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Freak Alley and Boise’s Public Art

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When you think of “Boise”, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a thriving public art scene. But perhaps it should be. On almost every corner of the city, hidden in alleys, plastered across electrical boxes and even engraved in sidewalks, fascinating artwork can be found. There are bold, unmissable sculptures and paintings, but also subtle pieces which you might not even notice unless looking for them.

Public-Art-Idaho

We took a tour of Boise’s public art, starting in the aptly-named Freak Alley between Bannock and Idaho Streets. Graffiti is a part of life in any city worth its salt, but usually it’s not all collected in one place. Boise decided to give the city’s street artists a huge canvas to play on, and the result is an open-air gallery of some exciting work. Although the artists have to apply for permits to work here — an act of buerocratic compliance not often seen in the anarchic world of graffiti — they’re given free rein. One of the more striking works features a blood-thirsty Uncle Sam ripping the heart out of a US soldier; a piece of political agitprop that I can’t imagine the city fathers are thrilled about.

Freak Alley houses the most visible of Boise’s public art, but there’s much more to be found throughout the city. Artists were commissioned not just from Idaho, but from all around the country. Look at the bus stands, which have been individually designed in modern patterns. Or the electrical boxes all around Boise: each one has a different painting wrapped around it.

On 9th and Idaho, look at the ground; there’s a string of leaves etched into the concrete, leading from tree to tree. At Grove Plaza, take a second glance at the statue of herons fishing in the river; if you get on your knees, you’ll find something hiding in a log. On Grove and 9th, there’s a wonderful tribute to the city’s canals which glows green at night. And nearby, a series of streetlamps contain miniature robots which play music as pedestrians pass by.

Idaho-Spud-Tile-Art
Alley History by Kerry Moosman

Upside-down trouts, disembodied bear heads, multi-paneled postcards, a gold prospector made of barbed wire… we saw a lot of fun art during our tour. Perhaps my favorite was a piece called Alley History, by Kerry Moosman. This giant mural on the 9th Street Alley between Bannock and Idaho combines old street signs, ceramics, Chinese calligraphy and more in a wonderful tribute to the city’s history.

Boise’s commitment to the arts is amazing. I always made sure to keep my eyes open while walking the streets of the capital, and spotting new art became almost like a game. It can be found everywhere, and life in the city is undeniably better for it.

-Graffiti Art Books

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CCC-Art-Boise
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January 7, 2013 at 7:57 am Comments (3)

The Bruneau Sand Dunes

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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
STRW
Bushy Dunes
Sandscapes
Climbing-Sand-Dunes
Sand Landslide
Resting Dunes
Family Trip Idaho
Dune Punk
Idaho Dunes
Sexy Dunes
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Sandy Monster
Sandy Boots
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January 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm Comment (1)

Malad Gorge & Balanced Rock

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Shaped during the Ice Age by the cataclysmic Bonneville Flood, the Magic Valley is something of a geological wonderland, loaded with canyons, rivers, boulders, cliffs and fossils. We embarked on a long driving loop starting at the Malad Gorge, through the Thousand Springs State Park to Balanced Rock, near Buhl.

Malad-Gorge

Interstate 84 passes right by the Malad Gorge, so close that you could roll down your window and throw your litter into it (if you were a thoughtless pig, which thankfully you’re not). Despite the proximity, it’s impossible to see the canyon from the highway, and so thousands of people blaze past daily without even registering its presence. But it’s worth getting off the highway at Tuttle (exit 147) to take a quick walk.

Malad Gorge, a part of the Thousand Springs State Park, is 2.5 miles long and 250 feet deep, and there’s a trail on either side of the divide. Near the highway, a pedestrian bridge places you in front of the Devil’s Washbasin, where the Malad River crashes spectacularly into the canyon.

The Thousand Springs State Park isn’t a park in the traditional sense, but a collection of five different units in the area around the town of Hagerman. Malad Gorge is the only one of these units which we explored, but others include Ritter Island, a birdwatching paradise in the Snake River, and the Kelton Trail, which preserves wagon wheel ruts from the Oregon Trail.

The Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument are another protected area in the valley. It was here that, in 1928, the Hagerman Horse was found. At 3.5 million years in age, it’s one of the oldest horses on the fossil record, and is thought to have resembled a zebra. There have also been mastodons and bone-crushing dogs found in the Hagerman beds. As might be expected, it’s off-limits to the casual visitor but there’s an interpretive center in town with a few exhibits and fossil replicas.

A few miles east from the small town of Buhl is the Balanced Rock. An impossible geological formation, this rock perched precariously on a pedestal weighs over 40 tons, reaches a height of nearly 50 feet, and is shaped just like Africa. And it looks as though it would tumble over at the slightest breeze. We climbed up to the rock and enjoyed a packed lunch with an amazing view over the valley.

Locations on our Map: Malad Gorge | Hagerman Fossil Beds | Balanced Rock

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January 2, 2013 at 7:51 am Comment (1)

The City of Rocks

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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
Rock-Landscape-Idaho
Rocking-City
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
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Relaxing Rock
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January 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm Comment (1)

The South Eastern Corner of Idaho

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After driving through Soda Springs and Montpelier, we continued along Highway 30 into the southeastern extreme of Idaho, occupied by Bear Lake and a handful of small towns. It was late October, but winter had come early to the region and a fresh layer of snow was blanketing the ground.

Snow-Camping

The border between Idaho and Utah cuts through the middle of oval-shaped Bear Lake. Set on top of limestone deposits, Bear Lake has a unique ecosystem which supports several endemic species, such as the Bear Lake Whitefish. And the strange, intensely turquoise color of the lake’s water have led locals to call it the “Caribbean of the Pacific Northwest”.

But Bear Lake is most well-known for the legendary creature which haunts it. The story of the Bear Lake Monster stretches back to the 19th century, and the arrival of the original settlers. The deadly beast hunts in the water, but can run onto land in pursuit of its prey. Like an Alligator-Shark-Bear. And it totally exists! If you don’t trust me, perhaps you’ll believe that shining beacon of journalistic integrity: Animal Planet.

Perhaps some skepticism is warranted. After all, the man responsible for the original reports of the Bear Lake Monster, Mormon missionary Joseph C. Rich, eventually admitted it was all a scam; a ruse to drum up curiosity about the region. Usually, a full confession would be enough to close the case, but nothing can apparently deter the charlatans at Animal Planet from peddling their sensational myths. And, apparently, being a hoaxster doesn’t put off the voters of Idaho: Joseph C. Rich went on to become a state senator!

The sky was overcast when we visited, so we weren’t able to appreciate the famous blue water of Bear Lake, and neither did we encounter any monsters. But it was still a gorgeous drive. We drove along the lake’s northern border, on a narrow strip of land that separates it from the rather less enchanting Mud Lake, then picked up Highway 89 which brought us into Paris.

A tiny town in Bear Lake County, Paris best known for its tabernacle, built in 1889 by Mormon pioneers. A Romanesque structure of red sandstone, the tabernacle is completely out-of-place in the unassuming little village. But the impressive temple is in wonderful condition and still in use today.

We also swung by the Oregon Trail Museum in nearby Montpelier. Although it was closed for the season, we managed to charm our way inside so that we could snap a few photos. More than just a collection of information or dry exhibitions, this museum attempts to recreate the experience of being a settler on the trail; visitors first equip themselves at a general store, then walk along the trail with stops for camp songs and stories.

Location of Bear Lake | Paris, Idaho

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December 24, 2012 at 12:24 am Comments (4)

The Wonders of Soda Springs

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Towns as tiny as Soda Springs should count themselves lucky if they have one special attraction or unique characteristic that brings in tourists. But Soda Springs lays claim to at least three.

Fresh-Mineral-Water

The settlement of Soda Springs got its start as an oasis along the Oregon Trail, eagerly anticipated among emigrants for its thousands of fresh mineral water springs. A couple of enterprising pioneers recognized the commercial potential of these springs, and began bottling the water under the name of “Idanha”. This was before the days before water could be artificially carbonated, and the lightly bubbly Idanha was a hit, winning the top prize at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, and again in Paris in 1900.

