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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.

Location on our Idaho Map

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

Taking a Break in Lava Hot Springs

Best Kept Idaho Secret

Hot springs play an important role in the leisure scene of Idaho, but nowhere are they as celebrated as in Lava Hot Springs. Since its inception, the town has been a place of relaxation for weary travelers and anyone looking for a place to soak their bones. We spent three blissful days here; allowing our bodies to recuperate after a few long weeks on the road.

Foot Bath

Lava Hot Springs has been attracting tourists since the days of the Oregon Trail, when it was famous as an oasis for settlers headed west. Nowadays, entrance to the pools will set you back $6. The main baths range in temperature from “pleasantly warm” to “crazy hot”, and are as popular with locals as with tourists. But don’t let the crowds put you off: the park is so large that you can always find a quiet corner to soak.

We used Lava Hot Springs as a base for excursions to Soda Springs and Bear Lake. While in town, we stayed in Greystone Manor: an old Mormon church which has been converted into a lodge. There are only a few rooms available, and they’ve been outfitted luxuriously, with giant beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi baths, lounge chairs, and elegant decoration. After roughing it through Idaho, Greystone Manor provided just the sort of ultra-comfort we desperately needed.

Greystone Manors – Website
Location of Lava Hot Springs

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December 13, 2012 at 11:12 am Comment (1)

Juergen and the Sheep

I’m Photographing With The Canon 7D

Oh no. I’ve seen that look before. The crazed eyes, the tightly-clenched jaw. The obliviousness to what I’m saying. The nervous, darting gaze. Once again, cool, rational Jürgen has vanished, replaced by some sort of deranged photo-taking beast. Since none of my arguments are going to penetrate his ears nor reach his little brain, I don’t even try and protest. Do whatever it is you have to do, however insane. Go get your damn picture.

Trailing-Of-The-Sheep-Idaho

And, hey, there you go scurrying up a mountain in search of a flock of sheep. I’ll just wait down here, and watch you thrash through the brush, occasionally falling over in your mad hurry to get the picture. Hope the bruises and sore muscles are worth it.

Wow, look at that. Congratulations. In your fury to take high-altitude pictures of sheep, you’ve scaled a cliff and trapped yourself. The rock beneath your feet is crumbling, and you’re in very real danger of falling forty feet to the ground. You’re looking at me for help, and I’m considering ignoring you. Who the hell told you to scale that cliff? It wasn’t me! It was that crazy voice in your stupid brain whispering “gotta get the picture”. Don’t cry for help, now!

Sheep are pretty elusive creatures and I’ve never seen Jürgen work so hard for pictures, nor risk so much; the cliff-climbing was a particularly dangerous idea. Maybe in the end, the pictures were worth the effort. I’m just glad it wasn’t me who had to take them.

-The Trailing Of The Sheep

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November 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm Comments (7)

The Dworshak Dam and Fish Hatchery

Fishing Gear

America’s third-highest dam is found in north-central Idaho, just outside the small town of Orofino. In fact, the Dworshak Dam is the tallest straight-axis dam anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. During our road trip along Highway 12, it was the first pit-stop.

Idaho Dam

Construction on the dam began in 1966 and lasted seven years, forever altering the landscape along the North Fork of the Clearwater River. Besides creating a giant reservoir of three million acres, the Dworshak provides the ability to control floods and creates a never-ending source of hydroelectric power. The concrete structure stretches out over a kilometer and reaches over 700 feet in height: as tall as New York’s Metropolitan Tower.

Like almost any project that reshapes the earth, the Dworshak Dam was controversial from the outset. The Clearwater River’s North Fork had always been home to one of the world’s most important runs of steelhead trout, and the dam would to block access to their breeding grounds further upstream. In order to assuage these fears, the government established the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, just miles from the dam site.

Fish-Farm-Idaho

The hatchery is found on the Nez Perce Reservation and is run jointly by the US government and the tribe. It’s one of the world’s biggest hatcheries for ocean-bound fish; astonishing, since it’s in a state with no border to the ocean. Fish hatched here follow a 1000-mile route that takes them into the Pacific, before they return back home to the Clearwater River.

