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The Bruneau Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes We Visited in Bolivia

The Bruneau Dunes are perhaps the most bizarre natural phenomenon in the state. Trapped in a low-laying basin just south of Mountain Home, they’re thought to have originated during the Ice Age, in the aftermath of the Bonneville Flood. Unlike most sand dunes, those at Bruneau don’t shift dramatically with the wind. They’re trapped in the basin, and the highest peak stays at about 470 feet year-round.

Bruneau-Sand-Dunes

We parked our car near the foot of the dunes at a small lake and, after walking through a wetland forest, began our ascent. 470 feet sounds manageable, but we started having trouble well before reaching the top. Sand is never easy to walk on, and Bruneau has particularly loose sand which can gobble a leg up to the knee. It took about thirty minutes of tiresome crawling before we made it to the top.

Our shoes, clothes and mouths were filled with sand, and our thighs and calves were burning from the exertion, but I felt only glee upon cresting the summit. Yes, the view was remarkable, but most importantly: we were standing on top of North America’s biggest sand dune, and were about to run down. The softness of the sand, so troublesome on the way up, now beckoned to me: “Jump! I am so very soft!” And jump, I did. Jumping, rolling, sprinting, leaping through the wonderfully soft sand, it took about 20 seconds to reach the bottom.

Location on our Idaho Map

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Dune Tree
Idaho Lake
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Sand Landslide
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Family Trip Idaho
Dune Punk
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Sexy Dunes
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Dune Monster
Sandy Monster
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January 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm Comment (1)

The City of Rocks

Everything You Need For Rock Climbing

An hour and a half southeast of Twin Falls, near the small community of Almo and just a few miles from the Utah border, is the City of Rocks: a national reserve which holds some of the Pacific Northwest’s weirdest formations. This silent city was a stop along the California Trail, and today is a paradise for mountain climbers.

Marching-Iadaho

After picking up information at the Visitor’s Center in Almo, we entered the park, and found the featureless farmland of southeastern Idaho suddenly swept away by towering boulders and rolling hills. We spent all day in the park, stopping the car constantly to take pictures or to hike around the rocks. I scrambled up some of the smaller ones, such as Treasure Rock, where legend says that gold has been buried, and Register Rock, where settlers would write their names in axle grease from their wagons.

It’s not hard to understand the park’s popularity with rock climbers. Remote, expansive and difficult to reach, the City is never crowded, and there’s an almost inexhaustible number of named climbs, which range in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.12 (if you’re into the sport, I assume you’ll know what those numbers mean. I have no idea, but 5.12 sounds plenty difficult.) We saw one group taking on an imposing boulder known as Bath Rock. They were pros, quick-moving and sure-footed, constantly calling out verbal signals to each other. It was fun to watch, and made me a bit jealous.

There’s no development anywhere within the City, so it’s not hard to put yourself in the shoes of westward settlers on the California Trail, and imagine how impressive it must have been to them. Apparently, a formation called the Twin Sisters was one of the most famous sights along the 2000-mile trail, and became the subject of many pioneer paintings. Having the Sisters in view meant that the long journey was almost at its end, and settlers would often weep at the sight.

We hiked along the Creekside Towers Trail, bringing us up and around two miles of monumental boulders, and made the short walk to Window Arch Rock, which forms a natural frame perfect for picture-taking. We also spent a long time resting with a view of the Breadloaves — a bizarre formation with a remarkable resemblance to its namesake. In all, we were in the City for nearly six hours, and could easily have stayed longer. Another amazing natural wonder in a state that has turned out to be full of them.

Location on our Idaho Map

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Dramatic-Tree
Giant-Face-Rock
Parks-In-Idaho
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Rocks Of Idaho
Sattlers Cave Writing
Cave-Writing-City-Of-Rock
Sattler-Wagon
Bread Loaf City Of Rocks
City-Of-Rock-Small-Pool
City-Of-Rock-Idaho
Idaho-Rock-Landscape
Rock-Climbing-City-Of-Rock
Twin Sister City Of Rocks
We-love-Rocks
Idaho-Bonsai
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Nature Blog
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January 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm Comment (1)

Twin Falls – A BASE Jumping Paradise

Great Hotel In Twin Falls

There are extreme sports, and then there’s BASE Jumping. It’s bungee jumping without the cord. Skydiving without the airplane. You just strap on a parachute and jump off something tall. And Twin Falls is the only place in the world you can legally do it year-round.

