Several years ago, I went on a three-week adventure through Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, and Idaho. I had some definite locations in mind – the National Parks – Yellowstone, Glacier, the Grand Tetons – and a couple other probable destinations. When I drove out of Los Angeles, I didn’t know how long I’d be gone nor where the road would take me. It was truly an adventure of epic proportion.
I was shooting with a film camera at the time. I was loaded with more than 50 rolls of film transparencies and ready to see and photograph the West! It’s a good thing I didn’t have a deadline to return; it allowed me to stop when I wanted and to make last-minute decisions to explore and discover little gems and tucked away places.
The national parks were all that I expected. They were bigger than life, much like all the documentaries and photographs I had seen before visiting. Yellowstone is so vast and varied in geological formations, wildlife, and amazing beauty. The Grand Tetons were breathtakingly beautiful. They’re in-your-face bold and overwhelming. Glacier was an unexpected delight. The Going to the Sun road was truly like driving into the sky.
But Idaho…the land of potatoes? Or so I thought. Idaho is one of the largest states but one of the fewest people per square mile. I drove miles without seeing anyone or anything other than rugged mountains, raging rivers, and lush green vegetation. It was surely not what I expected even though I didn’t have any expectations.
While driving aimlessly through central Idaho, I looked at my Rand McNally Atlas and noticed there were some ghost towns nearby. So off I went down this deserted dirt road in search of this uninhabited ghost town. Hey, what’s an adventure without a dirt road leading to an unknown destination?!
Suddenly, my car engine stopped like it ran out of gas. With each attempt to restart the engine, my fear and anxiety grew. I had plenty of gas – couldn’t be that. Before long, I had convinced myself I would die of starvation and be enjoyed by vultures and other creatures of the forest.
Soon enough, out of a cloud of dust, and old guy in a beat up truck stopped to inquire if I needed help. He was a godsend. I explained my problem and he said, “Come on with me. Johnny, down at the store, knows about Volkswagons; he used to have one.” Much to my trepidation, I hopped in the cab and off we went to Johnny’s store. In my mind, I was debating what was worse, a slow death of starvation or the quicker death of mutilation by a stranger.
True to his word, Johnny did indeed know about Volkswagons. The repair was a simple fuse replacement. What was most remarkable was that Johnny nor the old man in the truck would accept payment. Now, this man drove me to the store, picked up Johnny and drove us back to the car in the middle of nowhere. Johnny diagnosed the problem and fixed it. The entire ordeal took almost half a day.
To this day, I can’t remember the name of the ghost town but I’ll never forget the experience. It had a profound effect on me and my trust and belief in the genuine goodness of strangers.
Idaho may be known for its potatoes. But left up to me, it will be remembered as a land of kindness, generosity, and genuine hospitality.