Idaho Falls, Idaho

On Friday, July 29 as we followed the emigrant trail headed east on Interstate 86, we were channeling our inner Willie Nelson and singing “On the Road Again.” So far, the truck troubles we encountered in Sparks and Elko no longer conspired against us.

We stopped at Massacre Rocks State Park and Register Rock to eat our lunch and have a quick look around. Panels outside of the visitor center, tell the story of Massacre Rocks, a narrow passage along the Oregon Trail (now Interstate 86) where emigrants often stopped to camp. The boulders, also known as “Gate of Death,” or “Devil’s Gate,” were so named because emigrants feared attacks by the Native Americans. Documented accounts of massacres and attacks took place east and west of the rocks during the 1850s and 1860s. Register Rock, protected by fencing and a shelter against the elements and persons intent on destruction, contains the names and dates of many emigrants who passed through the area.

As Jon and I guessed, we found Idaho Falls similar to Twin Falls with an abundance of water and farmland. Once we had settled in at the Snake River RV Park and Campground, we headed downtown where we found a park alongside the Snake River. We marveled at the smooth, calm waters on one side of the river, which flowed over the side onto rocks and boulders creating the falls. It definitely looked man made, but for what purpose?

We continued along the river walk where tall trees provided shade along a path lined with benches. We passed families with strollers, couples holding hands, and a father and son with fishing poles wagging over their shoulders. Then we came across the Idaho Falls Hydroelectric Bulb Turbine Project sign. I had never heard of this kind of power plant, could we possibly take a tour? We would have to wait until Monday to find out.

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Mr. Moose at the Greenbelt

Needing to replenish our fresh fruit and vegetable bins, we checked out the Saturday Farmers Market. At first, we were disappointed when crafts dominated the booths. But it turned out that the empty lot on one side of the street was for the craft vendors and the produce vendors were set up in the parking lot behind a bank, along with face painting for the kids, kettle corn, bread, jams, and sauces.

Afterward, an offer of “Free Taters for Out-of-Staters!” enticed us to visit the Idaho Potato Museum. They have a short video on growing and cultivation of the potato. A timeline depicts the introduction of the potato from the Andes to Europe by the conquistadors in the 1500s through the early 1800s when Henry Harmon Spalding, a Presbyterian missionary, introduced the potato to the Oregon Territory in 1836. Also included is the development of the Russett Burbank, or Netted Gem. Historians believe Mormon colonists were the first settlers to plant, grow, and harvest the tuber three years before Idaho joined the Union as a state.

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Idaho Potato Museum

A few things I learned about potatoes:

  • the potato plant and its berry-like fruit are poisonous to animals and humans,
  • farmers can harvest the spuds anytime after the plant dies back and before the first freeze,
  • don’t store potatoes with onions because they emit gasses that cause faster spoilage when they are together.

Oh, and our reward for touring the museum? A box of Hungry Jack Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes. Yum! A side dish to pair with barbecued chicken.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was our next outing. As we drove up the road toward the park, visions of the Hawaiian Islands lava flows came to mind when we spotted miles and miles of lava rock, cinder cones, and buttes created between 2,000 and 15,000 years ago by the Great Rift volcanic eruptions.

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Panoramic View Looking East

The monument, at an average elevation of 5,900 feet above sea level, includes three lava fields and about 400 square miles of sagebrush steppe grasslands for a total area of 1,117 square miles. The monument receives between 15-20 inches of rain per year that eventually appears in springs and seeps in the walls of the Snake River Canyon. Now we know at least one source of all the water we saw in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Craters of the Moon was the best example of the National Park system I have seen. With well-maintained paved roads, above par signage with stats on trail mileage, elevation increases/decreases, and even the width of the path, it looked to be a model for other facilities. The park service is currently redoing the campground and as I imagined the landscape draped in moonlight, the word spooky came to mind.

