Weather was nice while it lasted

Tuesday (Oct 15) 

Givens Hot Springs has history.

First good night’s sleep of the trip. Being moderate in my drinking for a change probably helped. 11:30-ish I walked over to the pool. Used the bathroom, washed myself (of course!) and hopped in the pool for a little morning soak. It normally doesn’t open till noon, but Senior Swim happens to be today from 10 to noon, so I’m in luck!

Considering how close I am to the Boise megaplex, the area is really quite empty and almost desolate. Route 78 heads generally northeastward following the south side of the Snake River. 50 minutes later there is a left turn to cross the river and come into the backside of the town of the oddly named Mountain Home … there are no mountains anywhere!

Etc Coffee entrance behind the van. Mountain Home worked well for me when I got there.

Mountain Home was a mess. The first restaurant I went to (West End Diner), boo on them!) had the wrong hours in Yelp (I hate that) and had just closed. They were kind of dicks about it too. There was construction everywhere and one way streets, so the simple act of driving 5 blocks to a coffee place was way more of a drama that it needed to be. But once I found Etc. Coffee everything sent smoothly thereafter. It was a funky but very useful place.

It was at the end of a block and had entrances on three sides. There was an investment company in front, the coffee counter in the middle with a door onto the side street, and a little yoga supply store in the back with a door to the alley. I drank my coffee and ate my goody, called in an order at a deli I’d passed while navigating the one way streets and construction, then walked out the back and down the alley to the it up. Back at the coffee shop, I took my computer and such out the side door to to the van, then used the front door to walk two storefronts down to a hamburger joint to get lunch taken care of. There was even a US Bank across the street where I deposited a  government check I’d been carrying around since Reno. So I handled my daily needs taken care of plus a nagging todo (the check), without every leaving my happy little hippy spot!

fall colors at Thousand Springs

The lack of side roads required that I drive 20 miles on I-84, to exit on good old Idaho 30 at the Thousand Springs area. The Snake River is frequently bounded by sheer walls of basalt lava on on or both sides around here. At Thousand Springs the cliff on the other side of the river has groundwater popping out of it at many spots over a mile or two. It’s very cool to see, but it’s not interactive at all. All you can do is stand on your side of the river and look at it. I am intrigued by the Thousand Springs Swimming Pool and Campground. I am finally looked it up, and it looks pretty cool. Relatively cheap tent camping and a huge pool. There are private tubs, but not clear how that all works.

Banbury Hot Springs:  

Oh, this place is soooo nice!

It is now the same management as Miracle Hot Springs, so for your $10 ($8 for senior) you can go to both.

Camping over here is both cheaper and way nicer. The Miracle soaking setup is way better (see their Spot entry), so driving to Miracle for your soak and staying here the rest of the time is the best bet.

Banbury is a very large concrete pool, with very hot water coming out one place and cold water as many other places as needed. It is next to the river. No wifi.

tonight:

cost: $10 tent site + $8 for senior pool admission + $1.28 = $19.28

I am slightly annoyed, because they're taken away wifi! They had it two years ago, but claimed not to this time although it's clearly there on my phone.

Banbury Hot Springs dry camping area

Maps helpfully hooked me up with the back road to Banbury. It very pretty, fertile farmland with the Snake River occasionally popping into view on the left. I know the drill at this campground, so I drive through the campground to pick a spot as close to level as I’m going to get, then drove on down the hill to the river level where the swimming pool and office are. We dithered for a while, I paid her the amazingly reasonable prices of $10.28 to use both hot springs and spend the night. Back up the hill to have my end of day beer then head over to Miracle for tonight’s real soak.

Miracle Hot Springs:  

Co-owned with Banbury Hot Springs.

Banbury has better camping, Miracle better pools, so here's how it all shakes out:

Banbury: tent sites: $10 | campground: park on the grass next to your picnic table in a pretty spot | soaking: big concrete rectangle pool (see their Spot entry)

Miracle: must pay for hookups: $20 | campground: dusty and shabby | soaking: wonderful set of modern, interesting pools - a really hot one under the sun deck I call the Grotto :), a bigger cooler pool, then a long, skinny, segmented parallel pool that is a hot zone, a cold zone, and a slighter hotter zone.

