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Where the Sheep Roam

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What images does the phrase "sheep jam" conjure in your head? Forget the grisly ones involving any method of putting a sheep in a jar. Think of it as a more rural version of rush hour, and Central Idaho has some of the best sheep jams around.

I first ran into one while living in Sun Valley, where my car was suddenly surrounded by big, woolly, baahing beasts slowly making their way down the highway on an annual migration to winter grazing grounds. It seems unlikely that flocks of hundreds of sheep could sneak up on you, but they can.

The flocks have been coming out of the hills around Sun Valley for more than a century and the tradition continues. But now, instead of shepherds and ranchers gathering at the general store, the community comes together for a three-day celebration called the Trailing of the Sheep.

This is the 13th year of the formal event, which is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 9, through Sunday, Oct. 11. The sheep still come, in flocks of up to 1,500, but so too do the visitors who take in the history, culture and traditions of sheep ranching in Idaho--which means a hefty dose of Basque and European influence alongside traditional Western offerings.

Event organizers promise a full weekend of activities, including something called sheep poetry readings, which we're assuming means readings of poems about sheep, not sheep reading their own poetry.

On Friday, things start with an Art of Lamb Foodie Fest/gallery walk followed by storytelling, music and those sheep poems. Saturday will be filled with the Sheep Folklife Fair in Hailey, as well as the Trailing of the Sheep Dog Trials from 7 p.m. to dusk. The main event is at noon on Sunday when area ranching families lead the Trailing of the Sheep parade, which features historic sheep wagons as well as the sheep.

Deanna Darrr

Visit trailingofthesheep.org for a full schedule of events, more on the history of sheep in Idaho, video of past events and a long list of lodging contacts.