A Trip Through Basque Sheep Country 

One of the things associated with Basques in the Great Basin over the last century is sheepherding. Throughout Eastern Oregon, Northwestern California, Central and Northern Nevada, Utah and Southern Idaho, Basque men have been tending to their flocks in the mountains in summer and driving them to lower elevations in the winter. This time of year would have found Basque herders in the Stanley Basin, which, if you look around, you can still find a few sheepherders today, sheparding sheep in much the same way they did 80 years ago.

The best way to see Idaho through their eyes is with a road trip that begins in Boise. And your eyes will see the country in much the same way they did. All throughout the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley-cities like Caldwell, Mountain Home, Emmett, Marsing, Boise, Twin Falls, Burns, Nampa and others-communities were settled by Basques. While the families mostly stayed put, the men often worked the flocks.

Travel east on I-84 to Mountain Home, then a left turn at Bliss on to Highway 26 will take you to Gooding and Shoshone. For most Basques, Shoshone was their first stop, as it was the drop-off point in Idaho for Westbound railroads coming from the East Coast.

From Shoshone, drive North on Highway 75 to Hailey, Ketchum and then over Galena Summit to Stanley. This is the route the herds would take in the spring, each seeking out lush mountain meadows and grasses to eat. Ketchum still celebrates in the fall with a "running of the sheep" festival as the herds come down out of the mountains.

Basque sheepherders would set up camp in these high valleys, a favorite among groves of Aspen, places that usually had water and plenty of grass. There, to while away the hours they often carved into the trunks of trees. Today, in hundreds of locations around the West, these carvings, called arbor glyphs, can still be seen. They vary in their forms, from simple graffiti with names and dates, to poems, to notes left for other herders, and, probably because sheepherding is a lonley pursuit, carvings of naked women, sometimes engaged in lewed acts.

Unless you know exactly where some arbor glyphs are, it might be a scavenger hunt, but worth the effort if you find one.

Take a left at Stanley onto Highway 21 and continue on over Banner Summit toward Lowman. Consider a stop at Bonneville Hot Springs or even Sacajawea Hot Springs. Then either continue up and over Moore's Creek Summit to Idaho City, or the less curvey and tamer trip to Garden Valley and Banks, where one meets up with Highway 55. From there, it's less than an hour back to Boise. Either return trip takes you through areas that were prime Basque sheep grazing. And who knows, you just might find an aspen with an arbor glyph.

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