BAse Jumper

The Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls is famous around the world’s community of BASE jumpers as the perfect launch spot. The Snake River Canyon is deep enough for a long, scenic descent, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t need any kind of permit. Perhaps wanting to avoid liability, neither the state, the county nor the city claim the bridge as in their jurisdiction, so there’s no place to seek permission. Just strap a parachute on, stomp out to the middle of the bridge, and jump off into the void.

Of course, it’s only that easy for truly experienced BASE jumpers. Most people participate in this activity with organized groups, with experts on hand to provide training and assistance. We were lucky to see one such group in action. It was just crazy to watch these guys and gals stand on the bridge, look down 500 feet, gather their courage, and then actually jump off.

And it looked like crazy fun. Some of the more advanced jumpers did a back flip or a swan dive, falling for ten or twenty meters before releasing their parachutes. They’d then steer themselves back down to the landing strip, next to the river. Most accomplished this pretty well, though we did see one guy land himself in the trees.

Don’t tell Jürgen, but I’ve mentally added BASE jumping to the list of experiences we’re going to try out one day. It must be the ultimate thrill.

Location of Base Jump Spot

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January 1, 2013 at 9:50 am Comments (0)

The Spencer Opal Mines

Play Beautiful Opals Online

The sun was hot on the back of my neck as I crouched down over another pile of rocks, wielding my hammer and garden fork. My legs were getting sore, and I kept forgetting to drink water, but the growing exhaustion didn’t matter. Every time I had almost convinced myself to quit, a shiny glint appeared underfoot. Yes, my precious, another opal!

Spencer-Opal-Mines

Spencer, Idaho, is a small town near the Montana border which owes its existence to the opal. The mines here are the best in America, producing stones renowned for their fine layers and exquisite color. Discovered in 1948 by a couple deer hunters, the Spencer Opal Mines have been owned and operated by the same family for the past 48 years. In 1968, after realizing they were producing more rock than they could work themselves, they opened a mini-mine for amateur gem hunters. For $10, you can scour the stones as long as you want, and keep up to a pound of opal-laden rock for yourself.

When we first read about the Spencer Opal Mines, I was more than a little suspicious. “Sure”, I thought, “like they really dump it into a public mine, without first removing all the good opals”. But as soon I saw the pit, I realized that this is exactly what they do. It’s big, with tons of rocks, and there’s no way they screen them all in advance. And my skepticism was completely dispelled when I found my first opal, a yellow-colored gem, after about five minutes of hunting.

The chances of discovering a truly valuable opal in the Spencer Opal Mines aren’t that bad. While demonstrating how to water the stones down and bring out their full color, the mine’s owner told us about a 10-year-old kid who had recently found a huge pink opal in the public mine. He estimated that the gem could probably pay for the kid’s first year of college.

After about an hour, we left the mine with two full bags of rock, our one-pound quotas easily met. In fact, I had to choose some opals to leave behind, although I could have paid a bit extra to take them all. Most of the gems we found were fairly common, the shiny white color of quartz, but we ended up with a few colorful opals were suitable to be polished and set into jewelry. Not a bad haul.

Location on our Idaho Map

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Link: Spencer Opal Mines

Mining Tools
Opal Mine Idaho
Opal-Mine
Finding Opal
Spray-Opal
Opal-domes
Opal Stones
Opal-Art
Opal-Jewelry

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December 8, 2012 at 5:41 pm Comments (2)

Craters of the Moon

Volcanoes Of The World

Comprising 618 square miles of other-worldly lava-formed landscape, the Craters of the Moon National Monument is one of the strangest geographic areas in the entire country. Harsh, dry and largely barren, this craggily beautiful region has remained largely untouched by a humanity that never figured out a use for it. We visited one morning in late October, after a light layer of snow had covered the ground.

Moon-Hole

Instead of bursting out the top of mountain-sized volcanoes, the lava of Craters of the Moon seeped out of fissures and low-lying spatter cones. The volcanic activity only ceased around 2000 years ago, so the landscape is still rather young, and the fissures aren’t dead but merely dormant. Scientists expect them to become active again in the next 1000 years. Possibly even within the next hundred.

Although it’s open to the public, the vast majority of the Craters of the Moon is virtually inaccessible — settlers and Indians alike looped around this unforgiving land, and no roads transverse the black terrain. So if you want to get into the center, you’re looking at a long and difficult multi-day hike. Luckily, there’s a corner of the park which has been developed for touristic purposes, with a driving loop, and a number of short walks that introduce some of the lava fields’ best features.