Really nice layout!

tonight:

Came over from Banbury a little before sunset. The side pool has concrete ledges, effectively benches, along its length which are perfect for resting your head on the corner and watching the sky turn red.

Many signs reminding you to shower before soaking, but no soap is provided in the shower. I don't get it.

This is maybe the best laid out hot spring I’ve even been to. As described above, there are multiple pools ranging from warm to really hot. There’s a concrete barrier in one that effectively creates a cold plunge, … if you’re into that sort of thing. The coolest feature is a sundeck platform built over the very hottest pool, the  one me and a fellow there decided to call the Grotto :) That enclosure makes the extreme heat of the pool (110°, 111°?) feel even hotter.

Two sides of the pool are lined with rooms for massage and for private baths. The primary visitors to the private baths seemed to be young couples, students from Boise is the vibe I get. Good for them! :)

Wednesday 

Wake up, stow my stuff then drive 200 yards down to the pool, for bathroom and a morning swim, and I thought wifi. The bathroom and swim were delightful, but the mood was broken when they said they don’t have wifi. My phone shows that they DO have it, but they are no longer sharing it as they did two years ago. The Amish restaurant in Buhl had wifi, turned out not to be a big deal, but I was annoyed in the moment.

Once I get out of the river bottom there is just enough phone reception to get the back road routing into Buhl. It’s a very pretty road, following the lovely Snake River, and avoids the construction on Idaho 30.

Buhl has it all! Diesel (under $3/gallon!!). A quite enjoyable breakfast at Old Home Cooking and Crafts, which appears to be run by the Amish or some kind of sect where the women wear long dresses and cover their heads. I wish I had peeked into the crafts store.. They were very nice, and I am further regretting that I didn’t get a slice of their yummy looking pie to go.

Looking downstream from the Twin Falls Bridge.

I do need dinner also, so I google a sub shop in Twin Falls and head there. I order the super-sized Italian, which turned out to be four pretty big squares of sandwich, which fixed me up for four of the next five nights!

The cool bridge at Twin Falls.

I’d kinda forgotten, but north out of Twin Falls is amazing bridge over the Snake. I drove to the far side, parked and walked back for the ritual photographs of the gorge the arch of the bridge. There was extra excitement in the form of kayakers far below, and then, hang gliders!

There was way more traffic that I expected driving north. There was a huge double trailer hay truck, and that unfortunate situation where the first couple of cars following it were pussies, so nobody passed. I lost patience and was fully ready to work my way up the ladder, but traffic coming at me was too heavy, so instead we all just got stressed.

Then something I totally didn’t see coming, rush hour at the ski resort! There’s a stretch of towns, Sun Valley, Hailey, Ketchum that are an enclave of fancy ski people in the middle of Idaho. Speed limit is 25 in town, and the towns are pretty big, and oh god there is a rush hour! The stress increases.

Finally I get to the far side of Ketchum, and it’s back to normal mountain driving. Challis is too far to drive in one day (for me), so … the plan is to stay at the only campground open around here (Sockeye CG, on Redfish Lake) tonight and at Challis Hot Springs tomorrow night. But the weather is giving me second thoughts.  The forecast is for it to turn sharply colder and wetter, and to get worse the farther north you go. So leaving the Snake River plains and heading further into the Sawtooths may not be so smart. I am pretty sure I will not get caught in a blizzard, but if it’s 40° and raining all afternoon it’s just not gonna be that much fun.

As part of the general sapping away of my desire to continue, I start noticing some really sweet looking dispersed camping off to my right (east). I drove past the first bunch, but when a second bunch came into view I discovered:

Big Wood River dispersed:  

20 miles north of Ketchum Route 75 opens up into a beautiful, wide valley. The road follows the west side, the Big Wood River is on the east side, and along here there is a big, flat open area in between, with good-ish gravel roads over to the edge of the river where many dispersed campsites are set up.

Pretty cool!

This is the same river that flows through Ketchum and Sun Valley.

tonight:

I turned off at the second big field, where there is a gravel pit. I am the second site north of the gravel pit. First site turns out to be a sheepherder's layover. I know this because many sheep, the dogs, the man and his horse all showed up in the morning!

cocktail hour on the Big Wood River

Quite a lovely spot, really. I set up my chair and table and do my thing at the very edge of the creek bank. Very pleasant.

