Tuesday, August 18, 2020

IDAHO Rocks! Twin Falls; Boise; Basques; Nellie and Rudy; McCall; Rockslide! Coeur d'Alene; Bear!!!

WE LOVE IDAHO!!! Our first stop in the Gem State was Twin Falls. MLB and I got out for one of the best bike rides ever, along the Snake River. The rim-level trail is relatively easy, until you get to the hills... back in 1974, Evel Knievel attempted to jump the 1,600 ft wide canyon in his steam-powered X-2 skycycle from this ramp. Unfortunately, the skycycle's parachute opened much too early, and the attempt failed. Suzanne recalls that event and imagines/wishes she could make the jump on her mountain bike.....

The twin falls are Shoshone (shown here, our photo from the bike trail) and Perrine Coulee. Shoshone is taller than Niagara, 212 ft high and 900 ft wide. The Snake River tumbles through the beautiful basalt canyon on its way to meet the Columbia River far downstream.


Downstream of the falls is a beautiful, serene area where kayakers can enjoy a mellow paddle. MLB is dwarfed by the basalt rocks towering overhead. Falcons soared above, hunting prey like pigeons nesting in crevices and on ledges.

From Twin Falls, we motored on to Boise, another favorite stop in Idaho. We had dinner at a Basque restaurant with Teresa Stella, who had migrated here from California with her dog Sparky. 

"Basque", you might ask? In Idaho? In fact, there is a community of between 10,000-15,000 Basques here. Many are descendants of sheepherds who came to Idaho in the 1800s. One of the neat places we discovered was a Basque cultural area with an old sheepherd's wagon. Imagine living in one of these for months at a time in remote mountain and sagebrush areas, tending your sheep and protecting them against wolves and grizzly bears. (English teachers, please note: they do call themselves sheepherds, not "shepherds"... nor "Sherpas"...)

Our puppies are still enjoying the trip out west, and our 8 month old puppy Nellie is growing like a weed; she is almost as big as Rudy, who at 15 1/2 years is starting to slow down, just like his dog-dad... Look at that innocent face... We call her "Nellie the Wonderful", because most of the time she is really sweet... especially to us. I heard Rudy say one day, after Nellie was nipping at his ears and hip thrusting him, "Dog-dad, she is really Nellie the Naughty!", but we won't let that moniker take hold... sorry, Rudy.... suck it up!

After Boise, we moved on to another favorite, McCall, Idaho. The allure in McCall is the hiking in Payette National Forest and paddling on Payette Lake and the river of the same name. We splashed our kayaks twice on the lovely upper Payette River, paddling both sections from the lake upstream to the head of navigation. For our kayaks, that meant water about 2 inches deep. Only fish and stream walkers might get higher up the river. 

This photo shows how crystal clear the river was - you can see the shadow of Suzanne's kayak on the river bottom, probably 3 or 4 feet below!

I mentioned hiking... here is MLB at Louie Lake (7,040 ft) ; it was a moderately strenuous 5 mile round trip, and worth every bit of sweat and exertion! By the way, the trail is on the flanks of Twin Peaks. (I did not make this up!)

So, after the kayaking and hiking, I had to take Suzanne out to dinner. She found a great restaurant (Rupert's) at the Hotel McCall, and the food, wine and service were terrific. What a view I had, and the scenery was nice, too.

While Suzanne was doing a Zoom session, I went for a hike around the town of McCall. This young buck, his antlers still in velvet, was quietly munching away on grass in a residential yard... he was one of five deer I walked to within 6 feet of that evening.

From McCall it was on to Coeur d'Alene, but there was a problem. My pre-departure planning showed the drive to be about 275 miles, so imagine my chagrin when but a few days before leaving McCall, MLB said, "Ty, the iPhone is saying it's over 375 miles, and requires a detour into Oregon..." Nothing stirs me up worse than being wrong about trip planning, but "WAIT! WAIT!" There was a huge rockslide on US 95 near Riggins, Idaho, which resulted in large house-sized boulders covering the roadway. 

The detour would take us into Oregon, but finally, after 17 days, on the day before we were to depart McCall, the Idaho Transportation Department contractors had dynamited enough of the largest boulders to open one lane of the road during daylight hours. Be happy that you weren't on that section of road when the mountainside came crashing down...

Next stop: Coeur d'Alene. The name comes from a phrase (meaning "the heart of an awl", or hard steel, that the French voyageurs used to describe the trading practices of the local Indians of the same name, although they call themselves the Skitswish, which means "The Discovered People"). We were visiting some good friends, Dick and Alis Arrowood, who had sold their Sonoma vineyard and winery, Amapola Creek, last year and bought a lovely lake view home in CDA.

