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The Wonders of Soda Springs

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Towns as tiny as Soda Springs should count themselves lucky if they have one special attraction or unique characteristic that brings in tourists. But Soda Springs lays claim to at least three.

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The settlement of Soda Springs got its start as an oasis along the Oregon Trail, eagerly anticipated among emigrants for its thousands of fresh mineral water springs. A couple of enterprising pioneers recognized the commercial potential of these springs, and began bottling the water under the name of “Idanha”. This was before the days before water could be artificially carbonated, and the lightly bubbly Idanha was a hit, winning the top prize at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, and again in Paris in 1900.

There are multiple places around town to try out the water, which is still bubbling unabated out of the ground. We took a cup to the Hooper Springs to sample it. Not bad, it tastes like lightly carbonated bottled water, a bit sweeter and more mineralized.

Not far away from Hooper Springs (and in fact, too close for comfort) is the Monsanto Phosphorus Plant. Soda Springs sits on top of one of the largest phosphate deposits in the entire world, and Monsanto’s large-scale mining and purification plant has changed the town’s landscape. Literally. As part of its manufacturing process, Monsanto frequently dumps red-hot slag down the side of a massive, man-made hill. It cools quickly, but as the molten metal is poured out of the truck, it looks just like lava running down a volcano.

A huge hill of man-made lava, naturally carbonated springs of drinkable mineral water, and we haven’t even arrived at Soda Springs’s top highlight. In 1937, during an attempt to find hot water for a pool, a drill accidentally unleashed a geyser in the middle of town. It roared for months, nearly flooding the little village, before engineers were finally able to get a handle on the situation. They capped the geyser with a timed valve, making Soda Springs the proud owner of the “the world’s only captive geyser“. It erupts every hour, on the hour; more reliable than Old Faithful.
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December 17, 2012 at 9:39 pm Comments (2)

Colgate Licks

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For the 70 miles between Lowell and Powell, Highway 12 cuts through the Clearwater National Forest: a beautiful stretch of driving, but one without any towns, services or other people. The only time we got out of the car was to visit Colgate Licks: an open glade in the forest whose sodium-rich rocks attract wildlife of the licking sort.

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There’s a short hiking loop around Colgate Licks, which takes you into the woods and allows you to sneak up on the rocks, in the hopes of catching some wildlife off-guard. Elk, deer and antelope are the most frequent visitors of the area, though we didn’t see any animals; just some tracks. Still, the walk was beautiful, through clusters of red cedar and lodgepole pine.

One thing we did spot in the area was a wildfire, raging just across the Lochsa River. It was so close that we could actually see flames, although the situation seemed to be well under control by a group of firefighters based out of the Powell Ranger Station. Of course, since Powell is my last name, I felt an immediate kinship for all these brave men and women — in fact, I felt like I should be their leader. Chief Ranger Powell of the Powell Ranger Station has a nice ring. Too bad fire scares the piss out of me.

Powell-Ranger

Colgate Licks has a tragic story behind its name. In 1893, William Carlin, son of a US General, organized a hunting party and hired George Colgate as their cook. The men went off into the woods in search of elk and grizzlies, and eventually became completely lost. Mr. Colgate had the double misfortune of (a) falling sick and (b) being a lowly cook. Carlin and his friends abandoned him in the woods to die alone, which he did. His remains weren’t found until nearly a year later.

A grisly story for a beautiful area. Luckily, today you’re in no danger of getting lost on the Colgate Licks trail, which can be completed in less than a half-hour.

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November 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm Comments (0)

Burgdorf Hot Springs

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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.

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

In the Water with Cascade Raft & Kayak

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Everything you need to know about Whitewater Rafting

“Do you want to go whitewater rafting with us?” I had only asked out of politeness. Never did I suspect that my mother’s response might be “Sure, why not?!”

In business for 27 seasons, Cascade Raft & Kayak is the largest whitewater company operating on the Payette River. They had invited us out for a day of rafting, and I had just assumed that my parents — who had come up from Ohio for a short visit — would be content to wait around and read a book while we got wet. Nope! Although my dad had to sit out due to the flu, he only did so very reluctantly. And my mom didn’t hesitate at all.

