One of the common sayings around town is that you come to Sun Valley for the winters, but you stay for the summers. As Averell Harriman discovered after he opened the doors to his extravagant palace in the snow, the Wood River Valley is an ideal summer playground. Harriman quickly decided to keep those doors open and take advantage of the spectacular Sun Valley summers. Today, 76 years later, we are still enjoying the whirlwind two months between July 4th and Labor Day, when summer wraps its arms around the communities of the Wood River Valley. It may be brief, but it is a whole lot of fun; summer in Sun Valley is something not to be missed.
This Labor Day weekend marked the official end to the summer of 2012, and for over half a century the annual Wagon Days festivities have been there to send it off in style. Recognized as the largest non-motorized parade in the Pacific Northwest, the Wagon Days parade is the highlight of the weekend, featuring dozens of “museum-quality buggies, carriages, tacks, carts, buckboards and wagons of every variety in existence today.”
This year The Sun Family was offered the chance of riding in one of the antique wagons. Having been a spectator for seven of the last nine years, being able to participate in this historic parade was too good an opportunity to miss (even if 2 hours in a horse-drawn buggy had the potential to make Baby Sun a squirmy mess).
To get prepped for our Wagon Days opus, we chowed down with our parade companion, Mrs. Fisher Cat (in town visiting The Toy Store), at Papoose Club’s annual pancake breakfast (another wonderful tradition, read about it here.). Local historian Ivan Swaner was more than happy to keep Kitty company and fill her in on the story of Wagon Days.
Next we headed to the Sun Valley Horseman Center to meet our wagon and gaze in awe at the assembled parade entrants. From Ralphie the Camel to the beautiful Eh Capa bareback riders, there was a lot to take in. Little Sun and Baby Sun were thrilled to be able to get up close and personal with the wide-array of entrants, it was better than a trip to the zoo!
Next it was time to saddle up and hop on our ride for the afternoon, two beautiful spotted draft horses pulling a Black Surrey (with a fringe on top!). While there were a few white knuckle moments as horses crossed paths and wagons rolled, overall riding in the parade was one of the best experiences I’ve had during my time living in Idaho. Waving at the crowds and seeing the smiling, happy people waving back at us we felt – for a few brief moments – like Ketchum Royalty. Baby Sun was in her element (there is a stage somewhere in her future…), waving energetically the entire time (until she fell asleep mid-wave somewhere along Main Street).
We owe the wonderful Carol Knight a big dose of gratitude for letting us ride along with Mrs. Fisher Cat in The Toy Store sponsored Black Surrey. It was lovely to be associated with a fixture of the Ketchum shopping scene for over 30 years, all along the route pockets of Ketchum “old-timers” cheered with extra enthusiasm when they saw Carol’s distinctive logo on the side of the wagon.
Viewing Wagon Days from inside the parade gave me a lovely perspective on my hometown for close to a decade. It was especially poignant as next month The Sun Family is moving on. After a wonderful nine years living and working in the Wood River Valley we are heading East to join my family in Charleston, South Carolina. We will dearly miss this valley. It is where Brian and I began our lives together, where we welcomed our children, Owen and Rose, and where we have made many dear friends.
In particular I will miss Sun Valley Resort. It is all too easy for locals to take for granted the special place they have on their doorsteps. I for one, only really understood the value of what Averell Harriman brought to this remote corner of Idaho when I started digging into the history of the resort, which is a rich tapestry of fascinating stories and entertaining insights into how these towns became what they are today. I challenge all locals and visitors to take a few minutes of their time to walk through the grand doors of the Sun Valley Lodge into the lobby, pause for a moment and just look around. Eighty years ago, the spot where you are standing was just a barren field of sagebrush, surrounded by nothing but a struggling mining town and untamed mountains. Today a grand resort stands there, an integral part of the thriving, complicated and extraordinary community that surrounds it. Averell would be proud.
Jennifer Tuohy (aka Mrs. Sun)