“Home, Home on the Range, where the deer and antelope play”….you know the rest right? I think about that song every time I fly to Smiley Creek in the stunning Sawtooth Valley and this year was no exception. As I turn south over Bruce Meadows Airstrip and head toward Stanley, the valley is a wide open expanse, the sky huge and bright blue much of the time; there are deer and antelope roaming around the valley at all times. The valley floor is covered in lush green sage brush. The antelope can easily be seen any time during the day while the deer usually come out in the early evening.
The just concluded (June 21-24), annual Glastar / Sportsman fly-in was fantastic once again, thanks mostly to organizers, Dave and Gail Hulse and Dave and Anne Ammenti. We had perfect weather and not a drop of rain. There was only one cloudy day and that was minimal with very high cirrus clouds that only made the sky more interesting and beautiful against the back drop of the jagged peaks that surrounded us there.
The event officially runs Thursday through Sunday during the fourth weekend in June. The first one was in 2007 and the two Daves along with their wives have been at the helm (or should I say control stick?) since the beginning. They both fly into Sun Valley where Gail and Anne pick up rental cars so we can have additional transportation for everyone to get around. The state has a courtesy van and a pick-up that are available but with approximately 40 people that show up each year, we need the extra vehicles. The Hulses and Ammentis usually purchase all the food for the Thursday night BBQ held at the Smiley Creek campground.
The Hulses and Ammentis always arrange for the group meals and collect any money and keep it all straight. Many, many thanks go to them.
Usually there are three Anne’s there but this year, we missed Ann Walker and Arlo Reeves along with some of the other regular attendees that have been there in past years. My wife, Anne Fleming and I arrived a day early on Wednesday as did now regulars Kyle and Jill Garrett from Sand Point, Idaho.
We met Kyle and Jill in 2008 during our first “Back Country Safari”, another Idaho, back country fly-in held in late September based out of Johnson Creek. It doesn’t matter to anyone that the Garrett’s don’t own or are not building a Glastar or Sportsman; they own a beautiful Piper Turbo Saratoga. that’s one of the great things about this community. Everyone who attends is welcome. This was the fourth year the Garrett’s attended as it also was for Anne and me.
Also attending this year for the first time were some friends of Dave and Gail, Eric and Kelly France who flew in with their Beech Sundowner. Glastar builders Jesse and Linda McMurtry drove in from Montana. Shirley Carson a good friend of the Ammentis drove up with Anne, I think all the way from the Bay Area. I heard her mention something about a 10 hour drive.
Will Crook and his daughter Emily were back again this year all the way from Ashville, North Carolina. John Wade flew his Sportsman from Houston, Texas and Dennis and Amy Dykstra flew their Sportsman in from Marion, South Dakota.
The rest of the group filtered in over the next couple of days. Most of the group came in on Friday but there were still folks coming in on Friday and Saturday.
This year there was an equal number of Sportsman and Glastar aircraft with eight each. I am not sure that has ever happened before but really not that surprising when one takes into account the growing fleet of Sportsman.
Group activities always begin with the Thursday night BBQ at the campground with master grill chef Dave Ammenti waving the magic spatula. We also had a group breakfast at the Smiley Creek lodge on Friday morning, group dinner Friday evening at the Galena Lodge and group dinner Saturday evening at the Smiley Creek Lodge.
During the daytime folks usually break up into smaller groups for a variety of activities such as horseback riding, hiking, bike riding, fishing or just some serious relaxing around the airstrip and local area. Will flew out on a couple of the days to explore some other strips in the area.
