Snake River Canyon

Today was one of those beautiful days that unfolds effortlessly. I woke up at the cabin with the men of the family. We made hash browns and eggs, saw a bluebird at breakfast, washed the dishes, slowly packed up our things. And then instead of heading back to Boise like I planned, I joined the boys on a “quick stop” at the clay caves south of Jerome.

They promised a fast trip, “It’s only an hour and a half from here!” I figured in five hours for stops, but now ten hours later I’ve just arrived home and I’m tired but still smitten with the smells of Sagebrush and Russian Olives, sweet June sunset air in the Snake River Valley.

Snake River Canyon 13Southern Idaho seems barren and brown from the freeway. It’s a mostly flat desert of lava rock and sagebrush, where grasses dry up over the summer. But if you follow your dad and his brother up roads only locals know, you’ll get your car stuck in the deep ruts of a dusty road lined by sagebrush, and then you’ll be forced to see: it’s beautiful out here.

My cousin, Alex, and I were both laughing. Somewhat out of nervousness and mostly at how preposterous our day was turning out. What did we get ourselves into? Why did we trust our dads? The men who forgot to feed us lunch and got us only kind of lost in the desert trying to find an unmarked cave.

We ditched the smaller vehicle Alex and I were driving, and bounced our way to the cave entrance, finally arriving five hours after starting this adventure.Snake River Canyon 19

There we got our flashlights ready, and ducked inside. The cave is short at first, and then it opens up wider and taller into a lava tube with a slippery clay floor, partly dug up by potters, and with remnants of high school parties. Burnt fireworks, charred logs, spray paint graffiti of the names of our parents’ high school classmates. Snake River Canyon 08We wandered the half-mile long chamber, and once we hit its end we turned around and came back out into the startling sunshine.

From there, a pit stop for sandwiches because the kids were starving and we had another two hour drive home. Over dinner, “Hey, want to stop at the bridge since we’re here?” “Okay, since we’re here.” “Should we stop at Shoshone Falls too, you know, since we’re already here?” “I don’t see why not!”

We drove to the park on the canyon rim where we got out of our dusty cars and walked onto the viewpoint, then up the hill over the canyon, marveling at the falls and how beautiful the canyon itself is, opposite the water. We saw kayakers below. We saw teenage girls who’d snuck to a crumbling cement staircase with beers in their purses.

Snake River Canyon 09Snake River Canyon 10Snake River Canyon 12Snake River Canyon 11When we’d got our fill of waterfall, we started heading north towards home. On our way, we stopped at the Perrine Bridge viewpoint and watched base jumpers preparing their chutes on the lawn.

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From there, across the bridge, another stop at Emberton Viewpoint. Named after the grandfather of my dad’s childhood best friend, now closed off and unmarked. There is a trail between massive sagebrush that leads to a fence and then the steep drop off of Snake River Canyon. Blue Lakes below. Golf course in the distance. Lush green river valley sunk hundreds of feet below the dry black and cracking canyon rim.

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Snake River Canyon 16I watched the boys throw rocks over the edge, and wandered through the fragrant brush as the sun started to dip low in the June sky. It smells like summer here. And it feels like family.

 

 

 

Winter Camping at the Stargaze Yurt

It’s starting to feel like spring in the valley, but the mountains north of Boise are still under three feet of snow. In search of one last Idaho winter adventure, we took to the hills last week. We strapped on snowshoes and pulled sleds full of camping gear behind us like Explorers bound for the South Pole (or like sled dogs, your choice) to one of the Idaho Parks & Recreation Yurts north of Idaho City.Idaho City Stargaze Yurt-2

There are yurts all over Idaho (learn more about that here) but we found ours and booked two nights through the Parks & Rec website (here’s their yurting page). They emailed us maps and instructions, so we had no problem finding our way.

The Stargaze Yurt is only and hour and a half away from Boise, located in the hills between Idaho City and Lowman off of Highway 21. We parked at the Beaver Creek Summit Park N’ Ski area, and from there snowshoed 1.2 miles up a marked trail to where the yurt is perched just below Stargaze Point.Idaho City Stargaze Yurt-27

This place is exactly what you hope winter camping will be: feet of snow, trails for snowshoeing, hills for sledding and skiing, stunning views of snow crested hills, but comforts of a cabin like bunk beds, a big deck, an outhouse, and plenty of firewood for the stove.

We brought our own food, wine, sleeping bags and bottles of propane, but the yurt is well stocked for a backcountry basecamp. It has solar lights and propane lanterns, a big skylight, a kitchen area with dishes and supplies, a box of dried goods and extra propane bottles that other guests left, board games, and decks of cards.
Idaho City Stargaze Yurt-29Idaho City Stargaze Yurt-6Idaho City Stargaze Yurt-8We arrived and immediately started the fire for melting snow into drinking water. Then we spent the two days enjoying the 270 degree views of the forested hills Payette River Valley and distant Sawtooth Mountains.

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The yurting experience was what my family’s cabin used to be like before there was cell reception and wifi. Time stretches out a little slower. The stillness and solitude is startling at first, and then comfortable. We spent hours reading, cooking, playing games of Farkle and Five Crowns. I wrote in my journal while Jesse built a snow fort. We stoked the fire, went sledding, and photographed the night sky, without ever worrying about our apps or being in touch.

Jesse looked over from his book one night and said, “I wonder if anyone’s looking for me…” And while we both cracked up about how it sounded like I’d kidnapped him and was holding him captive in the Idaho mountains, I realized it had been too long since we got off the map like this. Its good sometimes to be out of touch, unreachable, and absolutely content with wherever you are.Idaho City Stargaze Yurt-32

October

October Cabin-6

What a whirlwind of a year! I’ve been slacking in the blog-post-writing area of my life but lots of other things have been going on. In September we rode around Newfoundland with Jesse’s parents. I’ve been writing and designing for … Continue reading