Seeing Sun Valley from the concrete jungle

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Lower Manhattan from Liberty State Park. Photo: JH.

Monday, June 24, 2019. It felt like a perfect summer over the weekend in New York. Temps reached up into the low 80s so it was warm, but not humid; and falling to the mid-60s cool by late evening.

Today we are featuring a kind of travel piece about our friend Paige Peterson visiting her nephew and his wife and family out in Sun Valley, Idaho. I believe the actual name of the area is the Wood River Valley. And Sun Valley is in Ketchum. Paige, you may remember, did a couple of beautiful travel pieces for us, and she has the eye for it. So we asked her for a piece on Sun Valley.

Averell Harriman.

Sun Valley has been famous to Americans for the past 75 years. It was created by Averell Harriman who was the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad which he inherited from his father. The Railroad owned a large chunk of land in that valley in Ketchum.

It is known for having an almost ideal climate for people who love the outdoors. Even as far back as 10,000 years ago, the Wood River Valley in Idaho was home to the Native American people in the fairer weather seasons. For the 21st century dwellers, the summers are milder than the East, and the winters have great snows for skiers.

The Harriman project was widely publicized in the press because of its clientele. It drew Ernest Hemingway to Ketchum. Movie stars and their moguls, such as Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Esther Williams, Clark Gable, Ingrid Bergman, Daryl Zanuck, Doris Day and their spouses (and often with family) were frequent clientele “roughing it” in the mountains Hollywood-style.

It wasn’t until the 1870s, when gold was discovered in the West, that the European settlers and prospectors began to populate the Wood River Valley.  By the end of 1884, the ore mining business was thriving. Ketchum boasted 13 saloons, 4 restaurants, and 2 hotels.

By the first quarter of the 20th century, the prospecting days were over and most people moved on. In January of 1936, Count Felix Schaffgotsch arrived in the Valley. The once prosperous mining town had shrunk to a population of 100. The Count was sent by Harriman to scout out the perfect spot to build his ski resort. Within three days of arriving, the Count wired his client: “Among the many attractive spots I have visited, this combines the more delightful features of any place I have seen in the United States, Switzerland and Austria for a winter ski resort.”


Felix Schaffgotsch and Averell Harriman in front of Sun Valley Lodge in 1936. Photo courtesy The Community Llibrary, Regional History Department.

That was it for Harriman. In less than a year, the luxurious Sun Valley Resort was completed and the doors were open. Today Sun Valley’s star-studded history can be viewed in photographs at the Sun Valley Lodge. Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Wynn, Justin Timberlake, and Bill Gates have owned property in Sun Valley. People may come for the snow, but they stay for the summers.

The legendary novelist Hemingway felt very much in sync with the place. He fished there, explored the mountain trails, drank at the local bars, and finished writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls” at the Sun Valley Lodge. He also took his own life there on July 2, 1961.

Here’s what Paige saw:


L. to r.: Iconic Vintage Sun Valley Lodge Poster; Bennett Everson practicing his golf skills at the Sun Valley Golf Club.
Sun Valley Ski School instructors at the Sun Valley Lodge, 1938.
American film producer and founder of 20th Century Fox Daryl Zanuck with pioneer ski instructor Otto Lang in 1939. Lang eventually followed Daryl Zanuck to Hollywood where Lang became a movie/television director and producer. Otto Lang’s son, Peter Lang, inspired by his father’s work with animals on the television show “Daktari” is the founder and owner of Safari West Wildlife Preserve in Sonoma County in California. Otto Lang was inducted into U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.
Ernest Hemingway, Henry Hathaway, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman at Trail Creek Cabin.
Sigi Engl and Sepp Fröhlich founders of the Sun Valley Ski School.
Travertine stonework, 750 tons of which were personally selected by the Holding family from the same quarry that supplied the Roman Colosseum in Italy. Inset: Beautiful honey colored Travertine stonework in the Sun Valley Pavilion.
In short declarative sentences that hit readers with the power of a telegram, Ernest Hemingway wrote novels, short stories and memoirs that celebrated war and hunting and fishing. In the 1950s, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his life on July 2, 1961.
A simple bronze column, topped by a bust of Ernest Hemingway, sits beside the gently flowing Trail Creek in Sun Valley. The sculpture, by Robert Berks, was dedicated on Hemingway’s birthday—July 21, 1966—five years after he took his own life in nearby Ketchum
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Ketchum Fast Freight Line was founded on August 2, 1880. The mined ore was carried from the Elkhorn mine to the railroad in Kelton, Utah. These enormous wagons with six foot wheels known as “The Big Hitch” made the round trip in about two weeks returning to Ketchum with Merchandise and freight for local business. The 14 mules and wagons carried as much as 18,000 pounds of ore and covered 12 to 14 miles per day.
Driving up Trail Creek Pass.
Boulder Mountains in the distance.
Snow stays all year round on the high peaks.
We hiked from here into Summit Creek.
Blake enjoying the spring runoff in Summit Creek.

A smaller version of the “The Big Hitch” mule team braved these treacherous mountain roads up and down the Trail Creek Valley. On the left you can see the road in this photo where the mule team navigated their way to and from ore sites.
Looking down Trail Creek Valley. The mechanical brakes on the ore wagons were manually controlled by a brakeman who stood on the side of the wagon operating a break lever. The brakes lubricated with pig fat would sometimes fail sending the entire mule team and wagons careening off the side of the road 2000 feet to the valley bottom. Even today you can find fragments of 19th century ore wagons scattered across the valley floor.
Leaving the Sawtooth National Forest heading back to Sun Valley.
Bald Mountain “Baldy” in Sun Valley.
Bald Mountain and Sun Valley in the late 1800’s.
Bonning Cabin was the first log cabin in Ketchum in 1882.
For years Bonning Cabin served as a bunk house for the ore wagon freight crew.
In 1824 fur trappers and prospectors were the first white men to travel to the Wood River Valley.
L. to r.: Before the coming of the white man, the valley was a summer home to migrating American Indians who hunted and gathered the roots of the Camas lily, a staple of their diet. In 1824 the white men arrived. By 1878, the Native Americans were moved to a reservation; Most Chinese men who came to this country sent their earnings home. They worked jobs others abandoned at the ore mines. They were cooks and laborers. They had thriving vegetable gardens. Today in Hailey, Idaho there is an area called “China Garden’s.”
The stockyards in the Wood River Valley served as a holding area for sheep about to be loaded onto the railroad. Workers took a break by resting on bags of wool. The men seated on the left hold shears, circa 1920.
Nearly 100 years later, ranchers still run their sheep through town. The Valley celebrates this annually during the Trailing of the Sheep Festival in the Fall and one can often find their car surrounded by a herd of sheep during their morning commute.
Here I am with Kate Everson and her husband, my nephew Blake Everson, in the Sun Valley Lululemon store, located on Main Street in Ketchum where Kate is the manager.
Hiking on the trails of Dollar Mountain. Bennett Everson carrying his water.
On the front porch of the Everson family home.
The experience this time of year is ever-changing. The smell of flowers is intoxicating with the sounds of birds and bees. I experienced sun like mid-summer as well as hail, snow, wind and the snow-like precipitation of the cotton-wood trees at sunset.

Allium flowers.
Smelling the flowers.
New Spruce needles.
Everson’s southern view looking down Indian Creek Valley.

Eating peaches on the front porch.
A storm is coming!
L. to r.: Charlie pushing her baby carriage; Bennett and Blake at the grill.
Looking up Indian Creek Valley.

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