Craters of the Moon National Monument

We left the unbelievable Grand Teton NP and made our way into eastern Idaho.  Looking for a place to sleep for the night can be tricky, especially when we prefer to boondock (aka camp for free).  An app that we use to find BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land is US Public Lands .  Through this we were able to find Island Park Reservoir.  Twelve miles of potholes, washboards, and steep hilly roads gave way to a this beautiful oasis.  If you can brave the drive there are many beautiful places to park.  There are no toilets, no water, and no electricity so you are definitely “roughing it.”  After a few nights there we made our way toward Arco, Idaho.

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Our goal was to make it to Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve for the Perseid Meteor Shower.  Craters of the Moon is an International Dark Sky Park so we were hopeful to have some stellar views.  Unfortunately, on our drive to Arco, MichelVangelo started to overheat…to the point where we had to pull over and attempt to cool down in the 100 degree heat.  We found Gene Davies’ Automotive and explained our situation, well, Kate found a furry friend while I explained the situation. 

After a few hours and some gruff laughs from Gene, he said a new radiator was needed.  This was something we were expecting but, let’s be honest… it still sucks.  Gene said he had to order one from Tacoma, Washington but that we could still head to Craters while we waited for the part. 

dsc01148.jpgArriving at the park, we didn’t know what to expect. We had been driving through the high plains of southern Idaho where the landscape had been desert-like. Entering the park, you immediately notice the difference in scenery. Instead of sagebrush and grasses, the land is covered in jagged, black, volcanic rock. IMG_20180810_095120The park’s driving loop takes you through miles of dried lava beds and remnants of ancient volcano cones. Truly other-worldly as the park’s name suggests. We made our way to the visitor’s center where we had to get our “cave permits.” The ranger asked us if we’d been in a cave recently and some other qualifying questions until she stamped our wrists with a bat stamp, our “permits.”

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It was hot. In the heat of the day, with all that black rock, the “feels like” temperature was around 105 degrees. Needless to say, we tried to do all of our exploring in the morning or evening. We decided to go on a guided hike through Indian Tunnel, a dried lava tube, and unfortunately, it started at 1pm.

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Thankfully, we only had to walk about a half mile before the entrance of the cave and double thankfully, it’s about 20-30 degrees cooler underground. The cave was mesmerizing but, we decided we aren’t fans of “guided hikes.” We’d rather explore on our own :).

IMG_20180810_211941As mentioned earlier, Central Idaho is an International Dark Sky Preserve and at night, the sky was illuminated with billions of stars. We picked a good place to watch the meteor shower! Even with the smoke from the nearby wildfires, we were still able to enjoy the show and Kate worked on her hula hoop skills. The next day, we explored a few more caves (on our own this time).  Our guide from yesterday told us if a drop of water lands on you while in the cave it is called a “cave kiss.”  If you are lucky enough to receive one, you will have good luck for one year!  Katie was the lucky recipient of a kiss and instantly stubbed her toe on a sharp hunk of lava rock.  She hobbled her way back to the van, bloody toe and all… better luck next time? As the sun started to go down, we packed up a few supplies and headed out into the park. We climbed to the top of Inferno Cone, set up our chairs, and raised a few beers while watching the sunset. We left Craters thoroughly impressed. A well designed park with an incredibly unique landscape. It’s not the tree-lined, mountainous wild that you may expect from the west but, it is awe-inspiring in it’s own right.

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Remember that radiator issue? Well, we returned to Gene and he got MichelVangelo all fixed up.  Nothing like celebrating a month on the road in an auto shop! New radiator installed, we headed north hoping to leave the high plains heat in the rearview mirror. We made it to Ketchum, ID, a small town with a huge tourist boost, and proceeded to do what we usually do, found the local breweries. The first stop, Warfield Distillery and Brewery, the second, Sawtooth Brewery. 

Central Idaho was highly recommended by several people along the trip. One guy even called the town of Stanley, “Heaven.” After visiting, we can’t say we share the same affinity as that guy. I mean, the quote just doesn’t have the same effect, “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Stanley, Idaho.” We’ll stick with the original. However, the three days we spent travelling through Central Idaho were wonderful. The drive along the Salmon River was one of our favorite drives thus far. There is a free hot springs near Sunbeam and some amazing campsites right on the river.

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We crossed the border into Montana to meet up with our good friend Danny.  Kate has known Danny since first grade and I became very good friends with Danny during middle school and beyond.  He’s a giant, loveable, birdman and it was nice to see a familiar face on the road. We explored the city together including a stop at Missoula’s Insectarium (seriously, so cool) and rounded out the evening with a concert at the Kettlehouse Amphitheater. Great venue and even better show!

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That night, we camped about a half a mile from the venue and one of us mentioned to Danny that it looked like it was going to rain. Danny confidently replied, “It never rains in Missoula” and proceeded to set up his rainfly-less tent. Around 4 in the morning, I realized it was, indeed, raining. After a text went through unanswered, I eventually stuck my head out of the van and peered into an empty tent. Confused, I called out, “Danny, where are you?” The response came from much closer, “I’m under your van!” Never rains in Missoula, eh? In Danny’s defense, it had not rained in Missoula for something like 45 days. Good thing MichelVangelo has some high ground clearance!

Our second day in Missoula started with the local farmer’s market for breakfast before a round of frisbee golf in a nearby national forest. The afternoon though, was saved for a tubing trip down the Clark Fork River. We were expecting a nice, lazy river-esque float and what we got were class 5 rapids in some undersized tubes. OK, slight exaggeration. Overall, it was a nice float but, there were 2-3 sections that were ROUGH. So much so that we both dumped our tubes and had to scramble back on before getting pummeled by river rocks. Kate wasn’t so lucky during one of the overturns, slamming her leg against some rocks but, the more important victim on the day was the loss of my “Parker” hat…

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Cheers!

-Jason

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