We had been to Coeur d'Alene before, but really fell in love with it this trip. We even looked at some small cabins with Elda Asinelli, a delightful real estate agent and friend of Alis. But the prices are outrageous... seems like thousands of Californians are bailing out of the People's Republic and flocking to Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado in search of personal liberty, freedom from riots and crime, and reasonable taxes.... Gee, which would you prefer, the streets of San Fran or this lovely lake sunset? I am not making a political statement, mind you... "just sayin' what they're sayin'".......

Suzanne's birthday came during our stay, and I had made reservations at Domino's Pizza, not realizing that because of the Chinese flu, their two picnic tables were out of commission. Sigh... So I asked Dick to recommend an alternative, and we wound up at Anthony's. No pizza, but Suzanne's halibut and my walleye were spectacular, and the service and ambiance were perfect. 

We also met some of Dick and Alis' friends and neighbors, Gary and Lynda Summers, and had dinner with the four of them at The Cedars, a famous landmark and floating restaurant in CDA. (From L-R, Lynda, Gary, Alis, Dick, MLB and your humble correspondent). Dick and Gary are both world class sporting clay shooters, and have amazing collections of shotguns, mostly over and under and side-by-side models. They shoot up to 25,000 shells a year to stay at highly competitive levels. ( I feel sorry for those clay pigeons, though...)

Wrapping up our visit to Coeur d'Alene, I had a run-in with some wildlife... a big grizzly bear. I spotted him on our walk around a lake after dinner one night. I wasn't about to let some brassy bruin intimidate us, though...

Monday, July 20, 2020

Zion; SLC; New Friends; Hikes in the Wasatch Mountains; Gross Brine Flies!!! A Big Copper Mine; Pool Party!

Zion National Park is a jewel, but this virus nonsense is making even visiting national parks problematic. Visitor controls meant that shuttle buses requiring advance reservations were almost empty, so we didn't get to the hiking trails we would have liked to hike again. But we found a great mountain biking trail along the Virgin River, where My Lovely Bride is pictured here... it's over a 100 foot drop to the rocks below, and Suzanne was making me a bit nervous riding close to the edge... "Hey, I am not 22 any more!"

A drive through the park did allow us to refresh ourselves with the spectacular scenery Zion offers... 

MLB is famous for her "enSuzyasm"!!!

This is Checkerboard Mesa,  where unusual cross-hatching of the White Cliffs formation have formed in the mesa's sandstone.

Zion is such a humbling place for mere mortals such as myself.... 

Next, on to Salt Lake City, where we met new friends Wally and Colette Lloyd; we met for a great Mexican dinner at the Red Iguana, and went hiking up above the Alta ski resort, around 9,500 feet; the air is a bit thin that high, but we had a ball. It was 68 degrees up high, and in the 90s down in the city.

The meadows were covered in beautiful wildflowers - lupine, blue bells, Indian paintbrush, and more...


Another hike found Wally and me at Big Cottonwood Canyon for a triple (3 short hikes totalling 5 miles). The first was to Donut Falls, the second to Silver Lake, and the third up a steep trail to Twin Lakes. Having grown up in Salt Lake, Wally has done all of these trails multiple times, and was a totally knowledgeable guide.

Suzanne and I have fallen in love with the Wasatch Mountains - all of these hikes are within one hour's drive of SLC. I could live here!

We did have one misadventure while kayaking on the Great Salt Lake. As we drove into the state park of the same name, we noticed that there were no other boats on the lake... how cool, we'll have it all to ourselves! We launched our kayaks, noticing a lot of fly-like insects near the shore. "No sweat, Suzanne, once we get out in the lake, they should disappear..." WRONG!!!! Here is MLB paddling hard, with Antelope Island in the background, trying to outrun swarms of what we later found were billions of "brine flies". You can actually see them on the surface of the water; thankfully, they did not bite, but they were totally GROSS!

Near the shore of the Great Salt Lake as you are headed west from SLC, you will see an enormous stack - the smelter stack for Kennecott Copper, a facility that produces about 25% of all the copper used in the USA. The open pit Bingham Copper Mine in the Oquirrh Mountains is the largest man-made excavation in the world, and the deepest open-pit mine in the world. 

While in SLC, we also had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant with Irene Bozich and Mike Muir, spiritual leader of the SLC Unity Church.  Irene graciously provided her home and good Internet signal for two of Suzanne's online events.

Contrary to the photos above, we were not always hiking, kayaking and eating out in SLC... for example, two of our neighbors at the KOA campground had a pool party... in the bed of their pickup truck! (For a moment I thought that we might have been transported back to my home state of Louisiana...). I was about to accept their invitation when MLB said, "That young blonde isn't wearing many clothes.." (I was about to respond, "What's your point?" when the Husband's Survival Instinct set in). Sigh...