There are multiple places around town to try out the water, which is still bubbling unabated out of the ground. We took a cup to the Hooper Springs to sample it. Not bad, it tastes like lightly carbonated bottled water, a bit sweeter and more mineralized.

Not far away from Hooper Springs (and in fact, too close for comfort) is the Monsanto Phosphorus Plant. Soda Springs sits on top of one of the largest phosphate deposits in the entire world, and Monsanto’s large-scale mining and purification plant has changed the town’s landscape. Literally. As part of its manufacturing process, Monsanto frequently dumps red-hot slag down the side of a massive, man-made hill. It cools quickly, but as the molten metal is poured out of the truck, it looks just like lava running down a volcano.

A huge hill of man-made lava, naturally carbonated springs of drinkable mineral water, and we haven’t even arrived at Soda Springs’s top highlight. In 1937, during an attempt to find hot water for a pool, a drill accidentally unleashed a geyser in the middle of town. It roared for months, nearly flooding the little village, before engineers were finally able to get a handle on the situation. They capped the geyser with a timed valve, making Soda Springs the proud owner of the “the world’s only captive geyser“. It erupts every hour, on the hour; more reliable than Old Faithful.
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December 17, 2012 at 9:39 pm Comments (2)

Arco and Atomic City

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In 1955, tiny Arco won fame as the world’s first nuclear-powered city. Today, it mainly serves as a jumping-off point for excursions into the nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument. Arco is one of Idaho’s strangest little towns, although nearby Atomic City manages to be even stranger. And littler.

First-City-Atomic-Power

Besides the lava-scorched earth to the south and a range of mountains to the north which include both Idaho’s highest peak (Mt. Borah) and its most awesomely-named (Appendicitis Hill) the most striking feature of Arco is its “Hill of Numbers”. For decades, the senior classes of the local high school have been decorating the nearest mountain with the last two digits of their graduation year. Graffiti on a grand scale.

Arco’s story has been tied to nuclear power ever since our country started experimenting with it. The reason that the government chose this corner of eastern Idaho as one of its nuclear sandboxes is fairly self-evident. Remote and sparsely-populated, Arco is the kind of place that a nuclear accident might go unnoticed. Or at least under-reported. Case in point: did you know that the USA’s only fatal nuclear accident occurred in Arco, Idaho? In 1961, there was a core meltdown in the National Reactor Testing Station which killed three servicemen. [Uncle Sam clutches his chest in mock concern… “Oh, you didn’t know about that?”]

Thirty miles to the southeast, Atomic City is even more closely associated to nuclear power than Arco. A ghost-town for all intents and purposes, Atomic City still clings to life with a bustling population of 29. We cruised slowly down the town’s only street and were vaguely creeped out. Although we didn’t see a soul, I was certain that radiation-scarred monsters were watching us hungrily from behind curtained windows, and refused to get out of the car. Jürgen chanced it, for a picture of a trailer that had been designed to look like a boombox.

Giant Idaho Radio
Jürgen, boom-box trailers are how the mutants lure you in!

Close by Atomic City is the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I), a nuclear plant decommissioned in 1964 and today designated as a National Historic Landmark. The world’s first atomic-powered electricity was generated here and, during the summer, you can tour the interior of the plant. It’s supposed to be pretty cool, but we were visiting too late in the year to get inside. Frustrating. There was no one around, and I briefly considered opening a window, but I’m pretty sure that breaking into a nuclear reactor, even a decommissioned one, is the kind of thing that lands you in Guantanamo.

We contented ourselves with examining the prototype reactors from the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion project. This attempt to build nuclear-powered was a failure, abandoned in 1953, but it left behind some marvelous pieces of engineering to admire.

Location on our Idaho Map: Arco | Atomic City

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December 6, 2012 at 11:53 am Comments (9)

Craters of the Moon

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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)

The Folklife Fair & Sheepdog Trials

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The day before the parade of sheep occupies downtown Ketchum, the nearby town of Hailey enjoys the focus of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. The Folklife Fair brings the traditional music of faraway lands into the Sun Valley, along with activities and food. And in a nearby field, the Championship Sheepdog Trials are held.

