Plein Air Painting Idaho
Travelog October 2015

My long planned trip to Idaho is finally happening after numerous delays.  This is to be State #20 in my Quest to Paint the 50 States.  Initially I had considered driving from my home in Santa Cruz, California to Idaho.   It is a drive of about 14 hours.  Mostly on good roads, but I will be traveling alone and I understand from talking to others that the drive is really boring.  I decided to fly instead which turned out to be a good decision.  I had enough Mileage Points with Alaska Airlines to get a free round trip ticket from San Jose to Boise.  It was a short flight of no more than 2 hours total. 

Boise and Environs

I stayed in Boise for 2 nights so that I could look around, having never been there before.  It wasn't anything like I was expecting.  Somehow I thought Boise would be green and mountainous.  Instead it is very dry and on a lava plane.  The Boise River runs through town and there are nice parks and green areas near the river.  I stayed about 5 miles outside of town at Oxford Suites hotel.  Comfortable, convenient and fine for my purposes.  I was able to procure my mineral spirits for painting at the Lowes store which was within walking distance from my hotel.  I did that right after breakfast on my first morning in Boise.  I planned to drive out to the Snake River Birds of Prey area to paint the Snake River Gorge.  In looking at the map it appears to be quite remote and without resources out there, so I got a sandwich and made sure I had plenty of drinking water etc. before heading out. 

Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area - BLM - Snake River Gorge, Idaho

Well that was a bit of an adventure on the road less traveled!  I went out to this very remote and lightly visited area by myself in the morning.  It involved driving on Swan Falls Road  to the South and West of Boise for 20 miles across a flat and parched lava flow.  The road was straight as an arrow with no cars for ages. 

It felt wonderful to be out in the wide open spaces with no people around.  I found the perfect spot to do my first Idaho painting at Dedication Point which is right on the rim on the Snake River Gorge.

There are toilets and an interpretive trail that leads out to the Point.  It is a relatively short walk and is also wheelchair accessible.   There is a paved viewing area that is safe with a stone wall protecting one from the cliff edge.  The view is superb! It overlooks the Snake river as it snakes its way through lava flows down in the gorge.  I could see eagles and falcons flying below me along the river as I painted at this spot.  It was wonderful to be so suspended in nature - far from crowds and noise.  The sound of the wind and the call of the various raptors and ravens were the only sounds - The Snake River was far below and running slowly at this time of year.  No doubt it will look quite different in Spring after winter snowmelt swells its' banks.  I did have to fend off horse flies - so take Deet-laced insect repellent  out with you if you visit this remote place.  Also take an umbrella.  Mine was put to good use as it was quite hot and very dry while I painted there. There isn't a single tree in sight up on the rim of the Gorge.    Here is the painting I did at Dedication Point.

Eating out in the Basque District of Boise

After my full day of painting at the Gorge I decided to go into Downtown Boise for dinner.  I went to the Basque area of town where there are numerous restaurants.  I ended up eating at Leku Ona on 6th Street.  The weather was so nice that I ate outside.  The patio was decorated with lights and quite festive feeling.  I had squid cooked in its' ink.  A new experience and delicious!  There are a number of Basque Restaurants in this district - check out some choices on Trip Advisor or Yelp to get current reviews.  As we know, restaurants come and go in quality and can be highly variable. 

The Drive from Boise to Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho

After my solo time in Boise I headed to Ketchum and Sun Valley to stay with friends Nancie  and her husband Dewey  who live there.  They  had very kindly invited me to stay with them for 4 nights.  The drive from Boise to Ketchum is easy and the road good all the way.  I peeled off the Interstate 84 at Mountain Home and headed North-East on Route 20.  There is an interesting place to visit on this road if you have time.  It is the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. For those into geology and earth history this is a great spot.

I stopped at this spot (Wrangler Drive In)  for a bite of lunch in the tiny burg of Fairfield - Road Kill Patty Melt anyone?  Love the sign! but I fortunately found a really delicious potato and bacon hot soup to quell my hunger pangs.  After getting my soup and crackers "to go" I found a dirt road to pull off onto to eat.  The quiet was wonderful - just wind rustling through the fields.  Then I saw a herd of prong horn antelope cavorting and jumping in the meadow and then onto the road I was parked on.  They are the only antelope in North America.  Antelope differ from deer in that they do not lose their horns each year.  Delightful animals and so graceful.  I was too late to get a photo of course. 

Back on the road after lunch it was a short drive to get to Ketchum and Nancie and Dewey's gorgeous home there.  I have my own lovely bedroom and bathroom upstairs in the very large log home.  Perfect!

Ketchum and Sun Valley in Fall

Aspen trees are golden and the air crisp and clear - blue sky above.  No snow has arrived yet and it was warm and very pleasant the whole time I was there.  The mountains are a beautiful golden pink tan color which can be a little tricky to mix in paint but I got the hang of it after mixing for a while.  It is good to be exposed to colors that we don't normally see in our home area.  It makes us more versatile and patient with color mixing.

4-Wheeling for Trout Fishing and Plein Air Painting

The next morning Nancie had to work but Dewey and I got the day off to head up into The Trail Creek valley (North of Ketchum) which is surrounded by big peaks and requires a rugged off road vehicle and 4 wheel drive.  Don't attempt this road without a proper vehicle,  it will ruin your day.  No cell service to call for help either.     Dewey was fly fishing while I painted.  A perfect combination it turns out!  Here is my painting from the first place that we stopped at along the creek and dirt road.  What a fabulous spot!  We saw no one else for hours. No animal encounters either - just a few magpies and other birds.  Here is the painting I did at that spot. 

