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A Slow Drive Around Lake Cascade

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Propped up against the Boise National Forest, and just an hour north of the capital, Lake Cascade is a convenient spot for restless city-dwellers to get their nature fix. The charming resort town of McCall crowns the northern end of the lake, while the smaller villages of Cascade and Donnelly line the east, providing an abundance of places to stay the weekend.

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On our first full day in Idaho, we mapped out a drive around the lake in order to get a sense of its size, and also to explore the area. I thought the simple loop would take perhaps an hour, tops, but hadn’t reckoned on two things: (a) how huge Idaho is, and (b) how picturesque. Lake Cascade looks like a tear drop on the map, but has a surface area of 30,000 acres.

Jürgen is a professional photographer and, after all the years we’ve spent travelling together, I’ve become accustomed to pulling over and letting him take pictures. It’s his job; I understand. But during our tour of Lake Cascade, we were stopping with absurd frequency. “Pull over here. I’ll be right back!” I’d wait in the car, frustration level slowly rising, until he returned, grinning from ear to ear and proudly displaying a picture of some field, or old bridge. And then, just as soon as I’d finally nudged back over 20mph, he’d ask to stop again.

On the western edge of the lake, we followed West Mountain Drive, which brought us to the doorsteps of Tamarack Resort. This sprawling four-season resort opened in 2004 and almost immediately fell into financial ruin; it’s now in foreclosure. We drove up into Tamarack, past hundreds of impressive lodge houses which were impressively empty. Not a soul anywhere you looked, it was like a ghost town for very wealthy spirits. We later learned that some of these beautiful lodges had been auctioned off for as little as $60,000.

We completed our loop of Lake Cascade in four hours, and were compelled to scrap all remaining plans we’d had for the day. Underestimating the time required for excursions and road trips would be a recurring problem during our 91 days in Idaho. But Jürgen was on cloud nine, and I couldn’t help but share his elation. Our first little road trip had only confirmed how amazing Idaho was going to be.

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August 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm Comments (2)

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

Go West, Young Men!

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Since we’re never on one continent for long, we don’t own a car. But during our 91 days in Idaho, the ability to drive was an absolute requirement. Luckily, my parents generously let us borrow their second car. “If that’s the price of having you in America”, reasoned my mother, “then I suppose it’s worth it”. Yep, mom, that’s the price. Now give me the keys.

Ultimate Road Trip

Over 2000 miles separate Springfield, Ohio from Cascade, Idaho, and we split the 33-hour journey into three days. Google Maps suggested we speed along Interstate 80, through Nebraska’s interminable farmland and southern Wyoming. That sounded boring, so we tweaked the directions a bit. It would be a bit longer, but when you’re already going to be on the road for three days, you might as well enjoy yourself.

The first day was the worst — through west-central Ohio, Indiana, central Illinois and then Iowa. Twelve hours of corn, soy, corn, Peoria, corn and cows. The highlight was probably the soy (sorry, Peoria). We listened to Sufjan Stevens’ album Illinois albumIllinois as we cut through the state which inspired it, and then put on some Korean Pop for the stretch through Iowa. Iowa looked like it needed some K-Pop.

It was around 8pm when we arrived at South Sioux City, just over the Nebraska-Iowa border, and pulled into the Budget Host Inn. When a motel’s parking lot is filled with sketchy people in lawn furniture drinking Busch Lite, it’s usually a sign to stay away. But it’s also a sign of economical pricing. Yes, there were bloody scab-boogers crusted onto the sheets, and the room smelled faintly of butane and pickles, but a bargain is a bargain.

Neverending Street

South Sioux City might have more to recommend itself than nasty motels, but we wouldn’t know. We went to bed immediately and left at dawn on the next morning, for an entertaining day on the road. Highway 20, also known as the Bridges to Butte Scenic Byway, skirts across northern Nebraska within five miles of the South Dakota border. The empty, perfectly-maintained road cuts through beautiful, undulating countryside, and made for fun driving.

As we crossed into Wyoming, the landscape became ever more dramatic. Past Sheridan, we took Highway 14, which ascends into the Bighorn Mountains. The sun was getting low in the sky, and we pulled over in order to look back east over the flat, endless land we’d just traversed. These were the first mountains we had reached, and it felt as though we’d finally arrived in the Great American West.

We spent the night in Greybull, Wyoming: as western as a town gets. A massive guy welcomed us into the Greybull Historic Inn, and recommended dinner at the saloon. The bar was rocking and we probably could have gotten into a game of billiards with the locals, but we were too exhausted to be social. And another big day loomed in front of us. The final segment of our journey would take us through Yellowstone National Park into Idaho…

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August 25, 2012 at 11:35 pm Comments (5)

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A Slow Drive Around Lake Cascade Propped up against the Boise National Forest, and just an hour north of the capital, Lake Cascade is a convenient spot for restless city-dwellers to get their nature fix. The charming resort town of McCall crowns the northern end of the lake, while the smaller villages of Cascade and Donnelly line the east, providing an abundance of places to stay the weekend.
For 91 Days