Up All Night

July 13 & 14, Wednesday/Thursday

It’s a lazy day along the Big Wood River, in Sawtooth National Forest. I sleep in intentionally, and hang around camp reading and writing for the blog. A plethora of birds keep me company, I have yet to see a single chipmunk or ground squirrel at this location. The grass is getting more yellow the longer I’m here, but the foliage near the river remains a vibrant green. If this isn’t the most beautiful place I’ve boondocked, it’s definitely in the top three.

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In the evening, I drive into Ketchum, ID to pick up my new iPhone SE. Transferring everything over from the old to new phone takes time, so I don’t get to experiment with its picture taking ability before it gets dark out.

But that’s okay, because tomorrow (today?) is going to be a perfect test.

I don’t go to sleep.

Nina is coming by to pick me up just after 4 am for a sunrise photo-shoot near Stanley, ID, on the other side of Galena Pass. I hate waking up early, I’m not a morning person. But staying up late isn’t a problem, I’ve worked the night shift at Amazon several times. So I stay up all night, listening to the distant yipping of coyotes and occasional call of a bird as the sounds of traffic gradually diminish.

At 4 am, I’m standing out where my unmarked spur road meets highway 75, waiting for Nina to come pick me up. The moon has set and it’s dark outside. Above, the milky way is amazingly bright and clear, there are no large cities around here. It’s so quiet out that the sound of the river carries to the highway, making it sound like I’m standing right next to it instead of hundreds of yards away. There’s something magical about getting to experience a wild place when no one else is awake. It’s more personal and intimate.

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I turn my flashlight on when a car passes, so that if it’s Nina she’ll see me.

It occurs to me that this situation is more than a little ridiculous. Because there’s no phone signal up here, we can’t coordinate the pick-up using texts or a phone call. Because the spur road I’m camping on doesn’t show up on maps she can’t use her GPS to find it. Because I don’t know how to capture GPS coordinates on my phone I can’t guide her here that way.

Luckily only one car passes before Nina shows up, but I wonder what they were thinking, seeing a lone woman standing alongside the road in the middle of nowhere at 4 am without a vehicle in sight. I did have my bear spray on me just in case, although my greater worry was the embarrassment of having someone pull over to help me thinking I was stranded.

The drive over the pass to Stanley goes without incident. Twice, we see deer alongside the road, but they don’t try to cross. Tall trees materialize like ghosts out of the darkness – there then gone. They’re bigger than the pines near camp, maybe spruce or fir but it’s hard to tell. I haven’t driven this way myself yet, so this is all new territory to me.

Well before we reach Stanley the sky to the east turns from black to navy. Nina and I have both noticed that it stays light out well after sunset around here, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it gets light well before sunrise too. The stars fade away as a new day approaches.

Nina did the research ahead of time to figure out where the ideal place to photograph the Sawtooth range at sunrise is, and the answer she found was Little Redfish Lake.

The peaks in the valley I’m camping in are more rounded and not as tall, and there aren’t really any lakes to catch a reflection in. The valley Stanley is in is quite different, the valley floor is flatter and the mountains rise up without as many foothills, which makes them more impressive.

None of this is visible when we arrive. Nina knows the general place where photographers set up, but we stumble along the shore of the lake in the dark for 15 minutes or so, to locate that “perfect” spot. Or to be more accurate, Nina scouts it out while I trail behind like a puppy. She’s done this before and knows what to look for.

The beams of our flashlights sparkle off frost on the shrubs and grass. It’s 30 degrees out, it was 27 in the pass. In the mountains, thirty miles can make a huge difference in the climate as well as the landscape. There are several boondocking options in this valley (all without signal from what we found), but it would be hard for me to camp up here anyway, as cold as it is. Luckily we came prepared, I have my thermal underwear on and my heavy winter coat. Properly dressed, the chill really isn’t that bad. It’s a dry cold, which is less pervasive than a damp one.

The spot we end up at is in a campground, which amuses us both. Lake View Campground (44.24955, -115.054974) is a single loop of only six sites, all of which are full. We set up between the two sites that are on the water, and whisper to each other as we wait for sunrise, to avoid disturbing the campers nearby.

