Crossing into Idaho from Nevada, the scenery quickly changed from mountains to acres and acres of farmland. The local spuds had welcomed us back to their state. While here, our home base for a week was at Three Island Crossings State Park, where we immediately noticed their amazing grass-watering regimen. A lady there was strictly dedicated to the task of managing sprinklers throughout the park all day long, and she did a wonderful job! Continue reading
Heading out of Montana, we crossed the Continental Divide at Targhee Pass, excited to experience more of the beauty of Idaho.
We arrived at Henrys Lake State Park, located in the city of Island Park. Scanning around the park as we entered, we were looking for Barney – the coach owned by Kevin and Laura of Chapter3 Travels. You see, we had just learned that not only were they in the area, but they were already parked just a few spaces down from ours! We’d previously met up with these fun folks in Tucson, so we knew good times were ahead!
Henrys Lake SP is in the city of Island Park. We learned that in the late 19th-century local stagecoach drivers would use natural clearings in the forest as rest areas for horses and passengers. As businesses started popping up in these areas the drivers began calling them “parks”, and one of them became known as Island Park since it was surrounded on all sides by beautiful rivers, forests, waterfalls and lakes.
Alcohol turned the park into a city. To circumvent Idaho’s liquor laws prohibiting the sale of booze outside city limits, businesses along the strip of U.S. 20 banded together and incorporated the city in 1947. The current population of 272 living in the city that’s 500′ wide and 33 miles long have claimed that it has the longest “Main Street” in the world.
While following a hiking trail around and through the park, we noticed numerous insects fluttering around a carpet of flowers in the meadows:
Suddenly I noticed two groups of butterflies on the ground, attending what appeared to be a “poop party” on dried cow pies. I’ll never think of butterflies the same way again!
Given the beautiful backdrop of mountains, lakes, rivers and forest, it’s no wonder this place was buzzing with all kinds of recreational activities. Island Park is also only 20 minutes from West Yellowstone’s gate. The proximity to Yellowstone explains the landscape here, for Island Park is situated within the 23-mile wide caldera of an extinct volcano, with its west rim visible along U.S. 20:
The day of our arrival, we got together with Kevin and Laura to set up a hike for the next morning. The 7.2 mile moderate trek went by quickly as we all chatted endlessly, and the girls had a field day photographing vibrant wildflowers in the dense meadow. If there were any bears around they would have heard us coming from miles away! The 9,000’+ elevation really wiped me out, but the company of great friends certainly made it all worthwhile.
Camera overdrive on wildflowers!
While Kevin and Laura were being captivated by wild and scenic Yellowstone National Park for several days, Steve and I explored nearby Harriman State Park and later drove the Mesa Scenic Byway and Teton Scenic Byway. It once again confirmed what a truly wild and beautiful scenic area this is.
Harriman State Park
Once the site of the “Railroad Ranch,” Harriman SP is located on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. We followed several intersecting loop trails that led us past the preserved original buildings of the ranch, then continued on to meadows, lakes and forest. We did run into mosquitoes in the forest area, which we haven’t had to deal with in a long time.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
At 114′ high for Upper Mesa Falls and 65′ for Lower Mesa Falls, we enjoyed a double-dose of waterfall adventure. Both natural beauties cascade into the Snake River in a beautiful forest setting. They were the highlight of our drive along Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.
Teton Scenic Byway
We drove Teton Scenic Byway through the backcountry of eastern Idaho, passing through agricultural communities while gawking at the western side of the Teton Range. The sharp contrast of the mountains against the rolling fields of potatoes, wheat, barley and canola was a feast to the eyes.
Before we went our separate ways, Kevin and Laura once again invited us to their home to savor another of Kevin’s creations. We had them over for dinner one night as well, but I somehow forgot to take pictures as good conversation, laughter and fine wine flowed on into the evening!
Our final stop in eastern Idaho was at Ririe, where we camped at Juniper Campground. This was a fitting final stop, since the region grows a great deal of Idaho’s potato crop. This is where the state began its association with potatoes, leading to the “Famous Potatoes” slogan still embossed on their vehicle license plates.
