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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
Dizzy Dunes
Dune Monster
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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Everything 1 Dollar

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
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Idaho-Rock-Landscape
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Twin Sister City Of Rocks
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Nature Blog
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January 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm Comment (1)

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 Salmon River Scenic Byway

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Rent Your Car Here For Your Next Idaho Road-Trip

Idaho has no lack of scenic byways. There are 30 which criss-cross the state, and during our six-week road-trip through Idaho, we made an effort to complete as many as possible. Each had something recommend it, from historical sites, to crazy geological formations or interesting towns. But for amazing scenery, none beats the Salmon River Scenic Byway.

Idaho-Road-Trip

This byway begins at the Lost Trail Pass, on the border between Montana and Idaho. From here, it’s a 161-mile journey along Highway 93 to Stanley, through Salmon and Challis. Both of these small towns are worth a stop, Salmon for recreational opportunities on the river and Challis for the Sacajawea Interpretive Center, but it’s the nature you’ll remember most. The byway hugs the mighty Salmon River along its southwest course, offering landscapes that have changed little in the past 200 years, when Lewis and Clark arrived over the Lost Trail Pass.

The road passes from the Salmon National Forest into the Challis National Forest, and wildlife-viewing opportunities are excellent the whole way. We stopped and hauled out the binoculars multiple times. Outside Challis, a bald eagle soared over our heads. White-tailed deer fed in distant pastures. And most excitingly, we found a large group of bighorn sheep grazing along the side of the river, 30 miles north of Stanley.

At first, we thought they were deer and whizzed by the herd quickly, but something about them made Jürgen take pause, so we looped back around to get a better look. Turns out, Bighorn Sheep are awfully similar in appearance to deer — at least the females and youngsters, who don’t have the distinctive, curly horns. Although safely off the endangered species list, they like to keep out of sight and are a rare sight.

As we approached Stanley along Highway 93, the Sawtooth Mountains came into view for the first time. With a number of peaks that reach over 10,000 feet in height, the Sawtooths are hailed as one of the last great “undiscovered” climbing destinations in America. Hundreds of alpine lakes dot the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and the region’s remoteness almost guarantees a lack of crowds, regardless of the time of year.

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November 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm Comment (1)

The Nez Perce Historical Park in Spalding

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Nez Perce History Books

When Lewis and Clark met the Nez Perce in 1805, the tribe controlled a territory of 17 million acres which stretched across the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. We visited the museum dedicated to them in Spalding, Idaho, just east of Lewiston.

Nez-Perce-Photo-Exhibit

Nez Perce is French for “Pierced Nose”: a name mistakenly bestowed upon them by French fur traders. Nose-piercing has never been a part of Nez Perce culture, but for some reason the name stuck. The tribe refers to itself as the Niimíipu, which means “The People”.

Like most Native Americans, the Nez Perce have a rich history which turned tragic with the arrival of Europeans. They were among the final American tribes “discovered” by the whites, and established a friendly, collaborative relationship with Lewis & Clark’s party. The arriving settlers didn’t seem interested in their territory, and the Nez Perce were able to live in peace alongside their new neighbors.

Far from being afraid, the Nez Perce were fascinated by these white people with their powerful “magic”, and sent a delegation to St. Louis requesting missionaries to come west and teach them from the “Book of Heaven”. Before visiting the Nez Perce Museum, I had never considered that Native Americans might have requested conversion, but I suppose it makes sense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the cozy relationship to fall apart. After the discovery of gold in Idaho, the Nez Perce were pushed off their land onto ever smaller reservations. Disease, particularly smallpox, devastated the population, and things came to a head during the 1877 Nez Perce War. The Nez Perce won some initial skirmishes, but were eventually overwhelmed by the US military just 40 miles south of Canada, where they had hoped to find refuge. The war ended with Chief Joseph’s legendary words of surrender: “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

The museum dedicated to the tribe is exceedingly well-done, filled with artifacts and displays which bring the customs and practices of the Nez Perce to life. There’s a short video presentation which is both interesting and informative. And near the museum are buildings dating from the late 1800s, including a Presbyterian Church and a general store where whites would trade with the Nez Perce for food and clothing.