We also got out on several bike rides on the Jordan River Trail, a 40 mile bike and walking trail that passed right behind our campground. Here is MLB perusing the selections at a private mini-library behind a riverside home (perhaps created by a generous English teacher???).

Our time in Utah at an end, we reluctantly struck camp and headed north to Idaho... please join us next week for more Summer Tour adventures!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Flagstaff Hiking and Biking; Bismarck Lake; Walnut Canyon; Aspens; Backpacking Dachshunds; Sedona Side-Trip; Las Vegas Friends and Verite

Flagstaff has always been one of our favorite places, and having great friends there makes it extra special. Janean Quigley and Suzanne hit it off really well, both metaphysically and "PT-physically". Both gals love to hike and bike, and trying to keep up with them is getting to be more than tough... it's almost impossible! Here we are on a "mellow" mountain bike ride near Mormon Lake, southeast of Flagstaff.

I did a solo overnight on the Arizona Trail, which has few water resources. Janean kindly carried extra water for me before returning to her car; her Labradoodle Luna is an amazing hiking dog, with unbounded energy.

I set up camp at Bismarck Lake, under some trees that provided some relief from the sun. I was the only overnighter here; I was surprised, because it's a pleasant spot to camp. Dinner was freeze-dried sweet and sour pork, while breakfast was biscuits and gravy (also freeze-dried). These meals in a bag only require adding boiling water and waiting 8-9 minutes; that beats carrying all the ingredients, which would be about 2-3 times the weight of the prepared meal.

The view from my tent was impressive. Bismarck Lake (in summer, the size of a small pond) actually had some water in it, but local residents (elk, mule deer, skunks, rabbits, birds, etc.) use it as a primary water source, and (a) I didn't want to use their limited water supply; and (b) they also tend to poop and pee in the lake, so water quality could be, shall we say, problematic.

This photo with the San Francisco Peaks in the background was to prove to My Lovely Bride that I wasn't at Hooters... but I probably could have convinced her that I had been out hiking by showing her the worst blister I have ever had on my left middle toe. (I refrain from showing it on this blog because it was really gross...)

While in Flag, we had an RV meet-up with our friends Jim and Diane. It was their first time here, so we took them to Walnut Canyon National Monument. The main trail taking visitors past the 25 cliff dwelling rooms was closed, but we got a short hike in on the Rim Trail. The river (dry in summer) is 350 feet below the rim. The pre-Columbian Sinagua (literally "without water") people lived here from about 1100-1250 A.D. Historians think that they abandoned these cliff dwellings because of threats from other nearby tribes.

While driving through part of Flagstaff near the mountains, I was amazed to see hundreds of sandbags protecting residential homes. There was a serious fire on the slopes above this area a year or two ago, and when the summer monsoon begins, there can be 2 feet of muddy runoff cascading down the streets. 

Aspen trees (Populous tremuloides) are common in Flagstaff (elevation 6,970 ft), and we love to hike through groves of these beautiful trees. They are often part of a cloned colony sharing a common root system, and grow to about 80 feet in height. The ferns at the base of these aspens are about four feet tall.

This lovely hiker is obviously happy to be in the aspens...

An aspen grove is an excellent place to meditate!

Suzanne introduced Nellie to hiking by carrying her in a backpack for a couple of miles and letting her walk the third mile; she did GREAT! Rudy, being over 15 years old, preferred to be carried......

Our final hike in Flag for this year took us to Sandy's Canyon Trail, named after a friend of Janean's. The scenery was terrific, and it was a fitting finish to a fabulous two week stay...

A short side trip to Sedona allowed us to enjoy (even briefly) the incredible red rock scenery of this beautiful area between Flagstaff and Phoenix. 

We had lunch at Butterfly Burger, a "couture burger lounge" created by Chef Lisa Dahl, a good friend of Suzanne's. The food was amazing - real gourmet hamburgers with ingredients that were perfectly selected to make your taste buds explode, and served in a setting that was sexy and stylish. This picture greets you at the door... if you're ever in Sedona, it's well worth a visit.

We departed Flag headed west to Las Vegas, where we stopped for two nights to have dinner with Jerry Facciani and Karen Barret Facciani. As we were getting out of the car, they met us in full bio-warfare facemasks... what cards they are! Fortunately, Jerry allowed us all to go mask-free so we could enjoy two gourmet dinners and some of the finest wine we have ever had, 97 and 98 point Verite La Muse and La Joie. Jerry and Karen are true oenophiles

We would have liked to have spent more time with Jerry and Karen, but it was getting HOT! We struck camp and headed north to Hurricane, Utah, near Zion National Park, one of the most spectacular places on the planet... but more on that in my next post. Ya'll come back, ya hear?