After stopping by the visitor’s center and grabbing a map, we started our day with a two-mile walk to the Lava Tree Molds: a cluster of trees which had been incinerated by a boiling hot river of lava. As the lava cooled around the trunks, hollowed-out molds were formed, like the inverse of a tree. Snow had recently blanketed the ground, and the only other tracks on the trail were of deer and rabbit.

Next up was the Cave Area, where four caves formed by the lava flow are open to the adventurous. This was the section I had been most excited about — actual, explorable caves — and I had made sure to bring a flashlight so that we could spelunk into the furthest reaches. But these thrilling plans were dashed on discovering that our flashlight was out of batteries. Grrr!

Mike On The Moon

So, we weren’t able to get far into the first three caves (Dewdrop, Boy Scout and Beauty Cave) but flashlights weren’t required to appreciate Indian Tunnel, which has abundant light from holes in its ceiling. The tunnel was formed during a geological event known as the Blue Dragon Flow, when a river of lava hollowed out the earth before receding into fissures opened in the crust. A very cool walk.

Our final stop of the day was at the Devil’s Orchard, where a short paved path winds through a field of cinder cones. Interpretive signs along the way detail the irreversible environmental damage done to the park by humankind. I get it, but such a tsk-tsking felt superfluous in a place like Craters of the Moon, which is almost completely inaccessible to even the most determined vandal.

Craters of the Moon was named before people made it into space, and it must have been a disappointment when it turned out that the moon’s surface doesn’t resemble this lava-scorched landscape much at all. But the name stuck. Accuracy aside, the area does look otherworldly, and is a must-see for any fan of nature’s bizarre side.

Location of the Visitor’s Center

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December 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm Comment (1)

Sun Valley – America’s First Ski Resort

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Older than Vail, Jackson Hole, Aspen or Lake Tahoe, Sun Valley was America’s very first winter resort, hosting celebrities, families and skiing fanatics since 1936. We spent two autumn nights there, basking in its classic elegance.

Fall-Sun-Valley-Resort

In 1935, Averell Harriman, the owner of the Union Pacific Railroad, had a brilliant idea to increase ridership on his western trains. A ski resort! Harriman enlisted the Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch to scout for locations which were close by Union Pacific stations. Schaffgotsch considered sites in Colorado and Wyoming but it wasn’t until he arrived in a small, end-of-the-line community called Ketchum, Idaho, that he fell in love.

It’s not hard to see what caught the Count’s eye. The name “Sun Valley” was invented as a marketing ploy, but this part of central Idaho does see an unfair amount of sun. Aspen trees adorn the rolling mountains, which provide both capitvating scenery and excellent skiing. Harriman wasted no time in leaping on the opportunity. Construction projects moved quicker back in the 30s, and less than a year after being “discovered”, Sun Valley was ready for business.

Harriman shrewdly marketed his resort to celebrities, even going so far as to producing a film at the resort; Sun Valley Serenade is a fun light-weight musical that stars John Payne, Sonja Henie and a young Milton Berle, and plays repeatedly on channel 67 in all the lodge’s rooms. The most famous celebrities of the day spent their vacations here; Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and the Kennedys were habitual guests. The resort’s reputation as a VIP-friendly escape hasn’t diminished throughout the years; today it’s common to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood on the slopes.

Sun-Valley-Resort-Pool-Tub

Sun Valley might be far away from major population centers, but the isolation works to its advantage, since there are never lift lines, nor crushing crowds. Harriman built his resort to last, with a timeless grace to the rooms and facilities. We spent some time in the outdoor pool, unchanged since 1936, and visited the wonderfully retro bowling alley. For a couple morning hours, I worked in one of the lobby’s plush lounge chairs next to the fireplace, with classical music playing in the background, and a member of the staff coming by occasionally to refill my coffee. It’s not hard to understand why 75% of the resort’s guests are return visitors.

The Sun Valley Lodge is impressive enough by itself, but the facilities and recreation opportunities in the village which surround it are even better. One of the country’s few year-round outdoor ice skating rinks. Heated sidewalks. An amphitheater built from the same stone as Rome’s Colosseum. 45 holes of golf. Some of the country’s best Nordic skiing. An Olympic-sized pool. A shooting range. Wintertime sleigh rides to the Trail Creek Lodge. Miles and miles of biking and hiking trails. Tennis courts. An opera house, for Christ’s sake.

