Leaving Wyoming behind we make our way into Idaho to visit the Craters of The Moon and City of Rocks...a very different landscape to The Grand Tetons we had just travelled through.
The Blonde - we head west to Craters of the Moon after our Steampunk experience at Idaho Falls....(see our "Strange & Quirky" blog on Steampunk & Evel Knievel as a separate Travel post). A visit here had been on our "must do" list for sometime, ever since we started out actually and we stayed with our dear friends Susan & Steve in Boulder, Colorado, who had tipped us off.
The Bear - the day has brightened up and as we head westwards on US-20 from Idaho Falls, strangely we suddenly come across 100 or more cars parked seemingly in the middle of nowhere? A few miles later we see a large industrial plant over to the north....hmmmm... and with a quick Google we discover it is the "INL - Idaho National Laboratory" - a United States Department of Energy complex which has historically been involved with nuclear research. Established in 1949 it occupies 890 sq miles in the high desert between Arco and Idaho Falls initially as a US government artillery test range. Its real claim to fame is for building the prototype reactor for the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. Today it employs approximately 4,000 people to plan and eventually develop the NGNP - the “Next Generation Nuclear Plant” and to expand nuclear energy’s benefits. I am quite sure the conspiracy theorists believe the facility is something else entirely...especially with such security all around it! Shortly after we arrive in the strange little “city” of Arco.
The Blonde - allegedly it had a population of 995 in 2010 but today it looks largely deserted. In 1955 it was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated solely from nuclear power - well for about an hour on July 17!
The Bear - we approach the Craters of The Moon National Monument late afternoon and run alongside the black lava fields. It looks mysterious and absolutely from another world. As far as the eye can see there are black lava flows.
The road meandering through the lava fields....
It’s going to be quite a discovery tour the next couple of days. The Campground is nestled among the rocks and people seem to be perched up at all sorts of angles. We tour around the campground but we establish we only have the choice of one site that Little Henrietta will fit on comfortably. No matter. There's no shore power available in the campground and just after we set up, the one and only very noisy generator starts up directly opposite us.... we groan!
The Blonde & Little Henrietta ready to explore Craters of the Moon National Monument
The Blonde - A very "fat" couple with a huge RV and ATV sit smug above us and seemingly enjoying disturbing the whole camping community here. I decide to spare my ears and wander over to the Park Office to pick up some more info and to my delight find there’s a Ranger Walk at 7pm. I join Ranger Alex for the half hour walk to Sunset Lookout and get a basic introduction into the park, some volcanic terms and what differences to look for for while wandering through all this black stuff. However,....if the generator was not bad enough, there was a horrid little 4/5 year old who I could have thrown over the edge at the lookout, who hijacked Ranger Alex’s presentation while a supercilious father looked on with affection and that..."Isn't my son just so special", look on his face. All the other participants were equally as teed off as I was! Ranger Alex to his credit somehow managed to keep his cool!
A lonely Pinyon Pine...with outstanding root system...near the lookout.
Back in the campground and the generator went off..... we cheered and so did many others in the campground....everyone then nicely settled down to quiet whispers over dinner and drinks and campfires.
Wednesday 20 June, 2018 - The Bear - home to the deepest rift anywhere on Earth, Craters of the Moon is a huge preserve in the Snake River Plain, a vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush. It is protected not only because of the area’s many volcanic features. It has one of the best preserved flood basalt areas in continental United States. The three major lava fields and surrounding sage bush steppe cover some 1,100 square miles (over 750,000 acres) and the young lava flows can be seen clearly from space.
The EarthRoamers at sunrise ready to explore Craters.....
The last eruption here was 2,100 years ago and it’s considered by geologists that there will be another eruption probably sometime in the next 1000 years. So we reckon we're pretty safe to go hiking and exploring today!