I’ve brought both the new and old phone today, so that I can compare the photo quality. At precisely 5:30 am I take both of these pictures, the top is the new phone, the bottom is the old. Neither have been edited.

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This is 38 minutes before sunrise, it’s still quite dark out. As you can see the SE does a better job than the old 4S, but don’t be mistaken – if you want to get good photos in low-light situations a phone camera really isn’t the right tool for the job. Since low light photography isn’t a priority of mine though, I’m happy. With the new phone it’s clear that I’m looking at a mountain range reflected in water, and that’s good enough for me.

Out west it’s common to have still mornings, and windy afternoons. If you want to get reflection pictures in bodies of water, the best chance is very early morning. Little Redfish Lake is like a mirror when we arrive. At 5:42 am I get the next set of comparison pictures with both cameras zoomed in slightly. The SE has a wider field of vision, so it captures more of the range. Again, no editing.

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Top is old camera, bottom is new

I often say phone cameras don’t have a zoom, it’s kind of a gray area. They have a digital zoom, but not an optical zoom. Digital zooming decrease the photo quality, so I very seldom use it. It’s often better to just crop the photo down after the picture is taken. In the above photo you’ll see the new camera (bottom) again did a better job, there’s next to no graininess in the photo, although the bad lighting still gives it a sort of painted, unrealistic look.

The morning changes rapidly as sunrise approaches. Near 6 am the sky turns ever so slightly pink behind the mountains. The wind has picked up, just the merest hint of a breeze, but it’s enough to cast tiny ripples in the reflection of the lake. It’s now getting light enough that more detail shows up in photos. Not wanting to miss the alpenglow by fiddling around with two cameras, I only get the next couple pictures with the new one.

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Normally, first light on the mountains starts before true sunrise. How long before depends on how tall the mountains are and the topography of the land to the east. In this case, the barest blush of red appears right at sunrise, 6:08 am. At 6:10 it’s visible enough to be photographed. A flock of birds cause a stir out on the lake, but they’re far enough away not to ruin the reflection.

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Aside from the ripples, there’s a tiny bit of steam coming off the lake, visible as a haziness on the water if you look closely. The snow has all melted from the mountains near camp, but here a little still clings to the peaks.

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At 6:14 am, I take another comparison shot with the new and old camera. Now that the lighting has improved, the quality is pretty similar. The old camera has slightly more blue blues, the new one has slightly more orange oranges – but both of those would probably be adjustable if I fiddled with the settings. Where the new camera shines here is the more crisp reflection in the water. The ripples are more distinct.

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Old camera

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New camera

Is it enough of a difference between the two cameras that I would have made the purchase had the old phone not been dying? No. But still, since I did need a new phone, I’m happy that the camera is an improvement over the old.

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After Little Redfish Lake, we drive to regular Redfish Lake. It’s not far away, but the view of the mountains is completely different. The dock at the resort is slippery with frost, the water crystal clear. Fish hide out under the planks, darting out then ducking back under when spied.

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Next in the grand tour is Stanley Lake. There’s not a breath of wind here, the reflection is perfect. Like Little Redfish, there are several campgrounds along the shore.

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We stop in the town of Stanley on the way back, to get coffee and visit the visitor center (where a person can get a great map of forest roads and which allowed boondocking). I get a couple more pictures on the way home, and end up staying up until 9:30 pm, over 36 hours without sleep due to the coffee, which I don’t often have. I’m very tired the next day, but it was so worth it!

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* * *

Several Paypal donations came in last week following the e-mail list announcement. Thanks to you, the e-mail list is now paid up for the next year and a half! I’m humbled by your support, thank you!

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  1. Robert on May 30, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I’m binge reading though your blog Becky! ….Stanley ID area is one of the most stunning mountain areas in the USA…been there car camping….truly a special place.

    • Becky on June 1, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      Loved my photoshoot there! If only it hadn’t been so cold (and had cell signal). Glad you’re enjoying IO Robert, thanks for reading!