Other crops covered the rolling hills, including wheat, alfalfa, and all-important barley for beer 🙂
That wraps up our Idaho adventures for now. The state left us with lasting impressions and we already plan to return!
Next up: A spring that breathes?
Leaving beautiful Stanley behind, we headed down, down, down the rugged mountains to Garden City, just a few miles outside of Boise. Steve was totally focused on driving Betsy as I enjoyed the scenery along the Ponderosa Scenic Byway, Wild Canyon Scenic Byway and the Payette River Scenic Byway. The 130-mile drive took us from an elevation of 6,253′ in Stanley to 2,566′ at our destination- the airbed mattress was totally flat when we arrived 🙂
After a week of feasting our eyes on stunning natural scenery, we shifted gears to check out some man-made creations. Garden City, Idaho is only a few miles west of Boise, the state capital. What do we do when in a capital city? Tour their capitol building!
Our interest in touring capitol buildings began when we were very impressed while touring the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka. Since then we’ve made it a point to visit other capitol buildings when we can, including the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln and the North Dakota State Capitol in Bizmark. And they were all impressive.
The Idaho State Capitol was constructed in 1905, and a recent restoration,preservation and rehabilitation led to its rededication in 2010.
Boise’s capitol building was deserted when we arrived on a Sunday morning, so we enjoyed the quiet until we heard screaming from a toddler echoing through the building a while later. It’s bothersome enough to hear that outdoors, but inside a cavernous building it can make you want to tear your hair out! Don’t get me wrong, I like kids – I have more than 2 dozen nieces and nephews. But in a situation like this I got a bit cranky – but I digress 😦
Leaving the government building behind, we walked a few blocks to see another of man’s creations known as Freak Alley of Boise, Idaho. It runs west between 8th and 9th streets, and has been re-decorated constantly since 2002. Walking through the alley we saw a range of painting styles, abstract art and graffiti-like images. We’ve seen similar use of spaces that have being transformed into unusual urban attractions. As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…
Meandering along the wet city streets, our thoughts turned to quenching our thirst via some handcrafted Idaho beers. Locals we talked with were happy to tell us about their favorite brews, and we listened intently while taking copious notes. We were able to visit three breweries within the city, and we both enjoyed at least one beer at 10 Barrel Brewing, Barbarian Brewing and Cloud Nine Brewery.
Steve and I have different tastes in beer; he likes stouts and porters, while I go for the lighter Hefeweizens and wheat beers. But for once at Cloud Nine Brewery we both enjoyed the same beer – The Salted Caramel Stout – agreeing it was flavorful and delicious.
We camped at Hi Valley RV Park north of Boise, in close proximity to the Ridge to River network, 190 miles of trails in the Boise Foothills. After replenishing supplies, completing household chores, ticking items off Betsy’s to-do list, and exploring the city it was time to head for the hills.
With dozens of trails to choose from, we settled on three – Spring Valley Creek, Hulls Gulch and Polecat Loop. They were all moderate and followed numerous finger ridges with decent ups and downs. We enjoyed great views of the Boise Ridgeline, Treasure Valley and the city skyline.
Along the trails, several bugs and wildflowers caught our attention:
It must have been breeding season, as we heard several Lazuli Buntings singing from the shrubs. Hearing them and the Meadowlarks made the hikes even more delightful. Wildflowers, birds, bugs and beautiful views were the highlights of our treks.
In less than a week we had gotten some good vibes from Boise and its suburbs – maybe a contender as a place we’ll settle down one day?
Next up: A fabulous week in the Wallowas!
All the hype we’d heard about Stanley, Idaho turned out to be absolutely true – and then some! We spent a fabulous week experiencing its unforgettable stunning scenery, breathing its crisp clean air and enjoying its unspoiled landscapes. And frankly, we couldn’t get enough of those mountain views. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Betsy got a good workout as we headed along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Hwy 75). We drove through sagebrush valleys to the heart of Sawtooth National Forest, and climbed up and over the high mountain pass of Galena Summit at 8,701′. Then down we went into Sawtooth Valley, which is the headwaters of the Salmon River (the River of No Return). We stopped at an overlook and were treated to panoramic views of the still snow-capped Sawtooth Mountains with lush Sawtooth Valley below:
At the base of the Sawtooth Mountains lies the tiny town of Stanley, home to less than 100 permanent residents. It’s also at the intersection of three very picturesque scenic byway routes: Ponderosa Pine Highway (Hwy 21 from Boise), Salmon River Highway (75N and 93 from Montana) and Sawtooth Highway (75S from Shoshone).