The Blonde - we were up early wanting to tour the main park highlights before the hoardes arrived....actually I was a bit “merrh” about coming here given our other volcanic adventures in Bali, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Sunset Crater in Arizona, the site of one of the more recent volcanic eruptions just north of Flagstaff. These places had been interesting but did I need to see another volcanic park? Well The Bear was keen, in addition to Susan & Steve, Wanda and Al our dear Canadian travel buddies had also recommended it, Beat our Earthroamer owner friend had recommended it and it was on our way to the Sawtooths....so it must have something special to see.
First stop - climb to the top of Inferno Cone - 6,150ft.
The Blonde has to make her mark on top of Inferno Cone
Much easier hiking down the cinder cone than climbing up!
In the end I was so pleased we had come. It’s a great park with a well planned loop road and well prepared trails. We explored all of them walking at least 12 miles and then I went out later on my bike to see more.
What we don’t know now about cinder cones, spatter cones, lava flows and levees, magma tubes and caves...well, just really isn't worth knowing, we are "totally" the full bottle!
Excellent walkways through the landscape.....
The Bear - there are more than 25 cinder cones at Craters of the Moon, each one a small volcano. The eruptions here, called "fissure eruptions", occurred along cracks in the earth's crust.
Of course The Bear wanted to go "off road" as always!!
The eruptions were of very fluid basaltic lava from which gases could easily escape. Without high gas pressure, eruptions tend to be very mild and produce small cinder cones and extensive lava flows. You see how knowledgeable we are!
Amazing lava flow "ribbons"
Our walk on the North Crater Flow Trail gave us a close-up view of one of the recent flows. The whole park is awash with wildflowers and where the wind has blown soil bigger plants have taken hold including limber pines. Colourful green, yellow and orange lichens are here and their presence is an indication of the health of the Park.
Stunning scenery hiking out on North Crater Trail
Hiking the rim of North Crater....spot The Blonde?
The Blonde - we saw tree moulds (nothing to do with lichens this time), but the imprint of lava-charred trees, lava tubes and the huge Indian Cave which we climbed down into.
"Now then...let me tell you all about Tree Molds"
The Blonde posing on one of the larger lava flows.
There’s a stairway into Indian Cave which provides an easy entry into the tunnel and collapses in the ceiling allows sunlight to enter so there’s no need for a torch. The tube is 30 foot high, 50 foot wide, and 800 feet long and the floor is quite even allowing you to walk quite easily. Up above are lava stalactites, lichens and small plants. What colours we found in the lava along the cave trail. It’s not all black. The turquoise was the most surprising.
The Blonde in Indian Cave
Here we met Neil Branson and chatted to this amazing world traveller for an hour or so as we pottered around looking for the elusive tree moulds. Neil is on his motorcycle and travelling from his home in Seaside, Oregon to Newfoundland. Our paths will cross again over the next few months and Neil is on a mission to come to Western Australia....no worries mate, there's a shed available for you to sleep in! By 5pm we were pooped! We returned to camp, moved to a bigger flatter site, had some snacks. David cleaned my bike and I set off again to explore Devils Garden.
Thursday 21 June - we are up and away quite early....time to hit the road again and see.....more rocks! Yep, not satisfied with volcanic rock formations now we are off to the southernmost border of Idaho to "City of Rocks".
The Blonde - It wasn't an intentional meander! We had intended getting to City of Rocks via Minidako Wildlife Preserve but Google Maps took us on a little dirt road to a padlocked gate....BUMMER! The Bear was not having any turning around and finding the right road after the hour detour it had taken to get here and 25 miles on heavily corrugated dirt roads! The problem then was that we had to continue on more dirt roads to get anywhere after that. It took AGES! But the bonus was we were driving through more wonderful Idaho farming country.
Idaho...the land of potatoes.....
The Bear - this area is what Idaho is arguably most famous for....Idahoans are often referred to as "Potato Heads" and we were in the heart of potato and sugar beet country.... known as “Magic Valley”. Why? Well standby to be amazed and educated in typical Blonde fashion!!
