Mission: Explore Idaho

You’d be surprised how many Americans confuse “Ohio” and “Idaho” (and “Iowa,” too, for that matter). I guess it’s the vowel sounds. And perhaps the stereotype we’re all in some sense backwater. But the regions are very distinct: in climate, topography, demographics, population distribution… even religion. I knew this, even from afar. But I was excited to explore Idaho a bit further this week, as our family continues its vacation in the western United States.

My previous opportunities to explore Idaho have been limited. Our family had a pizza dinner in Victor, Idaho, back in 2018 — after a day of visiting Grand Teton National Park. And then we spent about an hour driving through the panhandle last week, on our way out to the Pacific Northwest. The last couple of days, however, we’ve had a chance to drive all the way from the Oregon border to the area known as the Magic Valley. We had a dinner stop in Boise. And we enjoyed an epic sunset drive across U.S. Route 20 to stay two nights in Carey, Idaho. I have to say that I’ve been very impressed. Granted: the sample size is still quite small — especially for such a large state. Still, it’s amazing how much we’ve managed to see in Idaho. And in how many different ways!

Running

I woke up this morning at 5:15 AM, eager to squeeze in a half-marathon training run in a new place before the rest of the family got up for other adventures. After some waking up and stretching, I got started with my run right as the sun started to rise. I followed gravel roads that split flat, irrigated farm land from scrubby, sagebrush hillsides. And though it might sound boring to some people, I seriously thought it was beautiful! Farmers plowed their fields with headlights on their tractors while I banged out 3.5 miles. Then, I got back to our rental house just in time to get the family ready to visit the Craters of the Moon.

Hiking

The dormant lava fields east of Carey are entirely terrestrial. But they really do feel out-of-this-world! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like it. At times, the landscape seems to be completely sterile, void of vegetation. Even the rocks feel different in one’s hands: lighter, shinier, clinking together like little glass bottles.

Spelunking

We loved scrambling up different cones and craters throughout the park. It really did make us feel like space explorers. But then we discovered the caves that run underneath the “surface of the Moon,” and it felt like our exploration jumped to a whole different level! Not everyone in our family was as fond of cave exploration (a.k.a. Spelunking) as I was — but we still got to explore a couple of different caverns and enjoy the dramatic temperature difference. Cold enough that we could see our breath and slip on patches of ice!

Cliff-Jumping

After a couple hours at the Crater of the Moon National Monument, we went back to our rental house to eat lunch and regroup. Elliot did some research the previous evening to identify a few different places where we might be able to jump from tall cliffs into deep water. So while we ate lunch, we deliberated the possibilities and decided to head to a place called Dierkes Lake near Twin Falls. It would take us more than an hour to drive there (and then we’d still have to come back again). But we figured it was another opportunity to explore Idaho. So why not?!?

Dierkes Lake ended up being a lovely place for cliff-jumping. The air was hot and dry. The water was deliciously cool. We experienced a little bit of frustration at the end of our time there because we tried to press our luck and find some more secluded “Lost Lakes” — but we had plenty of time to recover from the frustration on our ride back to Carey. And then we were ready for our last Idaho adventure.

Kayaking

One of the perks of our rental house was free use of kayaks! Our host helped us to load up the kayaks, park our minivan downstream, and then drive us a little ways upstream to start a three-mile float down Idaho’s Silver Creek.

It was such a peaceful way to experience the Idaho prairie! Red-winged blackbirds trilled on either side of us. A bald eagle soared directly overhead at one point. The boys got out to splash and swim a couple of times. We talked to a few Idahoans we encountered along the way: paddle-boarding and fly-fishing. When we reached the end of our river voyage, we were ready for some dinner, some showers, and some sleep.

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