Idaho is one of those states that has never really crossed my mind. In fact, the sum total of my knowledge of this state could be condensed into two words: potatoes and flat.
And even then I’d only be half right….oh I have so much to learn about you Idaho.
Let’s start off with our accommodations at the Snake River Elks Lodge. It’s a lodge with a bit extra, for it has its own golf course. I personally think that’s a big deal, not only for the lodge, but as a state in general. I wouldn’t equate Idaho with a blossoming golfing industry. Florida, sure. Probably some of the warmer southern states with bigger retirement communities. But amongst the potato crops of Idaho? No, not really. Actually, as we traverse the southern portion of the state we learn this….Fact #1 – it appears you can’t swing a cat without hitting a golf course in Idaho.
The Elks Lodge community are very welcoming to us when we arrive. There are five people inside having casual drinks when we roll up, and one of them insists on buying us our first drinks to welcome us to the area. Our bartender informs us that today is ‘Wing Wednesday’, all chicken wings are 50c each, so we order some of those up and blow me down, they arrive within about 5 minutes, hot and crispy and delicious! Our fellow patrons ask about our travels and then proceed to tell us about all of the local things we need to go and see around the town, they talk about their summer harvesting and irrigation, they tell me about all of the British encounters they’ve ever had and even tell us about the funeral they are organising for their Lodge leader who has recently passed away. We’ve been here a total of half an hour and already we are part of the community it seems. Fact #2 – Idahoans are a down to earth, inclusive bunch.
We decide to base ourselves here on the outskirts of Twin Falls for a few days, enabling us to both be able to relax in the bus as well as to get out and see the area using The Beast.
My first day I spend sewing. This is not only my new relaxation hobby but I have, as always, planned an ambitious project which is on a deadline and so I really need to put in some effort into cracking on with my stitching. And for the record, just so nobody assumes I’m some sort of exceedingly amazing sewing expert, I know exactly one stitch (and I’m not even sure it’s a proper one) and some of my fabric already looks a bit wonky. But a least my project will be full of love and I hope that counts for something (this already reminds of being about 5 years old and making projects at school for my parents, which of course totally looked like a 5 year old had created them, but they had to be appreciative lest they risk breaking my little heart. And I’m almost positive my mum might still have a keychain I made for her when I was about 11 for a CDT project).
The following day sees us in tour mode. We load up in The Beast and head off for our first stop – the local Farmers Market.
It’s not quite what I expect when we arrive. The market consists of exactly 8 stalls in the garden of a farm house, and only 3 of them are selling produce – veggies, bread and cakes. The rest are selling local crafts – wooden items, clothing, bags etc. Still, we gamely wander around for ten minutes, look at the wares on offer and luckily find something to buy (I hate being one of those people who just take a gander at everything and then leaves with nothing; it makes me feel really guilty). One of the ladies is selling chocolate zucchini bread with nuts. Now Loops and I have previously tried zucchini bread somewhere and I can’t for the life of me remember where that was, but distinctly recall enjoying it; so we buy a small loaf from the lady for about $3. Fact #3 – the Idahoan lady at the weekly farmers market in Twin Falls sells excellent chocolate zucchini bread. I think I might have to try and find a recipe for it and test my baking skills again (there is after all only so many times you can eat a Victoria Sandwich).
Next we drive closer to town to check out the Centennial Park in Twin Falls and, well, it’s not quite what I was expecting either. For a start, when someone says ‘park’ to me, I imagine an open green space, like a perfectly manicured playing field or lawn, with maybe some scattered shrubs and flowers and even an artistic statue or two. What I didn’t expect was a drive down into a valley with small waterfalls on the rock face, a craggy natural cliff you could climb up on with an overlook of the river below and a beautiful industrial looking bridge in the distance (oddly reminiscent of the Pecos River Bridge in Texas). Fact #4 – Idaho does ‘town parks’ in a rather spectacular fashion it seems.
