Craters of the Moon & Idaho Falls, Idaho

[Part one.]

I was absolutely not aware of just how beautiful the landscape would be on this trip.

When we broke out of the city lights and into a whole lot of nothingness, the hills rose up out of the ground and it was just beautiful, lush, and green. The sky was a pristine blue and the clouds just popped out like pieces of cotton. I couldn’t get enough. At one point, one of the few cars in front of us slowed to nearly a stop, and it took a good thirty seconds to realize why we had stopped.

Sheep. We stopped for a sea of sheep. I had hopped we didn’t miss them crossing the street, but we had. They had already crossed over and were moving on. I had never seen such a thing before. I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed them at first, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until I was practically staring them in the face. So crazy. Eventually the rolling hills would break into flat land as far as you could see. It was dark, dreary, and grey. It was like the Elephant Graveyard in the Lion King minus all the elephant carcasses. The area is the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s just miles of dried lava fields as far as the eye could see. It was such a juxtaposition from the pretty blue sky. Since this area was last active thousands of years ago, it’s only now starting to grow small flowers and things. It’s amazing to see. I was most awestruck by the huge cinder-cones that would just pop up out of no where in the miles of dried lava. There are wood sidewalks around to make trails so you don’t destroy what’s trying to regrow or to fall through since there could be caves underneath. It would make for a great story, falling through the ground, assuming you could live to tell the tale. There are caves you can tour, but it requires a separate permit that we didn’t get.

One of the wonders of shared with Andrew was the EBR-1, the Experimental Breeder Reactor. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, built in 1950s to fully power the town of Arco, Idaho. It would be the first city to ever be fully powered by nuclear power. We pulled into the completely empty parking lot. It was still closed until Memorial Day, which was an absolute bummer. Who gets the opportunity to tour a nuclear reactor? That would have been awesome. We sat in the parking lot admiring some atomic jet engine testing facilities before a firetruck came to hose off the remnants of a car fire. I cannot stress that this is in the middle of nowhere. The area around the reactor has the occasional sign indicating secured areas of the Idaho National Laboratories, a world-renowned research facility. I can only imagine what crazy stuff they do in there.

Idaho Falls was almost exactly what I expected. Small town with waterfalls in it. We got a great hotel right next to some of the falls. You could hear the water from the hotel room if you opened the window. The downtown area was walkable, so we took advantage to walk along the falls to find some dinner. The trip absolutely cemented the fact that there is a “food scene” everywhere now. If there is a chance you’re going to get a tourist or you appreciate local/sustainable/farm-to-table, there is going to be some food to be had. It was awesome, yet surprising. We walked into a nearly empty dining room at Republic American Grill & Tapas Bar. I was kind of nervous at first, but that’s the other thing I learned on this trip. Just because there is good food, doesn’t mean people appreciate it in mass like they do in the bigger cities. Empty restaurants meant nothing on this trip, and Republic started off that trend. Their local beer selection was on point, and the server had a lot of really good suggestions both at the restaurant and in town. Food consumed = chorizo stuffed jalapeño poppers on a bed of cherry cream cheese, pepper jack trout dip, and the Republic burger [50% beef/50% bacon]. It took all my willpower to not order the whole rainbow trout. After all the whole fish I ate in Lisbon, I’m such a sucker for a whole fish.

The next morning we stayed downtown and walked to Villa Coffeehouse for breakfast. Their breakfast sandwiches are bagel and croissant forward and they are proud of their syrupy drink concoctions. I had the first whole milk latte I’ve had in a long, long time. Almond milk isn’t always easy to find and I’d rather have dairy over soy. I avoided the syrup. Their egg, ham, and cheese croissant was really good too. The space is large and even has a private meeting space you use. We walked the rest of downtown after breakfast only to pick up a couple of cans of bear spray. We were planning on getting some before the parks, but after the lady in the sporting goods store said there was a 70+ percent chance that we were going to see a bear, it was a done deal.

I had to go to the Idaho Potato Museum. It’s probably sacrilege on some level to not go. Plus there is a giant baked potato out front that you can pose with. I mean, c’mon. It’s in an even smaller town than Idaho Falls, but it’s not far. It’s easily the best $3 you’ll ever spend. It’s a collection of potato history in an easy digestible format. There are panels to read, photos to look at, videos to watch, and dioramas to see. It feels a touch like school project but on a much larger scale. They have the world’s largest potato chip on display! It was much smaller than I expected, but that’s beside the point. There was an entire case full of potato mashers. Potato mashers! The gift shop has all kinds of kitschy and fun stuff like t-shirts, candy, and potato bread kits. It was really fun to see this. Go. You have to.

Back in Idaho Falls, a trip to Reed’s Dairy was in order because ice cream. Obviously. It’s a fully functioning dairy, and you can still get home delivered milk! How cool is that? There is a petting zoo, too. So ice cream in one hand and the other hand to pet farm animals. Sign me up. The store even has a drive-thru! A drive-thru dairy farm. What is this world I live in? The highlight of the petting zoo was due to a lovely little donkey. We never got his name [petting zoo animals have names right?], but this donkey was all about some attention and petting. He followed us around his pen. He was the only one who was genuinely excited to see us. His shetland pony pen-mate wasn’t interested because we didn’t have food, so we sat and pet the donkey for a good 15-20 minutes. How often do you get to pet a donkey and see a potato museum in one day? Idaho is a trip.

From there we set the GPS to Jackson, Wyoming for the long Memorial weekend so we could use spend time in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

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