The 2019 Road Trip: The Final Chapter

And so it is time to put these series of blogs out of its misery.   It is time to end this long tale.  I have already said most of what I wanted to say for this last part of the trip, but I did that at the beginning of the story, and you may have already forgotten all of that.  I shall add to the original account that I gave.

After a nice breakfast, we departed the Silver Creek HotelPA170493.jpgand Bellevue for the Sawtooth Mountain National Recreation Area.  The weather was somewhat dreary.  The drive through the mountains was still spectacular, and a little challenging where snow was falling.  Many official facilities in the recreation area were already shut down for the winter, and there were very few people around.   I had planned for a hike at Redfish Lake to be a highlight of the day, but that did not pan out.  The plan finally fell apart at the starting point of the trail.  That impacted my mood the rest of the day.

The little town of Stanley was interesting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I posted this other picture of the town in the earlier blog, along with my sense of the town itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanley was the extent of our northward exploration on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.PA170525.jpgWe stopped by the road for lunch on our way out of the park.  The traffic was so light, I was able to take this picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a short walk in a park along the Big Wood River just before we got to the towns of Sun Valley – Ketcham, Hailey, and Bellevue.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPA170580.jpgWe did a hike at Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took us some effort to find the actual trail.  We started the walk not knowing where it would take us.  We ended up climbing out of the canyon to get a view of the Falls from a unique vantage point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt looked like the trail extended beyond this point, but we did not explore any further.  We had started out the hike from a point just behind the waterfalls themselves.

We did stop at Dierkis Lake after that.  You can make out the faint outline of the lake at the top right hand corner of the picture above.  It is at the level of the top of the canyon.  Imagine the whole area being originally covered by water, and a river cutting out a canyon after the level of the water dropped, and water left behind from the ocean that previously existed in this space collected in a basin beside the canyon, thus forming a lake.  All this would have happened millions of years ago.  You can read about some of the geology of the place at the Wikipedia page for the Snake River.

By the time we got to Dierkis Lake, the late evening sun lit up the lake in a unique manner.  It turned out to be a small body of water.  Very few people were around.PA170632.jpgOur stop for the night was on the highway to Salt Lake City, at a place called Burley, in Idaho.  The town felt like a regular truck stop along the Interstate for travelers, with its chain motels, restaurants, fast food, and gas stations.  There was nothing remarkable about the place.  We stayed at a Best Western motel and had a simple dinner of “comfort food” (with a beverage, of course) at the Perkins restaurant attached to it.

We did a lot of driving the next day on the way to Salt Lake City.  The stop at Antelope Island was a bit of a disappointment.  Perhaps the experience might have been better if we were able to hike one of the more challenging trails.  The easier trails were not very well maintained.  Here is a picture taken from the park of Salt Lake City in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. I thought might be worth sharing.PA180688.jpgWe got to Salt Lake City that evening.

The sights that are in Salt Lake City itself can easily be covered on foot since it is a small place.  Our hotel was also close to downtown.

We spent the next day walking around the city.  Here are some more pictures from Temple Square, the area where the buildings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) is located.  The building in the picture below is the chapel.  The wall represents the border of Temple Square itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following picture was taken outside the Tabernacle.  We were waiting for a performance. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tabernacle building has fantastic acoustics inside.  We could hear a piece of paper being shredded on the stage from far back in the room without any electronic amplification.PA190755.jpgThis is a picture of the famous Mormon temple of Salt Lake City.  It is the only space in the area of Temple Square considered sacred and not accessible to non-believers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many couples getting married in the temple, and you could see some of the marriage parties gathered all around the building.PA190747.jpgThere are a few other buildings around Temple Square belonging to the Mormons, including a huge office building.  It is probably their headquarters.  In general, you get a sense that the Mormon faith does not ask for any level of asceticism in their practices.