We poked our heads in Dewdrop Cave, but we weren’t prepared like other visitors with their headlamps strapped around their foreheads. A permit is also required to enter Dewdrop and three other caves that spelunkers can explore. I think my favorite part was seeing the out-of-place pine trees, monkeyflower, syringa, and bitterroot growing from the basalt on the older lava flows, the little ground squirrels scurrying around, and pygmy rabbits blending in with the scenery.

We would like to return to Craters of the Moon someday, spend more time, maybe even venture into a couple of caves, and experience the place at night. Although, snagging a spot at the new campground might be a challenge.

On our way back to base camp we stopped at the yellow structure created by John Grade titled Spur, which was inspired by the lava tubes at Craters of the Moon.

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Spur Created by John Grade

Further up the road in Arco, stands a hill speckled with numbers. Each year, high school seniors paint the year of graduation on the hill.

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Arco Graduation Date Hill

The day had arrived for our private tour of Idaho Falls Power. We learned of the Teton Dam collapse in 1977 that destroyed an existing electric power plant along the river and that the construction of the Bulb Turbine project occurred between 1978 and 1982. Matt Evans, our tour guide, led us downstairs to a hatch in the floor that allowed us to see a turbine casing. They are similar in size to the ones used at Shasta and Hoover dams except they are placed on their sides, not upright.

The water flows through the facility at one end (picture with branches in the water) to power the turbines and exits at the other end (picture with swirling water) to continue its journey to Twin Falls and beyond. We had driven by the building a few days earlier and never guessed there was a power plant below the river surface. The distinctive landmark is the orange and white water tower shown in the farmer’s market picture above.

The apparatus we saw along the river walk diverts water for use at the power plant and releases the excess to create the falls. The plant channels 6000 cubic feet per second of water through the turbines to produce up to 8000 kilowatts of energy each. There are two other plant sites in the city and combined they produce approximately 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

After the tour, we drove around town and found The Protector, an eagle monument believed to be the largest in the world. Created by Vic Payne and installed in 2006 for McNeil Development, it is the focal point in the center of a roundabout.

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The Protector by Vic Payne

With clean clothes, a stocked refrigerator, and reservations at Yellowstone Mountainside KOA, we were ready to hit the road again for our next adventure.

Twin Falls, Idaho

Golden-brown russet  potatoes, the kind we use for Thanksgiving dinners, came to mind as I switched the map from Nevada to Idaho. But I will forever associate Twin Falls, Idaho with water. Twin Falls is one of eight counties in south-central Idaho known as The Magic Valley. In the early 1900s, an enterprising individual convinced investors to build a canal system to carry water from the Snake River to the surrounding desert populated with sagebrush and grass. Remove the sagebrush, add water, and poof. Out pops fertile farmland.

Lush bright-green acres of potatoes, kale, and corn welcomed us as we neared Twin Falls. Golden fields of hay ready for harvest along with cattle and dairy farms rounded out the agricultural offerings. Our jaws dropped when we passed the first of many farms with giant Rainbirds spraying water on the crops and swamping the fields. Coming from California where every drop is precious and conservation is drilled into the residents at every turn, we could only think how wonderful it would be to have access to such an abundance of water. The reddish-orange color in the sunset sky is smoke from fires burning near Boise, 150 miles northwest from Twin Falls.

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Water, Water, Everywhere

We arrived at Anderson Camp RV Park, our new home for the next three nights, on July 26. The park offered shady, grassy spots with plenty of space between the neighbors. Anderson Camp is a well-maintained older park with a pool and twisty waterslide (for an extra fee). They have cabins to rent and space for tents. If we stop here in the future, we’ll be sure to ask for a site without a walnut tree. The birds and squirrels stripped the nuts of their shells and scattered the debris all over the picnic table, trailer, and truck and in the morning, we woke to little bombs hitting the roof of the trailer.

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Anderson Camp RV Site.

On the drive down the gorge toward Shoshone Falls, water gushed from the basalt canyon walls. One of the locals told us it was the dry season since the farmers had diverted much of the water to drench their crops. His definition of ‘dry season’ was wildly different from ours after living in a drought state for five years.