Thursday 

Weather moving in in the morning, compare to first picture.

Got very cold in the early evening. If it’s down to 22° before midnight, what’s it gonna be like at dawn? But then it started warming, and sure enough a little before dawn the rain started. First rain of the trip. The picture to the left is more or less the same hills as the picture above, but with threatening clouds replacing the happy sunshine of last night.

It’s quite warm now, in the 50’s, but I think I am changing my plans and not heading further into the mountains. i have no connectivity here whatsoever, so I cannot check the latest forecast of Challis weather tonight. I would have to drive probably 30, maybe 60 miles further into the mountains to get reception, so I decide to punt on Challis and turn around. No matter how beautiful the spot, it just ain’t gonna be that much fun if it’s 40’s and drizzling.

sheep and black sheepdogs and horse and shepherd

I had seen my neighbors in the RV a quarter mile or so north milling around, and around 11 they started walking my way. Turns out they were following a herd of sheep on the other side of the river! It was pretty cool, hundreds of sheep, 6-sheep dogs and a human on a horse!  They drank in the river then got herded over to chill out on an open area a little downriver from my campsite. The neighbors said there was a sheepherding festival last month in Ketchum, probably a lot like the cowboy festival in Reno where they drive steers down the street for a coupla hours, I’m glad I wasn’t passing through that day!

log bridge for (I think) the sheepherders

Turns out the derelict looking trailer the other direction from my spot is for the sheepherders.The sheep hung out, and the dogs, horse and rider crossed the river to hang out at the trailer, Food for the horse, a table and char and presumably food for the shepherd, and probably food and rest for the dogs.

The funky little log bridge over the river is probably related to all this sheep activity. Neither the dogs nor the horses need it to cross the river, but I’ll bet they sometimes need to drive a truck to the other side for sheep-related reasons.

I drive around the neighborhood a bit to try to pinpoint where I am (I succeeded!), then with some regret, turn around and head back to from whence I came.

Retracing my path from yesterday, I go straight through the oh so prosperous town of Ketchum and on to the (relatively) working class town of Hailey. The Black Owl looked like the perfect spot on Yelp and boy was it ever! Everything looked so good that I ordered both a goodie and breakfast! I was halfway through my perfect, flaky almond scone when my breakfast bowl came. I polished off the yummy bowl and returned to the scone.  I am having strong feelings of deja vu here. A hipster coffee house on the residential street paralleling the main street, with a little picket fence and a yard. My detailed and voluminous records (this web site) show that I haven’t been on Idaho 75 in all my trips up here, so I must not have been to this cafe. I will chew on this mystery for quite a while.

Soon I am back out of the mountains, where I cut off a corner on US 20 to US 26 and head east across northern edge of the vast lava plain that is central Idaho between the Snake and the Sawtooths, heading for Craters of the Moon.

Lava Flow Campground:  

Eerie lava beds moonscape. Really cool to have a campground in such a surreal place

tonight:

Campground was closed last trip. I think they made the first loop more big rig friendly. The second loop is still a funky little maze of strange sites and hidden niches ... with a very nice newly paved road.

Site 30 is slichtly sheltered (bitter cold and windy tonight), but as a bonus its tent area is a perfect sunset viewing spot ... if I can last that long in this wind!

Watching sunset over the lava wastes from my campsite's tent area.

The forecast here was for cold and windy, which is definitely better than cold, windy AND wet, but man is it a bitter, bitter wind! I took a little walk – out the campground and up to the Visitor Center on the off chance that they had wifi or phone reception (no and no), and I was chilled to the bone by the time I got back.

Sort of sinister looking path to a campsites tent area.
The tent area for my campsite is a little hollow in the lava down a narrow, rough path that opens up into quite a nice view of sunset and the lava fields. Cool! Despite the weather I really do love it here, the setting is just so fucking weird and unlike anything in ones normal experience. I woulda loved Challis hot Springs even more, but I’m good with my decision.

There’s something really cool about spending the night in the middle of fields of rough black lava as far as the eye can see, but the weather was not pleasant.