Here are some pictures from our visit to the Utah State Capitol.  The following pictures were taken on the grounds of the facility.  You can see the Wasatch Mountains in the background.  To the right of the picture below is a memorial to Mormon pioneer volunteers who joined the U.S. Army during the Mexican War.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below is taken from the entrance to the Capitol building.  (The entrance is actually to the side of the building rather than its front.)  The spire of the old City Hall appears on the right side in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the rotunda of the building itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe steps in the picture below lead to the offices of the governing officials, including the governor.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of the Capitol building taken as we departed the area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road from the Capitol building into the downtown area is called State Street.PA190801.jpgWe walked through the City Creek Center shopping center on the way back just because we had read about it.  It looked like any other mall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe experienced a moment of minor excitement as were were walking back to the hotel. There was a loud sound behind us as we were walking near the station seen below.  (This was a little while before the train in the picture below arrived at the platform.)  We turned to see an older woman who was on a motorized wheelchair toppled over the rails.  She looked disheveled, and I am guessing that she was indigent.  She had been carrying some metal rods on the chair, and they had fallen off.  The footrest on her wheelchair had gotten snagged under the rails.  Luckily, a few of us were able to extricate her from the rails before the train arrived.  Traffic continued to flow around us.PA190817.jpgIn general, from what I saw, I thought that Salt Lake City seemed to have a more compassionate approach than some other places to dealing with the less well off people who are drawn to the bigger cities.  They did  not seem to be aggressive about chasing people away to make the tourists feel better about themselves.

It turned miserably cold on our last evening of the travels, and it started to rain.  After Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeline,PA190832.jpgwe went to dinner at a sushi place. After that, we topped off the gas tank in our rental car.  We had an early morning flight the next day, and there was a threat of early morning snow that could impact our ability to get things done in time and leave town in the morning.  I could feel the cold right down to my bones standing out it the cold at the gas station on a windy night, and was happy to get back to a warm room in the hotel!

Fortunately, the snow held off that night, and we were able to make it to the airport on time without a hassle.  The airport was crowded for that time of the morning.  We had an uneventful flight back home on a aircraft that was packed with travelers.

And that is how this story ends….

The 2019 Road Trip: Onward to Craters of the Moon and Sun Valley, Idaho

I was wondering whether to continue this series of blogs beyond our visits to Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons, considering that I had provided a synopsis of the rest of the trip a while back in this blog.  I changed my mind after looking once again at the pictures I had taken of Craters of the Moon.  For some reason, the awesomeness of what we had seen there did not register to its fullest extent until I saw these pictures once again.  So I am continuing the blog series for at least one more day of the trip.  I am not yet sure what lies beyond.  Without much ado, here goes!

(And before I forget, you do not get the full impact of the panoramic pictures without seeing them on a full screen. So, go ahead and click on them!)

This was our last morning in Victor, Idaho.  We had to clear out of the cabin that had been our home for four nights.  We, once again, made an eastbound crossing of the Teton Pass for what we thought would be the final time. We were heading to Jackson Hole Airport to drop off Angela.  After that, it would be just the two of us for the rest of the trip.

We went to the airport through the area of Grand Teton Park where the moose had been sighted by others on the first day of the visit to the park, giving it one last try!  We were unsuccessful in seeing moose yet again.

After the stop at the airport, we headed out for our tourist destination for the day – the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.   Unexpectedly, the route set out for us by our GPS device took us back over Teton Pass one last time, and into Victor.  We took a left turn at the only traffic light in Victor and headed west towards central Idaho.

The drive towards Craters of the Moon took us through all kinds of different terrain and surroundings.  There was first the forest land and the mountain pass that we went through coming out of Victor.  We then drove over flatland and past massive farms, with the road running close to the Snake River itself. We could have stopped at one of the lookout points overlooking the deep canyon in which the river ran, but did not do so since we had a long drive ahead.  The only significant population center along the way was the city of Idaho Falls.   We arrived at our destination after an extended drive through what looked like wasteland.  This space actually included the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility.  (There is even a place in this part of Idaho called Atomic City. It has a population of less than 100 people.)

The area of Craters of the Moon has a distinctive landscape that is quite different from what you see in the space around it.  It is interesting that the activity from within the mantle of the earth manages to escape to the surface in just this small area.  As I noted in the earlier blog, such activity happens approximately once every 2000 years, and we are due for some action any time now!

