After Utah, we headed north and west, into southern Idaho, then Washington State, then back through northern Idaho.
Idaho was a pleasant surprise. It was a place neither of us had been, and we had few preconceptions (potatoes? militias?) about what we’d find. What we found was well-run state parks that showcased different kinds of dramatic natural beauty, and some hip towns.
June is a good time to visit. Temperatures were generally in the high 60’s though once we got into elevation we actually encountered snow – on the road and at our campsite at Lake Cascade.
Here are some of the highlights. A video summary of them is at the end of this section.
Idaho started off with a bang. Or maybe more of a blast. We’d read about an odd little local attraction called [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soda_Springs_Geyser][Soda Springs]] on our way to our first night of camping at Massacre Rocks. Just next to the parking lot behind a few local stores is a geyser called Soda Springs. The naturally carbonated water is supposedly drinkable, but I tasted some and wasn’t impressed. The geyser on the other hand was pretty impressive. Its eruptions come at nearly exact one-hour intervals on the hour. I was mystified by this surprising coincidence until I read on Wikipedia that the geyser is “activated” hourly. That takes away some of the mystique. Anyway, the huge eruption we saw lasted over 5 minutes. Visually it rivals Old Faithful, especially since you can get quite close to it.
Massacre Rocks State Park
Massacre Rocks is on the Snake River and was a popular stop on the Oregon Trail. There are high cliffs over the river that look like a good spot for a massacre, but apparently no massacre actually happened at Massacre Rocks. We spent a couple days biking (including on the old Oregon Trail itself) and hiking the hills and cliffs along the river. We found excellent views, and took many dozens of pictures trying to capture what we saw. Of course, that rarely works very well, but we did get a couple of good shots. Our campground site even included beautiful views of the river and cliffs. We only landed at Massacre Rocks because Castle Rocks was too much driving in one day, so it was an unexpected pleasure!
Castle Rocks State Park
Castle Rocks started with a lot of confusion. We followed the GPS to a place that didn’t look like a park and we didn’t see any camping. So we backtracked to the place called “City of Rocks” and didn’t find camping there either! Lack of any cell signal made it even trickier, since we couldn’t look stuff up. Going back to the original spot, we found a road seeming to lead off to nowhere, but after a few miles a nice campground appeared. Turns out the state park has two separate locations, and the campground is called “Smoky Mountain Campground, Castle Rocks” and is a long way from what’s labeled “Castle Rocks State Park”. Ugh!
We had quite a biking adventure at Castle Rocks. We took the trail, not knowing quite what to expect. After enduring some rather rough terrain, we encountered hikers whom we questioned about whether the rest was passable by bike. They were quite bullish on the idea, so off we went. We ran into even worse trail conditions. Very rocky spots, hills, gullies, sand, and even a stream! We emerged feeling victorious but tired, only to find we were only halfway up. We soldiered on, and fortunately it got a bit easier. That is until the surprise rain had us finding cover beneath some large bushes. After 10 minutes, it let up enough to continue. We eventually reached the top and found some spectacular views. But the black and ominous clouds overhead told us we would soon be drenched if we didn’t head back soon. We opted to take a dirt road instead of trails back downhill. A smoother ride, though more than double the distance.
We sped down the steep roads as fast as we felt was safe (up to about 25 mph) trying to outrun the downpour. Nope. It started, slowly at first, but at times it was rather heavy, and the stinging rain made it hard to see. The last few miles were paved fortunately, and the rain eventually became a sprinkle. Oh, well. We had a good laugh about it, and we made s’mores that evening to celebrate our victorious ride in the rain!
The next day, a final challenge awaited us. We drove Wanda through a section of amazing rock formations and views known as “City of Rocks National Reserve”. Mark saw on the map that we could get back to civilization by continuing forward 10 miles rather than a 30 mile backtrack. Bad choice. It turned out to be the most bone-jarring teeth rattling washboard nightmare ever. It was impossible to find a speed above about 5 mph that didn’t threaten to shake the RV apart. WE HATE WASHBOARD ROADS! So that wasn’t great, but we did see some amazing sights.
Bruneau Dunes State Park
Next stop was another “on the way” choice that turned out to be a good surprise. Bruneau Dunes has giant sand dunes to play on. We saw families with sleds going up and down. We were content just to hike the ridge and take in the sights. Oh, and run/slide down the steepest part. Good fun – as long as you don’t mind emptying your shoes afterward.
