An old family friend, Jack, told us he’d never move to a place that didn’t have four distinct seasons. With that statement Jack knocked out a third of the lower 48 states as potential relocation spots. Much of the northern U.S. though, including Idaho, can reliably lay claim to having a winter, summer, spring, and fall. At least that’s what I used to think until the last few years, when the hot summer seemed to overtake autumn, and the cold winter shortened to a few weeks around Christmas.
I really didn’t miss winter this year. It wasn’t until I drove to Leadore, Idaho, a town I’d never visited, that I was reminded of the wonder of winter.
I got an email from a magazine editor asking me if I’d be interested in writing a feature article on Leadore, a little community near the Idaho-Montana border.
Throwing a bag in my car I wondered whether I should take a jacket or a coat. As I drove out the driveway, my car thermometer read 42 degrees.
But we live in a mountainous state. Drive anywhere and you soon experience some kind of altitude and thus, weather change. I whizzed along the freeway until I turned north and started climbing. I was thinking about Leadore and how you pronounced the town’s name—it sounds like a woman’s name, a derivative of Leadora perhaps, or Lenore, that lost love of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem. Pondering all this, I drove over a hill—and into a thick bank of fog.
The fog didn’t lift for miles. I couldn’t see much beyond 500 feet. I was surprised when I saw the sign for the Craters of the Moon National Park emerge from the milky sludge. Feeling chilly, I glanced down at the temperature reading on the dash: 23 degrees. Somewhere in the fog I’d lost twenty degrees of heat. The lovely Leadore must be high in the mountains, a mythic goddess in some frozen Idaho Olympus (my thinking was a bit foggy too).
Around a curve and just above the furls of fog smoke, I glimpsed a white mountain peak against a blue sky. As sudden as it came, the fog fell away, revealing an incredible winter-scape. I grabbed my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the brightness of the snow fields glistening under the sun. This was a country you could ski in, or skate in, or snowmobile across. It was breathtaking.
At the little town of Arco, I stopped for gas and stepped out of the car to stretch my legs. Digging my phone out of my coat pocket, I googled motels in Leadore (maybe Leadora was a madame who ran a boarding house in the 1800’s) and found a phone number for the Leadore Inn.
“Y-ello. Sam here.”
“Hi! I’d like to spend the night in Leadore and wonder if you have a room available at your motel?”
“Sorry, we’re closed for the season. We only open in the summer when the hikers come through.”
“Uh-huh. Hiking the Continental Divide Trail. Leadore’s a resupply stop. You know, where backpackers get their groceries and mail. Check out The Homestead motel. They’ve got newer rooms.”—click.
I called The Homestead and was happy to find a room there. As lovely as this winter country was, it was also freezing cold. I didn’t relish the thought of spending the night curled up next to my car heater.
I drove on and entered the remote Lemhi River valley. It was remarkably empty, except here and there a ranch in the distance. I was just outside Leadore when I passed an historical marker along the highway. I backed the car up and stopped to read it: “Gilmore Mines. Lack of a good transportation system delayed serious lead and silver mining…”
Lead mining? Lead Ore? Leadore. Oh. Though the town’s name was a disappointment, the town itself was not. Nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, Leadore was a village of ice and snow. My tires crunched past a library, a school, a post office—a small gem in the gem state. I think Leadore will always be Leadora to me, Leadora the snow princess.
Image credit: Diana Hooley Image credit: Continental Divide Trail