The park itself is a small one to drive through.  We had enough time to do a couple of walks.  The road through the park has turnouts at which you can pull over to visit some specific sites.  We headed out after watching a video in the visitor center.

The first stop near the visitor center was to see the North Crater lava flow area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked up to the formations that you see in the above picture. They are called cinder cone fragments.  They are from the side of a volcanic cone that broke apart. They were carried to the place where we see them now by the flow of lava that resulted.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the nature of the rocks in the flow as you get closer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly enough, some of the rocks that we encountered in the park were extremely light.  These were the ones that contained air pockets that were created by the hot gases caught within the rock when it was being formed from molten material.

The picture below shows our car parked along the road when we took the walk to see the cinder cone fragments.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a stop at Inferno Cone.  The black sand that forms the outer coating of this cone was quite fine, and the slope up the slope in some sections somewhat steep.  We had to be extra careful because of the injured elbows.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are views from the top of Inferno Cone.  The objects in the distance in the picture below are called spatter cones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see Big Southern Butte (that lies to the east) in the picture below.  It is supposed to be one of the largest volcanic domes on earth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got a 360º panoramic view from this vantage point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are flowering plants that survive in these harsh conditions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove to the area of the spatter cones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is what it looks like inside one of them. Notice the interesting color of the rocks towards the bottom of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere  are some more of the hardy plants in this area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Inferno Cone from a distance.  There is a person walking down the hill.  You can make the person out more clearly in the second picture below.  I also want to highlight the fact that the National Park Service has used material in the building of the pavements in the park that match the dark volcanic rock in their color.  I thought this was a nice touch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of the larger vegetation that we saw reflected the harsh nature of our surroundings, and made for beautiful and dramatic views when set against the open sky.  The wind does seem to shape the trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following pictures were taken from the Broken Top Loop Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can take a detour from the Broken Top Loop Trail to the Big Sink Overlook to see another area of lava flow in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped at the Buffalo Caves at the tail end of our hike on the Broken Top Loop Trail.  You can see one of the openings to the caves in the pictures below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe presence of caves that you can enter is not very obvious from ground level. There were a couple of adventurous young ladies who were exploring underground, and they popped their heads out unexpectedly!  They encouraged me to go in, saying that it was quite safe.  One of them showed me the way.  I had to crawl in through the shallow entrance.  I was fortunate that I did not hurt myself when I bumped my head.  (The rock was light and crumbly.  So I was left with small pieces of rock in my hair.)  I believe that you are supposed to wear a helmet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce inside the cave, it expanded into a large space where you can walk standing up.  One gets out of the cave from a different spot, at the other end of the space that we were standing over.  Interesting experience!  There are other caves to explore at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

We left the park shortly after the hike on the Broken Top Loop Trail and started the drive towards Bellevue, the place we were staying at that night.  It was a bit of an adventure since I had not done my research about the town of Bellevue, and about the driving distances involved in the drive, properly. The GPS function on the smartphone that we were using for navigation stopped working properly somewhere along the way.  Fortunately, we were able to reset the device just in time to be able to find the turnoff from the road that we were on onto a secondary road towards Bellevue. Once on this road I began to get even more nervous, because we seemed to be in the middle of the countryside, and the GPS device indicated that Bellevue was close by, much closer than I expected.  I was cursing myself for not having done my homework properly.  We were going to be lost in the middle of Idaho!  Fortunately, we hit a main road at the outskirts of the town itself before too long, and it was clear that we were in population center with some activity, including hotels and restaurants.

We found the Silver Creek Hotel where we were staying that night easily.   It turned out to be a really nice and modern place.  Our room on one of the higher floors faced west.  We could see the end of the sunset.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner was at a Mexican restaurant close by that we were able to walk to.  The place was a watering hole.  They were serving relatively inexpensive mainstream beers (rather than local craft brews) in large 32 ounce mugs. Neither of us indulged to that extent!

We walked back to our hotel rather full. The Chinese restaurant next door to the place we had eaten at had an empty feel to it.  There were some young people hanging out, but mostly the place was quiet.  It felt like a small town.

The plan for the next day was to drive north through the Sun Valley to the Sawtooth mountains.

The last posting in this series of blogs here.