Approaching the town from either direction, a jaw-dropping view of those jagged Sawtooth Mountains unfolds before you, the gorgeous landscape that is the wilderness area of Sawtooth National Forest.
The visitor center host told us she’s one of the hardy souls living here year round. Even if it is one of the coldest places in the U.S. outside of Alaska, she believes Stanley is the greatest place to live in Idaho. It’s hard to argue after seeing the area, but no way could I tolerate the mind-blowing winters here!
Conversely, the mild summers host a tourist season that peaks in July, and our June 6-13 visit enabled us to miss the big crowds while enduring reasonable weather swings.
Our first 3 nights were spent dry camping at beautiful Sockeye Campground on Redfish Lake, where sites are first-come, first-serve. The campground is situated in a lodgepole pine forest, where it was very quiet when generators weren’t running – including ours. We hated interrupting the serenity by using it for hours every day, but with a residential refrigerator and no solar panels we didn’t have a choice.
Most of you know we always hike early in the morning, but the need to recharge our batteries got us off to late starts here. While Steve handled the recharging, I was in full photographic bliss at Redfish Lake as the sun rose. I wish all mornings could be like this – calm, tranquil and so beautiful!
Several trailheads were within walking distance of our site, making the hikes super convenient. First we tackled Redfish Ridge Trail, a beautiful but steep trek along a moraine crest through Douglas Fir forests. It offered awesome views of Thompson Peak, White Clouds and Grand Mogul massifs. We weren’t equipped to complete the entire loop around the lake, so we turned back after 4 miles to make it an 8-mile roundtrip.
Next we followed the popular Fish Hook Creek Trail, a 5-mile roundtrip hike. It was a dreary day as we meandered across a meadow and along the fast-moving creek under a canopy of pine trees:
Our next Stanley stop was at at Elk Mountain RV “Resort”, a short and scenic 12-mile drive for Betsy. More and more RV parks are calling themselves resorts, making the term meaningless – this one was more like a storage facility! But it did have very friendly tenants and a tiny laundry room with free machines, so we’ll overlook it this time 😉
Folks here were so friendly that when our neighbor saw me with a dangling camera he urged us to take a scenic drive on the Nip and Tuck Road for another perspective of the imposing jagged mountains. We made the drive, but only after taking a wrong turn onto a county road. We finally figured out our error, enjoying a beautiful drive in blissful ignorance. After turning around we got back on track as a Western Tanager and a Red Crossbill watched the lost humans with curiosity:
Stanley’s proximity to Sawtooth National Forest makes it a recreational paradise in central Idaho, and with over 2,000 miles of trails to choose from we were in hiking heaven. It also sits on the banks of the Salmon River, and Steve mentioned that a rafting trip might be in order. But the cold mornings and frigid river curbed our enthusiasm, and instead we strapped our hiking boot back on to explore 2 more trails – Bridal Veil Falls and Iron Creek.
Our hike to Bridal Veil began in fog and light snow flurries. Then after 3 miles an obstacle came into view – no way could we cross the deep and fast-flowing waters of swollen Stanley Creek. So after confirming there was no other way to cross the creek from where we were, we headed back while telling other hikers the bad news on our way 😦
We caught sight of a Badger on our way back – only the second one we’ve seen…
…and wildflowers too!
We just had to hike the moderate but long Iron Creek Trail, which lead us to 2 glacial lakes – partially frozen Sawtooth Lake, and Alpine Lake which had already thawed. We climbed over 1,760′ in 5 miles up to Sawtooth Lake at 8,435′ and played in the snow as we enjoyed our lunch. The beautiful views there and the overlook of Alpine Lake on our return trip made the 10 miles of huffing and puffing worth it!
