We spent the first day and a half in Idaho in the Sawtooth National
Recreation Area. The Salmon river flows out of the Sawtooth mountains
to the east, north and eventually back to the west. There are a vast
number of campgrounds in the area. We stayed along the Salmon in a campground
in which only 1 other site was taken (contrast this to Yellowstone a few
days later). In the morning, elk came down to the river to drink not too
far from the tent. Trails in the area are best suited for multi-day backpacking
but you can always manufacture a day hike out of them.
The Sunbeam dam was started early in the 20th century to provide power to a
mining camp which was a ghost town before the dam was ever finished. The
company that owned the dam (the concrete wall on the left in this picture)
refused to destroy it a decade later when salmon ladders were ineffective in
restoring the fish population of the river. The US government took the unusual step
of circumventing the dam by blasting a hole in the cliffside next to it. The
result? Well, the dam still stands, the river flows freely, and there's a very nice
rapid leftover for white-water rafting. There is unfortunately no scale in this picture
but that curling wave in the center easily dwarfs any raft that fails to stay to
the right side of it.
Stanley is the nice little town in the center of the Sawtooth Recreation
Area. It consists primarily of guides for rafting, kayaking, backcountry
hiking and fly-fishing and the associated businesses to support them.
(Liquor store notwithstanding). The Sawtooth mountains loom behind the town.
Just south of Stanley is Redfish Lake which is a bit of a camping mecca in the
area. The lodge at the lake serves a nice breakfast and there are scenic
boat trips and kayak rentals as well. We also noticed a few kids swimming in the lake.
Apparently they have no nerve endings to speak of given the temperature
of the water.
The south entrance to the Sawtooth mountains is Galena Pass at a bit over 10,000 ft.
(3100 m). This valley contains the headwaters of the Salmon river. Also of interest
is the previous road (if you want to call it that) used to access this area. It is
so steep that cars on it often had to back up it to keep the fuel from running out
of the engine.
Southeastern Idaho consists of hundreds of square miles of lava beds. There
was never a central volcano here but a rift valley that opened up and spewed lava
across the plains. A chunk of these lava beds are now Craters of the Moon National
Monument (named by some early travelers in the area). The rift opened around 15,000
years ago and the most recent activity was 2,000 years ago.
Hiking is rather interesting in the area. The paths tend to be either paved
across the lava or else consist of a fine black cinder. This is one of the 'big
craters' seen from an overlook.
There is a recognizeable line of cinder cones and smaller spatter cones
(like these) running through the area.
Besides the main driving loop there is a substantial area of backcountry
in the monument area. The hiking trails to the tree molds and echo crater areas
are far less traveled than the paved paths in the park. There are two major
lava types in the park as well. Both have Hawaiian names. In this picture
David is standing on pahoehoe which is described as 'smooth' lava, or in general
it means you can walk on it. The sharp jagged lava is called aa and is impassable.
Finally, Craters of the Moon has a very interesting Cave Area which is one of the
few places we've ever been in the US where there is sanctioned self-exploration
of caves. Bring your own flashlight, or preferably a lantern or two. This one is
not exactly a cave but an old lava tube that has collapsed in a few sections. The
lava tubes actually have small stalactite formations as well where lava cooled on the
This is called Indian Tunnel but is actually a lava tube. The cave-in on the left
is fairly obvious. The lava tubes and caves are hazardous as there are extremely
steep descents, difficult footing and of course the innate instability of caves.
A couple of them were roped off during our visit due to recent rock falls.
Beauty cave is the most accessible once you're inside it in that it has a fairly
smooth flat floor and is large enough to stand up in and walk around. This is the
best of our cave pictures, none of which turned out too well. There are periodic
guided cave walks into the larger caves for those who aren't willing to wander in
on their own.
East of Craters of the Moon is the town of Idaho Falls. This is the only city
of any size we passed through in Idaho. There is a natural waterfall on the Snake
River that the town is named after but, well, it's not very natural anymore. In
the background here you can see the straight-line dam that has blocked most of the
original falls. Despite that it is still a pretty section of the river and there
are small cascades which circumvent the main dam (on the right in this picture).
The building in the background is the Idaho Falls Temple of the Latter-day