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Panoramic of Shoshone Falls and Snake River

The Shoshone Falls reminded me of a miniature version of the Niagara Falls. I can’t imagine what the water cascading over the boulders would be like at full strength. We saw pictures that showed the falls stretching from one side of the canyon to the next.

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Shoshone Falls Observation Deck

 

 

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Shoshone Falls

 

 

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House at top of Shoshone Falls

 

Dierkes Lake and the adjacent park, a favorite for residents and visitors alike, offers swimming, fishing, and picnicking in the cool shade of the large trees.

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Dierkes Lake

 

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Dierkes Lake Park

 

The current Hansen Bridge, built in 1966, spans 258 feet and is 350 feet tall. It replaced a suspension bridge built in 1919. Before the bridge was built, travelers used rowboats to cross the gorge. More smoke is evident on the horizon.

 

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Hansen Bridge

 

 

A kiosk on the south side of Hansen Bridge described the impact on the Snake River Plain from the Lake Bonneville Flood, which is believed to have occurred 15,000 years ago. Imagine a late Pleistocene lake covering 19,691 miles in northwest Utah releasing water at a rate of 15 million cubic feet per second into southeastern Idaho and on to the Columbia River in Oregon. The Great Salt Lake in Utah is what remains of Lake Bonneville. Also noted was how the emigrants followed the river on their way to Oregon stopping for a respite in Twin Falls. Another board told of entrepreneurs who developed the canal system promising a Magic Valley, and of other people who provided the goods and services to the new inhabitants of the territory or transport across the divide.

 

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Hansen Bridge Kiosk at the Overlook

 

Twin Falls Visitor Center offers maps and pamphlets of other sites to see in the surrounding areas. A walk under the highway leads to The Twins sculpture crafted by David Clemons and provides one of many perspectives of the Perrine Bridge that rises 486 feet above the Snake River. Its span is 1500 feet from rim to rim.

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View of Canyon from Northside of Perrine Bridge

 

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Snake River

 

 

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Perrine Bridge and Snake River

 

 

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The Twins by David Clemons. Perrine Bridge in background.

 

The dirt berm rising from the right side of the canyon is where  Evel Knievel attempted his jump across the river.

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Evel Knievel’s Snake River Jump Site

On our way to Hagerman Fossil Beds, we came across the Hagerman Sheep Monument, a tribute to the Basque sheepherders who settled in the area. The monument included statues of sheep, a sheepherder, and a replica wagon equipped with stove, sink, and bed just like a small trailer you might see today.

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Hagerman Sheep Monument

 

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Hagerman Sheep Monument

 

 

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Wagon at Hagerman Sheep Monument

 

Access points along the Snake River provide fishing, swimming, and boating. Loaner life vests are also available at some boat launches.

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River Access Point – Fishing Platform

 

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River Access Point

 

Another side trip was The Hagerman National Fish Hatchery. Outside in a demonstration pond, sturgeon and trout swam in the shadows.

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Sturgeon in the Demonstration Pond

Inside the building, we saw the zillion little fish in the tanks that one day will be planted in the lakes and river.

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Hagerman National Fish Hatchery Tanks with itty bitty fish swimming around.

We never did make it to the fossil beds. The ranger at the Forest Service Office recommended Thousand Springs State Park and Ritter Island instead due to the hot weather. More falls, water gushing from the canyon walls, and ankle-deep water  provided  a break from the heat of the day.

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Ritter Island

The Thousand Springs Hydroelectric Power Plant acquired in 1916 and updated in 1921 generates 8800 kilowatts. The castle-like architecture creates a sense of whimsy to what would otherwise be another hunk of concrete and steel.

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Idaho Thousand Springs Hydroelectric Power Plant

Our last day in Twin Falls, we went to the Rock Creek Station and Stricker Home.

