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The Pend Oreille Scenic Byway

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The Pond Oreille Scenic Byway follows Highway 200 east from Sandpoint to the Montana border, between the mountains of northern Idaho and its most unforgettable lake.

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During the end of the last ice age, retreating glaciers and the ensuing floods scarred and reformed the landscape of Idaho’s Panhandle. One result of this large-scale terraforming was the pendant-shaped Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-ah-ray): the biggest lake in Idaho at 148 square miles, and the fifth-deepest in the entire US. Its shores are almost completely unpopulated, with just a few towns dotting the northern coast. The lake is so deep and so remote that, during WWII, the US Navy used it to conduct submarine testing.

Although we only saw a fraction of the lake during our drive along its northeastern shore, it was enough to impress. Just outside of Hope, we drove onto a peninsula which is home to the David Thompson Wildlife Reserve. A herd of deer were grazing on the lawns, completely undisturbed by our presence. Even when we left the car and approached them, they continued grazing and munching apples. We got within a couple feet, and possibly could have pet them.

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Deer aren’t the only wildlife found around Pend Oreille’s shores; the great majority of the lake is in the Coeur d’Alene Forest, home to grizzlies, wolves, bobcats, bald eagles and owls. The southern tip of the lake is where the Navy set up the Farragut Naval Training Station, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; in its day, it was the second-largest training station in the world. The Navy has left, and today the area is a state park just ten minutes from Silverwood.

After passing Clark Fork, the highway leaves Pend Oreille and skirts along the Clark Fork River, which extends 310 miles into Montana and is that state’s largest river, by volume. We continued until reaching the border, where we’d hoped to see the 1952 Cabinet Gorge Dam, but found it closed for construction. Unfortunate, because it looks pretty cool.

The scenic byway is only 33 miles long but took us about three hours round-trip, accounting for the frequent photo stops. Enjoy our pictures of what might be Idaho’s most gorgeous lake.

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October 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm Comment (1)

Burgdorf Hot Springs

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Idaho Souvenirs

On the drive back from historic Warren, we decided to check out the Burgdorf Hot Springs. This had been an area sacred to the Nez Perce tribe, but was taken over during the gold mining days by an enterprising fellow named Fred Burgdorf. He saw the financial potential in the natural hot springs, and turned Burgdorf into one of Idaho’s first resort towns.

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Burgdorf has been owned privately since opening in 1870. It was the first commercial hot spring we visited in Idaho; you can bathe for as long as you want, for $6 per person. Besides the large main pool, which maintains a comfortable heat of 100°F, there are two smaller pools which are much hotter, at 112°F. The guy working the desk warned me to bathe in these pools for no more than two minutes at a time. I had a hard time staying in even that long.

Burgdorf is famed locally for the lithium in its water. We’ve heard that some visitors will even drink from the pool for the therapeutic effects of the lithium… which, considering the number of people who bathe here, probably isn’t the greatest idea. Lithium is known for its ability to smooth the edges and after my dip in the pool, I definitely felt relaxed.

Burgdorf has fifteen cabins which you can rent for $35 per adult ($10 per child). With its beautiful location in the woods just 30 minutes north of McCall, it would make for a great, and very relaxing, weekend.

Location on our Idaho Map
Burgdorf Hot Springs – Website

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September 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm Comments (0)

The Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway

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Don’t Come To Idaho Without Binoculars

33 miles of paved road between Banks and Lowman constitute the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway. Although we didn’t see any elk during our trip, they’re a common sight during the winter. Along the road, there’s even a turn-out with binoculars pointed at a large plain called Gallagher Flat, where they especially like to congregate.

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The road hugs the South Fork of the Payette River, passing waterfalls of varying sizes and breathtaking canyon scenery. Sheer walls of rock infused with pitch-black streaks lava tower overhead, while far below the river winds its way through the valley. There are frequent turn-outs at spots of special historic importance, as well as at places with particularly beautiful views. And we took advantage of every one.

Check out the route on Google Maps

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September 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm Comments (2)

The Lava Lakes in Payette National Forest

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Hiking Boots

Idaho has no shortage of incredible hikes, and we were overwhelmed with options when choosing the destination of our first big day out. Browsing through a formidable collection of books, pamphlets and online guides, the name “Lava Lakes” popped out. The eight-mile round-trip hike in the Payette National Forest sounded perfect, promising unforgettable wilderness, sweeping views, strange geology, wildlife and solitude. And it delivered.

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Nearly 20,000 miles of public trails snake throughout Idaho. How exactly do you narrow that down? At a 15 minute/mile pace, that’s 5000 hours of hiking. Even if you just concentrate on the top 1% of trails, you still have 200 miles to look forward to! The sheer abundance of possible hikes is almost disheartening. We pride ourselves on exploring our new homes comprehensively, but had to accept that completing even a tiny fraction of Idaho’s beautiful hikes would be impossible.

We didn’t leave much to chance for our trip to the Lava Lakes, making sure to stop by the Payette Forest ranger station in McCall before embarking. The ranger on duty was helpful in pointing out the best trails and recommending which paths to avoid; not all of Idaho’s bountiful trails have been recently “cleared”, meaning that sections might be impassible due to brush or fallen logs. The four-mile track to the Lava Lakes, though, had his green light.

The drive to the trailhead alone would have made for a satisfying excursion. We passed by the Brundage Mountain Ski Resort, picturesquely tucked away in the forest. The road, rough and gravelly, also took us past Brundage Reservoir, Goose Lake, the Hazard Lakes, and along a cliff which overlooked the Grass Mountains and Lloyd’s Lake. Assisted by GPS and a detailed map, we found the trailhead easily (location), and were happy to see that no other cars were parked there.

The trail was as clear and easy-to-follow as the ranger in McCall had promised, and it led on a slight incline through some unbelievable scenery. Fields of wild flowers and old-growth forest, much of which had been burnt in a wildfire years ago. Charred, dead trees struggled with the wind, swaying and creaking a bit too much for my comfort, but adding immensely to the lovely strangeness of the landscape.

Lava Rock Idaho

After a mile or so, we came upon the first evidence of volcanic activity in the area: large mounds of lava rocks. The area was shaped by the same natural forces that formed Yellowstone seventeen million years ago, and much of the lava is still exposed. The trail culminated at the Lava Ridge, where the rising mountain that we’d been ascending suddenly drops straight down into a craggy black cliff.

Due to haze caused by forest fires plaguing the state, we couldn’t see as far from the top of the Lava Ridge as one normally could, but the view was still impressive. Below us were the Lava Lakes, a trio of sparkling ponds set spectacularly in the fire-devastated forest. I could make out a pair of deer at the edge of one lake, and we monitored their progress as they jumped through the forest.

Turning around and starting on the trail back, we heard a snort. No more than fifteen meters away, a large buck was staring at us. He was watchful and perfectly still, but twitched when Jürgen brought his camera up and then bounced away. Ten minutes later, the same thing happened with another, younger buck. It was incredible; they weren’t nearly as skittish as I would have imagined. In fact, they seemed almost curious about our presence.

The hike back down the hill was easy, and we had returned to the trailhead about four hours after starting out. The Lava Lakes Hike (Trail #149) was a perfect place to begin exploring Idaho’s wilderness, and made us eager to get back out discover more.

Location of the Lava Lakes Trailhead
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September 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm Comments (2)