Thursday morning Kyle Garret and I flew up to Sulfur Creek Ranch for breakfast. Sulfur Creek Lodge has been there forever. At the turn of the century there was a brothel there. Now there are just some old faded photos of the past. They serve a fantastic breakfast, but only one item on the menu. It is an old fashioned, artery clogging, breakfast of eggs, cheese, hash browns, sausage, biscuits and gravy. There are no roads to get there. You either fly in or pack in. They keep horses for riding and also provide outfitting and guide services for hunters in the fall. They generate their own electricity with a Pelton wheel generator in a nearby stream. All supplies are flown in. Anne and Jill Garrett decided to explore the south end of the valley and see if they could find the origin of the Salmon River but were stopped by the river flowing over the road. However, they did get close and took some photos of the Salmon as a tiny stream.
The Garrett’s then joined Anne and me in the afternoon exploring in Stanley and along the Salmon River about 25 miles north of Smiley Creek. Friday we decided to take a hike near Alturas Lake while many in the group went to Red Fish Lake for a hike that is only accessible by boat or a about a five mile hike from the lodge that goes into the Sawtooth Wilderness area.
The larger area that encompasses Stanley to the north, Smiley Creek in the middle of the valley and Galena Pass to the south that leads to Sun Valley is all in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. A huge, beautiful and pristine playground; where the water is clear and cold in every lake and stream. The air is clear, clean and fresh smelling and makes one feel like you have stepped back in time.
Our Friday night group dinner was at the Galena Lodge for the first time. We have always gone to Red Fish Lake lodge for one of the group dinners in years past and Anne Ammenti thought it might be nice to find something new and different. Galena Lodge is located just south of the summit of Galena Pass, about a half hour van ride from Smiley Creek. The lodge is best known for its massive system of cross country ski trails and is busiest in the winter months. Don’t be fooled by the word “Lodge” in the name, there are no sleeping accommodations, just a large dining area.
Most everyone enjoyed the meal and it was another great time of socializing. The view of the valley looking north coming over the pass is just another of the many truly breathtaking sites. The south end of the Sawtooth Valley is the headwaters and origin of the mighty Salmon River system. It starts as a trickle there and winds hundreds of miles north and west to eventually join the Snake River and then the Columbia.
Redfish Lake is so named because of the massive Sockeye Salmon runs that would make a 900 mile journey from the Pacific Ocean all the way back to the lake. Sockeye are also known as red salmon because when they enter fresh water on their return to the spawning grounds, the turn bright, crimson red.
Eventually the damming of all those miles and miles of river systems decimated the run and I thought it was totally extinct until I saw a recent front page article in the Seattle Times. There was a publicity photo taken in 1998 at Red Fish Lake of then Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus, actress Jamie Lee Curtis and a nine year old girl who named the one and only returning Sockeye Salmon, Lonesome Larry. Then and there they vowed to save the run and now there are a few hundred Sockeye that return each year to Red Fish Lake and with the conservation efforts, more are coming back each year.
The Garrett’s departed on Saturday for Lake Powell and Anne and I decided to explore Stanley Lake, another small lake just west of the town of Stanley. Just like all the area lakes, the water is pristine and crystal clear with steep snow covered mountains feeding these lakes.
Saturday night we had our last group dinner at the Smiley Creek Lodge. Most nights after dinner, someone would build a camp fire with the ample free wood supplied by the State of Idaho and out came the marshmallows, Graham crackers and chocolate to make Smores. In fact it must be noted that Emily Crook and Alex Baumer, both age 14, were expert Smores makers and continued to supply those camp fire staples to all who wished to partake.
By early Sunday morning, many of the group were packed up and lifting off to beat the heat and high density altitude. There was a slight tail wind rising out of the south but normal take off is down hill to the north unless the wind is more than about 10 knots. When Anne and I left a little after 8:00 am, the density altitude was already 8800 feet. We had almost full fuel and our Sportsman was totally stuffed with gear. We had no difficulty lifting off but I would not have wanted to take off much later in the morning that we did. I am always amazed at the capabilities of these airplanes and how well they perform.
I am already looking forward to next year and hope everyone who wants to come can make it to Smiley Creek 2013. Thanks again to Hulses and Ammentis for organizing and hosting Smiley Creek 2012.