On another day we drove to the Yankee Fork Historic Area off the Salmon Scenic Byway. It’s an area that was established in 1990 to preserve and interpret the rich mining heritage of Central Idaho.
An informational plaque taught us that these peaks were once molten rock under the earth’s surface. Through slow cooling they became granite, and tremendous forces later thrust the rock through earth’s surface. Erosion and glaciers exposed and shaped what we see today, jagged peaks that inspired the name Sawtooth Mountains.
Our wonderful week in Stanley had come to an end far too quickly. The weather while we were here was a mixture of warm and cold, sun and clouds, light snow and rain. But it didn’t hamper our activities; we had fun scheduling outings around the next day’s conditions.
As is usual in our lifestyle, upcoming reservations and the need to replenish supplies urged us to move on. Leaving the area, we posed Betsy in front of the incredible mountains as we took a few last breaths of the amazing mountain air. We agreed that we’ll always have special memories of this magnificent place.
Next up: Back to civilization…
During our six years of travels we’ve never been inside an Ice Cave, and we certainly didn’t expect to find one in the Idaho desert. So when we discovered that Shoshone Ice Cave was right on the way to our next stop, we weren’t going to miss it. The place has a huge parking lot, even big enough for Betsy with the car attached! She was well watched as we went inside for our guided tour.
With time to kill before our guided tour began, we perused the small museum to learn a few interesting tidbits about the cave. The photo below especially caught my attention – ice skating inside an ice cave!
During the tour, Garret, our young tour guide told us that this natural ice chest had been used to advantage by early settlers, and it was the only place within hundreds of miles folks could get a cold beer at the time. Years later it became well known, and like many things it was abused by man as all of the ice was removed and shipped throughout the area for refrigeration purposes. As this was done, the front of the cave was opened up and the critical airflow needed to produce ice was destroyed.
Coming to the rescue was Russel Robinson, who bought the land in the 1950’s. He researched air flow patterns through the cave and re-sealed the entrance to restore the natural environment inside. After several years the ice was restored, and the cave was opened for guided tours.
We were advised to bring a light jacket, as the temperature inside the lava cave remains constant at 28º. It was a fairly short tour, and macho Garret sported a T-shirt as he pointed out various features and facts about the amazing place.
Russel Robinson’s legacy was patience and hard work, as he restored this unique spot in the Idaho desert – pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was not a grandiose cave like others we’ve visited, but it was definitely unique and worth the stop. If you’re ever driving on I-75 between Twin Falls and Sun Valley you may want to check it out – especially if it’s a hot day!
Cows and Camas Lilies
A spring attraction that caught my interest was seeing the Camas Lilies in full bloom. Whenever we’re close to wildlife sanctuaries, prairies or flower fields, I’m all over it (usually without Steve, as he happily hands over the car keys). So with my camera in tow, I drove to the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh located in Fairfield, Idaho. On the way there I found my answer to the question, “Where’s the beef?”
A festival is held in Fairfield to celebrate the annual “Big Bloom” of the Camas Lilies, which occurs throughout the month of May. The Camas Prairie here runs along both sides of Highway 20 and is about 15 miles long, but for the best viewing I continued further to the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh. For thousands of years, these same plants sustained Native Americans living in the area.
Well, my doubts were confirmed – I was a bit late and past the peak bloom. I missed the blanket of blue in the valley that I was hoping for, but was happy that I’d brought my telephoto zoom lens. Most of the remaining blooming lilies were a long way from the road, but I enjoyed my photography session as the songbirds and ducks kept me company. It was quiet and peaceful as the breeze rustled through the prairie grass.
Cinder Cones and Craters
To complete my “C” themed post, we spent a half day visiting Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. What we saw there brought to mind the volcanic havoc underway in Hawaii. Many of the plaques along the walkways referred to the Kilauea volcano while describing what we were looking at.
Geologists have found that although the craters here are volcanic in nature, it was not a volcano that created this moonscape. Rather, it resulted from several eruptions originating from a series of deep fissures known collectively as the Great Rift that crosses the Snake River Plain. Eruptions from deep cracks in the earth forced lava up to create cinder cones, spatter cones and lava tube caves. The most recent eruption was only 2,000 years ago.
