Lava and Sage: Travelling Idaho’s Highway 93

Sawtooth Scenic Byway

It was early afternoon, and my next stop was to find camping along Idaho’s Salmon River Scenic Byway. From where I had eaten a picnic lunch in Sun Valley, I had two choices. I could either take the slow, but paved and safe, route along Highway 75 which circumnavigated the Sawtooth Mountains, and follow that to Hwy 93; or I could venture the shortcut along the Trail Creek Road, and cross directly through the towering mountains to intersect with the 93 only about 100 miles from where I would search for a campsite. Any decision requires analysis. I considered my options. The 75 was a safe bet. It was paved, and lined with services and small towns. The Trail Creek Road was a wild card; it was steep, wavering, unpaved, had no services, had very little traffic, and was a one lane road with a precipitous drop on one side, and a jagged cliff on the other.

Trail Creek Road to the Summit
The road into the Sawtooth Mountains.

I evaluated the worst case scenario. A massive boulder could tumble down from the cliff, knock my tiny car into the steep ravine, killing both myself and my dog. However unlikely, it was a possibility that I had to acknowledge, especially as I began to see signs warning about falling rocks. The other negative scenario, one with a far greater statistical probability of occurrence, was for my car to get a flat tire. I quickly engaged in that scenario, mentally catapulting myself around the potential solutions, to repair the flat using my can of Fix-A-Flat, to attempt to change into a spare tire, or to camp alongside the road. Camping would be manageable. I was carrying enough supplies for myself and my dog to get by very comfortably for three days, and I had bear repellant; we would only need to wait for another vehicle to pass. In the peak of summer travel season, I anticipated that help would come within hours, not days, provided that the humans in the vehicle were rational, well-behaved members of society and not a herd of deranged serial killers who had gotten new ideas from the latest horror film.

After a certain level of comfort with accepting the worst case scenarios, I decided to continue my journey along the Trail Creek Road. I turned on my CD of Peruvian folk music, and hoped for the best. The road inclined steeply, and with sharp curves and the one lane, I rolled down my windows to listen for another passing vehicle. None came along, so I meandered deliberately up the mountain, avoiding the larger of the sharp rocks on the path. A few times, I asked myself, is this stupid? Am I driving head-on into my demise? Am I damaging the tender tires of my vehicle? Am I jeopardizing my future for some romantic sense of adventure? I considered turning back, but I had already reached the point of no return, when it makes more sense to continue moving forward instead of giving up. To turn back would mean wasted time, a return to the longer road, and a nagging feeling of failure that I had allowed my fear to guide me instead of my faith. I drove on, and reached the summit, breathless and hopeful of my descent back to the highway.

Featured Image July 27
I was rewarded with a field of sage, painted beneath peaks, shadows, and a vibrant sky.

A bucolic meadow with a trickling brook greeted me. Mine was the only vehicle on the road. Clumps of sage dotted the landscape, glowing like jade against the patches of lustrous, charcoal lava. With risk comes reward. I considered stopping there and camping for the night, but I had a schedule to keep and at least another 150 miles to travel during daylight. I gathered branches of the sage to wrap into smudge sticks, thanked the universe for my safe journey across the Sawtooth Mountains, gave my dog some water, and checked my map for mileage to the next milestone.

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