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As she strapped on her life jacket and climbed into the raft, I looked at her in bewilderment. Who was this lady? My mom’s most exhilarating pastimes included jigsaw puzzles and afternoon naps.

Under the direction of Lauren, our guide for the day, we set off on an adventure called “The Splash”, starting at Banks and ending at Cascade Raft & Kayak’s offices just north of Horseshoe Bend. Neither Jürgen, my mom, nor myself had ever been on a raft before, and this moderately easy route proved to be a perfect introduction to the sport.

Within minutes of disembarking, our raft hit the rapids known as Whitewater 101. And right away, we were soaking wet — especially Jürgen and I, who were sitting in the front of the raft. We didn’t have much time to recover before hitting the next set: Whitewater 102. True to their name, these were a bit rougher. But this time, it was Mom who got it. I turned around and laughed at the sight of her, shell-shocked and soaking wet. But she was laughing, too. Getting drenched with freezing water doesn’t sound amusing, but when you’re on a raft, laughter seems the only reaction possible.

The water was cold, but the sun was shining bright. In between rapids. Lauren let us float slowly down the river and we’d almost dry off before hitting the next rough patch. The rapids were manageable — only once did I feel the fear of flying off. We paddled on Lauren’s commands (“Forward Two! Back One!”) and while tackling one reasonably calm set of rapids, she had us do the “Teacup”. Those on the left side of the raft paddled forward, those on the right backwards, and we spun around furiously while crashing down the rapids.

Idaho is known as the “Whitewater State”, and it’s not hard to see why. There are a ton of operators to choose from, but we couldn’t have been happier with Cascade Raft & Kayak.

Cascade Raft & Kayak – Website
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September 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm Comments (5)

Howdy Idaho!

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After 91 busy days spent in the South Korean metropolis of Busan, we were ready for something completely different. So I grabbed a thesaurus and flipped to the “K” section. It’s a strange and little-known fact, but it turns out that the antonym of “Korea” is “Idaho”. Exact opposites. And just like that, our next destination was set!

Welcome To Idaho

A month before arriving, everything I knew about Idaho could have fit onto a potato. I mean, it would have just been the word “potato” scratched into the side of the thing. But friends had been raving to us about the state, extolling its natural beauty and surprising diversity. If we were looking for something different to a Korean mega-city, they said, we could hardly do better than wild, sparsely-populated Idaho.

And so, after a couple weeks visiting family in Ohio, we embarked on a road trip across America. We needed three full days to arrive at Cascade, Idaho: the tiny, lakeside town in the middle of the state which would be our home for a month. Here, we would fully disconnect from city life, and begin taking advantage of some of the outdoor adventures available in Idaho, such as whitewater rafting, zip-lining, hiking, kayaking, and even hot air ballooning.

After four weeks in Cascade, we got on the road. Idaho is massive, and the only way to adequately explore it is by car. We spent six weeks driving into every reachable corner of the state, resting for no more than a few days in any one spot. Our reward was an appreciation for how diverse Idaho truly is. We saw gold mines, canyons, forest fires, hidden lakes, and hot springs, and had some exhilarating encounters with wildlife — of both the human and animal varieties.

We wound up our 91 days in Idaho with a few weeks in Boise, the state’s capital and by far its biggest city. For such an unheralded spot, Boise has a lot to offer. It’s large, but not overly so, and green; with a river running through the town center, it’s not uncommon to see deer. Our time here was blissful; with great restaurants, strange and fascinating history, beautiful buildings and a young, hip population, it’s no wonder that Boise is often touted as one of the USA’s most livable cities.

Idaho proved to be an incredible home. For 91 days, the state did its best to wear us out, bombarding us with one unforgettable experience after the other. At times, it was almost overwhelming, but we persisted. (“A 15-mile bike ride, the day after zip-lining and visiting a gold mine? Bring it on!”) By the time we left, we were exhausted, but had succeeded in seeing most of the highlights, as well as some hidden gems unknown even to most locals. Please enjoy reading about our adventures in this amazing state, starting with the three-day trans-American journey that brought us there.


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August 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm Comments (17)