With Labor Day weekend behind us, summer in the mountains is waning towards the slow season and the crisp fall mornings. In a celebratory sigh of relief, I took my old lab on a hike to our favorite spot high in the White Clouds. I sat out on a rocky bluff, enjoying a bit of solitude, watching the afternoon clouds cast shadows across the peaks. The sun was on me, but the air was cool. The silence of the mountains was suddenly interrupted by the full-throated bugle of a bull elk. I pulled up my binoculars to see a mature bull emerging from a wallow, covered in mud, looking for a fight. He bugled again, the raspy voice stood the hairs on my neck. I watched him chase cows across the open hillside, while a couple more bulls answered his calls further up the canyon. It’s moments like these that I live for. Autumn in Stanley has arrived.
I’m not sure if there is anything that can both humble the human spirit and inspire creativity more than autumn in the mountains of central Idaho. Temperatures are dropping. Night time lows are reaching the 20’s more regularly. The quaking aspens have begun the transition to their fiery fall attire. The sun casts long shadows. The days steadily grow shorter. The rivers recede and the rafters go into hibernation. Summer’s wildfires slowly surrender to the greater will of winter’s frost. The Sawtooth Mountains wait for the first dusting of snow. Will old man winter arrive early or will enjoy those temperate fall days?
Summer wildflowers are now casting their seeds to the wind. Crickets and hoppers spring from the dry grass. Dragonflies buzz the water's edge. The last of the Sockeye spawn, leaving their bodies, a sacrifice to the cycle of life. Migratory songbirds, once vibrant in summers dress, now pale, preparing for travel and fairer skies. Clark’s Nutcrackers and Red Squirrels frantically compete for the nuts of the ancient Whitebark pines, high in the alpine slopes.
he black bear searches for fat stores, reserves for his long winter slumber. Bull elk exchange song and fight for the right to sire a new generation. Pronghorn begin their march southward through the sagebrush hills of Sawtooth Basin. Soon they will line up for their annual migration back over the high mountain passes. The whistle pigs, once bountiful retreat back to their underground towns. The Sawtooth Mountains wait for the first dusting of snow. Will old man winter arrive early or will enjoy the fair sunny fall days?
This small mountain town, once chaotic with the hustle and bustle of summer tourism, grows increasingly quiet. Another year of the Street Dance in the books. The summer fairs and concerts, memories of another summer in Stanley. One last chance at some Oatmeal Pancakes at the Bakery and one last cut of prime from the K club. The comforting smell of wood burning stoves is filling the crisp morning air. The cattle are corralled, waiting to be shipped to winter pasture. Local restaurants and shops are preparing for the slow season, closing up for the winter or reducing hours.
The summer comes to a close a little early in Stanley, however, the end is bittersweet. Autumn is the best time to visit Stanley. One can find solitude at the popular summer destinations, like Redfish or Stanley Lake. Hike through the aspen groves showered by leaves of orange and gold. Drift a nymph down the river and land a big cutthroat. Stalk the elusive mule deer buck from the high mountain ridges to the breaks of the river. Stanley is a year-round recreationists paradise. Come and see the Beauty that is Stanley in Autumn.
~Photography and Blog by Adam Gulick