Hard Road to Boulder Basin

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August 11, 2012
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Jess and I narrowly avoid fire closures as we make our way north of Ketchum to spend the night high within historic Boulder Basin. The last five miles are quite challenging. They take longer than the first 200. It’s evening when finally we make it to the breathtaking basin.

Immigrant Road pullout
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Immigrant Road pullout
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We turned off Interstate 84 to the parallel, old highway then slowly curved north over Immigrant Road toward the Sun Valley Highway. Straight roads and no traffic allowed a lively pace until we stopped at an outcrop above the Snake River Plain, behind us, to stretch our legs and sip some water.

Hard sun, haze and brown hills around did little to delight the senses. Underfoot artifacts of fun—bullet casings and glass shards—and a rusting wrecked car in the ravine below suggested some popularity, nonetheless, with the men of Mountain Home.

But it's a dry heat
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But it’s a dry heat
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He doesn’t know it but it was daxm’s picture¹ in Tyson’s Tiger thread² on the Adventure Rider forums that was the inspiration for our Boulder Basin destination. A little clicking around on the internet convinced me it would be a great place for Jess and I to spend a night.

  1. advrider.com/…/showpost
  2. advrider.com/…/showthread
Snake River Plain from Immigrant Road
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Snake River Plain from Immigrant Road
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With wildfires still out of control in Banks, along the Trinity Ridge near Featherville, and north of Stanley, we faced a triumvirate of roiling smoke and road closures. With help from InciWeb¹ (I could overlay multiple fire boundaries with my route in Google Earth) and IDT’s live highway cameras,² I determined we could sneak through.

  1. inciweb.org/…/13
  2. hb.511.idaho.gov/main
Sun Valley Highway
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Sun Valley Highway
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Where normally we can see some of Idaho’s biggest mountains, we saw only smoke.

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Four years ago, Sam¹ led an IAMC² group ride this way and along Castle Rock Road by Skull Rock.³ Jess and I hadn’t been back so it seemed a good shortcut over to the Anderson Ranch Reservoir highway.

A few orange cones positioned haphazardly at the turnoff made us curious. Routing a bike race? Caution for a bit of road washed out? Since there wasn’t a sign, we weren’t sure, so continued as planned.

Without a group this time, we stopped to walk around the rocks a bit.

  1. advrider.com/…/member
  2. motoidaho.com/motoidaho
  3. flickr.com/…/72157630892044254
Skull Rock
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Skull Rock
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Continuing along Castle Rock Road, the driver of the only car we’d encountered began waving enthusiastically so we pulled to the side to hear what he wanted to say.

“Weren’t you stopped back at the turnoff?” he wondered.

“Mmm, no,” we answered, both realizing then the point of the cones but choosing not to complicate the conversation.

“Okay, well, the cops have the roads that way blocked,” he said, pointing to our left in the direction of House and Trinity mountains.

I had done the fire research so that was no surprise. “We’re just continuing back to the highway,” I explained.

“You’ll be fine then,” he concluded.

Smoke on the reservoir
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Smoke on the reservoir
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When we arrived at what I had called the “highway” I began to realize this was the direction the concerned driver on Castle Rock Road said was blocked.

“If we can’t get through we can head back and take highway all the way to Ketchum,” I explained to Jess over the intercom.

That as opposed to our plan to follow the South Fork of the Boise River from Featherville then over the Dollarhide Mountain pass.

Smells like mud
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Smells like mud
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We continued descending the winding, recently chip-sealed road to Anderson Ranch Reservoir unimpeded.

“I think we must have sneaked in,” I commented to Jess.

Smoke was thick over the water so we were surprised at how many people were still picnicking or camping along the drab shore.

Curious about the attraction, we pulled off through trees on a dirt road to see the shore close up. It smelled of fish and mud.

Abbot Campground
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Abbot Campground
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Through Pine and Featherville was all about the Trinity Ridge fire response—trucks, equipment and tents.

Although spelled wrong, I’ve planned for some time to stop at this special place¹ along the South Fork of the Boise River near Featherville.

  1. idahocampgroundreview.com/abbot
Worsick Hot Springs
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Worsick Hot Springs
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Continuing from Featherville on South Fork Boise Road, we came from behind a “Road Closed” barrier to see an approaching truck and just behind a rapidly approaching sheriff set to tell them, I’m sure, they would have to turn back. I guess we really were lucky to get through.

Some ways on we took a moment to look at Worsick Hot Springs¹ just off the road. It was much too hot to contemplate a dip.

  1. idahohotsprings.com/…/worswick
Carrietown
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Carrietown
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“The GPS likes to tease me sometimes,” I lamented as I began to realize the ATV track we’d followed off the road was likely the wrong way to get over Dollarhide Mountain.

“I know,” Jessica breathed with a sardonic sigh.

