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.
Southern 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.
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. We 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.
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.