After roaming around in the midwest during the past two summers, we decided to head further west - to Idaho. Neither of us had ever been to Idaho, Montana or Wyoming. So we applied to the Idaho Parks and Recreation department for volunteer jobs. Very soon we were contacted by Ranger Bart, who wanted us to help out at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Southwest Idaho. We had expected to be visiting Idaho's mountains and forests, rivers and canyons. We hadn't realized that part of the state was desert. But since that was where they needed us, we were game to try.



The Road to Idaho

We left home on May 28. Our first destination was the little town of Lanesboro, MN. There we had our annual get together with some of Gail's former co-workers at the University of Minnesota, the MinnClan. We were drawn to this little town and this particular time by the opportunity to enjoy a rhubarb festival and attend plays preformed by the Commonweal Theater Company.



MinnClan gathering in the courtyard of the Green Gable Inn
where we stayed


Ann, Gail and Maija participating in the Rhubarb Run
to benefit the local library


1920s-era Spud Boy Diner where we had breakfast
and the owner's Hudson Hornet


The Aroma Pie Shoppe, source of a tasty
Second Breakfast and dessert


After the Lanesboro interlude, we headed west again. We stopped very briefly at the Little Big Horn, site of a tragedy for European and Native American alike.


Hilltop where George Custer and some of his soldiers died.
Each marker indicates where a soldier's body was found.


Sculpture to commemorate the Native Americans who died
and the loss of their way of life


Our next major destination was Yellowstone National Park. Because of our schedule to arrive at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Southwest Idaho, we did not stay there as long as we wanted, but we did see a lot and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We camped in West Yellowstone, Montana, at the Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park. We hiked a mile-long trail to Harlequin Lake and a 5-mile trail to Beaver Pond, but, happily, did not meet up with any grizzlies.

The only down side of our stay at Yellowstone was that our refrigerator stopped cooling again, just like last September in Wisconsin. We made do by using the refrigerator as an ice box with ice cubes.


A bison with a calf, members of a herd of several dozen
along the Madison River


A bull elk near the Gibbon River


An eruption of Old Faithful geyser
seen from Observation Point


Us standing in front of Castle Geyser
in Yellowstone National Park


Gibbon Falls


Some of the colorful hot water pools at the Artist's Paintpot site



In Idaho

We arrived at Bruneau Dunes State Park in late afternoon on Sunday, June 9. Campground host Elver and Ranger Edgar helped us get settled into our camping site.

The main features of the park are a series of sand dunes located in an ancient cove of the Snake River. The highest dune is about 470 feet high. The park also features two small lakes and several ponds that are maintained by pumping water into the lakes from the Snake River during winter.



Our Moving House seen from atop the bluffs overlooking the park.
The green vegetation is due to weekly watering.


Right behind our trailer is a dead tree where Western Meadowlarks,
Western Kingbirds and other birds alighted


Big Dune Lake, seen from one of the small dunes
north of the lake.


Climbers part way up the 470-foot high Big Dune.
We refered to them as “ants”.


We reach the top of the Big Dune.
It was not easy. One step up, close to one step sliding back.


A Western Whiptail Lizard about to snack on
an insect near the Little Dune Lake


We were interpretive hosts at Bruneau Dunes. Most of our duties were to assist with the Friday and Saturday evening open houses at the park's observatory. The observatory has a 25-inch Dobsonian, and they have number of smaller telescopes and a pair of naval binoculars that are set up on the plaza in front of the observatory. The sky here is quite dark so that the Milky Way and other faint objects are easily visible when not drowned out by the Moon. Al gave pre-observing presentations on Saturdays. He talked about about Hubble's trials and triumphs, behind the scenes at Hubble, the invisible universe, exoplanets and variable stars. Gail assisted with the observing and led scorpion walks after dark; scorpions glow green when a UV flashlight shines on them.

We also took on a project to update a nature trail around the Little Dune Lake. There was a descriptive brochure, but all but one of the trail markers were missing and there was no map. We located the described positions as best as we could, combined and deleted locations to simplify the trail, created a map, and installed as many new trail markers as we had available.

We scheduled ourselves to lead the nature walks around the Little Dune Lake at 9 a.m. Saturday mornings, difficult after our late night observatory support on Friday evenings. We had no customers until our last Saturday, when two campers joined us.


Observatory with the 25-inch telescope
The whole building rotates to align the slit with the sky.


A scorpion glowing under ultraviolet light
(Great photograph by Mary Bybee)


Theo and Al after installing Marker 4
on the Little Dune Lake interpretive nature trail


Gail digging a hole for Marker 9
on the Little Dune Lake interpretive nature trail


It was hot here in southwest Idaho. When we arrived, on June 10, it was 91ºF, and it mostly remained unseasonably hot until summer arrived and then it just was seasonably hot. The humidity was low, but, even so, temperatures of 105ºF to 107ºF felt hot. We did spend a lot of our afternoons in air conditioning, often with a siesta.

