Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Idaho Sampler

July 12, 2009

We are driving 375 miles across southern Idaho to get to Boise today. Boise was not on our itinerary until the time for our 30,000 mile car maintenance appointment neared, and a check with Lexus headquarters revealed there were no dealers in North or South Dakota, or Wyoming. The only dealer anywhere near the areas we planned to visit was in Boise, Idaho. We have a service appointment tomorrow, loaner car included, so we can see the sights while the car is in the shop.

So, here we are--leaving behind Jackson, Wyoming, with its Disneyesque version of Western and Mountain architecture and lifestyles, and heading into the vast plains of Idaho, where real Western life is a bit tougher.

As usual, our progress will be slowed by interesting sights along the way. We are slowed even more than normal, because Idaho's roadside rest stops are all scenic and historic, and have the exhibits to prove it.

One interesting rest stop was in a lava field that abruptly interrupted miles and miles of corn and potato fields. During a hike along a loop trail there, we learned that the lava here flowed up 30-50 miles through fissures in the earth, rather than erupting from a cone. It had the folded appearance of the Pahoehoe lava that we saw in the Galapagos earlier this year, and a sign confirmed our assessment. Idaho and the Galapagos have a common bond!

We were disappointed that we missed the opportunity to see the world's largest potato chip (24 inches by 14 inches) and other potato paraphernalia in the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, because the Museum is closed on Sundays.

We stopped for lunch at a highway rest stop which was located at an Oregon Trail historic site. We spread our picnic on a table in a shelter with a panoramic view of the Snake River flowing through a ravine below. Then we walked a path along a portion of the Oregon Trail, where we learned that there were really many Oregon Trails—as one became overgrazed by horses and livestock, the next group of settlers would find an alternate route.

No matter what route the settlers took, by the time they got to Idaho, they found the going very rough. The trail was so dusty that everything they owned was covered with it, and it made breathing difficult for both humans and animals. There were so many mosquitoes that the horses would be covered with them and bleeding by the end of the night. The settlers had to cover all of their bodies except their eyes when they ventured out amidst the swarming mosquitoes. Then there were the Native Americans, who eventually became a bit hostile, after the heavy traffic on the Oregon Trails wrecked some of their prime hunting areas and sacred places.

The miracle of modern irrigation has tamed the desert which was so brutal to the early settlers. Now mile upon mile of fertile potato, corn and grain fields line the highway, which roughly follows the route of the Oregon Trail. Often the road bisects the land, with an arid sage desert on one side, and a lush green field on the other.

Our favorite stop was in Twin Falls, where a bridge crosses a gorge gouged from the land by the Snake River, which flows 486 feet below. This is the only U.S. location that allows BASE jumping year-round without a permit. Our timing was perfect—while we were there we watched five people jumping off the bridge, their parachutes fully open just a short ten seconds or so (maybe less) before they landed. Apparently, this area is a magnet for daredevils—just about a mile upriver we could see the ramp that Evel Knieval used back in the 70s for an ill-fated attempt to jump the gorge on a rocket-powered motorcycle.

We made a quick stop in Bliss (pop. 275), just to take a classic tourist picture documenting our blissful state.

We also made a few more stops along the way to photograph birds. A particularly wonderful spot was beside a boggy farm field where there were hundreds of marsh birds—yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, white-faced ibis, and Franklin's gulls.

We got to Boise just before dinner time, and after checking into our hotel went directly to a most unique restaurant, Bardenay—the first (maybe the only) restaurant in the United States to have an in-house distillery. They pay as much attention to their beverages as their food, and have the biggest drink menu we have ever seen. We had tapas and interesting cocktails featuring Bardenay spirits. My drinks were a Huckleberry Lemon Drop (Bardenay Lemon Vodka, Triple Sec, fresh pressed sweet and sour, and huckleberry puree) and a Basil Instinct (Bardenay Gin, Patron Citronage, lots of fresh basil, fresh pressed sweet and sour and Margarita mixes).

As an added bonus, the street in front of the restaurant had been closed to traffic to accommodate a large street party for a convention. The street is in the Basque district of town, so the entertainers for the group were Basque musicians and dancers, which we could watch from Bardenay. There is a large Basque community here, descendents of shepherds who migrated from Spain to work on sheep farms in this area.

Once again, we have managed to pack more adventures into our day than we planned or imagined.

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