 

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Panoramic View of Stricker Home Site

 

The cabin building in the photo was a store, a post office, and polling place from 1879 – 1897. The mounds behind the building are cellars, one wet, and one dry. I wanted to look inside the dark earthen cave, but thick cobwebs draped the doorways. No way was I going to pass through them into a spider infested space. To the right of the store once stood a station where stagecoaches stopped to change out their horses.

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Rock Creek Station

A creek runs behind the white house that was built in 1901. Apparently, there were up to forty buildings during the stagecoach days. This property must have been an oasis after traveling in a stagecoach across miles of dry land and sagebrush. Tours of the fully furnished house are available.

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Stricker Home

One last stop before we headed off to Idaho Falls. Centennial Waterfront Park is a great place to rent a kayak, eat a picnic, hike the trails, find rocks to climb, or . . .. We walked along a path at the water’s edge under shade trees and watched the kayakers glide across the water.

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Centennial Park with Perrine Bridge in the background
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Kayaks gliding across the water. Perrine Bridge in the background.

After three fun-filled days, it was time to move on. “Idaho Falls, here we come.” I expected to see a lot more water coming our way.

Elko, Nevada – Part 3

Always on the lookout for a tour of some kind, Jon and I lucked out getting reservations for one at a working gold mine. We met the bus and tour guide, Derek Sikes, at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko. Derek showed a short video of how the Newmont Mining Corporation produces 60-pound gold bars from tons of earth that contain microscopic traces of gold. We boarded a bus that took us to the Gold Quarry Mine thirty miles west of Elko and north of Carlin. Once the bus entered the gate, traffic switched to the UK pattern of driving on the left side of the street. This is so the drivers of the earthmovers can see objects in their way. I found it disconcerting to see these giants lumber toward our dwarfed bus in between tall berms that mark the streets’ route.

The bus pulled up next to one of the gigantic earthmovers, and we all got out marveling at the big yellow beast with tires almost twice Jon’s height of 6’ 2”. A petite young woman climbed into the driver’s seat, started the motor, and caused the behemoth to shimmy like an elephant wearing a tutu. Then she raised the bucket to simulate how the ore is dumped.

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Perspective – JT is 6’2″
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Two-story Earthmover. The berm in the background conceals a road on the other side.

Our next stop was the pit where the company started its mining activity in 1979. Since then this site has produced 20 million ounces of gold and estimates show an additional 7 million remains. The pit is 1.5 miles across and 1900 feet deep. Production plans call for them to dig down another 300 feet.

On the left side of the pit, are terraced walls while on the right side the wall slopes evenly. This is due to a slide that occurred. Engineers monitor sensors that detect such an occurrence. Fortunately, the company was able to stop activity at the mine so no one was injured during the slide.

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Gold Quarry Mine Pit
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Earthmovers waiting for a load on the other side of the pit.

Newmont is also working an underground mine at this location. Buildings, a tractor, and an entrance to a tunnel are shown here. From the rim of the pit, the tunnel entrance appeared small but after watching one of the earthmovers disappear through the dark hole in the side of the mountain we got a sense of its size.

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Underground Mine Tunnel

The technology of mining for gold sure has changed since the Gold Rush era when men waded up to their knees in a river and sifted sand and pebbles with tin pans to find little nuggets.

The next day we took NV-225 north from I-80 on the way to Tuscarora Ghost Town. Left at NV-226 took us through canyons, rolling hills, and sagebrush where ranches sprinkled the landscape. The turn off at County Hwy-723 made us a little leery about driving on the gravel road, but we found that it was in better condition than many of our California paved roads. Although considered a ghost town, people still live and even work in Tuscarora.

The Tuscarora Cemetery greets visitors on the right and as the road curves into town, the post office sits on the left. Next to the post office is the museum, which is only open on Sunday. Evidence of old mineshafts is marked with mounds of dirt used to cover the gaping holes. Many of the lots contain ruins of homes, rusted out cars and trucks. Even tin cans and bed springs litter the grounds of what once was a large house or hotel with facing fireplaces. Although some of the buildings look like rundown shacks with their weathered wood siding, tin fences, and overgrown grass, a few residents inhabit other homes, and modern cars seem out of place in this once thriving community.

