Idaho Heaven: Red Elephant Ranch

Truth: I’m less easy-going than I pretend I am. I’m admittedly far more comfortable in any situation when I know The Plan; I like knowing what’s coming. But if there’s anything being married to John has taught me, it’s that sometimes the surprise of the moment – what he calls “playing it by ear”- is not just OK… it can be more fun.

That was the case with our recent ten-day trip exploring Idaho. We had a chunk of open days and a general idea of direction, but no set plan. Our goal was to hit the road with Betty the trailer behind us and see what magic we could find. We’d leave Park City just in time for Labor Day weekend (also known as the busiest camping weekend of the year). We’d been looking forward to our time in Betty for weeks, but I couldn’t bear the idea of casually rolling in on Friday night and being shut out of every campsite in the state. So at the last minute, we booked one of two available rentals on VRBO.com near Hailey, Idaho and hoped for the best.

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We left Park City on Friday, a well-stocked Betty behind us, and drove through the dry desert to Hailey. From town, we followed our semi-clear directions down a dirt road called Croy Creek, unsure of what awaited us for the next three days. Seven miles out of town might have been twenty, with rolling hills covered in amber grasses flanking the road. A large clump of trees was our signal that we had arrived. It’s delightful when an experience exceeds your expectations; any disappointment we had in not starting off the trip at a campsite flew right into the blue Idaho sky when we pulled up to Red Elephant Ranch. I’m pretty sure our jaws both dropped at the sight of the cabin we’d be calling home for the weekend.

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The cabin’s owners, Mary and Denzel, greeted us, a wagging dog in tow. The cabin had been the home of Mary’s parents, ranchers on the gorgeous property for 30 years. Denzel and Mary’s father had built the place by hand. They briefly showed us the basics and then let us explore our temporary digs. I squealed more than once. Every corner had some kind of homey touch, a charm that can only be built with love over decades. One of the last things Mary said to us before they left was, “You’ll never want to leave.”

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We wasted no time unpacking, using the cute wheeled cart to transfer our belongings into the cabin. Cholula explored the cool grassy yard and dipped her feet into the creek running through it. We wandered separately through the house, admiring the obvious care that it’s been given over the years. After a game of ball with the dog, John gathered some larger logs from the side porch (which smelled exactly like a heavenly evergreen forest) and chopped wood in the backyard while I started making white chicken chili in my slippers.

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After dinner, it seemed almost required that I bake a batch of cookies, and we cuddled in front of a crackling fire in the impressive wood stove, giggling at our luck. We snuck away to the cozy loft to read under a billowing comforter before slipping into sweet cabin dreams.

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The mottled sunlight through the curtains woke us at some point- we’d have no alarm clocks during this trip. John made a fire to cut the morning chill and I toted my coffee around the cabin, examining the fascinating details throughout. We made a lazy breakfast and chatted about how best to fill our time at Red Elephant Ranch; three days now felt far too short. One of our goals for the trip was to keep the plans loose. John had just wrapped up a deal at work that had him working 10-12 hour days; the last thing we needed was a schedule to follow. We decided to hop in the truck and explore the road behind the house, and take the dog for a walk back in the canyon.

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The road once led to the Red Elephant Mine, one of hundreds of silver mines that dotted the hills around Hailey around 1900. Denzel had mentioned that Red Elephant went 13 stories into the ground! We did find some remnants of a smaller mine and its outbuildings. I’m captivated by the history of the Old West and love imagining what life was like when these old buildings were in their heyday. My camera snapped away and I resolved to find a book about life in Hailey during mining times.

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We stopped in town to have a delicious lunch on the patio at a little place called Jersey Girl before heading back to the cabin. John explored the back acreage with Cholula while Mama took her required afternoon nap (growing babies is exhausting). Wanting to save the following evening (our last in Hailey) for the cabin, we treated ourselves to a meal at a cute little Italian spot called DaVinci’s. We were lucky to get a table on Saturday night of Labor Day weekend without a reservation in this tiny place, but the owner greeted us kindly and found us a corner table. What a yummy meal!

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The next morning mimicked the first; the sun woke us when we’d had enough sleep, and John got the fire going while I made coffee. After breakfast, we went for a stroll along the creek in the back field. I think I filled the whole walk vocalizing my daydreams about living at Red Elephant Ranch. I’d already fallen hard for the place, and so had John. Can you blame us, with this view?

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After our walk, I explored the old barn and its glorious treasures from days gone by. John examined the map for biking trails, which happened to be easily accessed quite close to the cabin. We decided to explore more and see where Croy Creek Road would take us. We checked out another mine, some great future camping spots, a random homemade swing on a pine tree, and some spectacular views. This is big land with big sky. It gave us big smiles to be out in it.

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After lunch, John cleaned his bike and took off on an afternoon ride. I spent the time in the backyard’s sunshine, playing ball with Cholula and devouring a book. When John returned, we had happy hour snacks by the creek, again daydreaming together about the idyllic life we should probably just go ahead and have forever at the cabin.

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For our last night at the ranch, John had picked up some lovely thick steaks for dinner. I put together a chimichurri sauce and garlicky roasted potatoes and John tried a new technique with the steaks: searing them in a hot cast iron skillet and finishing them in the oven. YUM! We added a kale salad with greens from our own garden and dined by candlelight as the sun set the sky on fire outside.

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I woke on Monday morning with an earache and a heavy heart. Mary’s words filled my head: “You won’t want to leave.” She was right. After some discussion about the rest of the trip, John made a call and we extended our stay by one more night. JOY! We decided to take a day trip toward the pass we’d be toting Betty over the following day. We had an incredible lunch at the Galena Lodge, sharing the patio tables with locals and mountain bikers and wagging dogs. We took Cholula on a walk behind the lodge along a creek before heading back to town. We stopped into the Blaine County Museum, filled with amazing local artifacts (and a book about Old Hailey for me), and drove back to the cabin. We lazed about in the yard, then on the couch in front of the fire. We ate the rest of the chicken chili and some jalapeno cornbread for dinner. John serenaded me with his guitar and I finished my book. We savored our last hours of cabin life and got excited for the next phase of our adventure.

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The next morning was all business: laundry, packing, readying Betty for a week of camping, bidding adieu to the shower and – perhaps most heartbreaking for a pregnant woman- the flushing toilet. We locked the gate behind us, said goodbye to our perfect little cabin, and watched the big trees grow small in the rearview mirror. If Red Elephant Ranch had been for sale, I believe we might have made another phone call to Mary and Denzel. We told each other we’d return before the end of the year and then set our sights on what lie ahead: 6 days of Idaho camping. And off we went…on the road again.

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Stay tuned for more of our adventures in Idaho!

Bit by the travel bug? See more of our travels HERE!

One year ago: Maple Pumpkin Coconut Granola.

Stay at Red Elephant Ranch!

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