The Wonderful State of…Idaho

Uh oh, this is going to be a long one!  Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy!

There’s a long narrow strip of western Idaho that’s lush, gorgeous, and green, all the way from Boise in the south to tiny Bonner’s Ferry up in the panhandle near Canada…and after 4000+ miles, it’s along that route that we found a few places to add to an “our spot” list.  Let’s start with Boise!

But, wait…long before reaching Boise, Idaho’s capital city, we drove across the southern part of the state from Jackson, Wyoming.  We traversed miles and miles of high desert, with occasional cows, scruffy grass, and dusty hills interrupting the ruler-straight highway vista, until before our eyes, as if in a science fiction movie, appeared the following signs:

Mystery Signpost

Mystery Signpost

A Must Visit

A Must Visit

How could we not stop and visit?  What the heck does EBR-I stand for?  We learned it means Experimental Breeder Reactor One – the very first in the U.S.  In 1951, EBR-1 created enough electricity from nuclear power to light 4 200-watt bulbs.  The EBR-I museum is a time capsule of the 1950’s, and a superb short lesson in the U.S.A.’s nuclear power history.  Even with the warning that residual radioactivity (“not harmful”) was still decaying away but bound to certain places in the facility (those areas marked so helpfully by a purplish triangle), we spent about 45” wandering through the original nuclear power plant, exploring the former core of the breeder reactor, playing with the “grabbers” used to handle the fuel rods, and murmuring over the antique looking chains, pulleys and massive hooks that were used to move material around in the new atomic age.  The pioneering scientists who worked here were at the very edge of technological exploration, and it was a remarkable and unexpected lesson along our road.  If you’re ever on Route 26 in Idaho, do NOT pass this by – you may learn something, and you’ll certainly feel like you’ve become an extra in the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove. Curiously, the film was made the same year that EBR-I was decommissioned…

The Twilight Zone TV

The Twilight Zone TV

Dials, Switches & Buttons

Dials, Switches & Buttons

Pretty Nuclear Lights

Pretty Nuclear Lights

 

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

 

 

 

 

Atomic City

Atomic City

 

 

 

 

 

We reached our stop in Sun Valley not long after the EBR-I visit, travelling from desert to the mountains and through the small towns of Hailey and Ketchum, both towns growing rapidly and increasing in price for real estate – thus not candidates for “our spot!”  We were generally dissuaded of any thought of settling in the Sun Valley area, though it was beautiful and there are great community activities (concerts, films, book talks) many of them free due to the beneficence of the Holding family who now own the resort.  They’ve built a wonderful outdoor concert venue and continue to play a major philanthropic role in the town.  For those with any political or U.S. history interests, here’s a tidbit:  Sun Valley Resort was developed by Averill Harriman, when he was chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1930’s, long before he begin his famed political career.

Back to the trip!  Two days passed quickly with friends who are long time Sun Valley residents and gave us a good look at what life in this lovely mountain retreat might be like.  We had a great hike in the lower mountains and an even more fun time participating in trivia night at the local dive bar…how lucky for us that many of the first questions were about Japan!  CW continued his local/craft brewery tour with a visit to Sawtooth Brewing in Ketchum.

Sun Valley might have been our spot – 20 years ago, when prices were lower…  We left for Boise after an amazing breakfast in Stanley, Idaho, a rafting and hiking base about an hour northwest of Sun Valley… with all that sunshine, an outdoor deck, great coffee, and good friends – it was a very hard combination to leave.

Stanley Bakery Menu

Stanley Bakery Menu

Eccentric Idaho City

Eccentric Idaho City

Misty Road to Boise

Misty Road to Boise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been to Boise a couple of times, and always left with a lingering feeling that we could perhaps find our spot there.  How does it meet the informal checklist? (A checklist that is going to have to take on substance soon, if we’re going to keep track of the growing number of locations that have whispered to us “stay here” or “come back…”)

Let’s recap some of the criteria:  access to hiking and the outdoors; culture; cultural diversity; a sustainable economy and food system; community; education; health care; climate…among a few others.

It seems CW and I are not the only ones exploring.  I was amused to read this article in the New York Times!  www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/your-money/Finding-the-Right-Place-to-Retire.html

The Boise farm market was great fun, as was the Boise Art Museum, which has an exhibit called “Crafting a Continuum” until August 9, 2014.  (http://www.boiseartmuseum.org/)  The ceramics, wood and fiber exhibit explores the permeable boundary that has developed between craft and art, asking us to accept functional, beautiful items as pieces of art (I have no problem with that – in fact, if a piece of art can be touched, caressed, and drawn into daily life, all the better!)  Anyway, a gem of a museum, and an unexpected and appealing part of downtown Boise.  More on Boise if and when I recap all those “our spots” that we find along the way.

We travelled north and enjoyed a few days on Lake Coeur D’Alene, again, courtesy of some very kind friends, and yes, “C D’A” is also an “our spot” candidate.  The drive was gorgeous all the way there, and while we’ve been super lucky with the weather so far, I think it would be great even in the rain.

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Farm near Kootenai

Farm near Kootenai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonner's Ferry Building

Bonner’s Ferry Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days on the water and exploring the towns of Coeur D’Alene and Bonner’s Ferry, we got our passports in order and headed for Canada.  À bientôt!

The Road to Canada

The Road to Canada

Home, Home, (Tent) on the Range…

We haven’t yet found even one spot to add to our “settle down wish list,” but we’ve enjoyed plenty of places that are perfect for exploring!  We left Yankton heading northwest across South Dakota, at first following the Missouri River, and Lewis & Clark’s journey.  Hours and hours (about 4, to be more precise) we were thrilled when the formidable peaks of Badlands National Park came into view.  We had a great hike that stretched the legs and let us clamber among the rocks and prairie grass as we learned about the geological forces that created the Badlands.  Our first buffalo sighting of the trip, too! And then, it was on to Rapid City, for an overnight stay before our first camping foray.

