Monday, October 24, 2011

Buoyed by a Stay in Boise

We’ve never spent time in Boise, but were anxious to visit Idaho’s largest city.  We found a gem of a military campground, the National Guard’s Gowen Field, conveniently located on the back side of the airport and providing concrete pads with full hookups, and settled in for what became a two week stay.  We were surprised at the size of the Boise metropolitan area; over 600,000 and growing.  And no wonder – it’s a wonderful location at the base of the mountains with vibrant downtown, great city park system, and of course, the Boise State Bulldogs and their blue football field.  
We had read about the Downtown Saturday Market, and with the temperatures in the 80s and a blue sky, headed downtown to pay a visit. Unlike so many downtown areas, Boise’s is bustling, especially on a Saturday.  We found the market, a large area of vendors covering almost four blocks.  There was a bit of everything, fresh vegetables and meats, cheeses, spices, flowers, and ohhhh, the baked goods!  We loaded up on a variety of peppers, yellow tomatoes, and fresh baked bread, all at reasonable prices – what a great place!  The tough part was selecting a restaurant for lunch.  We finally settled on the Red Feather Lounge, winner of the “Best of Boise” for three years running.  It’s the kind of place we love to visit, with an innovative menu unlike the typical chain restaurants.  The food was wonderful.  We resisted the intriguing desserts, although we almost broke down when we saw the Upside Down Caramel Corn Cake.Boise Market Booth
Boise Market FlowersThere’s so much to do in Boise – we visited the Idaho State Historical Museum (well done, lots of interesting exhibits), the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge (nice visitor center), and toured the Old Idaho Penitentiary.   It was an interesting place to visit, and reminded us of the old prison we visited in Deer Lodge, Montana.  Same sandstone walls, small, dingy cells, and depressing atmosphere.  Here, though, there were interesting narratives of some of the more famous inmates that helped us understand the lives they lived and the crimes they committed.Old Boise Prison
Boise Prison CellblockWe of course had to explore the surrounding mountains, and drove north to the towns of Idaho City and Lowman.  Idaho city is a rustic and still active town;  Lowman, not so much.  Both were founded by miners looking for gold, and around Idaho City you can see the large piles of rocks left by the dredges.  The Payette River runs through Lowman, another of the crystal-clear, tumbling rivers we’ve seen throughout this beautiful country.  Continuing on past Lowman, we came upon the back side of the Sawtooth Mountains, decorated with the first snow of the year.Sawtooth Mountains with Fresh Snow2
Sawtooth Mountains with Fresh SnowPayette RiverBack in Boise, we visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, an exceptional facility with an extensive collection of raptors, beautiful grounds, and a large visitor center.  Many of the raptors here are not native to the “lower 48”, so it was a treat to see new birds.  We especially liked the Aplomado Falcon and Gyrfalcon, but the Harpy Eagle really captured our attention.  What an amazing face – it’s feathers look like an Indian headdress!  (by the way, these are all live birds!)Aplomado Falcon
GyrfalconHarpy EagleFinally, as we left the center, we saw this bird feeder with an anti-squirrel device above the feeder, and another one below…..and a squirrel sitting in the feeder, happily eating the seed.  Squirrel-proof Feeder
We’re heading for our next stop in Reno/Sparks, so be sure check back and visit!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

There’s More to Idaho Than Potatoes

Powell to New Meadows copyWe’ve spent time in Idaho over the last six years, but hadn’t explored the western side of the state along Highway 95.  We left  Bitterroot Mountains, and  continued on Highway 12 along the Lochsa River, eventually joining the Clearwater River and descending into the valley and the small town of Kooskia (koos-ski).  The drive along the Lochsa River is one of our favorites; rugged mountains, tall trees, beautiful river – AND it’s downhill.  There’s not much out here, a few Forest Service and State Highway facilities; otherwise it’s just miles and miles of unspoiled scenery. 
Lochsa River
Lochsa River2In Kooskia, the scenery changed from forested mountains to grassy hills with a winding, up and down road.  To our East stretched the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, an area of over one million acres, while to our West were the rolling hills and farms of the valley.  We spent a night in Grangeville, at the Bear Den RV Resort, a great Passport America park with the cleanest laundry and recreation room we’ve ever seen.  White Bird Battlefield OverlookWe took a ride down the road to see the White Bird Battlefield, the first of what would become a number of battlefields during the journey of the Nez Perce.  As we stood at the battlefield overlook, we noticed the sign describing the history of White Bird Grade, and we could see the old road in the distance.  White Bird Grade SignIf you click on the picture and  look closely, you can see how the old road goes back and forth, back and forth, as it climbs up the grade.  And yes, we had to try it.  It was an interesting drive and we had to wonder how big rigs must have struggled going both up and down. 