We took an self-guided tour of the premises, peering into some of the tanks which hold millions of young steelheads, and learning about the work done at the hatchery. I didn’t know (and would have never guessed) that egg-bearing female trout are captured, sliced open, and then have their eggs dumped into a bowl, so that they can be stirred up with a “semen mixture” to promote conception. GAK! Sure, the females would naturally die after laying their eggs anyway, and it’s all for the good of the species, but this is gruesome.

I was also surprised to see a couple people walking around the hatchery grounds with fishing poles. Talk about an easy catch! Part of the agreement between the government and the Nez Perce allows tribe members to continue fishing. Fair is fair. After all, the Dworshak Dam forever ruined their traditional fishing spots.

Location of the Dworshak Dam | Hatchery

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November 5, 2012 at 12:27 am Comment (1)

Pend d’Oreille Winery

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Idaho’s wine industry isn’t as renowned as those of California or Washington, but over the past decade, that’s been slowly changing. There are currently over 45 wineries in the state, with more opening every year. During our time in Sandpoint, we stopped by the Pend d’Oreille winery, which has been racking up awards and recognition since opening nearly twenty years ago.

Idaho Wein

We were surprised to find the winery right in the middle of downtown Sandpoint. The grapes used by Pend d’Oreille don’t grow in the area, but are brought in by truck from vineyards further south in Idaho, or in Washington. The rest of the production is done on-site. We were present as a batch of Chardonnay grapes arrived from Vickers Vineyard in Caldwell, and watched them be crushed into juice.

The owner of Pend d’Oreille, Steve Meyer, joined us during our tour and provided a short history of the winery. Originally from California, he spent a long time in Burgundy learning the art of wine-making from a Frenchman named François. Which is about as perfect as it gets. He came back to the States, and dove into the business — after moving to Sandpoint, he and his wife opened the Pend d’Oreille.

Steve brought us into the storage room where around 200 barrels were stationed and, using a bizarre contraption called a “Wine Thief”, extracted some Petit Verdot. Quite good, despite not being fully finished. When he asked what flavors we detected in the wine, I said “Oak and fruity undertones”. It’s my standard response whenever I’m put on the spot, regardless of the type of wine I’m tasting. And it almost always works.

Inside the winery’s shop, which doubles as one of Sandpoint’s favorite bistros, the tastings continued. Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot and a Cabernet which took home the Double Gold medal in an international competition. All delicious. And, as I remarked in a loud and increasingly confident voice, many had hints of “oak and fruity undertones”. We couldn’t resist buying a bottle of the Shiraz to take home.

Make sure and stop by the Pend d’Oreille Winery if you have some time in Sandpoint. As long as it’s not terribly busy, the crew will be happy to take you on a quick tour of the the premises. And if you can make it out of the store without picking up a bottle or two… you may be insane.

Pend d’Oreille Winery – Website
Location on our Idaho Map

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October 30, 2012 at 12:45 am Comments (0)

Pictures from Lake Coeur d’Alene

Coeur D’Alene Hotels

Lake-Ceour-D-Alene

For 33 miles, a scenic byway hugs the eastern coast of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Given the bustle of the city, the road gets into some surprisingly remote territory: over the gorgeous Mineral Ridge, through the tiny town of Harrison, and into pristine forests. We visited during the autumn and were blown away by the beauty of the drive.

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October 26, 2012 at 12:51 am Comments (0)

Oh, To Be Rich in Coeur d’Alene

Hotels In Coeur d’Alene

Coeur d’Alene is the largest city in the Idaho panhandle; a mix of remote nature, urban ease and ostentatious wealth. It’s well-known in the Pacific Northwest as a resort destination, with a prime location on the lovely lake which shares its name. We had been eagerly anticipating our short, two-day stay there, and found it to be just as memorable as advertised.

Coeur-d-Alene-Travel-Blog

On the banks of gorgeous Lake Coeur d’Alene, you might not see another person for hours. We drove up and down Highway 97, through the historic town of Harrison and right alongside the eastern coast of the lake. On an old dock sticking out into the water, we took a lunch break, with nothing but a cool breeze for company. The faraway sound of a boat motor eventually broke the spell; Coeur d’Alene is actually one of the most popular lakes in Idaho for water sports, especially among the rich weekenders who come in from Washington and California. (See more pictures of the scenic drive.)

