Winchester, ID

Home: Winchester Lake State Park

Yesterday while Rett was taking a shower and I had finished setting up the tent, I sat on our sleeping pad looking out through tent’s mesh at the trees around us and said to myself “this is a really nice place, maybe we should stay here longer!” Extending a stay on a whim is something we imagined we’d do a lot when we started this (it should be a big advantage of having no timeline, right?), but in practice it hardly ever happens. Mostly it’s because, despite our hope to live with un-laid plans, we frequently do have timelines, usually imposed by a booking we have made sometime in the near future. Or, when we’re camping, we don’t bring enough food with us to allow an add-on. When I mentioned the idea to Rett, even she was initially reluctant, feeling that we had just taken two days off and that we needed to continue moving. No! I totally understand falling into that habit, but here we had a chance to break it.

Site 8 at Winchester Lake State Park.

First of all, due to our upcoming midweek travel through National Forest lands, we hadn’t felt the need to book ahead. Then, the surprisingly well-stocked convenience store (and only store!) in Winchester was just half a mile away from our campsite. And finally, it costs $17/night to live in this place, and since a big way for us to keep our expenses low is to spend as many nights of our life with low “rent”, this low-dollar/high-value place was ideal for that. An added benefit was that it was still blazing hot down in the valley, so delaying our return to those depths would give time for the weather pattern to change.

The price was kind of funny. If I had booked online, it would have been $34, twice the price: $17 campsite + $7 Motor Vehicle Entrance Fee (MVEF) + $10 reservation fee. I feel like most other states would have asked if you were arriving by foot or bicycle and skipped the MVEF in that case, but it seems Idaho doesn’t even consider the possibility of people arriving to their parks without motors, and just makes the fee mandatory. Luckily at the entrance booth the worker confirmed that we would not be charged the fee, though even on her interface she needed to do a bit of a hack (checking a box that said we have an annual MVEF pass), and recommended we do the same if we ever needed to book online.

After we’d already made the decision to stay, a family with three rambunctious kids set up next to us, so that threw some doubt onto us (and we hadn’t actually paid for a 2nd night yet, so…) Turns out the always-outdoor-voiced dad was actually the most-annoying member of the contingent (though he seemed like a great dad to his kids). I’ll just say that we took our chairs down to the lake to eat our desserts after dinner.

The next morning (after hearing dad snoring in his hammock strung up nearly in our site), they packed up and went on their way, so I went to book our 2nd day! We spent the morning with a 3+ mile forest walk around Winchester Lake (an old mill pond). The end of the loop took us conveniently right by the store to pick up the day’s groceries.

A surprisingly-green and wet section of ponderosa forest around Winchester Lake.
One of many wildflower species growing in this open ponderosa forest.
An unusual mix: dry enough to grow ponderosa pines, but wet enough to coat their branches in green moss.
Heron flying across Winchester Lake.

We spent the afternoon relaxing over at the amphitheater, because it had outlets we could use to charge our devices while we used them. The campground is a little weird, in that the non-electric loop had only vault toilets and a few water spigots, while the electric loop had the nice bathhouse with showers, despite the fact that people in the electric loop would tend to be more RV-based and have less need for toilets and showers.

I knew late-afternoon rain had been in the forecast; another benefit of our stay was that not only would we be able to better handle the brief period in our already-setup tent rather than when just arriving at camp or during our ride, but also our new tent hasn’t been tested with rain yet, so a short rain when we didn’t need to move would be an ideal time to learn how it reacts. Watching the radar, we ran back to camp at 4pm when rain looked to be about an hour away in order to get dinner made. While Rett cooked, I made a ride out to the store for cold beers where I could see the skies ominously darkening and hear the thunder rumble.

Giant American flag strung between the trees in Winchester.

We made it about halfway through dinner when the drops started, and they quickly got heavier so we needed to dive into the tent. Luckily our new tent is a bit more-spacious than our old one, so the both of us sitting inside and eating was relatively comfortable. Especially since it once again stayed exquisitely comfortable here in the low 70s, while it was 90F+ down in the river valleys.

Sheltering from the rain inside our tent, with beers and Lamby!

Upon our emergence when the rain stopped, our new neighbors invited us over to join them at their fire. Yes, thank you, as getting a fire started with camp wood is always a crapshoot, and due to our “extra” day we had plenty of time for socializing. Guy and Billie were much more our speed, an older-than-us couple slowly returning (in their truck-camper) from a trip to the Black Hills back to home in…Snohomish County, Washington! No, they were not related to the HGTV twins. But we had taken a ride that went by the road their house is on less than two months ago! We had some great fireside conversation, about understanding and (more importantly) accepting your limits, about fraught family relationships, and about staying a couple for a long time.

Yeah, it definitely was a great call to stay here another night, in this world so different than the environment we had recently been in in eastern (and even western!) Washington. We need to remember to try this on-the-fly stuff more!



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