Thursday, July 3, 2014

Idaho - Craters of the Moon & Twin Falls

Lava fields from the road
On Saturday, June 21st we met my friend, Susie, and her husband and two children at the Sun Valley Club and had a delicious lunch on the patio.  It started to sprinkle just as we finished our meal and we moved into the building where our waiter delivered freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Yum! Then Susie showed us the home where she grew up, and the condo her parents bought more than sixty years ago where Susie's family lived five days a week during the school year so her sons could go to a Montessori school for about seven years. We visited the home they bought last year, and we met Susie's father who had stopped by. Then Tom and I went on to Craters of the Moon.
The trail look like a ghost path up this cinder cone

This is 750,000 acres of land which has experienced intermittent lava flows starting 15,000 years ago and ending 2,000 years ago. Shoshone oral traditions indicate that some of their ancestors witnessed some of the last eruptions. We drove along Route 20 where we could see what looked like fields of rough, black rock, interspersed with lava that had grasses and other plants growing on it. We spent an hour or more driving through the park (we love the Senior Lifetime National Parks Pass - Tom calls it the Golden Geezer pass).
The landscapes can be eerily beautiful
This outcropping is about the size of a house

That is a big RV, to give you a sense of the landscape
In our language, the names for many lava formations come from Hawaiian - a'a and pahoehoe. In 1969 moon-bound astronauts (Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan and Joe Engle) were brought to Craters of the Moon to train, although the moon's craters are more from meteor collisions than volcanic activity. They found the moon's surface was much more dusty than this area.
One can see why people who had only seen the moon
through telescopes thought the moon might be like this

Rather like Capitol Reef, there were not very many people at this park although as I recall, they said about 250,000 people visit it in a year. In the winter groups of school kids snowshoe into the park.

Lava with lichens growing on it
We saw evidence of volcanic eruptions in other places along our trip, through mostly sedimentary rock formations. There was Boulder Mountain between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, and on our way back into Arizona we passed Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. We'll have to visit there on another trip - it was ten minutes until closing when we drove by on our way home on this trip.

Being in this park reminded me of our family visit to Hawaii in 1993. My mother, who had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, invited her adult children to join her in Hawaii. We took a day trip to the Big Island to helicopter over an erupting volcano. From the helicopter we could gaze into the molten magma through holes in the lava fields and feel the heat. We flew over the coast where erupting hunks of lava exploded and created steam as they hit the ocean water. It felt primeval.

Our trip to Craters of the Moon meant that we spent our 'down day' driving about four hours there and back to Sun Valley, but the dramatic scenery was worth it.

We ate dinner at the Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum, which everyone said must be experienced. It is a steak and potato place - Tom had the steak, I had the potato which was GIGANTIC. There was a mix of tourists and locals with lots of animal heads on the walls, including several mule deer trophies with 29 to 43 points (I know, odd numbers - the racks looked a bit deformed and were not matched on the two sides).
Can you see the double rainbow effect?
Birds were soaring below us and landing
on almost vertical rock faces

The next day we drove to Salt Lake City.  We detoured slightly to Twin Falls, Idaho to see where the Snake River goes over the Shoshone Falls. The day we were there the flow was a little below average at 3000 cubic feet per second. The falls are 212 feet high, higher than Niagara Falls, but with much less water flowing over them. There is a dam above the falls to generate electric energy (and regulate the flow below the falls) just like in Idaho Falls. You can go on a website to learn the current river flow, and to see real-time video to determine if the water flow is sufficient to pay the $3 fee to get into the park and walk down to the overlook.

The falls are high enough that salmon and sturgeon can go no further up the Snake River, and before there were big dams lower down the Snake, this was a great fishing area for Native Americans.

Below is the view looking down the river from the same platform - you can see the power plant at the right edge of the photo to get some perspective.
View to the west (downstream) of Shoshone Falls

As we drove to the park we passed a wide variety of homes. There were two massive homes with big fences and elaborate landscaping in the middle of relatively modest homes. As we crossed the river I took a photo out the window of the valley a few miles below the falls. It looks idyllic and you can see some of a golf course.

Twin Falls bridge

We continued on to Salt Lake City. As Susie's husband, Henry, said, you drive about an hour through the suburbs of Salt Lake before you actually arrive in the city. We again benefited from a free room, this time at a Marriott right downtown as a gift from my friend, Karen.

It was Sunday night in Salt Lake City. We ate at the highly recommended Bambara at the Hotel Monaco, just a block from our hotel (thanks Nancy, for the recommendation). We then walked a few blocks up the hill to explore Temple Square. Brigham Young established the location in 1847 and the city streets are numbered from the square - 100 S. Street (1 block south) or 300 W. Street (3 blocks west) with an occasional 4th S. Street thrown in to keep you on your toes. So an address might be 3220 300 S. St., a bit confusing at first.

Temple Square holds the Tabernacle (where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs), the Temple, an Assembly Hall (which we entered briefly, just before 9 pm), the Family History Library, two visitors centers and gardens and statues. Lots of tourists, primarily Asian, were taking photos, and outside the Square there were a number of polite beggars. They would 'bless us' even if we didn't give them anything. I didn't carry my camera with me that night, so I have no photos.

As we walked back to the hotel we passed a large grocery store below the street level, not something you see in every downtown. Earlier we had passed an upscale shopping center behind doors, and Brigham Young's house, where each of his many (some report 55) wives had their own quarters. The population of Salt Lake City itself is only about 190,000, but there are around 2.4 million along the 120 mile corridor from Brigham City to Nephi including Ogden and Provo. The National Security Agency recently built a mega Data Center in Bluffdale, and the Kennecott Mine at Bingham Canyon is humongous and can be seen from the highway miles away. It still produces copper, gold, silver and molybdenum.

We never saw the Great Salt Lake, which is saltier than the ocean and getting ever saltier because while three rivers flow in, no rivers flow out. It loses water only by evaporation. Despite the salinity, it is an enormous sanctuary for water birds. Monday morning we chose to tour the Capitol Building, which I'll tell you about in my next post.

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