I visited Idaho for only a week or so, Challis was one of the places we stayed. The beauty of the landscape and people who lived there was captivating. If you ever get the chance, go.
The Sawtooth Mountains rise on all sides, giant piles of fine dust. Closer hills reveal their stalagmite structures, layered, leaving furrows where red rock can only spill. Statuesque, a lone bird rests, unruffled from his perch on the log fence in front of me. No breeze disturbs us; only the sprinklers stop the silence,
try to quench the thirsty earth.
By ten the sun has no shield, the sky coal-white melting into blue. Crab grass feeds on faucet water, clings to red earth with frail white fingers. I drag my chair, stirring up dust, down the sloping bank, sturdy it on the slimy rock bed, and sit in the river. The cool water running over my ankles hardly satisfies. Soon, I abandoned my chair for the smooth, furred rocks of the riverbed. It’s bliss—sun on my shoulders, on the rivers surface, my submerged skin. All gleam. All seem to shine from within sun-lit centers. Today, I know I am living.
From where we stand, the basin is the color of fallen pines dyed to earthy browns. A few russet roads run like tiny ant trails from our position on the mountain’s side. Other peaks rise parallel and perpendicular to ours, sea greens and grey, static waves in the dusty sky.
My mother and I scour the aisles of a local grocery store, the only one in Challis. It smells like moldy cardboard and linoleum tile cleaner. A Native American girl, doubtless a descendant of the Nez Perce who once owned this valley, stocks twelve foot shelves. Tells me the nearest town is an hour away. She laughs when my eyes widen.
It’s no secret this city is dead. After the miners left only the ranchers and trappers stayed. A man, his denim worn to brown, approaches us outside the store. Shoshone or Nez Perce? His face sags as he tells my mom his story. No job, no money. My mother listens, stands in front of me. When this happens, we usually buy them food, nourish their stomach and not their obsession, but this time is different.
He stayed too.