandle near Canada…and after 4000+ miles, it’s along that route that we found a few places to add to an “our spot” list. Let’s start with Boise!
But, wait…long before reaching Boise, Idaho’s capital city, we drove across the southern part of the state from Jackson, Wyoming. We traversed miles and miles of high desert, with occasional cows, scruffy grass, and dusty hills interrupting the ruler-straight highway vista, until before our eyes, as if in a science fiction movie, appeared the following signs:
How could we not stop and visit? What the heck does EBR-I stand for? We learned it means Experimental Breeder Reactor One – the very first in the U.S. In 1951, EBR-1 created enough electricity from nuclear power to light 4 200-watt bulbs. The EBR-I museum is a time capsule of the 1950’s, and a superb short lesson in the U.S.A.’s nuclear power history. Even with the warning that residual radioactivity (“not harmful”) was still decaying away but bound to certain places in the facility (those areas marked so helpfully by a purplish triangle), we spent about 45” wandering through the original nuclear power plant, exploring the former core of the breeder reactor, playing with the “grabbers” used to handle the fuel rods, and murmuring over the antique looking chains, pulleys and massive hooks that were used to move material around in the new atomic age. The pioneering scientists who worked here were at the very edge of technological exploration, and it was a remarkable and unexpected lesson along our road. If you’re ever on Route 26 in Idaho, do NOT pass this by – you may learn something, and you’ll certainly feel like you’ve become an extra in the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove. Curiously, the film was made the same year that EBR-I was decommissioned…
We reached our stop in Sun Valley not long after the EBR-I visit, travelling from desert to the mountains and through the small towns of Hailey and Ketchum, both towns growing rapidly and increasing in price for real estate – thus not candidates for “our spot!” We were generally dissuaded of any thought of settling in the Sun Valley area, though it was beautiful and there are great community activities (concerts, films, book talks) many of them free due to the beneficence of the Holding family who now own the resort. They’ve built a wonderful outdoor concert venue and continue to play a major philanthropic role in the town. For those with any political or U.S. history interests, here’s a tidbit: Sun Valley Resort was developed by Averill Harriman, when he was chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1930’s, long before he begin his famed political career.
Back to the trip! Two days passed quickly with friends who are long time Sun Valley residents and gave us a good look at what life in this lovely mountain retreat might be like. We had a great hike in the lower mountains and an even more fun time participating in trivia night at the local dive bar…how lucky for us that many of the first questions were about Japan! CW continued his local/craft brewery tour with a visit to Sawtooth Brewing in Ketchum.
Sun Valley might have been our spot – 20 years ago, when prices were lower… We left for Boise after an amazing breakfast in Stanley, Idaho, a rafting and hiking base about an hour northwest of Sun Valley… with all that sunshine, an outdoor deck, great coffee, and good friends – it was a very hard combination to leave.
We’ve been to Boise a couple of times, and always left with a lingering feeling that we could perhaps find our spot there. How does it meet the informal checklist? (A checklist that is going to have to take on substance soon, if we’re going to keep track of the growing number of locations that have whispered to us “stay here” or “come back…”)
Let’s recap some of the criteria: access to hiking and the outdoors; culture; cultural diversity; a sustainable economy and food system; community; education; health care; climate…among a few others.
It seems CW and I are not the only ones exploring. I was amused to read this article in the New York Times! www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/your-money/Finding-the-Right-Place-to-Retire.html
The Boise farm market was great fun, as was the Boise Art Museum, which has an exhibit called “Crafting a Continuum” until August 9, 2014. (http://www.boiseartmuseum.org/) The ceramics, wood and fiber exhibit explores the permeable boundary that has developed between craft and art, asking us to accept functional, beautiful items as pieces of art (I have no problem with that – in fact, if a piece of art can be touched, caressed, and drawn into daily life, all the better!) Anyway, a gem of a museum, and an unexpected and appealing part of downtown Boise. More on Boise if and when I recap all those “our spots” that we find along the way.
We travelled north and enjoyed a few days on Lake Coeur D’Alene, again, courtesy of some very kind friends, and yes, “C D’A” is also an “our spot” candidate. The drive was gorgeous all the way there, and while we’ve been super lucky with the weather so far, I think it would be great even in the rain.
After a couple of days on the water and exploring the towns of Coeur D’Alene and Bonner’s Ferry, we got our passports in order and headed for Canada. À bientôt!