The heat and dry weather increased the risk of wildfires. After one storm with lightning and very little rain, we saw this smoke rising to the east of us. Fortunately it turned out to be about 13 miles away and was quickly extinguished by firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management. However, other fires north of Boise continued out of control for over a week.

On three occasions winds of 50 to 60 miles per hour arose within a half hour, bringing dense dust clouds. They rocked our Moving House. The worst occurred on the 4th of July when it blew over some trees in the campground, but did us no damage.

After nearly two weeks in Idaho, we had good news about the misbehaving refrigerator. An RV repairman in Mountain Home found that a sensor had fallen out of its holder. Simply sticking it back where it belonged solved the problem!


We explored this region of Idaho with short trips during our off-days, Monday and Tuesday. The places we went include Bruneau Canyon Overlook, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Sawtooth Mountains National Recreation Area, the 1000 Springs area, and more.


Bruneau Canyon Overlook

Bruneau Canyon is located relatively near Bruneau Dunes State Park so this is one of the first places we visited. The canyon is 800 feet deep and 1,300 feet across at the access location. The river provides exciting rafting trips in spring when the water is high.



Bruneau River Canyon


A pronghorn antelope near the canyon


Craters of the Moon National Monument




These large boulders originated in one eruption
but were carried along by a river of molten rock a later eruption
We made a one-day trip to Craters of the Moon during our second week in Idaho. A series of volcanic eruptions - the most recent about 2,000 years ago - has left a landscape of tens of miles of jagged, black basalt rock sprinkled with cinder cones.



This is a spatter cone, a small cinder cone
created as the eruption was running out of steam


Gail entering one of the Buffalo Caves, a drained lava tube.
This tube was low - we had to move on hands and knees - and short


We also went through Indian Cave, a much larger lava tube,
800 feet long, at places 30 feet high and 50 feet wide.


Tree mold,
the impression pine bark left in lava thousands of years ago


Sawtooth Mountains National Recreation Area

In the first week of July, to escape the heat (and because we wanted to see them) we took an overnight trip to the mountains. This was the Idaho we had expected to see when we signed up to volunteer.

We stayed overnight in Stanley in a motel on the bank of the Salmon River, the River of No Return. We ate dinner in a restaurant on the bank of the same river and, from the dining deck, saw an osprey and a bald eagle fly downstream.

We took three short, day hikes while there, along Fishhook Creek, along Fourth of July Creek and to Titus Lake. The most isolated was on Fourth of July Creek trail. To get to the trailhead, we drove 10 miles on a rough one-lane dirt road. We did not meet cars going the opposite direction when we drove in, but coming out we encountered several. By pulling off the road we managed to pass each other without backing up long distances.



At the end of a 2-mile hike up Fishhook Creek


Gail negotiating a bridge on the Fourth of July Creek trail


Washington Peak (10,519') reflected in Fourth of July lake


Arriving at Titus Lake


Thousand Springs

The 1,000 Springs area includes Idaho's Thousand Springs State Park, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and more. Thousand Springs State Park has a number of separated units of which we visited Malad Gorge, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon and Niagara Springs. The area is called 1,000 springs because water, which enters the aquifer up to 250 miles north and east of this location, bursts from the side of the Snake River Canyon all along this stretch of river.

We also swam in the geothermal pools at Miracle Springs south of the Snake River, but no photos exist of that.



250-feet deep Malad Gorge, near Hagerman, Idaho.
Named because some French trappers became sick after eating meat here


Ruts of the Oregon Trail going up a gully
in the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument


I would not want to be near this during an earthquake!
Balanced Rock near Buhl, Idaho


Gail on the trail descending into the Box Canyon.
All the water in the river comes from spring which produces
2,640 gallons of water per second at the head of the canyon.


Water gushing out of the hillside above Crystal Lake
at the Niagara Springs unit of the state park


Other Day and Part-Day Trips

Some other places we visited included the C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area, Poison Creek, Three Island Crossing State Park, Celebration Park and the Idaho Bird Observatory on Lucky Peak. One afternoon we visited a former colleague of Al's who is observatory director at the Herrett Center of the College of Southern Idaho. In Boise we also visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, Basque Museum, the Mining and Geology Museum and the Old Penitentiary.



Looking from a small side canyon down to the Snake River
and the opposite cliffs in the C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area


Clark's Grebes on the Snake River in C.J. Strike


Star-shaped petroglyph made by Native Americans long ago.
Now in Celebration Park, Melba, ID, the star's arms align with the
solstice and equinoctial sunrises and with the North Star.


Chris, Al and Gail at the Herrett Center
of the College of Southern Idaho


The road to the Idaho Bird Observatory, 6 miles of one-lane dirt,
sometimes rutted, sometimes washboard, always exciting!


A yellow warbler caught in the mist-net, ready to be extracted,
evaluated, banded and released at the Idaho Bird Observatory.


