Eerie yet Beautiful

Upon entering the park for the first time, I was met with a diverse flood of thoughts ranging from eerie to beautiful.  The land appears stark and foreboding, but if you look close, a vast array of life can be seen.Craters of the Moon

I was lucky to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve at the very beginning of wildflower season, and since arriving in Arco, Idaho, in early May, I’ve been dropping by the park regularly to keep an eye on the status of the craters of the moonwildflowers.   With each visit, more and more delicate beauties were popping up.

In early June, I was able to share this strange and scenic place with friends, Faye and Dave.

I believe the peak of wildflower season is suppose to be in mid June, but we thought our timing was darn good and were overjoyed with the abundance of blooms everywhere we looked during our early June visit.

Dave and I were going crazy with our cameras trying to capture the gorgeous periwinkle color of the Scorpionweed.

those wildflowers captivated our attention
Scorpionweed flowers captivated our attention

Since I’d had a few weeks to explore Craters of the Moon before Faye and Dave’s visit, I knew exactly where to find an abundance of wildflowers to photograph up close, but that would require a bit of a climb… a climb up the inferno cone.

it was hard to photograph 'inferno cone' and capture its size. Note the hikers on the trail - offers scale.
it was hard to photograph ‘inferno cone’ and capture its size. Note the hikers on the trail – offers scale.
me climbing the Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon
me climbing the Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon

With less than a half mile up and back, this large, black, barren hill is worth the 160 foot elevation gain.  Once at the top, there are views in all directions and a surprise bonus of wildflowers.  We were also able to observe the spatter cones from above.

At the top of inferno cone - views of spatter cones
At the top of inferno cone – views of spatter cones

What exactly are these cones?  A cinder cone, like the inferno cone, are formed when gas-rich volcanic froth erupts high into the air then falls back to earth forming a huge mounded pile of cinders.  Spatter cones are miniature volcanoes that form when thick, pasty globs of lava plop up to the surface, piling up in the shape of a cone.

Craters of the MoonThe volcanic nature of the park, creates a lunar like terrain.  So much so, that NASA routinely uses Craters of the Moon NM for research and development.  In 1969, Apollo Astronauts prepared for their moon mission here at Craters of the Moon.

Next week, the Mountain View RV Park (our work camping home this summer) will be hosting a large group of NASA scientists/engineers, which will keep all of us super busy for a two week period.  All hands on deck!

After Faye, Dave, and myself hiked the inferno cone, it was time to explore another interesting geological feature – a lava tube.  Lava or magma?  Hot, molten rock from deep within the earth is called magma. When magma erupts onto the earth’s surface, it’s called lava.  A lava flow that hardened on the outside while the lava still flowed within, creates a lava tube.

me inside Indian tunnel lava tube
me inside Indian tunnel lava tube

There are several lava tubes in Craters of the Moon that are accessible for exploring, but most are geared toward those familiar with caving.  Since we didn’t fall into that category, we opted to hike the Indian tunnel cave/tube which is clearly marked and offers enough daylight to explore without a flashlight.  There is one short section though where I thought the aid of a little artificial light was helpful.

There is a fair amount of rock scrambling involved in this hike, especially at the end of the tunnel where we exited out of a small hole.

The exit
The exit
Me exiting Indian tunnel lava tube
Me exiting Indian tunnel lava tube

Before embarking on any lava tube exploring, a permit is required.  The permit is free and is simply a matter of answering a few questions at the visitor center regarding any previous caving.  This is for the health of the bat population and to stop the spread of white nose syndrome.

Yes, we were hiking down in there!
Yes, we were hiking down in there!

I have to admit, the first time I hiked the lava tube, I was extremely uncomfortable.  This time around, I knew exactly what to expect and was familiar with the general area of the trail.  Thus, the second time around was much more enjoyable.  Oh, and entertaining company always helps 😉

me, Dave, Faye inside Indian tunnel lava cave tube
Me, Dave, Faye inside Indian tunnel.  Dave enjoyed introducing us as “his wives” to fellow hikers.

Although the caving was a fun experience, those wildflowers were calling.  And several more stops were in order.  Over 600 different types of plants have been identified growing in Craters of the Moon.

Dave stalking wildflowers!
Dave stalking wildflowers!

We stayed on the road to photograph the stunning display of wildflowers.  These delicate plants have to overcome a lack of moisture, meager soil conditions, and surface temperatures that can exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  The thought of accidently stepping on one of these beauties, was not an option.  Respect and admiration for these tough little things were at the forefront of our minds as we took in the amazing sight.