But it was a fun bit of trail so I continued to hope it would connect. We passed a few cabins and structures that I learned later were part of Carrietown, a ghost town.

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The trail above Carrietown became a little sporty before starting to peter out. We wrestled the svelte GS under one deadfall before a washed out section convinced us to retreat.

Atop Dollarhide
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Atop Dollarhide
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We pulled off to the Jeep trail at Dollarhide Pass and rode to the end for a restful view at 8,830 feet.

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Neither of us had been on Dollarhide. It felt great to take our jackets off and enjoy the refreshing breeze.

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The view from Dollarhide was obscured by smoke all around.

Heading into Boulder Basin
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Heading into Boulder Basin
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After Warm Springs Road from Dollarhide and lunch in Ketchum our destination was finally in sight. Several trucks and trailers at the turn off warned us of ATV traffic. Apparently it’s a popular trail.

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The easy trail had me believing we’d be setting up camp in no time.

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The first Boulder Creek crossing was pretty smooth. I took a little more care on the second one since tumbly rocks give the GS spasms. In the XR days, Jess and I rode everything but on the GS we’ve learned it’s safer and faster if she doesn’t mind walking little stretches.

Boulder Creek
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Boulder Creek
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After the little crossing we stopped to cool off a bit around the creek.

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After that second creek crossing, the trail became increasingly difficult. Big, loose rocks are the bane of two wheels, at least mine. Jess was gracious to walk some additional stretches while I stood on the pegs and played a kind of “Space Invaders” with oncoming hazards.

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Sometimes Jess would get back on and we’d ride just fifty feet before spinning out or tipping to the side. Then she would start walking again.

Boulder Creek waterfall
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Boulder Creek waterfall
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Hiking and motorcycle wrestling in coats and boots made us hot. I was sweating like a pig. It was nice to stop when we could (a level place to park) for a little splash in the creek.

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The rock, water, flowers and trees were lovely at the Boulder Creek waterfall. We stood long minutes there in the shade.

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The front tire bounces abruptly sideways and I release the throttle like a hot potato to avoid a tree or drop off. And now we’re stuck.

It was an exhausting pattern. I didn’t get many pictures of the difficult sections but we caught it on the helmet camera.¹

We learned later from some ATV riders that by keeping right at the wyes we’d gone the hard way. This picture is an example. We went right (or forward). The creek and stair step rocks are to the left. But up around the corner we’d get stuck in a mud puddle deeper than the hubs. Among other pleasure.

  1. youtube.com/playlist
Hard but pretty
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Hard but pretty
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Keep calm and carry on
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Keep calm and carry on
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We scouted ahead and saw this ledge. I didn’t know how I’d get over it but at the time it looked better than the alternative route. We were pretty sure the basin was just ahead. It had been a long struggle to get here and we just needed to pass this final obstacle. So we tackled it.

Battleground
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Battleground
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We had it all the way over once and it slipped back down because the front brake alone couldn’t hold it. That was a sad moment.

Boulder Basin mill
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Boulder Basin mill
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This basin was mined from the late 1800s¹ and sometimes home to thousands of workers, enough to be called Boulder City. “By 1882, Boulder had a hotel, store, corral, and saloon, along with a post office that ran from August 1, 1881 to August 28, 1885.”² There are structures scattered around the mountain sides and meadows. We took a small detour to see the old three story mill³ before continuing up to our campsite.

  1. History of the Boulder Mines Group: idahogeology.org/…/S-97-3
  2. www.deq.idaho.gov/media/547828-_newinternet_waste_data_re...
  3. Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series, Nov. 1996: www.history.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/referen...
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It was wonderful to finally be in the basin. The views were spectacular.

Green meander
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Green meander
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Penultimate hill
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Penultimate hill
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We left on schedule to be at camp by 3:00 PM. By the time we made it up the rocky trail, it was pushing 7:00.

Wife wait
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Wife wait
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I think we'll camp here
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I think we’ll camp here
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We were worn out when we we reached our campsite but I was pleased we’d come as far as the very end of the trail to camp at 9,840 feet.

Top meadow in Boulder Basin
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Top meadow in Boulder Basin
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This was below our little campsite.

Popcorn
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Popcorn
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Boulder Basin from the top
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Boulder Basin from the top
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Snow melt
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Snow melt
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Moss and snow
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Moss and snow
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Jessica hid in the tent until I had a fire going to keep mosquitoes at bay.

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In spite of smoky skies, we were able to see a few stars.

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Our tent and stuff
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Our tent and stuff
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Eleven thousand foot wall
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Eleven thousand foot wall
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Life on Mars
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Life on Mars
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A bit of pink
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A bit of pink
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Bright morning in the basin
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Bright morning in the basin
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Melting down the mountain
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Melting down the mountain
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More of a pond
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More of a pond
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Section of the Boulder Basin trail
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Section of the Boulder Basin trail
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