After having a gamble across the rocks and standing much too close to the edge for my mother’s comfort (I’m sure), we head of for the main attraction in this area – Shoshone Falls. Dubbed on all of their literature as ‘The Niagara of the West’, I’m once again not sure what to expect. I mean, that’s a pretty big claim for a smallish city in potato land, right? Maybe just a bit of a marketing ploy?
Well, not really. And this is coming from someone who has been to Niagara herself. Shoshone Falls is an impressive water feature.
The technical information of the falls is that it is they are 212 feet in height, which is actually 45 feet higher than Niagara’s 167 foot drop; but they are only 1000 feet in width compared to Niagara’s 2,200 feet. Still, it’s worth the $3 per car entry to visit the park where you can view them close enough to get a bath from the mist generated from the plunging waters. The only thing I will say is that the falls are a controlled waterway and we visited on a high water day; the falls were as large as could be, a roaring and churning mass of liquid. However, I did read some online reviews before we visited and some people had expressed dismay that the falls on low water days aren’t really worth the trip, but I can’t say for myself. I thought it was quite a sight to see. Fact #5 – Shoshone Falls deserves the title ‘The Niagara of the West’ – on high water days at least.
Having completed our designated sightseeing trip, we decide to venture further afield into some of the smaller villages out in the countryside, with a vague idea to try and visit another water feature that was a little off the beaten track. Caldron Linn is a natural water plunge, a small falls but hugely powerful, as the entirety of the Snake River is squeezed through a gap of 40 feet. It does not have an official viewpoint as such, there is no gated entrance, fee to pay, tourist shops etc. It is a natural landscape feature that is just as much worth seeing as Shoshone Falls and is actually better, in my opinion, because of the access you can have to it.
Once you found the unmarked country road leading to it, jostle down the gravel track and parked in the grass; you then need to find your own track to get right down to the water’s edge. You have the option of boulder hopping to gain access to the rippling water before the falls, or if you head off to the right-hand side of this rock area, you can simply walk through the tall grasses to stand practically right next to the waterfall drop off (or slightly above if you feel a little intimidated by it).
It’s impossible to hear anything apart from gushing, crashing, churning, boiling and roiling water when you stand next to the falls. Shout in my ear why not, I can’t hear you.
Being this close to the water really is mesmerising. You stand spellbound just watching the continual rushing flow. Where does all this water come from? How can it not run out? It continues day and night, all the time, never ceasing or slowing. It’s hypnotic. The more you watch, the more you realise that the water isn’t following a set pattern, every new flowing section hits the rocks below in a different fashion and no two splashes are alike. Every now and then there is a violent eruption as the water is particularly ferocious, and a huge spray of water shoots upwards.
The two things I find particularly amazing about this place are that it is so quiet here, visitor wise, there must only be about 5 or 6 people at most; and also that this falls is used for white water kayaking, there are videos of people on YouTube plunging down the side aspect of the falls, it is apparently classed as a IV kayak area (i.e. really difficult).
Fact #6 – Caldron Linn (also known as Star Falls) is so amazing to see, you should be slapped around the face with a wet fish if you are in the area and don’t bother visiting it.
Having had our fill our tourism in this area, we continue on our way through Idaho, heading for the Oregon border.
We stop for an amusing evening at Big Wood RV Park in the town of Gooding (claim to fame – apparently houses the world’s largest factory for barrel cheese, the raw product for making processed cheese). I say an amusing evening, because we were amused to turn up and find we were the only people there. The park has about 15 part hookup sites and not one of them was occupied. They were actually really nice sites too, level and paved, on the outskirts of the little town with an honesty box for the $15 fee and a free dump station just down the road. We couldn’t for the life of us figure out why no-one else was here, but were happy to enjoy the solitude anyway.