  2. Debbie on July 25, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    We changed our plans and decided to head to Redfish Lake and Stanley after reading your pot an so glad we did. We are now at Little Redfish Lake for a couple more days and loving it. Thanks for the info.

    • Becky on July 26, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      You’re welcome Debbie! Glad you’re enjoying it. It’s an underrated area for RVing, I think because there are no national parks or anything up there it’s remained more of a “hidden gem” kind of place.

  3. Vanholio! on July 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    You work at Amazon while living in such a beautiful place? That’s a nice fringe benefit!
    Vanholio! recently posted..Acclimatize for Comfort in All WeatherMy Profile

    • Becky on July 22, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      Yes and no. I make money through the Amazon affiliate program wherever I am, but when I’m working for Amazon’s CamperForce the locations are not this scenic. πŸ˜‰

  4. Dale on July 22, 2016 at 8:54 am

    If you would like to see some real mountains, come to Colorado. I’m currently in the Wet Mountain Valley and the Sangre de Cristian are spectacular. There are tons of trails that lead to mountain lakes and tops of 14ers overlooking valleys and plains. Come on up.

    • Becky on July 22, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Oh, I’m pretty sure these count as “real” mountains Dale. πŸ˜‰

      But yes, I’ll be getting to CO eventually, perhaps even this year. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy those mountains as much as I’ve enjoyed these.

  5. Sherry in MT on July 20, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Your phone did great and I have found that with my phone (vs my dslr) that landscapes are the ticket but really nothing else works very well. You had a super place to try it out and compare. You really need to send people over to Nina’s side to get the “rest of the story” – her dream sequence for sure. You girls are making me realize there is more to see down there than I though and it isn’t that far for me. My bucket list of sights just grows by leaps and bounds as all you full timers find these gems.
    Sherry in MT recently posted..World Museum of Mining Part 1My Profile

    • Becky on July 20, 2016 at 6:30 pm

      Yeah Sherry, phone cameras do landscapes better than any other type of photo, but since I do mostly landscapes I’ve found it works well for me. πŸ™‚

      Yeah, the Sun Valley/Stanley areas are just good fun all around. I doubt you’ll be disappointed if you go. πŸ™‚

  6. Rox on July 19, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    These photos are breathtaking!

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:33 pm


  7. vickie carter on July 19, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    thanks again for sharing your pics.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      You’re welcome!

  8. pamelab on July 19, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Nice comparison project. Thank you for your effort – and Nina’s. Beautiful views of the light on the mountains and the water. I want some of that cool weather. I’m in Missouri City SW of Houston, TX, and it is hotter that a chili pepper. Oh, for a cool breeze across my face.
    Happy travels to you, Becky.
    Pamelab in Missouri City, TX…for now.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Pamela. I see another heat wave is moving through the center of the US, yuck. Hope it doesn’t last long. Take care!

  9. Debbie on July 19, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    You girls are crazy but got some great pictures. We look forward to seeing that area soon and will check out where to boondock.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      You’re going to love it Debbie, and there is so much boondocking around there! Just come prepared for cold nights, haha.

  10. Norm H. on July 19, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Words fail me! I’ve so enjoyed your pictures and descriptions of your night and morning. (I’ve enjoyed Nina’s as well.). Thanks so much for being willing to do something out of your usual routine to share such beauty with your armchair traveling companions. On another note, I’m so happy for the opportunity you’re having to travel during the summer months. You’ve spent previous summers in some interesting and beautiful locations, but there’s nothing quite like getting to change locations while exploring. Best wishes as you continue to enjoy Idaho.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:30 pm

      Yes Norm, I’ve really enjoyed my traveling summer. Very different from what I’ve done in the past. πŸ™‚

      Glad you enjoyed this post and thank you for following along!

  11. marijka on July 19, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Eh, you’ve got the rest of your life to sleep, so don’t miss the good stuff! (Take with a grain of salt since I’ve got persistent insomnia… lol) Just incredible photos, and such beautiful description of your time. Thank you.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      I’ve had periods of insomnia before, I know what that’s like Marijka. Oddly enough it hasn’t been as big of an issue since I hit the road, perhaps because I have more exposure to natural lighting? You’re welcome, thanks for reading.