But skiing is what most visitors come for. There are two mountains at the resort: Dollar and Bald Mountain. Dollar is known as one of the best learning hills in the world, with a number of easy slopes perfect for beginners. It’s also famous for having the world’s very first chairlift. Baldy is much bigger, with 66 runs and 12 lifts. In contrast to Dollar, the slopes here are no cakewalk; the steep, blue runs of Baldy would be black at most other resorts.

We were at Sun Valley a month before ski season kicks off, which was a little sad. The resort and its surrounding village were lovely during the autumn, with the Aspen trees changing colors on the hills, but winter must be something else. So we’ve vowed to return. We often make such promises to ourselves, but this is one I plan on keeping.

Book Your Stay At The Sun Valley Lodge here
Official Website: Sun Valley Resort
Location on our Idaho Map

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Sun-Valley-Resort-Ice-Rink
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Golden Ram
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Sun-Valley-Shooting-Range
Bowling-Alley-Sun-Valley
Bowling-In-Idaho
Reset-Button-Bowling
Pin Bowling
Bowling-Pin
Sun-Valley-Pinball-Machine
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Lodges Idaho
Pine-Chandelier
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November 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm Comment (1)

Around Redfish Lake on Horseback

Cowboy Stories

We had done whitewater rafting, zip lining, mountain biking and a whole lot of hiking — but there was still one more outdoor activity we wanted to try: horseback riding. And we couldn’t have chosen a better place to knock it off our list than in the Sawtooth Mountains around Redfish Lake.

Idaho Cowboy

Our trip was organized with the friendly folks at Redfish Lake Corrals. It was right at the end of the season, a spectacular fall day, when we met our guide Cody at the corrals. Cody the Cowboy. Perfectly named and a great guide; friendly, knowledgeable about the area, and patient with our bumbling horse skills.

I was eight years old the last time I was on a horse, and Jürgen has kept his distance ever since one bit him as a child. So we’re not exactly expert riders. Luckily, our horses, Bennett and Wyman, were tame as could be and easy to manage. After a few tips from Cody, I was up in the saddle and steering Bennett around with no problem. I asked Cody how I was doing. “Pretty good!” Just like a real cowboy, huh? [... silence].

Our 90-minute “Alpine Ride” took us up into the hills around Little Redfish Lake, offering unforgettable views of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. I was surprised by how quickly I became accustomed to being on horseback; it was comfortable and I liked getting out into nature without having to do any exercise myself. Bennett didn’t seem to mind carrying me around. He was a trusty walker… kind of gassy, but that only won him points since Jürgen was right behind us, groaning with every sloshy-sounding fart.

It was a memorable day out, and one I’d repeat in a heartbeat. If you’re interested, get in touch with the guys at Redfish Lake Corrals. I doubt it’s even possible you could be dissatisfied.

Redfish Lake Corrals – Website

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November 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm Comments (0)

Grizzly Patrol Hikes to Hidden Lake

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I was walking about fifteen feet in front of Jürgen, when suddenly I spun around, grabbed the canister of Bear Spray strapped to my hip, and pointed it right at his face. “You’re toast, grizzly punk!” Jürgen didn’t even flinch… it was, after all, the 23rd time I’d practiced this maneuver.

Hidden Lake Idaho

We were hiking on a remote path in the northern extreme of Idaho, close to the Canadian border. For days, people had been warning us about bears on the path and suggesting counter-measures, but we had laughed them off. “Bear bells? Please, we want to see bears!” But the laughter stopped after visiting the Ranger Station in Bonners Ferry. With a disquieting sternness, the ranger warned us that not only were there grizzlies in the area, but they were likely to be grumpy because of hunting season. Ten minutes later, we were in a sporting goods store, searching the shelves for Bear Bells.

Sharp as a tack, the salesman recognized the easy mark, and sold us not only Bear Bells but a $49.95 can of Bear Spray as well.

We didn’t see any grizzlies during our nine-mile round-trip hike to Hidden Lake and Red Top. In fact, we didn’t see any wildlife. But that was fine. The incredible northern nature gave us plenty to gawk at, and an endless vista of pine-covered mountains isn’t going to tear your chest open with its claws or gnash your skull into sludge.

Bear Spray

It had snowed a couple days before our visit, and we immediately noticed that ours were the only human tracks on the path. There were some deer and rabbit footprints, but despite this hike’s general proximity to Bonners Ferry, we were the only people who had journeyed to Hidden Lake in at least two days.

