I was supposed to go to Vancouver. Why I didn’t is not the most interesting thing about this weekend. The part worth knowing is that I’ve come to Boise instead, and this was an excellent decision.
It was a last-minute one. The Vancouver trip was planned, itineraried, anticipated. When it fell apart, my husband and I did something entirely foreign to our natures: we chose a new destination, booked our lodgings on impulse, and lit out the next day for parts unknown. In almost 11 years in the Northwest, we’ve rarely vacationed east of the Cascades, and Idaho was somewhere we’d only been in the middle of a frozen, snow-tossed night, driving white-knuckled down I-84. That was the first leg of an epic 22-hour straight-through drive to the Grand Canyon in January, with Boise merely a welcome exit to stop for gas. Now we have a friend there, and a weekend suddenly free. Why not?
Our rented townhouse sits unobtrusively in an older neighborhood near Boise State University. It’s also less than a mile from the Boise River Greenbelt. I had no preconception of this public feature, and no idea of needing to walk it specifically. I found it because my legs itched from the 8-hour drive, and because I was doing my research late, scrolling through our Airbnb hosts’ notes as we pulled in. We stopped at the house long enough to dump our luggage and lace up our boots, and I practically dragged Jeremiah out the door, north toward the river.
The Boise River is wild. True, it runs through the center of a fast-growing metropolitan area of more than half a million. And for 9 metro miles on either side, there’s a paved path system quite near its banks that locals call The Freeway, and use accordingly. Somehow none of this takes away from the fact that it’s also a true northwest river: fast and full of life, running cold and exuberant out of the mountains, the color of unpolished jade. On our first evening, late in May, ducklings peeped in the shallows, and wild yellow flags waved at the muddy margins. Not a few people fished intently from the banks, or stood a little way into the flow. I glimpsed a beaver-gnawed stump in my first 10 feet of trail.
There had been thunderstorms earlier in the day, but the sunset was clear and fiery. Yesterday the sequence repeated, but it took the storms longer to clear. I wouldn’t wait: sunset on the greenbelt had been a pleasure too perfect not to turn into tradition.
So our second evening walk began in blue and gold stormlight. Thunder cracked overhead, twice following immediately on a brilliant white flash. Cottonwoods rustled in the rising wind, throwing golden bits of drowning sun from their fluttering leaves. Verga streamed above the foothills, purple curtains not quite closing on a long summer evening. We were heading to dinner downtown, taking the long way. When the rain began – sudden and drenching – we made like the herd of deer on the island opposite, and just kept foraging.
Most of Boise is flat, and I’m learning this weekend how much my sense of direction relies on elevation. I keep getting turned around and having to reorient by the sun or Google Maps. I want to get up into the hills, where I know how to navigate.
Our local friend sent us a website listing the various “Ridge to Rivers” trail systems. I’ve picked a trailhead at the north margins of the city, and we’re there by 7, ahead of the day’s sullen heat.
The area called the Camel’s Back is a preserved tongue of the adjacent foothills extending down into the neighborhoods, and directly connected to wilder country to the north. It’s a western paradise dreamscape: sage-scented hills and canyons, traced by packed sandy paths and bursting with more colors of cornflower than I knew existed. I point them out over and over to Jeremiah until he’s saying courteously “yep! Cornflower!” every time, and I realize I’ve forgotten to explain aloud that it’s the colors that excite me: white with purple centers, pure white, light pink, deep porphyry, and a soft lavender. The usual vivid blue, when I finally spot it, seems a discovery in itself.
Red-winged blackbirds trumpet from the hidden marsh at the center of the preserve, quail bob and skitter along the path in front of us, and falcons float above on early morning thermals, urging us higher. Views of the modest city skyline from the Camel’s Back Ridge are well worth the climb.
It’s high desert vegetation and open skies up here, but the oasis below, pooling like rich green skirts at the feet of these mountains, is truly the City of Trees.
This is pure saving grace in summer, when the air lies limp against the foothills, heat rising by 9am. The torpor makes hiking a heavy push by mid-morning, but I imagine after only three days here that I have found the secret. Maybe I have – one of them, at least. Rise early, and go out to the hills in time to smell the sagebrush waking up. Rest indoors in the heat of the day, then wander in the evenings along the river, watching for trout and listening to kingfisher chatter.
Why didn’t I go to Vancouver? I don’t even remember. I’m busy in love with Boise.