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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.

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January 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm Comment (1)

Boulder and Louie Lakes

Must Have When Hiking: GPS Handheld Device

For the last few miles on the way to the Boulder Lake Trailhead, we were following two buses. School buses. School buses full of peppy children excited for their long-awaited day out. “I can’t believe this”, I hissed at Jürgen. And, of course, they were going on the exact same hike as us. We parked, put on our boots, and then waded into the mess of screaming, happy kids. Off on our big day of pristine nature and peaceful solitude.

Boulder Lake Hike

But despite the inauspicious start, we managed to have a nice time. Quick and inexhaustible little monkeys when alone or in small groups, children slow down considerably when congregated into large herds. We passed them immediately and didn’t slacken our pace until their piercing voices had completely faded into the distance.

So we arrived at Boulder Lake in almost no time at all. It was a moderately difficult hike, through the woods, following a stream uphill, but the view of the dammed-up lake was worth the effort. Set high in a range of granite mountains, Boulder Lake was large and blessfully quiet. We paused for awhile on the ramparts and scouted for wildlife; and only continued on our way when we heard the wild pack of kids nearing behind us.

The path continued east to the unsigned trail which would take us to Louie Lake. Before setting out, it’s worth stopping at the McCall ranger station to get a detailed explanation of the route — we would never have spotted the trail if we hadn’t known exactly what to look for, and where to look for it.

I figured that, after climbing up to Boulder Lake, we were as high as we’d get for the day, but the trail to Louie Lake continued even further uphill. Luckily, the nature was so entrancing that we hardly noticed. By now, the children were a distant memory and the only signs of life were chirping birds and the occasional, curious chipmunk. The views from the highest point of the hike were incredible — the Long Valley of McCall to the west, and nothing but autumn-colored mountains to the east.

We descended until reaching Louie Lake, which was just as big and beautiful as Boulder. From here, it was another mile back to our car. It was a loop of seven miles, which took almost five hours to complete, owing for lunch and photo breaks. Strenuous, but not overly so, it made for an excellent day hike.

Location of the Boulder Lake Trailhead | Beginning of Louie Lake Trail

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September 24, 2012 at 2:33 am Comments (0)

A Short Hike to Rainbow Lake

Hiking Boots

We were hosting a couple friends from San Francisco for the weekend, and had promised them an easy hike — just enough physical activity to justify soaking our bones in hot springs later in the evening. Rainbow Lake came recommended as a simple five-mile hike, just outside Cascade.

Rainbow-lake-Idaho

I underestimated the time it would take to reach the trailhead, so we got a very late start on the day. Luckily, the supposed five-mile hike turned out to be even shorter than advertised, and we reached Rainbow Lake after only about twenty minutes of walking. The hike was beautiful — the forest lightly burnt in a long-ago fire and colored with fire-red bushes. The lake was small, picturesque and, considering the short length of the hike, surprisingly remote; we were in the middle of the Salmon River Mountains, and completely alone.

Anyone looking for a strenuous, all-day adventure will find themselves disappointed by the hike to Rainbow Lake, but for fishermen or families (or groups of friends who’d rather spend the time immersed in hot springs), the short hike is perfect. We came, saw the lake, ate lunch, and were back to our car within a couple hours.

Location of the Rainbow Lake Trailhead

Epilogue – A short time later, we were sitting down with a cooler of beer in the Trail Creek Hot Springs. We had arrived at the same time as a big biker dude, who wasted no time in stripping down into his birthday suit. Luckily, there are two pools at Trail Creek, so we weren’t compelled to admire the jewels.

Soaking in the hot water was the perfect post-hike reward and we could have stayed for hours, but felt compelled to leave after a rowdy family of locals arrived. They had quickly shamed Naked Biker into putting on his shorts (“this ain’t no porno-show”), but he made it clear he wasn’t going to abandon his pool. So they hocked next to ours, all ten of them staring at us. “No pressure, y’all. We’re jes waitin’ our turn!” Sigh. But it was time to be getting home, anyway, and so we emerged to dry ourselves off on the rocks.

As soon as we were out, they jumped into the pool. And then brought out the Palmolive. Under our horrified glares, they slopped dish soap into their hands and started cleaning their bodies and clothes. In the hot spring. With dish soap. I had never seen anything of the like, but was most surprised by their willingness to lather up in front of us, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. They could have waited five minutes, and we’d have been gone. Shameless? Ignorant? I’m not sure, but it was definitely amazing.

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September 21, 2012 at 3:31 am Comments (3)

McCall – Idaho’s Four Season Getaway

McCall Hotels / Vacation Rentals

Whether you’re walking down Lake Street, driving along the Warren Wagon road, cruising by the surprisingly busy airport or sipping a cocktail while overlooking the majestic Payette Lake, one thing is never in doubt: life in McCall is pretty sweet.

Boating in Idaho

We only had the opportunity to see the early-fall side of McCall, but the town is a premiere destination in any season. There’s a ski resort just minutes away, a state park within walking distance of the town center, a 27-hole public golf course, and the picturesque Payette Lake. McCall is a playground for the wealthy of the Pacific Northwest, and definitely has the vibe of a well-to-do resort town.

We spent a few days lounging around McCall, sunglasses on and collars flipped up, pretending to be wealthy playboys on vacation. The town is only about 45 minutes north of Cascade, and there are plenty of reasons to visit: cozy cafes like the FoggLifter and Moxie Java, and a wide selection of restaurants such as Chapala (Mexican) and Red Pavilion (Chinese), both of which share an unbeatable view of the lake.

Just past McCall’s marina, a peninsula juts into Payette Lake. This is Ponderosa State Park — an 1000-acre escape which, given its proximity to town, is more wild than you might suspect. In fact, our most exhilarating brush with Idaho’s nature happened within the Ponderosa’s confines.

Highway 55 cuts through town, skirting along the southern side of the Payette. Beautiful, but for an even better view, try taking the Warren Wagon road up the western edge of the lake. You’ll be amazed at how large it is — by the time you’ve reached the northern shore, McCall has completely vanished from view, leaving only a pristine panorama, unblemished by signs of humanity. Complete the loop back to McCall by turning onto East Side Drive, for more incredible views.

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September 14, 2012 at 12:24 am Comments (0)