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Tuscarora Nevada Cemetery
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Gas Station Ruins Tuscarora Nevada
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Tuscarora Nevada Museum
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Bed springs and tin cans littered the area near the fireplaces
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Facing Fireplaces. Was this a house or a hotel?
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Tuscarora ruins or occupied cabin and trailer?

Whenever I cross paths with a cemetery, a desire takes hold to stop and wander among the mausoleums and tombstones with etched names and dates on granite or simple crosses, and around the protective wood and iron fences. I wonder about the lives of the people laid to rest. Take the simple markers for Kate and T.C. Plunkett. Who was this couple, when did they come to Tuscarora, was James their son, and what was the secret to their long lives?

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Tuscarora Cemetery Gravesite
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Plunkett Gravesites Tuscarora Cemetery

The town boasts The Tuscarora Summer Pottery School where a person can spend two weeks learning about and creating pottery. Our friendly tour guide, one of the students, said she had made some 60 pieces so far. Simple but comfortable accommodations are provided in the once-upon-a-time hotel, along with three meals per day.

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Tuscarora Hotel and Pottery School
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Students at Tuscarora Pottery School
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Tuscarora Pottery School Kiln
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Finished Pottery Pieces
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Art in the Garden Tuscarora Nevada

Not interested in making pottery? Nancy Harris McLelland, a retired writing teacher from Mendocino, offers one-on-one writing retreats. Her accommodations include a vintage Airstream  trailer or a cozy sheep wagon. Click on Nancy’s name above for more information.

We had been in Elko for six days, and every night we counted the RVers that pulled into their site and set up for the night. Each morning, the couples and families coiled up their electrical, water, and sewer hoses and stored their camp chairs and stoves before driving up the steep hill to the main road. I wanted to shout, no, don’t leave, stay awhile and explore. I was somewhat glad we ended up stuck in Elko. We would have missed a lot had we just passed through.

On Saturday, we took in a little local culture at the Nifty Fifty Family Fun Day held at the senior center. The advertisement announced a carnival, ’50s music, a soda shop menu, and a car show. We didn’t expect the show to be as big as the events produced by the GoodGuys four times a year at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, but we expected more than nine cars.

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Nifty Fifty Family Fun Day Elko Nevada

We decided to skip the outdoor 1950s movie night at the museum and headed out to Carlin Canyon. The National Historical Trail and wayside interpretive kiosks provided us another opportunity to visualize ourselves camping along the Humboldt River on our way from Missouri to California.

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A short stop at the Chinese Garden Nature Study Area and its algae infested pond completed our trip for the day.

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Pond at Chinese Garden
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Purple Thistle at Chinese Garden

On Monday, July 18, we arrived early for our appointment at the dealership and dropped off the truck with the anticipation we would be back on the road by Tuesday or Wednesday. No such luck. It would be another week before the parts would arrive. We enlisted help from General Motors customer service whose function is not to provide service, only to listen to complaints and pass them back to the dealership. At first, I was okay without having a vehicle to tool around in for a day or two. It gave us time to relax after our long drives to see the sights and catch up with the clothes washing. By the fourth day, however, I had developed camper fever from having our travel radius restricted to only a couple of miles. Finally, a loaner came in. My attitude improved markedly when I snuggled into the soft leather seats of the GMC loaner pickup. Yeah! We were free to roam again.

Now that we had wheels again, visiting a few more sights was in order. First up was a drive to Ruby Lake on the other side of Harrison Pass on County Road-718. We didn’t actually see the lake, though. A miscalculation of the fuel range in the loaner truck required us to turn around so we would make it back to town before running out of gas. The drive wasn’t as beautiful as Lamoille Canyon. It’s more of an off-roaders dream with different routes to explore the Ruby Mountains.

