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.

Four States, Two National Parks, and much more

The name 30-60-30 was suggested at one point during the later part of this trip.  After all, the trip was meant to be a celebration of two 30th birthdays, and one 60th, all taking place in the order noted above.   It had been in the works for a while, and it was taking place in spite of fractured elbows that had gotten in the way of another 60th birthday celebration trip.  That particular one had gotten cancelled a couple of weeks earlier.  This one was a get-together with the kids, and a visit to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the nearby Grand Tetons, after which the two of us were to set off on adventures of our own, extending the trip to visit the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and then also spend some time in Salt Lake City.  During this trip, we were to travel through the states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

It has been a few days since we finished the trip.  I have been unsure about how to put this one into the record books.  Should it be summarized in one blog?  Should it be broken up into a day by day, blow by blow, description?  How should I use the hundreds of pictures that I took related to this story?  What should I emphasize and where will particular pictures fit in?  I have decided on a “hybrid” approach.  Only time will tell how this will turn out.

Traveling in this part of the country is mostly about the outdoors.  Besides the parks that visitors come to see, this part of the country is occupied by large ranches and farms where cultivation of crops and the raising of animals takes place.   The properties are huge, and it takes specialized equipment and vehicles to manage the large spaces.  Some ranches have animals grazing in them as far as the eye can see – primarily cows and horses.  In many places the landscape is dotted with massive irrigation systems that can water significant chunks of farmland in short time.  And then there are the open and rugged lands that are more sparsely occupied.

Yellowstone National Park was a pleasant surprise for me.  I was expecting the geyser Old Faithful to be the primary attraction, after which I expected to be done with the park, but I found out that the land that this huge park occupies is truly a wonderland.   The Yellowstone Caldera is a massive ancient volcano basin where the volcanic activity has brought the heat and fury of the inner earth very close to its surface.  The super-hot magma lies close enough to the crust to have a visible impact all over the park.   Steam rises into the air everywhere.  There are very few places in the world like this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHot springs,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgeysers,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fumaroles,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmud pits,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and all other combinations of phenomena that result from steam, hot water and hot mud rising out of the earth result. The throwing up, churning and/or bubbling of the water, or mud, is continuous as the underground forces are released.  The air is filled with fumes with different smells.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is an amazing place.

The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is very much a geologically active area.  In one location, steam has erupted from the pavement in a parking lot.  You are warned everywhere in the park to keep to the boardwalk.  The crust is thin.  You do not want to fall into a hole that opens up beneath you.  Neither would you want to be there when subterranean forces burst out of the ground.

Yellowstone covers a huge area, and it takes a few days to get around to the different locations. So, if you visit, plan to spend enough time, perhaps a few days. It is one of those places well worth having on your bucket list.

The Grand Tetons are a different experience.   The massive, rugged, and majestic massif that rises in a straight line up out of the flat plateau dominate the scene.  Geologically, the Teton mountains rise along a fault line.  Over a period of millions of years,  the land on one side of the fault line was uplifted because the land on the two sides of the fault line pushed against each other.  This process ended up raising and exposing really old rock in a relatively new mountain range.  Imagine the nature of the forces that are powerful enough to actually create majestic mountains! Geology is fascinating.

The experience of the Grand Teton National Park is mainly about its beauty and the outdoor activities that are possible.

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The Tetons rise behind Jackson Hole airport
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The breadth of the Teton mountain range
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Sunset behind the mountains
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Mountains and Lakes
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Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park

 

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In the evening

In many sections of both the parks the roads ran along, or crossed, mountain rivers and streams.  The main rivers that I noted were the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, that flowed to the north through the parks, and the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, that flowed to the south through the parks.  There are a few large and very pretty lakes whose bright and clear blue color catches your attention immediately on a sunny day.

We arrived at the parks at a time when the weather was much colder than it usually is at this time of the year.  We had to be bundled up in layers to stay warm, and there was snow and ice to be tackled on some of the trails.  The kids were instrumental in making sure we could navigate some of the more slippery trails without incident and additional damage to elbows.  There was some tricky driving involved on a couple of occasions.  Driving up and down the winding mountain road through the Teton Pass in the falling snow on a dark night after a long day of driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was an interesting challenge.  Waking up to below zero degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperatures in Island Park in Idaho one morning was a unique experience.  We spent two very cold nights in a nice (but somewhat cold) cabin there.  Fortunately, it warmed up somewhat – to closer to freezing temperatures – during the day as we drove into the park.