  12. Peggy on July 19, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for the comparison shots! You have a great eye. Be safe and enjoy every moment.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      I certainly will Peggy, you’re welcome!

  13. Becky sayre on July 19, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Very beautiful Becky! Thank you for sharing! We’re not far from there (island park, Idaho). I told my husband we should check it out after seeing your pics!

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      You’re welcome!

      I’m on my way to the Island Park area now, it’ll be my last stop before heading into Yellowstone for a family reunion. How long are you going to be there?

  14. Rick on July 19, 2016 at 10:43 am

    I think you could focus on writing a childrens book, that is what came into my mind when I viewed the first picture of a camper in the site.
    Just my 2 cents

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      No one’s mentioned that one before Rick! Picture books are harder to format, it’s what has kept me from doing a book of my travels. Maybe someday.

  15. Jim on July 19, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Great photos! Thanks for the great story.

    A little advice for the future, on your old iPhone 4s, and likely on your new one, tap the ‘Extras’ icon then tap ‘Compass’. (Doesn’t require a cell signal). After it stabilizes at a position, it will give you GPS coordinates you can notebook that can be relayed to friends during a trip to town. I’m pretty sure any GPS they might have will accept them as a trip destination.
    Jim recently posted..On to Portland…My Profile

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      Well Jim, it gives the coordinates in a different format, one that can’t be copy-pasted into Google Maps. I’m sure I can find an app though that’ll give the coordinates in a decimal format. Thanks for sharing and glad you enjoyed this!

  16. Jodee Gravel on July 19, 2016 at 7:50 am

    I can only imagine how different the wilderness must feel alone in the wee hours – I may have to try that πŸ™‚ Glad Nina found you without issue as your morning resulted in some amazing pics by both of you. That last one of Stanley Lake is so pretty. The alpenglow is stunning.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Three Parks, Three Rivers – Three Forks, MontanaMy Profile

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      It’s funny actually Jodee, Nina dreamed that she got up and drove to Little Redfish Lake and got the camera all set up… and then realized she had forgotten to pick me up! Then she really woke up and made sure not to forget me, haha. Poor Nina, I hate dreams like that.

      Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  17. Sue Ann Jaffarian on July 19, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Sleep sacrificed for early morning beauty – sounds like a good trade off to me.

    • Debbie LaFleiche on July 19, 2016 at 9:53 am

      I completely agree with Sue Ann!

      • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:18 pm

        Yes and yes! Losing sleep is a temporary situation, rectified in just a couple days. The memories from this trip will last a lifetime. πŸ™‚

  18. Claudia on July 19, 2016 at 7:14 am

    What beautiful pictures!

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:16 pm


  19. Julianna on July 19, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Your sacrifice of not sleeping is appreciated. Beautiful pix. Thanks!

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Julianna! At least the lack of sleep was a temporary problem. These photos and memories will last a lifetime. πŸ™‚

  20. Marilyn N-S :-) on July 19, 2016 at 6:30 am

    Hi Becky! Your photos are simply beautiful, as usual…thanks for sharing them with us! Safe travels! πŸ™‚

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      You’re welcome Marilyn! Take care.

  21. Sandy on July 19, 2016 at 5:36 am

    Hi Becky. Thanks for staying up all night to share those incredible photos. What do you use to crop or edit them?

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:10 pm

      Adobe photoshop 6, which is well over 10 years old now. There are free editing programs out there too though, I discuss them in my travel photography post: https://interstellarorchard.com/2015/01/27/a-brief-introduction-to-travel-photography/

      • Sandy on July 31, 2016 at 8:25 am

        Sorry for the delay in thanking you. I was sick for a couple of days, followed by a prolonged travel period. Thanks so much for responding.

        • Becky on August 1, 2016 at 10:23 am

          You’re welcome Sandy. πŸ™‚

  22. Mike on July 19, 2016 at 4:49 am

    Great photos. Thanks for the comparison, I am getting ready to upgrade as well.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      You’re welcome Mike!