No, Coeur d’Alene is no hidden gem. A stroll along the boardwalk of the Coeur d’Alene Resort should convince us of that. Hundreds of expensive speedboats, sailboats and cruisers anchor in hotel’s marina. It was hard not to feel inferior while passing by. Even the floating boardwalk is over the top: the world’s longest. We stood on the bridge for awhile, watching a sun-tanned gentleman and his young, unnaturally voluptuous wife (we’ll be kind, and assume “wife”) steer their yacht underneath us and into its parking spot. A parking spot which is probably more valuable than my life.

With the lakeside resort as its nucleus, downtown Coeur d’Alene extends to the west, where there’s a beach and park, and also to the north, where we found art galleries, upscale souvenir shops, slow traffic, a couple good bars and cafes, and … hipsters? Yes, Coeur d’Alene harbors a healthy population of trendy young hipsters, complete with tight-fitting jeans and thin mustaches. We spent a couple hours in Java on Sherman, sitting next to a couple fashionable young dudes who were playing chess and discussing Grizzly Bear’s new album (their verdict: it’s great). I almost felt like I was back in Savannah!

CDA, as the cool kids call the city, takes its name from the Coeur d’Alene people … who take their name from the French for Heart of an Awl. This strange name was bestowed upon the tribe by a French Canadian fur trader, who was impressed and frustrated by their unforgiving negotiating style. If there are any tribe members left in the city, they stay out of sight; like the rest of Northern Idaho, CDA is overwhelmingly white. 96%, in fact.

We stayed in Coeur d’Alene’s Best Western, just north of the city center along Highway 95 — it was a comfortable place to rest, with decent restaurants in walking distance. After a long day of sight-seeing, we had dinner at Tomato Street, where one portion was enough for a small family. I slept well that night, belly bursting with pasta, and dreamed that I was a rich playboy tooling around the lake in my new mini-yacht. Coeur d’Alene is the kind of town that inspires such dreams of grandeur when you’re asleep. And fits of jealousy, when awake.

Location of Coeur d’Alene on our Map

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October 25, 2012 at 11:22 pm Comments (4)

Riding the World’s Longest Gondola

Guinness Book Of World Records

The longest single-stage gondola in the world isn’t found in the Alps or Asia, and doesn’t belong to a famous resort like Vail or St. Moritz. Nope, this record goes to the Silver Mountain Ski Resort, in humble little Kellogg, Idaho.

Longest-Gondola

Silver Mountain’s gondola runs for 3.1 miles, climbing over 1000 meters (3400 feet) for nearly twenty minutes. There are longer gondolas in the world, but those either use “angle stations” or don’t carry people.

We’re constitutionally unable to resist anything that owns a world record (see our trips to the world’s biggest department store, and the world’s biggest beagle-shaped bed & breakfast), so there was no way we’d be skipping out on Silver Mountain’s gondola. Although it was well before ski season, the gondola runs on weekends throughout the summer and fall. At the top of the mountain, there are a couple hikes and mountain bike trails.

Our trip was just as fun and scenic as we figured it would be. Twenty minutes can pass by pretty fast when you’re soaring above a landscape as lovely as the Silver Valley’s.

Silver Mountain Resort – Website

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October 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm Comments (0)

A Walk About Historic Wallace

Great Hotels In Idaho

Without a doubt, Wallace is among the most unique towns that we’ve ever set foot in. The entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. It had active bordellos until 1988. And leading theoretical physicists agree that Wallace is the exact center of the universe!

Wallace-Guide-Idaho-Travel

Fine, perhaps it wasn’t physicists who decided that Wallace was of such cosmic importance, so much as drunken locals who, after a rowdy night of drinking in the Smokehouse Saloon, laid down a plaque in the intersection of Bank and 6th Street which reads “Wallace: Center of the Universe”. Despite the questionable science, the nickname stuck. And extra-terrestrials seem to agree; we saw two spaceships during our walk around town.