The Blonde - research 101 starts here....a man called Ira Burton Perrine arrived in the Shoshone Falls area in 1884 and initially homesteaded at the bottom of the Snake River Canyon, where he raised cattle and planted orchards. Later he became involved in the tourist business, starting a ferry and a stagecoach service, and building the Blue Lakes Hotel. But he is perhaps best known for his role in the economic development of southern Idaho based on massive irrigation projects, and the "drying" of Shoshone Falls.
Mile after mile after mile of center pivots irrigating from the canals.
In 1894 the Carey Act allowed private companies to construct large-scale irrigation systems in desert regions. Perrine proposed a diversion of the Snake River at Caldron Linn approximately 24 miles upstream of Shoshone Falls and in 1905 the Milner Dam together with a thousand miles of canal and laterals were completed. When the gates of the dam were closed and the canals opened the Shoshone Falls went dry that night as the water rushed across the desert far above, and Perrine's vision was realized, and 262,000 acres of desert were transformed.
We drove for nearly 45 minutes with a non stop view of rows of potatoes.
The reclamation of vast tracts of desert that had been considered a nearly uninhabitable area were transformed practically overnight into some of the most productive farmland in the northwestern U.S. and led to the nickname of "Magic Valley". Powered entirely by gravity, it was "a rare successful example" of private irrigation development under the Carey Act.
Important agricultural commodities in the Magic Valley include beans, sugar beets, corn (maize) and of course....potatoes. Dairy production is also significant.
The Bear - we were feeling quite at home (our UK home that is) with all the sugar beet around us. I had worked two campaigns for British Sugar Corporation in my college days as a temporary worker at what was then the largest sugar beet plant in Europe, and the sight and smell of the sugar beet was very familiar. It looked green and lush but this year it seemed that the late frost around planting time had frozen the early shoots and thousands of acres had to be replanted.
The Blonde - so it ended up being an interesting meander.... and stuff the birds that we might have missed at the Wildlife Reserve! We were over the corrugations though when it meant bouncing and jiggling on the dirt roads to get back on track to Almo and then onto City of Rocks.
Our first view of City of Rocks
And then when we pulled into the information center at City Of Rocks just after lunch we found that 100% of the campsites at Smoky Mountain Campground were "online reservable". It’s a crazy situation and the booking system is very weird...but in the end we found a very amenabble campground host who helped us to find a two night spot, due to a cancellation, and it was a nice peaceful and well laid out site with good privacy.
We hung about the campsite reading and enjoying the birdsong and warmth until about 5pm when we felt obliged (read, “I felt obliged”!!!) to go and explore our latest destination and find out just what had compelled us (me!) to suggest coming so far south again.
City of Rocks National Reserve has a sister State Park just up the road called Castle Rocks. We headed there for a stroll. The rocks are extraordinary granite peaks and spires rising out of the encirclement of gently rolling sagebrush and Pinyon Pine country. The challenging rocky landscape attracts rock climbers from around the world.
The Bear checking out one of the climbing routes
The Blonde Photographer looking for that special shot of Castle Rocks
There are climbing routes with some bizarre names (well, not knowing anything about rock climbing these may actually be quite normal!). Fruit Pie, Red Rib, Jug-a-Lug, Shop and Compare, Honeymoon in Almo, Poptart, Waxie Darbles and my favourite "Poking Holes in the Firmament".
The Blonde - "I wannabe...a rock climber"
Flowers and butterflies occupied our time for a while. Such beautiful cactus flowers and the butter coloured flowers were a real draw for the butterflies.
We wandered past the rock where the 19th century migrants wrote their names in axle grease and listened to climbers voices way up on the rocks.
Graffiti? 19th century style....
We meandered for the second time today through the rocks until the sun was getting low and it was well past dinner time. As we’d eaten lunch quite late I felt it was ok to make just Ruebens for dinner (no corned beef in mine though). We settle down to a nice peaceful evening...more to explore tomorrow.
