John Ashcroft may hang sheets over them, Boise Police officers may double undie-wrap them, but America's bare nips and hips strut proudly on—and Idaho is no exception. Case in point: the geothermal hot springs around Stanley were recently picked as one of Outdoor Magazine's top 10 locations on the globe "to hike, snowshoe, fly-fish, snorkel, body-surf, or bird watch in the buff." Likewise the Northwest Nudist Association, a regional division of the 46,000-member American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), has picked the new Sun Meadows Resort in Worley, Idaho to host its annual festival from July 2 through 10. Factor in Idaho's 13 skin-tolerant National Forests—the Forest Service traditionally holds a "if you don't offend, we won't apprehend" stance toward outdoor nudity—and Idaho could be on its way to becoming a nerve center of northwestern nakedness.
In the midst of these advances, Boise's only land-bearing nudist club, The Bare Backers, trundles tannly into its 23rd year providing local nudists (or, depending on geographical preference, "naturists" or "sunbathers") with a weekend escape from the society of "textiles"—a common derogatory nudist term for clothes-wearers, along with simple "prudes." Perched on a hillside near Robie Creek, the Bare Backer's 130-acre facility bears a striking resemblance to Idaho's numerous RV parks. For a set fee, club members select a small area to park a trailer, fifth wheel or pitch a tent and enjoy amenities like a solar-heated swimming pool, snack bar and trails on which to hike or ride horses or four-wheelers. Far from being either hippie separatists or swingers, the Bare Backers are a largely middle-aged or older group of workers and retirees seeking only to spend quality time with sun and sons—and daughters, too, because "family" is the key word at this and all AANR-affiliated clubs.
The Bare Backers offer onsite events like body painting parties, a chili cook-off, a murder mystery party and occasional square dancing, but the club's Web site www.bareidaho.com, not www.barebackers.com—trust me) also features a virtual nude tour of Idaho with pictures of members' grinning backsides in locales ranging from Sawtooth Mountain lakes to Owyhee River canyons. Water, it seems, is the key ingredient in almost any nudist gathering, and Barebackers membership chairman "Larry" says that it figures centrally in recruiting new members to the group. "Skinny dipping is the single biggest experience that Americans have to relate to [nudism]," he explains, citing his decades of nude-beach swimming prior to joining the Bare Backers only five years ago. "It is simply so much nicer not to have to wear those clammy things [trunks] than to swim in them. I just wish that it was more encouraged in this country."
Fellow club member "Pam" echoes Larry's sentiment that aside from all philosophizing about returning to innocence or godliness (as nudist publications do) the lifestyle's initial appeal is purely sensory. "The first time I felt the sun and especially the breeze on me, I thought, 'This is just so neat,'" she recalls. "It immediately grew on me after that." A vigorous middle-aged woman who regularly brings her grandson to club functions, Pam sums up the charm of social nudity in terms of activity: "There are a probably a lot of people in Boise who are backyard nudists or indoor nudists but just don't know about the club—why not give them something to do rather than just sit around naked at home?"
Sitting around naked at home, however, is the next big step in Idaho's nu-devolution. If, after a few days buffing it up in either remote or club-centered Idaho, one doesn't feel like re-doffing the old jeans or stirrup-pants, a spot in Sun Meadow's exclusive nude community could be the bare-assed answer. Adjacent to the Northern Idaho resort's 43 RV hookups, bocci ball courts and a forthcoming 15,000-square foot clubhouse complete with restaurant, stage and gym sits an exclusive 16-lot community dubbed Sun Meadow Estates. Pictures on the resort's Web site (www.sunmeadow.org, again not www.barebackers.com) show grinning middle-aged nude couples sitting on porch swings and doing yard work in front of pastel pre-fab housing. Think Hidden Springs, but with nothing hidden and everything springing.
Closet or first time nudists interested in trying public nudity at the upcoming festival—or the Bare Backers' June 26 and 27 open house—are advised to keep three basic rules around them when their clothing isn't. First, always carry a towel—just because the Bare Backers are nudists doesn't mean that they want your naked heinie sticking to their furniture in hot summer weather. Second, AANR-affiliated clubs follow the guideline "Clothed when practical, unclothed when possible," so don't be afraid to cover up in case of shyness, bodily functions or "nervous peepee liking the breeze too much" syndrome. Only in the swimming pool is nudity mandated. Finally, a non-insulting, non-ogling sense of humor is near essential in the transition to a nude lifestyle. Many Bare Backers and other naturists like to drink, swear, perhaps smoke and can have as much innocent fun with their bodies (e.g., bizarrely accessorized Halloween costumes) as a freshly bathed toddler. Leave your inhibitions at the gate and watch the tan lines fade like a long-gone "naked at school" dream.