Rock formation on the way to Poison Creek


California Condor at the World Center for Birds of Prey,
where endangered birds are bred to be released to the wild



On The Way Home From Idaho

After ending our stay at Bruneau Dunes, we meandered our way home, visiting first Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park in the northwest corner of Montana, then Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, and finally family and friends further east. We arrived back in Maryland on Aug. 21.


The scenery at Glacier National Park was spectacular! And we saw mountain goats, a bighorn sheep and, from our truck, maybe a grizzly or two.

On the first day the weather was beautiful. We first took the park shuttle up the Going to the Sun Road to Logan pass. There we hiked up (1.5 miles one way and 460 feet of climbing) to the overlook for Hidden Lake and a little beyond. At the overlook a mountain goat wandered in to give us a really good view. After returning to the pass, we took another shuttle down to Avalanche Creek. There we hiked hiked up the creek to Avalanche Lake (2.0 miles one way and 500 feet), where waterfalls cascade down from Sperry Glacier, which is hidden behind a ridge.

Although the next day began with clouds and a brief rain shower, we decided to go to the Many Glaciers area. There a ranger dude convinced us to buy a can of bear spray. Then we headed up the trail to Grinnell Glacier (5.5 miles one way and 1,500 feet up). Since we were still weary from the previous day's hikes, we stopped frequently to debate whether to go on or to turn back. We went on and the Sun broke through the clouds at times. Except for the last few hundred yards, the trail did not seem too steep although in one place it followed a narrow ledge across a cliff face and once we had to walk through a small waterfall. On the way down we found a bighorn sheep browsing at the side of the trail.

Friday began overcast again. We drove north to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. The landscape there generally was gentler than in Glacier. We did not attempt any long hikes, but we did enjoy a lunch alongside the lake and shopping in the park village.

Our last day at Glacier began sunny, and we joined a ranger-guided hike through the different habitats on the Beaver Pond Trail (a 2.5 miles loop with only 150 feet of climbing). Afterwards we hung out at the St. Mary Visitor Center and talked with the volunteers who had solar telescopes set up for the visitors. In late afternoon we had showers with lightning and hail so we stayed at the Moving House.

According to the Birds of Glacier check list, Gray Jays, Stellar's Jays, Townsend's Solitaires, Three-toed Woodpeckers, Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds, Red Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks, Wigeons, Goldeneyes and more are common in the park during the summer. And golden-crowned kinglets are abundant. All we identified were robins, swallows, crows and a solitary red-tailed hawk. Of course, we had ignored the advice that the early bird sees the bird.

While at Glacier, our refrigerator failed again. The easy fix did not work so we used it as an ice box for the remainder of the summer.


Craigy Clements Mountain - 8760 feet high
above Logan Pass at Glacier National Park


Mountain goat near the Hidden Lake Overlook
above Logan Pass


Hidden Lake from the trail; Reynolds Mountain (9125 feet) is on
the left and the base of Bearhat Mountain (8684 feet) on the right


Us at Avalanche Lake with cascading streams
coming from Sperry Glacier


Us on the trail to Grinnell Glacier. The glacier is above
Gail's head but behind a cloud. Grinnell Lake is far below
and is visible behind Al's shoulder.


Gail on the overlook for Grinnell Glacier.
The clouds lifted just enough for it to be visible.


A small waterfall flows
over the Grinnell Glacier Trail;
Al takes an icy shower.


A bighorn sheep having lunch on the trail
our trail or his?


The Prince of Wales Hotel seen from Waterton Park Village


A few of the mountains visible from the 1913 Ranger station
at St. Mary


Al had expected to see lots of flat prairie with large herds of bison when we got to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Was he ever surprised! We did walk across plenty of pairie and did see bison, but most of the park is centered on badlands around the Little Missouri River. There are even a lot of petrified trees.

Our longest hike was to the petrified forest in the wilderness area of the southern unit of the park. On the way, Gail nearly stepped on a snake lying on the trail. It was a very-much-alive prairie rattlesnake with struggling bird in its jaws. This was an educational experience for us. 1) We learned that snakes can catch birds. 2) We learned to watch very carefully where we were walking to be sure that no snake would catch us.



A natural pyramid?
Much of the landscape is covered with conical hills.


RattleSnake with a live bird in its mouth
on the trail to the petrified forest.


Gail with a petrified tree stump


The Little Missouri River seen from a shelter
constructed by the CCC at the big bend of the river



There and Back Again

We met with old friends and made new ones. On the road and in the parks, we talked with people from all over, even Ellicott City, Maryland, and Rhinelander, Wisconsin. We helped people see star clusters and scorpions. We learned a lot about the desert and passed on some of that knowledge.
We visited four national parks (one Canadian), three states and one province that we had never visited before. We also visited three national monuments. We spent 86 days on the road, pulling the Moving House 6,129 miles and traveling an additional 3,621 miles on side trips.
What didn't we see or do? We did not visit Grand Teton National Park or Hells Canyon. We did not see Shoshone Falls or either of the Yellowstone Falls. We did not go rafting or do many other things.

Till next time!


Updated: 10 December 2013