Trailing-Dogs

I had never before considered that sheepdogs might have their own competition, but why not? These animals are as highly trained in their profession as Michael Phelps is in swimming (though they don’t look as good in a Speedo). A competition to crown the very best sheepdog makes sense. We grabbed our binoculars and joined the surprisingly large crowd who had shown up on the sidelines.

At the end of a huge field, a group of five wild sheep is released. The competing dog is dispatched to retrieve them, in a very specific way. First he has to circle and approach the sheep slowly, “introducing” himself. Then, he has to wrangle the sheep through a couple fences and bring them to the other end of the field. His next task is to separate two sheep from the other three, and then get the whole flock into a cage. The dogs are amazing, especially considering that their trainers have to remain in one spot on the field, issuing commands only with a whistle.

The nearby Folklife Fair was just as entertaining. After gorging ourselves on lamb-burgers and lamb-gyros, we grabbed a seat for a series of performances from around the world. Polish Highlanders were followed by amazing Basque Dancers. There was a bagpipe-toting group of Scottish Highlanders and a Peruvian band rocking out to traditional songs. Stands in the fair were selling clothes made of wool, shearing sheep, and providing information about the shepherding life.

We also attended a “foodie fest” in Ketchum called For the Love of Lamb. Walking from restaurant to restaurant, we joined long lines and sampled dishes of lamb that ranged from the exotic to the familiar. The amount of lamb I consumed during our stay in Sun Valley was probably more than I’d eaten in my entire life combined. And it was all delicious. Lamb, veal, duckling… when you consider it, it’s startling how tasteful and tender baby meat is.

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November 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm Comments (5)

Silverwood Amusement Park

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I’m from Ohio; not a fact I usually brag about, but it does come with some perks. For example, Ohio is home to the world’s greatest amusement park. Oh, shut your cheese-hole, Mickey. Disney World doesn’t hold a candle to Cedar Point, and you know it.

I only mention this, because growing up so close to Cedar Point has made me a little snobbish when it comes to theme parks. Before we even arrived at Silverwood, 30 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, I was scoffing. “Will they have seventeen roller coasters? Heh. Doubt it.”

Idaho Aftershock

To be honest, Silverwood is no Cedar Point. But that’s alright; it’s still the largest amusement park in the Pacific Northwest, with enough rides and entertainment to easily occupy a day.

We visited at the end of the season, when the park was busy transforming itself into Scarywood for Halloween. Normally, Silverwood projects an “Old West” sort of charm, but was busy ratcheting up the fright-factor: cobwebs had been draped atop the old-time general stores, vampires and mummies peered out from windows, and creepy huts were selling inedible monster-food like Dots Ice Cream.

After walking around and taking in the atmosphere, we had to make some tough decisions. We had arrived late in the day, after spending the morning on Kellogg’s gondola, and there was only enough time for two rides. Our first pick was easy. The Aftershock was a crazy-looking coaster which lifts you vertically into the air and then drops with terrifying speed, before sending you into loops and twists, and eventually dirtying your diapers with another vertical climb… which now drops you backwards.

Our second choice, the Timber Terror, was even better. Rickety and wooden, this was one of those old coasters which you’re sure is going to fall apart as you’re hurtling down at Mach Four. Adding to the fun, its cars had been positioned backwards in preparation for Scarywood. This one had our stomachs up in our mouths the whole time. Plus, there was the added fun of torturing children; two young girls were sitting behind us and we never stopped pretending that we were about to vomit on them.

If you’ve had enough of Idaho’s scenic byways, hikes and peaceful landscapes, and could use a good jolt of roller-coaster adrenaline, Silverwood manages to pack quite a lot into its modest size. We had a good time.

Location on our Idaho Map

-All Of Our Published Books On Amazon

Spookywood-Idaho
Scarywood Idaho
Train Flowrs
Summer Fun Time Idaho
Kids Splash
Log Splash
Idaho Good Times
Amusement-Park
Goin Backwards
Wooden Roller Coaster
Aftershock-Roller-Coaster
Aftershock-Drop

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October 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm Comments (2)

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