  23. John on July 19, 2016 at 4:43 am

    Beautiful camping spot and photography spot.

    It is funny how quickly we come to rely on new technology. The idea of meeting people somewhere without a phone to coordinate in real time is hard to accept. And getting along without gps mapping seems archaic (I never was super at navigating so gps mapping is a huge plus to me).
    John recently posted..National Museum of Korea in SeoulMy Profile

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      I use to use printed Mapquest maps for navigation before I had a smartphone, would miss turns all the time. GPS navigation was a godsend for me too. πŸ˜‰

  24. Jeanne on July 19, 2016 at 1:46 am

    What a magical morning you experienced with Nina. The photos are beautiful. Your description of experiencing the “dark” hours while everyone else sleeps makes me yearn for time alone in the woods. Thank you for reminding me of its magic.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      It is a very special time of day Jeanne, I have a really hard time being awake for it but I’m always glad when I do. Glad you enjoyed this post!

  25. lindaandmike on July 18, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    it looks so peaceful and beautiful

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      It was very peaceful. So quiet, no one in the campground was awake yet.

  26. Ron on July 18, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Wow, great photos. Thanks for sacrificing your sleep for us and the comparison photos are great. You have visited the most beautiful locations this Summer.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Yeah Ron I’m so glad I had the opportunity to travel this year instead of work. Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed this.

  27. Howard on July 18, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Stanley does have the reputation of being the coldest place in Idaho.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      I can understand why Howard.

  28. Scott Hinckley on July 18, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    Thanks again Becky, you made my day! πŸ™‚

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      You’re welcome Scott!

  29. Kent on July 18, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Nice Dasiphora Fruticosa! or, Shrubby Cinquefoil. or “Bushy with Yellow Flower Thingies”… πŸ™‚

    Great photos and thanks! I did not realize they came out with the SE. Since I am switching to Verizon and need a new phone me thinks I found it….

    Big difference in the quality. What a beautiful spot!

    Your new phone and GPS:
    It is a “real” GPS that uses satellites not cell towers for position. It’s not dependent on a signal.
    You can turn the GPS on and off. (I keep all location services on my phone off unless I need them to save battery time.

    “Compass” on your phone will give you your coordinates. BUT it gives them to you in Degrees, Minutes, Seconds. The coordinates you posted in your article are in Decimal Degrees. If you want Decimal Degrees you will need a way to convert them. There are a bunch of on-line converters my favorite are my buddies over at EarthPoint. http://www.earthpoint.us/Convert.aspx (Or, if you have a pointy head like I do you just get your slide rule out…. kidding.)

    I can tell you that when I hit the road, especially boondocking, I will let someone know my exact coordinates or projected coordinates.

    Thanks Becky!

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 8:37 pm


      Bush-With-Yellow-Flowers it is! πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for the GPS advice. After fiddling around with it and never being able to get GPS coordinates I figured I just didn’t have the capability on my phone, but now that I have a new one with more storage space I bet I can find an app that’ll do the conversion for me.

      You’re welcome!

  30. Kevin on July 18, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    30 degrees in July, I would hate to over winter there. When I retired the gang asked me what my retirement goals were, and I told them I never wanted to touch a snow shovel again.
    So far so good.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      Yeah Kevin, I heard a rumor that Stanley is the coldest place in the continental US – something to do with the topography of the area. I’m always skeptical of rumors like that but it certainly was chilly!

      After 25 snowy winters in Wisconsin I moved to South Carolina before I hit the road. I like snow for the month of December, but I’d rather not have it at all than have it five months of the year. πŸ˜‰

  31. Judith Blinkenberg on July 18, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    It’s beautiful! The pictures are amazing. I want to go there so bad next year. I’m thankful you are ok and that you are enjoying your new phone. We will buy a generator soon. It has to be shipped to another state other than CA. Thank you for your wonderful posts.

    • Becky on July 19, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      Yeah Judith what a beautiful area, I really hope you get the chance to go next year!

      Why can’t the generator be shipped to CA? State rule of some sort? Sorry you’re going to have to wait for it.

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