By Zach Hagadone
It has taken 10 years, many miles and more car barfs, backseat brawls and emergency roadside pit stops than I care to recall (including an apocalyptic diaper eruption six years ago that devastated the bathroom of a Flying J truck stop east of Twin Falls), but this summer my kids became road tested and road approved.
My 10-year-old son wrote his fourth-grade Idaho history report on Bear Lake and, being the engaged and supportive parents that we are, my wife and I promised to make our big summer vacation a road trip to see what is often referred to as “the Caribbean of the Rockies,” owing to its vibrant blue waters.
Those who are familiar with Idaho geography will know that Bear Lake straddles the Idaho-Utah border, almost within spitting distance of Wyoming. It’s also 700 miles away, making it just about as far from Sandpoint as you can go while still remaining in the state.
The “Caribbean” thing got us. My wife and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and so the idea of basking on a beach beside clear blue waters sounded pretty appealing. Better still, I’d found and booked us accommodations on the Utah side at what was described online as a “resort” and “lodge.”
Perusing the website, I saw clean and comfortable rooms with nearby access to the beach. All manner of amenities were promised — best of all, a suite was available with two beds in a separate room, meaning my wife and I wouldn’t have to end up sharing a bed with a kid.
So we splurged on the “resort” and looked forward to indulging in the suite life after two days of six-plus-hour driving.
There were a lot of great things we saw between Sandpoint and Bear Lake (as well as on the rest of our 1,600-mile trip through Boise and Pullman, Wash.), but there is neither the space nor interest to hear about them. Next to dreams and health problems, other people’s vacation stories are the most tedious topic of conversation.
That said, I have to tell you that our lodging was less resort than lodge, and more “motor lodge” than lodge. And by that, I’m talking Schitt’s Creek. I’m talking “place you stay when you just got out of jail and no one wants you sleeping on their couch.”
For instance, our rooms had no air conditioning — just a box fan that had to be plugged into the only outlet in the main bedroom. The deadbolt had a chain but no receiver. The kitchenette featured an ice box from the 1960s and contained two half-consumed raspberry milkshakes left by the previous occupants.
Three bathroom wall tiles lay broken on the floor behind the door, and the bathroom window had a window that wouldn’t stay shut. Bonus: It opened onto the patio of a restaurant next door, which played early-2000s pop hits on a loudspeaker all night long. The courtyard featured a rundown playground set, a few mismatched (and many broken) lawn chairs, and a hammock that looked like it had been used to store bowling balls.
As it turned out, the “resort” I saw on the internet won’t be built until September 2024, which means the place we were staying would soon be demolished. As such, we enjoyed a view of the construction site sprawling between our rooms and the beach. Lesson learned: Read all the way to the bottom of a motel website.
Suffice it to say, Bear Lake and surrounds is one of the strangest places I’ve been. The lake covers about 110 square miles and is seven miles across. It is also about four feet deep for what felt like a mile out from shore. The water was indeed vibrant blue and crystal clear, but felt about 70 degrees. The only aquatic life we encountered was one fish and mounds of snail shells heaped on the beach, which looked like a miniature Jersey Shore, with hundreds of pop-up tents erected next to trucks and cars parked at the water’s edge. A vast swamp separated the town from the lake, meaning boats had to be towed there by tractors.
We made the best of all this — the kids reveled in the giant bathtub-feel of the lake, but I was less enthused about the fact that no restaurant we ate in had a beer or wine list. Watching people wash down steak with 32 ounces of Mountain Dew is simply barbaric.
Through all this, my children were expert travelers and I commend them. Bear Lake is one of those places we never would have visited if not for my son’s fourth-grade report, and for that I’m grateful. But I’ve also rarely felt so fortunate to call Sandpoint home.
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