There are many kinds of animals to be seen in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but we encountered only a few of them, including those in the pictures below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did spend a lot of time looking for moose, and also hoping that we would not run across bears when we were by ourselves. Only the bears cooperated.  A couple of people in the car managed to catch sight of a moose one day, but there was no place to stop for the rest of the folks in the car to get a view.  We came back to the same area of the park a few times without success.

The kids left us after our explorations of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  It was quality time that was well spent, and without their assistance we could not have been able to experience all that we did.  After their departure, the two of us headed out further west in our rental car.

Our destination was the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Along the way,  we stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This is a really strange place with bizarre landscape.  The remains of ancient lava flows and their aftereffects dominate the area, making the place look like it is of another world.PA160360.jpgApparently astronauts come here occasionally to train.  There are some caves that have formed in this area, and I managed to crawl in and out of one of these and do some exploration (spelunking?!) without hurting myself.  The area of the Craters of the Moon is active from a volcanic perspective.  The National Park Service site states “The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.”

The drive past this park took us through the area occupied by the Idaho National Laboratory, a place that I had not known about before.  Apparently, this is one of the historical centers of nuclear research in the country.  It is still active.  There are a few nuclear reactors still in the area, and nuclear waste is also stored here.  I suppose the location makes sense considering how sparsely populated this part of Idaho is, and how far it is from major population centers.

We spent the night in a small town called Bellevue in the Sun Valley area of Idaho before heading for the Sawtooth Mountains that lay further to the north.  As with our drives earlier on in the trip, this one was spectacular. This was in spite of the fact that the weather did not cooperate too much in the early part of the day.  We had to drive through intermittent events of rain and snow fall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust beyond a mountain pass over Galena mountain, we arrived at the headwaters of the Salmon river, also called the “The River of No Return”.  We drove onward to the town of Stanley.  The place looked like it was out of a Western Movie, but a more modern version. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt felt like the major form of transportation in this part of the world was the pickup truck.  The popular fashion statement seemed to involve clothing with camouflage design on it.  The Salmon river flows past Stanley on its way north along this section of the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn general, many of the small towns that we drove through in the countryside during this trip could be considered “cute”.  The few commercial buildings in town would mostly be centered around the one main traffic intersection on a main road.  There could be the town’s only traffic light at the intersection.  There was usually a gas station.  The towns that were not too far from the tourist areas would have a few  restaurants and drinking holes, and perhaps a motel or two, some of them new and modern.  I did notice a Buddhist establishment in at least one town.  Young people seem to find jobs in some of these places.  Perhaps they keep them alive.

The stop at Shoshone Falls in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, took place the same evening that we visited the Sawtooth Mountains. It happened because of an encounter we had the previous day at the Craters of the Moon.  A fellow visitor had shown us pictures she had taken of the place.  The waterfalls are impressive. They are also called the Niagara of the West.   The waterfalls happened to be on our way back to Salt Lake City.   Not many people visit, although we did see the obligatory busload of Chinese tourists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe spent a significant part of the next day on our way back to Salt Lake City at Antelope Island, located on the Great Salt Lake.  Antelope Island hosts a popular state park and is reached by driving over a causeway from the mainland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe island is dedicated to outdoor activities.  We were limited in what we could do because of the pre-trip injuries. We did a little bit of hiking on the easier trails.  In general,  these trails were not that well maintained, nor well marked.

We made it to a beach to check out the salinity of the water.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island.    The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was hoping to see more of the local flora and fauna on the island.  That did not happen.

The final day was spent visiting the sights in Salt Lake City.  The city is small enough that you can cover it on foot.  The main attraction is Temple Square, where you can see the outside of the Mormon Temple, and visit their chapel and Tabernacle.  They have visitor centers where you can learn more about Mormonism.  It is an interesting experience, and there is no pressure.  Salt Lake City is the seat of the Mormon religion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. PA190756.jpgAfter a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe headed back to our hotel.  Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Saturday evening service at the Cathedral of the Madeline later on in the day,  went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant after that, and finally called it a day.

And that was the end of the vacation and the visit to the four northwest states.

We flew back to Maryland the next morning.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(That’s Salt Lake City in the background in the picture above!)

The first of a series of blogs with more details of the trip can be read here.