Cryptantha
Cryptantha
Scorpionweed and Dwarf Buckwheat
Scorpionweed and Dwarf Buckwheat

Equally as striking were the carpets of pink produced by the Dwarf Monkeyflower.  If there was any open space, the Monkeyflower was eager to fill it.

a pink carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflower
a pink carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflower

Monkeyflower

Dwarf Monkeyflower up close
Dwarf Monkeyflower up close

Thank goodness for digital photography or I fear Dave and I would’ve easily run out of film.  Eventually, we returned back to camp where Al was eagerly awaiting our return.  While we were having fun, he was busy building picnic tables and seems we all had worked up an appetite.

Al, Dave, Faye, and me at our place at in Arco, Idaho
Al, Dave, Faye, and me at our place in Arco, Idaho

We enjoyed a healthy meal of grilled chicken, baked potatos, steamed broccoli, followed by my somewhat healthy carrot cake cupcakes.  For my carrot cake cupcake recipe, click here.

I’m sure as the summer progresses, I’ll continue to visit Craters of the Moon, but up next, Al and I take a vacation!

Craters of the Moon
Syringa growing in a crevice

Live life to the fullest.  Don’t let the weeds smother out your flowers – unknownWildflowers

Here’s my latest addition to my arsenal of photography toys…. after having a camera topple from a fence post, I felt it was time to invest in a light, easy to carry, tripod.JOBY GorillaPod Hybrid Tripod for Mirrorless and 360 Cameras – A Flexible, Portable and Lightweight Tripod With a Ball Head and Bubble LevelJoby gorilla pod

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Waterfalls and Jumping off a Bridge

Life has been anything but boring lately.  This summer, I find myself living in a small town with a population of less than 1,000.  Now keep in mind, I’ve been to plenty of small towns including the one my husband grew up in located in northern Illinois, but I’ve never spent this much time living in the hinterland. craters of the moon

I’m not complaining, but I grew up in the Chicago suburbs with excellent shopping mere minutes away and even our RV travels keep us somewhat near a major city (whether parked or driving by).  So now here I am in Arco, Idaho, with the nearest Walmart, Target, Kroger, Home Depot, etc. over an hours drive away which requires me to do a little better planning than I’m accustomed to.  I’m notorious for going to the store and coming home with everything but the one thing I went there for.  When we’re in Phoenix, Denver, Corpus Christi or any of our other favorite places, running back to the store is no big deal.  It’s a big deal around here, especially when my drive to the store looks like this…

My drive to Walmart
My drive to go shopping!
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Just a little further!
Just a little further!

The little town of Arco does offer a mom and pop grocery store and in a pinch I’m grateful they usually have what I’m looking for.  I do most of my major shopping about every seven to tens days.   Since I have a six cubic foot refrigerator, stocking up has a whole new meaning when compared to having the luxury of a residential size refrigerator.  Some planning and adeptness with puzzles goes a long way when it comes to living in small spaces.

After ‘stocking up’, Al doesn’t even attempt to open the frig door for fear of one of those puzzle pieces falling out which usually leads to a domino effect with half the frig items on the floor.   “Watch those toes!”   Nope, no dull moments around here.

Since I’d already shopped a couple of times in the big city of Idaho Falls (population 60,000), I thought I’d head in another direction – Twin Falls (population 46,000).  Not only did I have my long list of shopping items with me, I had directions to two sites I just HAD TO SEE.

BASE jumpers - Perrine Bridge
BASE jumpers – Perrine Bridge

To get to Twin Falls, I had to drive over the Perrine Bridge – one of those must see sites on my list.  And oh, what a sight!  Yes, the bridge itself is a work of art, but the draw is the jumpers – BASE jumpers to be precise.

No, that is not me saying, "WEEEE!"
No, that is not me saying, “WEEEE!”

This landmark bridge spans the Snake River Canyon just north of the town of Twin Falls, Idaho.  It’s a four-lane truss arch span about 1,500 feet in length (457m) and sits 486 feet above the river (148m).  Folks from around the world (about 5,000 crazy people a year) visit the Perrine Bridge to literally jump off the bridge.  It’s legal, hassle free, and no permit required.

Two at a time!
Two at a time!
Everyone has their own style of jumping
Everyone has their own style of jumping

BASE jumping is similar to sky diving but instead of jumping out of a plane, a thrill seeker will jump off a fixed object like a bridge and deploy a parachute.  BASE is an acronym for buildings, antennas, spans, and Earth –  BASE jumpers practice their sport from any of these elevated places.

Note the jumper - black/green chute over the river.
Note the jumper – black/green chute over the river.

As I stood there watching, I wondered how does one go about practicing this sport?  It’s not as if you can jump right in (or rather off), go splat, and request a do over.  Yes, people do die doing this and I noticed at the landing point along the shore of the river that there does appear to be a memorial, although I didn’t confirm.