Though “center of the universe” might be a stretch, Wallace is certainly the center of the Silver Valley mining area. Only 700 people live here today, but it was once one of the largest towns in the Pacific Northwest, and probably its most notorious. Wallace was a hard-drinking, brawling mining town famous for its bordellos, which remained open until 1988.

Originally, Wallace was constructed mostly of wood, leaving it defenseless against the horrific 1910 wildfire that ravaged northern Idaho. Thereafter, all buildings constructed in the town center used brick. The result is an exquisitely-preserved mining town from the turn of the century. The entire historic district has survived the years, and visiting is like stepping back in time.

The official walking tour of Wallace starts at the old Train Depot, then leads visitors around on a comprehensive tour of 43 historic buildings. Hotels, brothels, bars, banks… just about every single building in the old town has a story to share. Despite the town’s diminutive size, we were exhausted by the end of our tour. Somehow, though, we found the fortitude to grab a seat in the 1313 Club, and treat ourselves to a delicious dinner of burgers and home-brewed beer.

Location on our Idaho Map

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October 12, 2012 at 1:05 am Comments (3)

A Walking Tour of Historic Warren

After learning the year-round population of tiny Warren, located in the western foothills of the Salmon River Mountains, I was shocked. “Twelve?!” I couldn’t believe even that many people lived here.

Warren is the most remote town that we visited in Idaho, stationed at the end of a dirt road 45 miles out of McCall. It’s a moderately popular summer getaway which empties out almost entirely once snow sets in. Understandable, since the only road into town closes for winter. After that, it’s either snowmobile or airplane.

Idaho-Warren

As with many of central Idaho’s tiny towns, Warren had its heyday back in the 1860s with the discovery of gold. Prospectors moved in from every corner of the country — Californians, Missourians, Secessionists from the South — but they were all out-numbered by the Chinese. Over 1200 workers from China flocked to Warren, establishing their own saloons, restaurants and barbershops. One prominent member of the Chinese community, Ah Sam, even became an honorary mayor of Warren.

The Forest Ranger station in McCall had equipped us with a pamphlet titled the “Warren Historic Walking Tour”, which describes the ancient buildings which are still standing, and relates some of the more colorful stories of the town’s past. As we walked past the Green House, for example, we read the following about the overly conciliatory judge who resided there:

Andy Kavanaugh assumed the office in 1895 and was distinguished by never rendering a verdict. Kavanaugh threw all his cases out of court on the basis of “hearsay evidence” because “it made a lot smoother living in the community.”

Perhaps my favorite of Warren’s buildings was the old schoolhouse, noteworthy for its backwards “N” — particularly embarrassing, since this was where children were taught to write. In the 1930s, townspeople rejected a proposal that the “N” be corrected, huffing that “this is the way it’s always been!”

Warren School

At the schoolhouse, I pointed out an odd bit of playground equipment to my mom. It looked like a medieval torture device, but sent her into a fit of nostalgic ecstasy. “Giant Stride”, she squealed, running toward it like the schoolgirl she actually was the last time she had seen one. Apparently, these deathtraps were all the rage in the playgrounds of 1950s-era Indiana. It’s like a tetherball set, but taller, and with six ropes instead of one, and they’re metal chains instead of rope, and instead of a soft ball on the end of each, there are heavy, metal stirrups. Of course, it’s incredibly fun — I swung around on it for awhile, cursing the dumb kid who must have wrapped a chain around his throat and forced the nationwide ban on this awesomely dangerous toy.

We finished off our day in Warren at its bustling saloon. Literally everyone in town must have been there. A very cool place, quirky like only the bars of very small towns can be. They had old Chinese artifacts on display, and a book compiling the editions of the defunct Warren Times.

Warren was a far more entertaining day trip than I had anticipated. The beautiful Warren Wagon road which leads there from McCall is almost worth the drive itself, but the town has a lot to recommend a visit. Just make sure and pick up the Walking Tour brochure in McCall, first.

Location on our Idaho Map

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September 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm Comments (3)

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