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Ruby Mountains Rock Formation

Our next drive was to Rio Tinto, another ghost town, and an abandoned National Forest Service complex on NV-225.

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Rio Tinto Ruin
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Abandoned Forest Service Complex
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Well House at Abandoned Forest Service Complex

The highlight of the ride was Wild Horse State Recreation Area and reservoir. The campground (not shown) looked like a great place to spend a couple of nights.

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Wild Horse State Recreation Area

Two weeks had been a week too long to stay put in one place. Now when I saw the RVers loading up and driving away, I wanted to shout, wait, take me along. We wished, hoped, prayed, and crossed our fingers and toes that we would be back on the road Tuesday morning.

 

 

 

 

Elko, Nevada – Part 2

Western movies and television shows sparked my interest in early American history. Stories about families loading up their possessions and joining a wagon train to travel 2,000 miles from Missouri to California are among my favorites. Hollywood rarely invests in this genre anymore, but the Bureau of Land Management’s California Trail Interpretive Center allowed me to imagine what life was like on the emigrant trail.

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California Trail Interpretive Center

The building sits above Interstate 80 on the west side of Elko, Nevada. Easy hiking trails behind the building take hikers to overlooks of the Humboldt River, South Fork, and the California Trail.

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JT reading California Trail outdoor display

A replica wagon train camp illustrated life on the trail. I tried to picture myself wearing a dusty and dirty petticoat, cotton dress, and bonnet, cooking the evening meal over a hot fire fueled by chopped wood or cow pies.

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California Trail Interpretive Center Wagon Camp
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Wagon Camp Cooking Pit

Inside, dioramas depict the daily chores and entertainment engaged in by the emigrants. Pioneer letters, lists of provisions, statistics on deaths, maps, timelines, and other information, rounds out the displays. I have to admire the courage of the emigrants who dared to make the 4 1/2-month trek, suffering disease, tragic accidents, starvation, and even death along the way.

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California Interpretive Center Diorama

Today we zip along the highway at 70 miles an hour tugging our mobile house with a bathroom, galley, refrigerator, and soft mattress. The next time an urge to complain about how far we have to drive, the trailer’s tiny bathroom, or my stuffed closet, takes hold of me, I’ll think about the emigrants walking next to their oxen and wagon and be thankful for our modern conveniences.

***

On Wednesday, a loop drive on Highway 229 took us through rolling green hills, another beautiful canyon, and cattle ranches.

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Lush Canyon Vegetation – No water shortage here

We marveled at the blue sky we encountered everywhere we turned. The rolled bales of hay, fermenting in the sun, dotting the wide-open landscapes were an unfamiliar sight. We were used to the rectangular bales.

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Rolling Green Hills and 900 LB Rolled Bales of Hay

In front of the gated Mustang Monument property was a perfect place to stop and eat a snack. We could see a few buildings in the distance but no farming equipment, no horses or other farm animals, and no other type of activity. My curiosity was peaked. It was time to search the internet. If you are in the market for an eco-resort or American safari, you can tailor your adventure to your liking for the reasonable price of $1950 a night for a cottage or $1650 a night for a luxury tipi. All meals, alcohol, and adventures are included. I wonder if we could get a discount for bringing our own accommodations.

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Mustang Monument Eco-Resort

We gave the truck a work out on Highway 231 for the 11 miles up to Angel Lake, our last stop on the loop drive. Waterfalls feed the small alpine lake at an elevation of 8,500 feet where fishing and canoeing are popular. Several picnic areas near the parking lot are tucked in around the vegetation, giving visitors a sense of privacy. Angel Lake Campground is adjacent to the lake, and Angel Creek Campground is down the hill at an elevation of 6,800 feet for campers who wish to stay overnight.

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Angel Lake Waterfall
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View of Angel Lake from Trail to Waterfall
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Angel Lake after Sunset

The truck continued running at full power. We had four more days traipsing around Elko. Would we find enough to do?