Looks like a memorial near the landing site
Looks like a memorial near the landing site

There’s a beautiful, new visitor center near the southwest end of the bridge with plenty of parking for any size vehicle.  The views of the bridge and canyon are spectacular and there’s easy access to the trail along the canyon rim.  The trail goes under the bridge and there’s a pedestrian walk-way on both sides of the bridge to take in the amazing scenery.  The visitor center is a year-round launching point for those interested in parachuting to the canyon floor.  So are you ready to jump off a bridge?  Schedule a jump with Tandem Base – I’ll watch 😆

WildflowersSince I had a long list of shopping to do, I parked by the Best Buy on the southeast side of the bridge instead of the visitor center and stopped to watch the jumpers in between my stops into TJ Maxx, Best Buy, and Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Soon I was off to my other “must see” site.

The weather was so, so with storms rolling in and out and I began to wonder if it would be worth the stop.  I rolled down my window in the pouring rain for the attendant to collect the $3.00 entrance fee.  I’m pretty sure it should’ve been free when I showed him my National Parks Pass, but he said no, it was only the senior park pass for free admittance.  With both of us getting drenched it wasn’t worth questioning any further and I handed over the three bucks and drove on.  The moment I had the truck parked, the storm clouds moved on and the falls presented its visitors with a beautiful rainbow.

Shoshone Falls
Shoshone Falls

Shoshone Falls is quite often referred to as the Niagara of the West, and tumbles 212 feet to the canyon floor – 50 feet further than the famous Niagara.  Spring is the best time to visit Shoshone Falls.  Later in the year, cliffs may be nearly dry, as most of the river’s flow is diverted to produce hydroelectric power and irrigate Idaho’s fertile farmlands.  Here’s a link to a live webcam to see just how much water is flowing at any given time.Shoshone Falls

Shoshone FallsThere’s plenty of hiking opportunities along the canyon rim including a hike to the famous Evel Knievel jump site.  Because of the weather, I personally didn’t see the Knievel jump site or hike any of the trails.  I understand the jump site is basically a dirt ramp remnant from Knievel’s failed attempt to jump over the Snake River.  I was a little disappointed the weather was so inclement.  Once the raindrops started falling again, accompanied by thunder, I knew that was my cue to  move on and run those errands.Shoshone FallsThis is when my day got real interesting.  Remember that long shopping list?  Well, I still needed to go to Walmart and Costco.  I had a general idea where they were located but for some reason I turned left when I should’ve turned right.  It was late afternoon on a Saturday.  The rain was pouring and traffic was congested.  I drove through the historic downtown area and immediately realized my faux pas.   “Hmm, where to turn, where to turn?”  There seemed to be a lot of traffic heading north on a particular road. Thus, I followed thinking it had to be a main road that would put me back in the right direction and help lead to the general area I was looking for.

MarmotOops, I was almost at the plant gate showing up for second shift.  I quickly did a U-turn and then another turn.  I knew I needed to go in a northeast direction but with the heavy rain and dark skies, I couldn’t find the sun to verify my direction.

I usually have a great sense of direction, and  I did feel I was traveling north, but the signs and poor visibility had me second guessing myself.  I kept thinking to myself…. I’ve successfully navigated cities two to three times larger than Twin Falls.  It can’t be that difficult to figure out where to go.

I soon found myself out in the country with the cows and critters and no place to stop and ask for directions (not that I’m quick to ask for directions – we definitely suffer from role reversal in this household).  I rarely admit to being lost.  I get turned around all the time, but not lost. In this instance I was truly uncomfortable and not sure where I was.  Yes, I was lost!  I pulled off on the side of the road to ask Siri for help only for her to respond with a “I’m sorry, I can’t connect.  Try again later”….  are you kidding me, no cell service!  And Hildi, our annoying GPS, was back at the RV getting updated.

Shoshone FallsI pulled out the Atlas, which wasn’t much help either.  It only confirmed I needed to go northeast.   I sure could’ve used an Idaho Benchmark Atlas which offers a lot more detail. (We have Benchmark’s for AZ and CO)

Finally, I turned around, retraced some steps, and pointed the truck east thinking I’d hit town eventually, which I did.  I finally made it to Walmart although frazzled and tired. I quickly filled the shopping cart with only the items on my list.  After all,  I still needed to go to Costco for the RV Park owner’s list.

Would you believe it took me over fifteen minutes to navigate the Costco parking lot?  Congestion was worse than I’ve ever seen in Phoenix.  I was so ready to head home and blow off this stop, but I made a commitment to pick up a list of items.  Don’t even get me started on the check out lines.  With all my errands and sightseeing complete, I hit the road for my nearly two hour drive home, and finally made it back to the RV shortly after 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see…. I didn’t jump off a bridge.  I didn’t slide down a waterfall.  I managed to get myself un-lost without any help.  I didn’t go postal in Costco.  And I made it home in one piece without any road rage.  All in all, I’d say it was a great day!

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a Ride!” – Hunter S. Thompson

Idaho Benchmark Road & Recreation Atlas

I finally found some good hiking socks!Thorlos Womens Lite Hiking Thin Padded Ankle – Low Cut Socks | LTHMXW