Before I moved to Idaho in March of 2016, I spent 30 days living out of my car, road tripping through the entire state to create a feature for Resource Magazine called ‘Snow-clad Solitude: A Winter Road Trip Through Idaho.’ That trip was the final turning point that convinced me that I needed more adventure and nature in my life, so within three months, I was driving a U-Haul truck full of my few belongings across the Oregon border, down highway 95 and into the Treasure Valley. I look back fondly on that winter road trip through Idaho, but one self-portrait I captured always stuck out in my mind.
There I was, standing on a 47 square mile frozen Lake Cascade, shivering from the chilly air that easily freezes the clear blue water. I seemed to be the only soul crazy enough to not only be outside in this weather but having FUN in this weather. I couldn’t believe where I was. How did this place exist? Lake Cascade had me hooked instantly. Being that it is just 30 minutes south of the popular tourist town of McCall, Cascade usually gets only a drive through glance from Boise’s weekend warriors. But to me, it is one of the most beautiful places in Idaho.
Having the itch to get on the road as the state thaws out from a brutal winter, I took advantage of the birthday celebration of my favorite red flannel wearing model Caroline to propose a road trip idea. To go cold camping in Cascade. So we packed up the car, got her dog Lilly excited for the adventure and hit the road to revisit the Cascade region of Idaho.
Now, in my excitement to get out of the house, I neglected to think about the fact that it’s not even May, and that most of the state outside of the Boise area is still buried in snow. So, not surprisingly, we were greeted with a metal fence at every campground we went to. But after visiting multiple campgrounds from Cascade to McCall and beyond, we found this one gem that was not only open, but had one of the most beautiful camp sites I had ever seen in Idaho.
Now that is not a bad view to wake up to! What started as a seemingly fruitless effort accumulated into a euphoric moment as we set up the tent, basking in the fact that we were the only souls in the camp. But this was not surprising as the night temperatures were hovering just above freezing, and a pretty strong rain storm was in view for Sunday and Monday. But never one to trust the weathermen, we started our exploration weekend.
Having wanting to see the famous Rooster Tail show in Boise on Saturday, we got into camp late in the afternoon. But we did make it in time to head down the small hill to our private beach for sunset.
While not the most colorful or dramatic sunset I had ever seen, the calmness of the sun breaking through the clouds just after it settled behind the mountain was a beautiful site, especially without a man-made sound for miles. As blue hour descended, the clouds stayed strong, assuring my dreams of stargazing were not to be.
The next morning, however, we woke to some beautiful white clouds in the foreground as the bright blue sky waved at us from the background. We spent the morning working on our tans on the beach (while wearing long sleeve flannels), but I kept thinking to myself, “what a perfect day for a drive!”
I had a spot scouted out that I wanted to see, but being that the mountains are still pretty buried, the dirt road was closed. Forced to kill time, we drove the 9 miles down Cabarton Road, in awe of the lush green fields lit up under the slightly defused sunlight as the white clouds made way to mennacing storm clouds.
The nine-mile drive was spectacular, with the clouds constantly moving and reforming more dramatic scenes. As a photographer, I was loving every minute of it. But knowing I had more places I wanted to check out, we hit the road, went northbound on 55 where we encountered a large number of American White Pelicans working for their lunch, although they sure made it look easy. The way they ‘waterski’ when they land on the water is enchanting.
After being in awe of the way the pelicans fished, we continued north just a couple hundred feet before turning right onto Warm Lake Road. But once we hit the summit, I started questioning the use of the name ‘Warm’ when this place was named. Isn’t it almost May?
Luckily, the snow was still rather wet, making the drive not only easy, but also beautiful. Once we descended from the peak, we reached a surreal scene. The Boise National Forest laid bare due to the 2015 Cougar fire that burned 1,200 acres.
The site was a reminder how mother nature can be cruel to some of the nation’s most pristine pieces of nature. In the center of the fire damage sat Warm Lake, a 640-acre lake that lies 5,300 feet above sea level. As expected at this time of the year, we were the only people to be hanging out on the docks as some dramatic clouds rolled in above us.
After a brief picnic, the air started to chill, so we decided a trip to the Gold Fork hotsprings were in order. We arrived about 5pm, still three and a half hours before sunset in the mountain time zone. The multiple pools, all different temperatures, provided a nice way to unwind, even if we weren’t the only people there.
Seeing nice breaks in the clouds, we headed back to camp thinking that we might get a nice sunset. But were we wrong. While the sky over Gold Fork had clear holes punched in the clouds, the sky when we arrived back at camp was anything but.
The storm came on fast and hard. The wind immediately whipped up into a frenzy and heavy rain and hail descended on us. As I screamed in joy and ran around taking photos like a madman, Caroline and Lilly opted to sit this one out.
But just as quick as it hit us, the intensity of the storm blew over, leaving a soggy ground and a beautiful blue hour in its wake.
With a pretty fun weekend already in the books, I wrote off not getting any decent night photographs. That all changed as I sat at the campfire sipping my recently filled growler from The Salmon River Brewery, I looked up and all of the clouds had cleared above us. I rushed to get my camera set up and got this photo right before the thick blanket laid itself back on top of us. I had only five minutes, but it was a glorious five minutes.
As we drifted off to dreamland (and listened to the constant rain start again overnight), we woke up and started to head back to Boise, but not before stopping by Lake Cascade State Park, where I took that self-portrait that made me fall in love with Cascade, Idaho.
P.S. Stop at this bridge just north of Smith’s Ferry for a quick picture of the flowing Payette river!