Nez Perce National Historic Park – Website
Location on our Idaho Map

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Nez-Perce-Saddle
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Nez-Perce-Dudes
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Wrapped Kid
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October 4, 2012 at 2:23 am Comments (5)

Obscuring the Sky – Idaho’s Devastating 2012 Wildfires

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Smokey The Bear

The month that we arrived in Idaho was a month of fire: August 2012 saw the state’s worst wildfires in more than a decade. Thankfully, we were never directly affected by the flames, but their smoke was a constant companion, obscuring the normally clear blue skies of the Northwest behind a heavy screen of haze.

Old-Bridge-Idaho

The smoke was at its worst during our days in Riggins and Lewiston, due to the proximity of the fires burning in the Nez Perce National Forest. But although we couldn’t see as far as normal, the skies were entrancing; everything tinted red as the sun fought to shine through the smoke. Beautiful, but I’m not sure it was the most healthy air to be breathing during our hike in the Rapid River.

Of course, bad air and spoiled views were petulant things to complain about while hundreds of thousands of acres were burning and people were fleeing their homes. Even losing their lives. 20-year-old Anne Veseth was among the brave firefighters battling the blazes near Orofino when, on August 12th, a tree fell on top of her. A tragic reminder that the costs of these fires are incalculable.

A useful website for the current state of wildfires is InciWeb – The Incident Information System. Well worth checking out, if your trip to Idaho coincides with wildfire season.

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October 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm Comment (1)

A Whirlwind Tour of Yellowstone Park

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Yellowstone Park Guide Books

We fully subscribe to the concept of “slow traveling”. After all, that’s what the For 91 Days project is all about — dedicating sufficient time to each new destination for comprehensive exploration and total familiarity. So when we arrived at the entrance gate to Yellowstone National Park, it was with conflicting emotions. Excitement, surely, but also frustration. Here we were at one of the wonders of America, and we had a ridiculously tight schedule. Four hours. We had given ourselves just four hours to see one of the most amazing places in the world.

Old-Faithful

Though we didn’t get to explore Yellowstone to our liking, we made the most out of our time. Within minutes of driving into the park, we took a curve and almost smacked into two bison who were moseying down the road without a care. What an introduction! Throughout the day, we were continuously floored by the park’s wild beauty — and by its popularity. Although this was a Tuesday morning at the end of summer, the roads were jam-packed with tourists.

After driving along Yellowstone Lake, we found ourselves at the geyser basin of West Thumb: a small piece of land peppered with bubbling, steaming pools of varying size and color. We parked the car and took a stroll through the area, Jürgen with his finger on the camera shutter, and me with a frustrated eye on the time.

The highlight of our speed-tour through Yellowstone was Old Faithful. A piece of American lore, I doubt any kid grows up in this country without aching to see the geyser spout, and I finally had the chance. The explosion was more impressive than I had expected — having anticipated the moment for so long, I was prepared for disappointment, but I suppose it’s called Old Faithful because it doesn’t disappoint. Ever.

The final stop of our drive was at the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Lake. We had a hard time finding a place to park — Yellowstone, the main strip at least, is really not the place to escape into solitude. We shouldered through the crowds along the path, and arrived at the lake harried and frustrated. From far off, we had seen the steam rising off its surface, reflecting the pool’s multiple colors, and the effect was stunning from up close. The intense blues, reds and greens are actually pigmented bacteria which live in the lake.

By the time we finished at the Grand Prismatic Lake, we had completely overstepped our self-imposed four-hour limit, meaning we’d arrive in Idaho much later than expected. But it was worth it. Yellowstone might have been worth postponing Idaho by a couple days let alone a couple hours. It’s a real shame that we didn’t get to stay longer, but I’m fairly confident that we’ll be back someday.

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American Beauty
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August 27, 2012 at 1:47 am Comments (5)