Last week, while composing a list of visitor to-do's in preparation for entertaining an L.A.-based friend, my mother was stumped. She wanted outdoors, but not too hot. She wanted a scenic drive without having to drive up and back on the same route. Should they hike? Should they fish? Maybe Idaho City. Maybe McCall. If only the road to Silver City wasn't on the verge of dropping off the face of the earth beneath a slightly-too-heavy SUV passenger load. If only the 100 miles between Boise and Atlanta didn't seem like 1000.
It was just about the time she was considering a quick jaunt out of the potato state altogether for a gamblin' good time in Jackpot that I suggested the Lowman Loop. Enthusiastic valley motorcyclists will cringe when I admit that though my Idaho residency is now large enough to require a second hand to count the years, I have only completed the loop twice. My mother, the silly California transplant she is, has never done it.
Thus, in an effort to revive the Sunday drive, to inadvertently encourage the increase of automobile emissions and to provide my mother and all you other non-loopers with a little direction (literally), I give you ... drum roll, please ... the Lowman Loop.
Your mission: To get from Boise to Lowman and back to Boise.
Your map: All right, Magellan, forget the atlas. This is an adventure, the essence of which should be, or at least feel like, an undertaking of slightly questionable nature. And since the Lowman Loop ain't the adventure it was back when Lewis and Clark were romping around out there, the absence of a map will certainly lend your little journey that jittery, where-the-hell-are-we feeling.
Leg one: Boise to Lucky Peak via Warm Springs Road and Highway 21. Stop, gawk, frolic.
Leg two: Lucky Peak to Idaho City via Highway 21. Hoof it from one end of town to the other, stopping to check out all the historic buildings and antique shops. Belly up at Diamond Lil's and get a lesson in the history of money from the owner (who doubles as the bartender). Morbid as it sounds, a saunter through the cemetery is also one of the town's highlights.
Leg three: Idaho City to Lowman. This little stretch is the longest of them all, taking you over the mountain and through the woods. Just follow the signs to Lowman, but keep your eyes peeled for scenic sweeping views of the Sawtooths (trust me, you'll wish you had more eyes with which to accomplish this task) and, once you're close to Lowman, watch for signs to hot springs.
Leg four: Lowman to Garden Valley. The Banks-Lowman Highway feels like one steep drop into the Payette from cliffs high above the meandering river. The benefit of doing the loop in this direction is that you'll be on the cliff-hugging side of the road.
Detour: After a day of driving, impromptu hiking and perhaps a dip in a shallow, slow moving part of the Payette, grub is necessary. Danskin Station was once the recommended stop for sustenance, but since its closure, I stop at "the joint," as locals call the Longhorn, in Crouch (the two-block town with one of Idaho's oldest buildings).
Homeward bound: The final seven miles to Banks on the Banks-Lowman Highway are hands down the highlight of the trip, so be sure to get to it before the sun sets. Banks to Boise on Highway 55 follows the Payette south and if you're still hankering for a swim, there's a wide sand bar several miles past Banks (stop when you see the umbrellas).