Badlands Ahead

Badlands Ahead

Wall Drug is a famous stop in South Dakota, with dozens of signs posted along the high way for miles and miles before you actually arrive.  I was fully prepped for the 5 cent coffee by the time we arrived (and for those of you who are following my Instagram posts – the doughnut!) Wall Drug is a funky huge maze of a store, and worth a visit if you are anywhere in the area.

Wall Drug's A'Comin!

Wall Drug’s A’Comin!

Lassos at Wall Drug

Lassos at Wall Drug

A short overnight stay in Rapid City was the first real exploration of a possible future home…yep, but I think it was just a brief fling!  Art Alley (check out the winsome blue baby at the far end of the alley) was an unexpected and fascinating discovery as we walked to Firehouse Brewery for dinner.  There are also life-size sculptures of the U.S. Presidents scattered around the city for discovery.

Art Alley Rapid City, SD

Art Alley Rapid City, SD

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

We passed Mt. Rushmore as we drove towards Custer State Park, and it was a “rush” to see the massive sculpted heads hovering over the highway.  Nope, didn’t stop by to get a closer look, truthfully – because we were so taken aback by the $11.00 parking fee that would go to a private parking concession…really?

From Mt. Rushmore we drove into Custer State Park via the Harney Peaks entrance, to camp and do a little hiking.  It is beautiful – Harney Peak is South Dakota’s highest point at 7200’, and much of the rest of the park is above 5000’.  The jagged, formidable looking peaks stretched to a beautiful cloud-filled sky, and we set up our tent at Central Lake for the next two nights, at 4600’.   Custer State Park is home to thousands of free-range buffalo, and though it’s nothing like the herds that roamed the prairies in millions in the 1800’s, the sight of these huge, magnificent animals was awe-inspiring.  And it’s calving season!

Harney Peak Area, Custer State Park

Harney Peak Area, Custer State Park

Ponderosa Pine Bark

Ponderosa Pine Bark

 

Beauty on the Trail

Beauty on the Trail

Stand Off!

Stand Off!

Buffalo weren’t the only “wildlife” we saw, as we left the park – the donkeys? mules?  were pretty funny.   Leaving South Dakota, we stopped in Custer at the Bitter Esters Brewhouse, and enjoyed, really really enjoyed, the Spent Grain Crust Pizza (check out my Yelp review for more), before heading on the long, straight road to Douglas, Wyoming…more on this, next time.

Road West with Clouds

Road West with Clouds

 

 

Periyar and Beyond

Periyar Entrance

Periyar Entrance

We had a long, meandering and beautiful drive through the hills heading south to reach Periyar Tiger Reserve, located in the Cardamom Hills and Western Ghat mountains on the Kerala/Tamil Nadu border. We’d eagerly anticipated this couple of days in the wilderness and had booked one of the Gavi Eco-tents (www.periyartigerreserve.net/cottage-tent.html) to sleep in. Almost nothing about our two days at Periyar disappointed!

The first view of the tent was just as expected – a large one room tent on a platform and suspended beneath a palm-leaf covered roof. There was a separate, private bath/shower room behind the tent, accessed through the screen door at the rear of the tent. The tent and bath area were basic, and just what we’d anticipated, although the view down to the lake was even nicer than we’d hoped for. There was electricity in the tent, though the 5 minute, unlit walk to the outdoor restaurant was quite dark in the evening (glad we brought small flashlights on the trip), and perfect for star-gazing. The deep, amazingly dark evening sky and brilliant, countless stars were spectacular.

Gavi Tent Periyar

Gavi Tent Periyar

Inside the Tent

Inside the Tent

Periyar is what I’d describe as a “forest-jungle” and many areas are quite densely forested, making it a challenge for wildlife viewing from the back of a jeep. There aren’t the “big five” to see as we’d looked for in South Africa, but we did see the fabulous Malabar Giant Squirrel, Nilgiri Langurs, Gaur (a large, endangered Indian bison), Sambar (an Indian deer, of which we saw many) and many birds. Elephants were evidently close by as the fresh dung and HUGE elephant tracks we saw in the river bank proved, and the elusive tiger was not to be seen. Our guide, who has worked in the park for 14 years, said he’d only glimpsed the tiger twice in that entire time. There are currently 46 tigers roaming the 357 sq. mile park.

We had a great 3+ hour hike with Narayan, our guide, who was in flipflops, and I don’t know how he negotiated the steep hillsides; I was very happy to have my hiking poles with me, and sturdy boots. He took us a bit off the beaten track once he realized how enthusiastic we were about the park – we hiked along the nearly dry Pamba River to one of the waterfalls, and along a tiny track where a couple of tribal families lived in makeshift tents with no running water or other facilities. They survive by harvesting wild crops and making the incense used in Hindu temples – by harvesting the bark from a particular tree and processing it into a sticky, aromatic resin.

Tribal Smile

Tribal Smile

Vista with Red Trees

Vista with Red Trees

Two jeep safaris allowed us to go much deeper into the park – and again, not much wildlife, but the scenery was spectacular, including the bright red, new leaves of one which our guide referred to as “Mora” or “Moro” – but my online research hasn’t confirmed the name or type of tree – any ideas?

Many visitors come only for a day visit, but we’d stay overnight again – the quiet night, glorious stars overhead, and thrill of knowing that we were inside a tent protected by electric fencing to keep the elephants outside the perimeter were all a real treat.

Periyar Sunset Shades

Periyar Sunset Shades

After two nights at Periyar, we loaded up the car again and headed for the Kerala backwaters for a night on a houseboat… our Kerala adventures next!