We decide to take a few days at our next camping spot, an Elks Lodge about 15 miles outside of Boise. Now, I was really excited about the idea of going to Boise, and I will own up, it’s not for any reason other than I like how the name sounds when I say it. Boy-Z. Like it’s buoyant or bouncy or something fun!
We drove straight past it though, the outskirts of the city look ugly and, well, city like and I decided actually I wanted no part of that. We do come a little bit of a cropper while at the Elks though, discovering they only have 30amp power; which, when sitting in 99oF heat (that’s 37oC in normal numbers), is not cool. In any sense of the word. 30amp only allows us power for one air conditioner in the bus (which has to be turned off to give me enough power when I want to make tea). We are therefore forced to sit in a giant tin can, in the middle of the sun (no trees for shade to be seen), unable to move for fear of getting hotter, and sweat. SWEAT.
It’s not fun.
And at the same time, our toilet decides to break.
Right after I’ve consumed about 4 cups of tea.
While Loops jumps to it and fixes the toilet so it will flush once more (it takes an afternoon and results in me becoming good friends with the people in the Elks Lodge), his tinkering has now lead to the toilet developing the very annoying habit of flicking water out of the bowl every time you flush it. It’s just not a good week.
It does end well though for me, I decide to commandeer The Beast and the Blue Bandit and set off in the morning of our last day for a bike ride, over at a nearby wildlife refuge. Deer Flat is part of the National Wildlife Refuge network, the government department that runs the Seney refuge that I loved so much in Michigan last year. Free, natural places to see wildlife, big thumbs up!
Deer Flat is an open grassland habitat based around Lake Lowell and contains paths for walking and biking, platforms for bird and wildlife watching as well as access to the lake for boating, fishing etc. and an interpretative centre for education.
I spend a solo morning biking across the grassland, stopping to look for birds and take in the view, and don’t see another soul until 2 miles later when I reach the education centre.
Inside I take a moment to use the bird scope set up for viewing an osprey nest, and get to enjoy watching 2 ospreys; 1 feeding and 1 preening. I cycle down to the water and enjoy the festoon of swallows flittering around in the morning light, dashing in and out of their nest on a tower; and watch a gentleman throwing sticks for his dog in the water. It’s really very lovely and relaxing.
And of course, there is the final fact I need to mention before we leave Idaho, the one about the scenery; Fact #7 – Idaho isn’t flat. Not even close.
Yeah, so I totally got blown out on that one. Idaho has mountains in it. I know this because I can see them, all around me. Some still with snow on top. As it turns out, the southern part of Idaho where we are is ripe for farming, but according to what I can see and what I have read, the northern part of Idaho is actually rather rugged, mountainous terrain. I guess I can properly verify this for you when we skip over the top part of the state on our way back east in a few weeks’ time.
But for now, let us concern ourselves with our current scenery, that which we have travelled through in the past week or so. Because rather surprisingly, I’ve really rather loved it. I am starting to be able to form an opinion now as to what type of physical environment here in the US makes me feel comforted and more at ease, and right now I’m in it.
The area especially around Twin Falls contains arable and livestock farming, horse pasture land, natural and man-made water canals, rocky valley features and plenty of natural landscapes. Broadly speaking, it’s fairly flat, providing a large open landscape to look at; topped off with a backdrop of large, craggy snow-capped mountains. While I enjoy a blooming summer countryside, bright flowers and lush growth around me, I can also enjoy the contradictory scenery of cold, hard, wintery mountains. I have the best of both worlds and I realise that this seems to suit me down to the ground.
It is of course not home. It is not my England. My beloved land of small farms and hedgerows, hidden little villages along tiny twisting lanes and rolling downland hills.
But it is something else, something that stirs a different part of me; an appreciation for a greater landscape, a wilder landscape.
And that is something to think about….on the drive into Oregon, where we finally reach the much anticipated west coast.
PS. Fact #8 – Idaho does farm potatoes. Lots. If fact, it produces a third of all potatoes in the US. I just thought I should you know that. At least I got one thing right.