Posted in Travel

From Volcanic Hotspots to an Atomic Town

Third day on the roads of Idaho for the Western Byways Editorial Team (see ‘Western Byways on the Road… Carey, Idaho and Ice Fishing, Hot Springs, and a Duck-Hunting Writer)…

stopped for lunch beside the Lost River Range....

Lunchtime…  We’re parked on a dirt road in the narrow plain between the Lost River Range and the White Cloud Range of mountains.  Normally at this time of year there’d be at least a few feet of snow up this high, but it’s been a strangely snow-free year.  Even Ray the Rancher was commenting yesterday that he’s only just started bringing out hay for the cattle, and he’s never in his eighty-seven years seen a winter where the hay wasn’t needed until January.  Still, there’s not another vehicle or human in sight, and the picture-windows of the motor home are framing a stunning set of jagged Idaho peaks.

Somewhere in that Lost River Range is Mount Borah, the state’s highest peak, which the Editor has an itch to climb.  I suggested that what he really needs for such a mission is a base-camp cook (Keoni of course) who’d have a super-fabulous camp dinner ready when we got back down the mountain.  (Do you like how I so subtly invited US along on that expedition?)  The “Lost” River is so called because it vanishes into the porous flows of basalt and disappears for a hundred miles to reappear magically as “Thousand Springs” near Twin Falls.

one of Paul's old milk cans

Right now Keoni is cooking up cheese-and-apple crepes at the stove, and we’re feeling almost literally on top of the world.  On top of Idaho, at the very least.   Stepping out the door here to take photos, we had to hop over the pile of deer-poo atop which we’d strategically parked…  The wind really cuts up here, so none of us stayed outside longer than the length of a smoke, but in that short space of time Keoni the Rock Hound found a spearhead with the knapper’s marks still evident along its edges.  It still amazes me that a person can find an artifact–how many centuries old, I wonder?–just lying in the sagebrush beneath the mountains.  (Of course, it takes a sharp eye like his–I would have seen just a rock and kept walking…)


Keoni and I knocked on Vonnie and Paul’s door this morning before we pulled out of Carey, to hand over a hostess-gift of Hawai’ian sesame candy, and to chat for a few more minutes about the summer Fly-In event (for which we might come up and do a traditional Hawai’ian pig in the ground) and the classic Honda motorcycle lying in the sagebrush behind their shed, which hasn’t been registered since 1985, and which Paul is agreeable to having us take off his hands when we come back with the kids…  I was born not many miles from here in the spud-farming town of Aberdeen, but hadn’t set foot in Carey until this weekend—and now we have friends there.  As someone noted in the response to yesterday’s post , the old-timers must have stories…  and that, right there, is probably my favorite part of Travel.  People everywhere have stories, and I love it that my “job” now is to hunt those stories down.  Adding friends to our life is a lovely side effect.

Craters of the Moon area--including Carey and Arco

We drove through the lunar landscape of Craters of the Moon with its vistas reminiscent of Hawai’i.  Indeed, when we stopped at the visitor center, the footage and photos of current volcanic activity, used to describe the originating events of the bizarre landscape here, were all shot in Hawai’i.  Even the descriptive names of the different types of lava (the rope-like pahoehoe and the shoe-destroying a’a formations) are Hawai’ian words.  I can see my Hawai’ian husband getting homesick…

Of course, it’s a little colder on these lava flows than the ones at home…  The looping road through the park is closed for winter, and in a more usual winter of Idaho snow, we could cross-country ski through the park, but today we have to be content with the perimeter road passing from Carey to Arco.  And the geology buffs are more than content; both Keoni and The Editor are geeking out on the basaltic formations, and I had my own geek-out affair at the visitor center’s racks of shiny-covered books…  What actually jumped onto my hand, however, wasn’t a book at all, but a little owl-puppet—Pue’o, my personal totem.  A writing-and-traveling-mascot.

