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!


  1. Keith/Brenda,
    Great work on the blog...well designed and excellent narrative!! Enjoyed reading :-) Keep up the damn perfect adventure. Bob

  2. We like this area also. Enjoy your blog and hope to see you down the road.

  3. Hello Keith and Brenda. Great blog as always. With greater frequency we go to your blog for guidance and reviews. Travel Safely! Duane