Boise seems like a cool town. There’s a long bike path that extends miles out of town. There are several large city parks. We parked at the Human Rights Memorial Park which was excellent. We walked from there to the capital building and the downtown area. It’s neat and modern, with a no-cars mall area. There are tons of fun looking shops, galleries and restaurants, which would be great to explore in non-Covid times. We hope to return.
Our original route had us going through Idaho to Oregon where we had a bunch of “points of interest” and great state parks to visit. However, Oregon parks remained almost entirely closed. Without those places to see, it no longer seemed worthwhile to visit on this trip – and besides, we’d already decided the whole western coast would have to wait until a future trip. So we turned north.
Lake Cascade State Park
We enjoyed lake views and a long hike in the meadows adjoining the park. We also experienced our one and only snowfall during the trip, even though at 35 degrees it wasn’t our coldest night.
Another cool city, smaller than Boise but just as hip, and a really beautiful setting right on Coeur d’Alene Lake. Wow, we’d love to return and spend more time here! For now, we settled for a stroll around the lakeside park, and a brief trip into town for ice cream. Another place for a future vacation stay!
Farragut State Park
After that we were headed up to a state park on huge Lake Pend Oreille. We both know a little French and guessed that the name referred to the lake’s vaguely ear shape. “Pend” is “hanging” – so hanging ear. Anyway, we ventured out onto the trails twice. First for a great hike along the western bank of the lake, and then the next day by bike, which let us cover more ground and get to a small nearby town. A big sign announced huckleberry shakes, a PNW favorite. Alas, they’d closed just 30 minutes before our arrival! We did eventually get huckleberry ice cream, so not to worry. :) Also, we rode the bikes to a lovely overlook area where Lori noticed a large engraved stone. Turns out, it was a poem that her 4th grade class was charged with memorizing. She still remembered the first two lines, and a few other phrases, but not too bad since, admittedly, 4th grade was a LONG time ago!
Here’s a video of our adventures in Idaho
And now, our brief detour into western Washington State…
We saw 3 interesting places in Washington. Great hiking and views at Fields Spring State Park, and unusual waterfall called Palouse Falls, and an afternoon in Spokane. A video follows at the end.
Fields Spring State Park
One of our favorite hikes of the trip was at Fields Spring State Park, WA. The hike was on a well-maintained path through lush forest, up and up and up until emerging above the tree line to an amazing grassy hilltop with views of mountains and river on 3 sides. Super pleasant. Too bad the park itself was not great. It wasn’t cheap, yet had no electric or water hookups, and the showers were coin-op. Lame! The park personnel also screwed up, telling us to “pick any spot” only to find out on our return from hiking that our spot had been reserved by someone else, and they were waiting for us to clear out. Fortunately our replacement site was fine. We had frequent visits from birds, that didn’t flinch at our presence. When Mark put a little bread crumb on our picnic table, the bird would boldly fly down and grab it. (we realized belatedly that you’re probably not supposed to feed them, oops!, but it was just a couple of crumbs)
The main attraction for our short visit to WA was a place called Palouse Falls. It’s a cool looking falls and the head of a deep canyon. There’s hiking all around the rocky cliffs surrounding the falls. Despite all the effort to get there, we almost didn’t get to see it. Just as we entered the rocky/washboard access road we saw a mobile sign flashing messages one after another. One said “No RVs”. But Mark said “screw it, we’ve come this far – if they stop us we’ll just say we didn’t see it!” And the road did get steep and windy and narrow! But when we finally got to the parking area near the falls, a park ranger simply waved us to a big overflow lot. Score! After a quick lunch, we spent the next several hours hiking the rim, finding one amazing view after the next. Cool spot!
From the falls, we headed north, and then experienced a significant milestone: turning East onto Interstate 90. How was that significant? After over 7 months on the road – south then west then north on our grand clockwise circuit – we had finally turned towards home. What an odd feeling!
In an hour or so we were in the city of Spokane on Washington’s
In an odd coincidence, a former coworker of Mark’s saw his Facebook check-in from Spokane and we discovered we’d just crossed paths. He had left from a stay on Lake Pend Oreille and were passing through Spokane headed west. We’d spent a few hours in Spokane at that very same time that he did, and we were headed east to Pend Oreille. Small world!
Here’s our Washington State video:
Next stop – MONTANA!