From our campsite at the Beaver Dick Park near Rexburg, we enjoyed a few out and back day trips exploring eastern Idaho. After spending two months in this state, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. The land around here is some of the most diverse I’ve ever seen.
July 2016 – home base was situated among rolling agricultural land. One of our day drive excursions took us past green and golden fields that were occasionally interrupted by quaint towns, small subdivisions, farms and ranches. Fifty miles northwest of Idaho Falls, hills of fine white sand loomed in the distance.
Talk about a playground fit for any age with a diverse landscape that is extremely intriguing ….. huge sand dunes that are bordered by freshly harvested fields to the south, brush-covered lava plain border the north, and a body of water that sits at its base (Elgin Lake). Fun recreation abounds!
These out-of-place sand dunes spill across the Snake River Plain in a wide arc and provide endless OHV adventure (off highway vehicle). St. Anthony Sand Dunes consists of 10,000 acres of dunes rising 400 feet up and look to be quite the thrill…. check out this video….
I did try talking Al into renting a razor for the day, but alas, one of us needed to be the voice of reason. So that means, I did not get to experience those amazing sand dunes up close and personal…. sigh. However, hubby did promise – if we ever find ourselves in this part of Idaho again, we would definitely camp at St. Anthony and rent an OHV.
After getting that promise in writing (LOL), it was time for us to head north to the little town of Ashton. You see, our daughter’s name is Ashton and I just had to get a photo of the town sign, AND she is definitely my adventurous child. Thus, this sign seemed fitting.
But the town of Ashton wasn’t the only reason for us to head in this direction …… The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. This thirty mile scenic road meanders through the Targhee National Forest.
The combination of rolling meadows, pine woodland, and views of rushing water was a visual delight.
The major tourist stop along this route is Upper Mesa Falls. The Big Falls interpretive center is a great place to learn about the geology and history of the area.
From the interpretive center there are several developed trails, allowing visitors to view the falls and rushing water below.
Upper Mesa Falls is 200 feet wide and drops about 110 feet, and although I found the area to be difficult to photograph, the setting was perfect for a picnic lunch. While munching away, we breathed in the fresh scent of pine as the sound of rushing water below and singing song birds above serenaded us.
Our picnic table was pleasantly located under the shade of pines near a meadow filled with wildflowers. Yep, great place to relax and enjoy our lunch .
We did stop at lower Mesa Falls, but the view is from a roadside overlook and the falls are pretty far away. The view was a bit of a disappointment and almost not worth the stop, but there were some large informative signs that enlightened us on the flora, fauna, wildlife, and geology in the area making it worthwhile after all.
Personal opinion ….. Upper Mesa Falls definitely has better views than lower Mesa Falls. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit.
Other Idaho note worthy sights……
Henry’s Lake just north of Island Park and not far from West Yellowstone offers a state park with camping, but if you don’t mind driving to the other side of the lake, the Bill Frome County Park offers free dry camping. Donations are appreciated. Al and I had every intention of moving up to this location so we could explore West Yellowstone, but we had some commitments that required us to head east, thus the timing didn’t fit. Plus, I was starting to miss my beloved Colorado. We’ll save a stay at Henry’s Lake for another time.
If you own an OHV or are into four-wheeling, then you’d fit right in in eastern Idaho. Island Park was loaded with off-roaders having a great time tooling around the back country, but anglers seemed to enjoy the area equally as well with no shortage of places to test their hook and line.
Our last camping spot in Idaho was near the tiny town of Ririe – The Juniper Campground. We ended up staying here for a couple of nights so we could get caught up on household chores and stock up on supplies in nearby Idaho Falls. Tidbit – you can call the camp host to make a reservation at the Juniper Campground. If you do, please ask for his recommendation on sites. The map that’s on their website is out of date and labeled incorrectly.
From what we gathered, the majority of the time a reservation isn’t necessary but does give you the opportunity to secure one of the nicer sites. Many of the sites are unlevel or sloped which would make setting up a little more challenging for some RV’s. Therefore, checking with the camp host is a huge advantage. We thought the Juniper Campground was a gem of a park to stay while exploring this side of Idaho.
On a final note …… I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fascinating history found in Idaho. Idaho has done a fantastic job with signage; educating us on her past ….. reminders of those far more adventurous than today’s full-timing RVer’s. While I sit on a leather seat in the comfort of a climate controlled truck, pulling my equally comfy home behind me, complete with refrigerator and toilet (my two most important items), I envision the strength and fortitude it must have taken those pioneers to embark on that western migration via horse and covered wagon navigating the Oregon Trail.
Many lost their lives. Many decided to not travel any further and homestead here instead. Others came to Idaho seeking riches in mining. Whatever reason they had to leave behind all that was familiar, I can’t help but admire those that paved the path west.
After spending two months in Idaho, it was time for me to bid farewell to this diverse and fascinating state.
I hiked a Lava Tube for the first time, laid eyes on one of the most picturesque lakes I’ve ever seen, photographed a carpet of unusual wildflowers growing in the harshest of conditions, experienced the roar of powerful waterfalls, witnessed an extreme sport, and followed the trail blazed by Pioneers.
It was an interesting and fascinating visit filled with fond memories. Auf Wiedersehen Idaho …. until we meet again!