Hidden Lake lays just a mile and a half from the trailhead. Deep blue water ringed by pine trees, it’s beautiful, but there didn’t seem to be anything especially “hidden” about it; it was, in fact, rather easy to find. But our trail continued up Red Top mountain and, once we had gained some elevation and could look back on the lake, the name made a lot more sense. Hidden Lake is completely encircled by mountains and obscured by tall pines.

The rest of our hike, to the summit of Red Top Mountain, was rough but completely worth the effort. From the top, we had views of the entire region. We could easily see into Canada, and enjoyed a panorama encompassing the Selkirk Mountains. We ate lunch on the remnants of an old fire station (destroyed by a long ago fire), and then started back down the hill.

Location of Trailhead | Hidden Lake | Red Top Summit

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November 1, 2012 at 11:04 pm Comments (4)

Riding the World’s Longest Gondola

Guinness Book Of World Records

The longest single-stage gondola in the world isn’t found in the Alps or Asia, and doesn’t belong to a famous resort like Vail or St. Moritz. Nope, this record goes to the Silver Mountain Ski Resort, in humble little Kellogg, Idaho.

Longest-Gondola

Silver Mountain’s gondola runs for 3.1 miles, climbing over 1000 meters (3400 feet) for nearly twenty minutes. There are longer gondolas in the world, but those either use “angle stations” or don’t carry people.

We’re constitutionally unable to resist anything that owns a world record (see our trips to the world’s biggest department store, and the world’s biggest beagle-shaped bed & breakfast), so there was no way we’d be skipping out on Silver Mountain’s gondola. Although it was well before ski season, the gondola runs on weekends throughout the summer and fall. At the top of the mountain, there are a couple hikes and mountain bike trails.

Our trip was just as fun and scenic as we figured it would be. Twenty minutes can pass by pretty fast when you’re soaring above a landscape as lovely as the Silver Valley’s.

Silver Mountain Resort – Website

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Längste Seilbahn
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Silver Mountain Idaho

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October 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm Comments (0)

Biking the Hiawatha Trail

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Billed as one of America’s most unforgettable bike rides, the 15-mile Hiawatha Trail follows the path of a former train route through pitch-black tunnels and across bridges which overlook vast valleys of pine. On the final weekend of the season, we rented bikes and completed the trail — “unforgettable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Hiawatha-Trail-Idaho

Our guide for the day was Chris Barrett, who met us at the Lookout Pass Ski Lodge, just over the Idaho-Montana border on I-90. After getting outfitted with bikes and packed lunches, we drove to the trail’s starting point. The day’s prognosis went from “good” to “glorious” when Chris told us that the trail would be almost entirely downhill; a shuttle bus run by the ranger station would return us to the starting point. Works for me. My favorite type of exercise is the kind that doesn’t involve exercise.

The Hiawatha Trail opened up in 2001 as part of the Rails to Trails initiative, which seeks to restore life to decommissioned train tracks across the country. Between 1906 and 1909, the Milwaukee Road Railway Company had constructed this unprecedented line through the rough and largely unexplored Bitterroot Mountains. The result was an engineering marvel: tunnels, bridges and the first long-distance tracks to be electrified. Eventually, passengers were able to travel west along the rails in the fabulous Olympian Hiawatha: a domed, double-decker car which connected Chicago to Tacoma. Eventually supplanted by air travel and semi-trucks, the route saw its final train in 1980.

Best Biking Idaho

The conversion of the train tracks to a bike route was an inspired idea. The Hiawatha is gorgeous, soaring through the Bitterroots atop pristine forests of white and lodgepole pine trees. The path took us through nine tunnels, including the 1.66-mile St. Paul Tunnel, but I most enjoyed going over the old trestled bridges. We stopped frequently in the middle of them, leaning over the sides to peer into the canyons below. Amazing that workers had built thee things by hand, over a century ago. Just looking over the side was enough to make me sick.

We paused for lunch on one of the bridges, letting our feet dangle over the edge and having hilarious conversations with Chris. He’s a snowboard instructor in the winter, and you get the feeling he spends about 90% of his life in the great outdoors. A fun person to spend the day with, and he sports the sickest tattoos I’ve ever seen.

The Hiawatha Trail closed for winter at the end of September, and we were lucky to be make it on the last weekend. It was easily the most enjoyable bike ride I’ve ever done. Beautiful scenery, fun company and an easy, downhill trail. For any fan of nature, it’s absolutely unmissable.

Location of Lookout Pass | Hiawatha Trail Start

Official Website: Ride The Hiawatha

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October 21, 2012 at 9:26 pm Comments (6)

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