We followed the 7-mile loop road that took us around various volcanic features:
We were amazed that while seemingly barren, the lava fields have become islands of vegetation, and we’d arrived during the annual wildflower blooms. These plants have adapted to the harsh environment and we noticed they grow close to the ground to resist losing moisture from the heat and wind.
And the star of the moonscape was the Dwarf Monkeyflowers that painted the lava fields in a sea of pink:
Being here during the wildflower bloom enhanced our appreciation of the barren landscape. But according to biologist Richard J. Vogl, “What you see depends mainly on what you look for.”
Next up: Stunning scenic Stanley, Idaho!
We’re in Idaho again – Yay!
In Sept of 2016, Idaho became the 49th and final state we entered, achieving our goal of visiting every state and adding the last one to our map. Back then we got a taste of Idaho’s natural beauty while camped at Coeur d’Alene up north, but we were excited to be back now to see much more of the state.
Our home base was in Filer, at Twin Falls County Fairground RV Park, and we were happy to have the quiet place practically to ourselves.
Magic Valley was constantly mentioned in the local weather forecasts, and we realized we were in Magic Valley. But what’s so magical about this area? Siri advised me that we were camped in one of the 8 southern Idaho counties that comprise Magic Valley. It was named after the early settlers who built dams and irrigation canals along the Snake River to create productive farmland and towns that seemed to magically spring up out of nowhere on the sagebrush-covered southern Idaho desert.
The Snake River is in the heart of this region, and what the early settlers built also resulted in the reservoirs becoming recreation havens. The river cut through ancient basalt lava flows, forming the Snake River Canyon which is a mile wide and 500′ deep in some spots. What’s so unique and special about this rugged canyon are the numerous waterfalls pouring out of its sheer basalt walls, creating a dramatic background that extends for more than 50 miles.
It was along Thousand Springs Scenic Byway from Hagerman up north to Twin Falls that we saw dozens of these springs/waterfalls surging over the canyon walls. We also noticed a mix of geological features resulting from the Bonneville Flood, along with miles of beautiful rural farmland. It actually was kind of magical!
The valley around Hagerman contains the largest concentration of horse fossils in North America. It’s being protected by the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument because it holds the world’s richest known fossil deposits from a time period called the late Pliocene epoch – about 3 to 4 million years ago.
Had the visitor center been open, I would have learned more about the area’s history and paleontology. But I had to settle for this photo of the monument from the Snake River Overlook:
Twin Falls sits on the south rim of the Snake River, the largest city in Magic Valley. It’s also known as Idaho’s own “City of Waterfalls”, from the broad crashing waters of Shoshone Falls to the smaller rapids along its outskirts. The best way to enjoy the panoramic views and interesting facts of the canyon is to follow the 10-mile Canyon Rim Trail.
We did it in two walks; first going east from the visitor center to Evel Knievel’s historic jump site, and on another day walking from a parking lot to the west of the visitor center back to the bridge. Then we walked both ways across the Perrine Bridge before visiting Centennial Park at the bottom of the canyon.
What I learned as we gazed into the deep, scenic canyon is that Snake River Canyon was actually sculpted and shaped when Utah’s Lake Bonneville overflowed about 17,500 years ago. It was one of the largest floods to ever occur on Earth. The 70 mile-per-hour deluge plucked huge boulders from the basalt cliffs and gouged out channels along the canyon floor.
It was here in 1974 that Evel Knievel unsuccessfully attempted to jump across the Snake River Canyon in his Skycycle X-2 rocket. The dirt ramp built for that jump is still here, and we stood on it while marveling at the scope of the stunt.
Perrine Bridge spans the canyon nearly 500′ above the Snake River, and is a hot spot for base jumpers from around the world. It’s the only location in the U.S. open to legal BASE jumping year-round. We saw many jumpers preparing during our visit, but never actually saw any of them take the plunge.