Although we’re slated to stay the night in Arco, The Editor wanted to use our extra time to drive north a stretch, through McKay toward Mount Borah (perhaps to survey the site of his upcoming conquest) and we’re grateful for the dramatic views of the detour.  A herd of antelope ran alongside us for one stretch of road; The Photographer slowed us down to about thirty-five miles an hour to match their pace and I wondered where they were headed in such a sprint, kicking up dirt with their hind hooves as they dashed the distance to wherever they were aimed.  We passed McKay Reservoir with a village of ice-fishing huts and sheds that made me think of “Grumpy Old Men”…

Pue'o (the owl)--my traveling-writing-mascot

I confess I finally “get” the appeal of RV-ing.  I’ve always seen a monstrously-unmaneuverable-gas-guzzler, and not thought any further.  In this instance, however, I’m neither trying to drive the beast nor paying for its gas, and I confess this is road-tripping more comfortable than I’ve ever had it!  Spending this afternoon stretched out on the couch snuggled in Keoni’s arms while that stunning scenery streamed by the “living room window”…  no complaints whatsoever!


Evening. After a couple hours parked among the mountains, soaking up the surroundings (and lunch!) we revved up the Roaming-Home once again and headed back to Arco.  It’s a friendly looking little town of just over a thousand people, with business names like “Atomic Lube” referencing the nuclear plant which powered this community before any other in the world. The nearby Idaho National Engineering Lab is Idaho’s still-active nuclear facility, cleverly located out here on a geographic fault line among volcanic hot spots.  I wondered what the high school mascot might be—something glowing?—but it turns out they’re the rather unassuming Pirates.

The Writer, The Editor, & The Photographer at Pickle's

Arco grew up at the junction of two stage lines, and originally went by the name “Root Hog,” until a postmaster objected and marshaled a change. We had dinner at Pickle’s Place, a local favorite, where Keoni tried the Atomic Burger and we all shared an order of fried pickles. The Mountain RV Park here is closed for the winter, but because they advertise with the magazine, they kindly flipped on the power for us to hook up here.  It’s a little cold to attempt the miniature golf course, but we’re already looking forward to a warmer-weather visit with the kids.

I have to take a moment to enthuse about my new toy, an iPad accessory…  The iPad is practically glued to my hand on trips like this–the map-apps and note-taking and recording functions “gathering” our experiences as we go–but I’d been wishing it really were glued to my hand, because it’s really not convenient to carry the thing around.  So a couple months ago I was searching for a handled case or something along those lines, and strangely enough, the first item listed on my Google search was a plastic beach-bucket.  Well, it did have a handle…

Amused by the search result, I posted on FaceBook that I could just see myself tripping along with my iPad in its little bucket–and my mom wrote me to say my cousin’s fiancee works for OtterBox and has outfitted her with accessories for her toys…  Not a week later a package arrived in the mail with the indestructible Otter “Defender” (definitely a wise choice for someone as clumsy as myself) and a full set-up of handles and straps allowing me to sling the thing over my shoulder, or strap it to my hand.  I’m LOVING it!  So here’s a shout-out of thanks to my mother and the cousin’s fiancee–journalism just got easier.

Tomorrow is our last day on the road–the Shoshone Ice Caves (another feature closed at this time of year) will be opening up for a private tour…  Don’t we just feel like the V.I.P. bus this week!


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

8 thoughts on “From Volcanic Hotspots to an Atomic Town

  1. I went to visit my brother about 20 years ago while he was stationed in Idaho Falls for the Navy’s nuclear power training. We went to Craters of the Moon. We had the place to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed our explorations there. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


  2. We looked at rv’s before taking our trip west this past summer. Wow are they ever decked out now. Of course, a heavy price tag came along with it, so we opted to drive and get rooms along the way. I’m glad you’re able to do this without having to worry about that. Have fun!


  3. If you get a chance, you should check out the small Atomic Submarine museum in Arco. The man who runs it lives nearby and will open it up for visitors (it’s inside the small shed near the sub conning tower). He worked for the Idaho National Engineering Lab. Really interesting.


  4. Another wonderful jog-along you included us in, Kana! The entire post and photographs brought me right along with you, wanting to run with those antelopes and look for more spearheads! Wow–getting to visit the Shoshone Ice Caves in winter–lucky you!


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