Old White Bird Grade
From Grangeville, we travelled down White Bird Grade (the new one), a slow seven miles of 7% grade.  At the bottom, we once again met the Salmon River, and continued along the valley to the small town of New Meadows.Salmon River Canyon
Salmon River
We got into the utterly forgettable Meadows RV Park early in the day, and drove into the mountains to visit the resort community of McCall.  Located on the South shore of Payette Lake, McCall is a community of condos, marinas, and the typical assortment of galleries and gift shops.  It’s a pretty place, and the lake view, with the mountains in the distance, demanding that we take a break to sit in the shade and relax before heading back to the park.  Payette Lake
Payette Lake MarinaWe’re on the road, heading for Boise – C’mon back and visit with us!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

More Idaho–and a bit of Montana

Craters of the Moon ViewLeaving Island Park, we left the mountains, descended to the rolling hills and desert of Southeast Idaho, then passed through Idaho Falls on our way to a night at Arco.  We arrived early enough to settle in at the Mountain View RV Park and still make a visit to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, a short 20 Craters of the Moon View2miles away.   The park is a huge area of lava flows with a 7-mile loop drive, visitor center, and hiking trails.  The reference to the moon is well-deserved; in fact, NASA once sent astronauts here to train for the moon landing.  It’s an interesting area of cinder mountains, strange rock Craters of the Moon View3formations, and lava flows that contain eerie shapes and designs.  We walked one of the trails through the lava flows and were amazed at the landscape; it surprised us that some of the lava cones were hollow, and deep inside the cones we could see snow from last winter.  An interesting place; we’re glad we stopped to look!

From Arco, we traveled up Highway 93 to the Salmon River Valley and  Challis, a small town where we spent two days at the Challis Valley RV Park, 
Salmon River Near Stanleya nice place with great owners who went out of their way to make our stay enjoyable.  We drove west from town into the mountains along the Salmon River, stopping to watch some fisherman and came to the Sawtooth Valley,  one of those places that words just can’t describe – jagged mountains, green meadows, forest, rivers, lakes…..just an incredibly beautiful place.  The Sawtooth Mountains, appropriately named, fill the Western landscape with their chiseled peaks, reminding us of the Tetons. Sawtooth Mountains
Stanley, ID
Arriving in Stanley, a small town with around 100 permanent residents, it was easy to tell those that spend the winter by the huge piles of firewood stacked around their homes.  This is a cold place in the winter, with lows averaging around zero during November through January, and 290 days of frost throughout the year – 10 of them in July!  Redfish LakeThere are a number of large lakes in the valley, and one of them, Redfish Lake, has a large number of campgrounds and marinas.  We were surprised how  busy the area was on a late September day.  We toured the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery, and learned the amazing story of how salmon are raised and planted there and make the 900-mile journey to the mouth of Columbia River, then into the Pacific Ocean to become adults.  Although the numbers of  those that return years later to spawn are in the low thousands, it’s still an amazing story.  As we drove for miles and miles along the river, it was hard to imagine the incredible journey these fish make in their short lives. 
We drove the length of the valley, and climbed to Galena Summit where we stopped to enjoy the view.Sawtooth Panorama
Sawtooth Valley
Our campground hosts in Challis had told us that if we enjoyed prime rib, that the Elk Mountain RV Resort & BBQ Restaurant was the place to go, so after working up an appetite from our exploring we headed back to Stanley to give it a try.  Stanley BBQ Prime RibWe were told that during the summer, people started lining up in mid-afternoon for the 5:00 opening, but on this day, one of the last they’d be open, it wasn’t crowded.  If you’ve never had smoked prime rib, don’t try it – you’ll be hooked!  It was amazing, and my 22-ounce slab didn’t last long (neither did Brenda’s tiny 15-ounce slice).  It’s a good thing that the walk back to the car was downhill…..especially since the “to-go” box was so heavy!
Leaving Challis, we continued north along the river to one of our favorite stops, the River’s Fork Lodge & RV ParkNorth Fork RV Park2All of it’s 8 sites are right on the river, and if you park nose-in, your windshield is filled with a view of river, mountains, and forest.  The owners are some of the friendliest you’ll find, and since there’s no cell phone service, provide a free phone for your use.  We took a day trip to revisit the Big Hole National Battlefield, and had lunch in the cowboy town of Wisdom, then took a drive over Big Hole Pass back into Idaho. 
We left Idaho and crossed over Lost Trail Pass, descending into Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, and an area that seems like a second home to us. Squaredance Campground We stayed at the Square Dance Center and Campground, in Lolo, a small town south of Missoula and spent time visiting with friends that we made during our two summers volunteering at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.  We had a great time sharing pizza and stories of our times together, and caught up on shopping in a “big” city.  But soon it was time to say goodbye, and we headed west over Lolo Pass and back into Idaho.  It was a short day, only 60 miles to a Forest Service campground near the Powell Ranger StationP1050523We’ve always wanted to stay here – it’s in a remote area on the Lochsa River, with tall trees in and old-growth forest.  The campground has paved roads and sites, and we were lucky to get one of only two pull-through loop sites, with plenty of room for our motor home and tow vehicle.  Surprisingly, the sites have electric hookups, most with 50A power available.  We spent one our of the memorable nights – sitting around a fire, listening to the wind in the trees, and watching a Steller’s Jay as it circled our site looking for any stray food.  The night was quiet and incredibly dark, with stars that looked close enough to touch.  Although we enjoy RV parks with amenities, we’d trade them in a minute to spend time in a place like this.
We’re off again, heading down Idaho’s West side to Boise.  We’ve got a lot to see, so check back and see where we’ve been!