On the day we followed the path from the west end parking lot toward the visitor center, we passed through residential areas with gorgeous canyon views. It was unusual to see the Canyon Springs Golf Course and Blue Lakes Country Club down there at the bottom of the canyon.
To complete our visit in Magic Valley we drove east of the Snake River to see two waterfalls that were created as a result of the Bonneville Flood. Our first stop was to see the namesake of the city, Twin Falls, which was named when there were originally two parallel falls on the river.
The power plant was built on one side of the falls, and Twin Falls Dam altered the falls by diverting the flow of the Snake River into a single waterfall.
The premiere attraction of Magic Valley is what is being claimed as the Niagara of the West, Shoshone Falls. Having been to Niagara Falls, we were intrigued with the reference and pretty darned impressed. Shoshone Falls is 36′ taller than Niagara Falls, with a 212′ drop that cascades over a broad series of rocks. Because we visited here during spring with high water flows from snowmelt, the tremendous volume of water lived up to its nickname.
Our first stop in Idaho was definitely impressive. The Snake River, the vast rural farmland and the dramatic Snake River Canyon made Magic Valley a great place to visit!
Next up: Ice Caves, Camas, Cows and Cinder Cones
We did it!
We had several reasons to be excited as we crossed the U.S border into Idaho, although the weather gods weren’t as enthusiastic. We hunkered down overnight at a small RV park 4 miles from the border until the heavy rain passed. The following day we ventured on to our next destination at Coeur d’Alene, where we took a break to do some chores and re-stock the cupboards.
First we shook the grit and grime we had carried from Canada off Betsy, giving her a good wash. We also had to replace the rice that had been confiscated at the border, as we were informed since it was no longer in its original packaging they could not determine if it had come from a prohibited country. I guess we should have known that after 25 border crossings!
Finally we were ready to celebrate a milestone. Idaho capped our goal of visiting all of the 49 states, and our USA map is finally covered! Yes, after over four and a half years of running around the country we have accomplished one of our main retirement goals. It was quite a ride, and in doing so we also visited 8 picturesque Canadian Provinces; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia), plus 1 Canadian Territory, the Yukon. An unexpected bonus was our foray into Sonora, Mexico when we joined a caravan to Puerto Penasco in February.
We’ll post highlights and statistics covering our entire adventure once we arrive back at our starting point in northern California. At that time we’ll consider our RV adventure completed and figure out what to do next. We’ll continue fulltime RV’ing, of course, but probably in a more “traditional” and spontaneous way without the need to visit particular states. We don’t know yet, and that’s the fun of it!
For now we’re elated, excited and happy that our main goal has been reached with no major problems.
Sparkling Coeur d’Alene Lake was the backdrop for another celebration, our 11th wedding anniversary. Living in Betsy’s close quarters 24/7 for the past several years was an accomplishment of its own, and we’re very happy that we’re still the best of friends, with only a few lover’s spats thrown in to make it interesting.
We had a beerlicious anniversary, as the city’s annual Oktoberfest happened to be scheduled for that very day. Along with hundreds of others, we partied and strolled the streets to sample several craft beers. Strangely, no streets were closed for the event, and most of the beers were dispensed from within local shops. It was definitely nothing like the major party that shut down Brekenridge for their celebration last year.
We strolled through town and stumbled onto what is called the “world’s longest floating boardwalk” by folks hereabouts. Completed in 1985, it’s 3,300′ long and 12′ wide. We thought it was pretty cool walking on the lake over the 16,000 cedar logs it took to build the thing.
We were aching for a hike, and just across from our campground (Steve’s review here) was access to the 23-mile long Centennial Trail that extends to the Idaho/Washington border. We walked a section of it and learned the difference between a hobo, a tramp and a bum – the last sentence on this plaque enlightened us:
We also took on the Tubbs Hill and Mineral Ridge trails, recommended by Andy who sent me a message thru RVillage. It was a nice surprise to get recommendations from strangers who know the area through this site.
The last celebration was Steve joining the smartphone crowd after holding off for several years. I just hope he won’t be playing Pokémon Go during our hikes!
Cheers to our milestones celebrations!
Next up: Steve hooks up our new propane fire pit