We continued to drive up the Trail Creek Valley towards a peak called The Devil's Bedstead (11,865 ft).  There are lots of beaver dams along this creek and we found a good spot for lunch before settling into doing another painting and fishing stint.  Below is my painting of The Devil's Bedstead - a challenging subject with the sunlight shining directly into my eyes as I painted.  Another great spot with only a few human encounters.  One couple with a chain saw and a trailer were harvesting wood for winter.  Apparently one can do this here for a fee of $10 - what a deal!  Of course you have to put in the hard physical work to get the wood home - not to mention possible injuries!

Back in Ketchum at the house our mutual friends Penny  and Jim had just arrived after a two day road trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Nancie, Penny and I used to work together ages ago and also had numerous ski vacations together over the years.  A reunion of the Three Musketeers after many many years.  It was wonderful to see everyone again!  We are all staying with Nancie and Dewey and being very well taken care of too. 

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival
in Ketchum, Idaho

Each Fall the sheep are rounded up and brought in from the range for the winter.  There is a two day festival to celebrate this happening culminating with 1000 sheep coming through town complete with a parade.  Saturday of our visit we went out to view the Sheep Dog Trials which took place in a huge field.  Each dog had to run about .25 mile to the far end of the field to get his/her sheep - 5 of them.  The dog then brings them back across the field and through several gates before ending up with his shepherd - the dog is directed to separate out 2 sheep from the group and hold them steady.  The last task is for the dog and shepherd to get all 5 sheep into a pen - all of this activity is to be completed in 10 minutes!  Those range sheep are wily and on occasion will even challenge the dog physically  - I guess they have to fend off wolves and coyotes etc. out on the range and can't be too submissive.  It was so much fun to watch these clever and patient dogs at work.  Here is a video I shot of some of the action.

The next day (Sunday) we all attended the Parade in Ketchum.  A lot of fun with Basque dancers, Peruvian Paso horses, music and of course, 1000 (give or take) sheep!  The sheep weren't too happy, but the sheep dogs were in heaven.   For anyone interested in recipes for cooking Lamb go to  They are Idaho producers of natural grass fed lamb.  You can buy their lamb on line - yum yum!   After the Parade we headed out of town to drive up to Stanley about 60 miles North.  I was able to get a preview of where I was to paint the next day on my way back to Boise via the Scenic Route through the Sawtooth Range.  This was wonderful because it saved me a lot of time the next day and I was able to find the perfect spot for my Sawtooth painting.  I will give exact directions on how to get this optimal spot on my page Idaho Painting Sites coming soon.  You won't find it otherwise. 

Dinner at the Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum

On our last evening in Ketchum Nancie and Dewey treated all of us to a fantastic dinner at the Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum.  What a fun and unique place with wonderful beef dishes.  I had their famous ribs and shared it with Penny - More than enough for 2 in the one order.  I would recommend eating here if you are in Ketchum.  Reservations necessary as it is very popular and was packed on the Sunday night we went there.

While I was staying in Ketchum I did a painting of the lovely trout pond on the property.  The aspen trees were a perfect yellow and the reflections lovely.  Here is the painting I did of the trout pond.  This original painting is now in Idaho.  I sent it to Nancie and Dewey as a Thank You for their hospitality while I was there.  Thank You both!

Plein Air Painting the Sawtooth Range
in Stanley, Idaho

I took the scenic route from Ketchum to Stanley in the Sawtooth Range on Monday morning.  I found my perfect plein air painting spot at Pioneer Park in Stanley.  This park has a full on view of the Sawtooth Range as well as bathrooms and a nearby coffee shop and restaurant.  No one there except a few dog walkers and hikers.  It was sunny and lovely with no wind.  I set up my gear near my car and got started on the challenging task of painting a small portion of the Sawtooth Range.  At least the morning shadows were still on the mountain due to low angle of the sun in October.  I painted with great focus for over 2 hours.  The above painting is my effort from that morning.  This is a morning painting spot due to the North-South orientation of the Range.  I stopped at the Stanley Bakery and Cafe after painting to pick up a coffee and sandwich for my lunch on the road.

Stanley Lake and the Forest Fire near
Idaho City

About 10 miles out of Stanley I found the turnoff to Stanley Lake and decided to have my lunch there.  I had started to see smoke from a distant forest fire in the otherwise clear blue sky and was a little concerned as it appeared to be in the direction I would need to drive to get back to Boise later that day.

Stanley Lake is fabulous! A bit like Jenny Lake in the Tetons with the lake reflecting the backdrop of massive mountains.  When eating my lunch at the lake I spoke with a couple of people who knew about the forest fire.  They had come up from Boise for the day to get out of the smoke there.  They told me the road was open but that everything was very smokey of course.  I decided not to paint at Stanley Lake as I had planned given the unknown situation down the road around the fire. This turned out to be a good decision.  I pushed on along Highway 21 heading south towards Idaho City and eventually Boise

The rest of the route going south to Idaho City was a very difficult and windy road with speeds not exceeding 35mph most of the way.  I got fairly close to the fire zone on route and at one point stopped my car to take a photo of the water drop helicopter that was right over me!  A little too close for comfort!   The air was so thick with smoke I had to keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on the whole time.   This smoke drifted down the valley and was pushed by the wind into Boise where there was a red alert for unhealthy breathing conditions that evening and the next couple of days.

I was fortunate that this was my last full day in Idaho and my painting was done, so all that remained was to get out of town the next morning and fly back home.  I am grateful for the time in Idaho and the paintings that I got done.  Thank you Idaho!  You are beautiful!

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