Friday 22 June - The Blonde - Smoky Mountain Campground is peaceful again this morning but we know the campground will be filling up today for the weekend. Alot of people cross over the state line just south of here from Utah, as we can start to see by the numberplates in the campground. The early morning temperature reminds me of a rare but perfect summer day in England and I don’t want to waste that special feeling. The Bear tiptoes around me as I sit outside and read. He’s hoping for a quiet day too and keeps out of sight so he doesn’t remind me to get fidgety!
The Bear...reading behind two pairs of glasses and closed eyelids.....!!
Between 1843 and 1882 a mass migration of people headed west across the continental United States. They first sought land, but in 1848 the discovery of gold in California enticed thousands to hit the trail seeking their fortune. The first emigrants followed the landmarks described by fur trappers and the early explorers. Others followed the wagon ruts of the first settlersand and over 200,000 emigrants followed the California Trail through City of Rocks, a name coined by James F Wilkins, emigrant and artist, in August 1849. Weary by the time they arrived, many found a refuge in the "city", a place to rest and to graze their animals leaving their names and messages etched on rocks. In their journals they wrote of the sculptured granite city with steeples, cathedrals, pyramids, windows and bathtubs!
Steeples, cathedrals and pryamids......
City of Rocks lies in the Basin and Range physiographic province. The graniteplutonof the ancient Green Creek complex and the significantly younger Almo Pluton are best exposed here in the southern Albion Mountains. While only the tips of the plutons are visible, these ancient granites are like a window into the earth’s crust. Once exposed, granite is subjected to weathering by wind, freezing and thawing water, salt, and other naturally occurring corrosive chemicals. These forces work to create pinnacles, panholes, honeycombs, windows, and arches.
The Bear @ Rock Window....
The Bear - having fully rested up and enjoyed a nice day in the sunshine by late afternoon, the Blonde has indeed got fidgety! As the sun is lowering it is time we think to explore some more this City of Rocks and get some photographs. It’s also the right time to stretch our legs. The valley to the southwest with the Two Sisters looked beautiful with the pinnacles and pyramids of rocks poking out of the earth.
The road through City of Rocks....
The wildflowers are beautiful too as well as all the butterflies they attract. We have been so lucky to have been surrounded by wildflowers since we left Colorado a month ago. We set out on the Geographical Trail to get some more landscape shots and see more climbers making the ascent of Jackson's Thumb.
On On to the Geological Trail....
Spot the rock climber rapelling on the north face....
We miss out the Durfee Hot Springs, Tracy's General Store and the Almo Outpost Steak House, which promises meat for The Bear - I just cant believe he declined this in favour of my turkey stirfry which is on the menu tonight!! When we return to the campground there is a beautiful sunset starting to fire up...and you need to get that best spot for that great photo....
Nice sunset starting to "fire up" at our campsite
The Blonde always looking for that extra special vantage point...
Saturday, 23 Jun 2018 - The Bear - we start out at 5am..it is still dark....why?! It used to be so easy to be up and about at this time but it’s getting harder! The Blonde so wanted to get a sunrise photograph of the City of Rocks but in fact it’s the adjoining Castle Rocks, that gives us the image she had in mind and to illustrate this “city of rocks" nestled in the heart of the surrounding mountains.
Castle Rocks at sunrise...
The Blonde - The Bear was patient as I waited and waited for the light to arrive. I imagined the long trains of migrants entering this amazing “city” in the mid 1800’s eager for a new and richer life. More than half a million people came through here on their 2,000 mile journey, which became eventually known as the Oregon Trail. They used this area to rest andgraze their stock on the grassland before moving on.
It’s always funny how it gets colder once the sun is just tipping over the horizon. So many times when we have been camping we have huddled round the campfire until the sun is well up in the sky. Today it’s my heated seat inside Little Henrietta that warms me up! I get a hundred or so shots! That’s going to be a lot of editing later on!
Little Henrietta patiently waiting for sunrise....
Time to move on. Shoshone Falls next.....