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From City of Rocks to Craters of the Moon

July 3, 2019.

Hoping for a colorful sunrise framed by City of Rocks' formations, I was up early - right around 5:00am - greeted by clouds on the horizon and a showing that was at best, "meh." You can't win them all, and I was quickly back to bed for a couple more hours of sleep.

Still, we were up earlier than we'd been the previous mornings - because we had no idea how long today's adventures into the Sawtooth National Forest would take - and we figured it would be a good idea to evacuate our adopted camp site reasonably early, regardless. As we looked around, I was glad we'd explored most of the reserve the day before - the morning clouds having spread across the sky, casting a flat light over the landscape.

Before heading north, we enjoyed a quick cereal breakfast with the last of our homegrown blueberries and entertainment from the local "wildlife." And then, we were off.

Now, the previous day at the visitor center, I'd noticed a photo of a log cabin in the reserve with the Twin Sisters in the background.

Named the Moon Homestead, there was no other information about it's location. Curious, I suggested that we go looking for it, and @mrs.turbodb was game, so we turned around and set out on foot. Eventually I found the spot, but alas, the building was gone - perhaps burned in a wildfire, or removed for liability reduction. Either way, a fun hour of detective work, and an unsolved mystery.

With that, we headed north once again, making our way through what we'd see the day before, and towards FR-562 and the unknown - at least mostly. We did know that the camp site we'd technically reserved was up this road, and we knew that the road was covered in impassable snow a couple short months earlier - but besides that, we figured we'd see what the mountains had in store, hopefully leaving the area by 5:00pm so we could make it to Boise and our next adventure a few hours after dinner.

A short way up FR-562 and we quickly decided it was time to air down. Though dirt, the roads in City of Rocks were in great condition - the necessary result of having to cater to family camping. But, as we climbed in elevation, passing the last of the reservable camp sites, the road quickly became one less traveled. We found a nice bluff overlooking the rocks below and aired down as we took in our surroundings - now void of the crowds we'd seen the day before.

Then, we continued our ascent - climbing up some 2500' over the City of Rocks - into the Sawtooth National Forest and eventually to the top of Graham Peak, where we once again got a view of the valley below - and a sister valley to the northeast, not part of the reserve, but with similar rock formations that looked worth exploring in the future!

We explored leisurely before heading back to the truck and continuing on our way through the maze of roads that wound up, around, and through the forest - in and out of trees, across wildflower filled meadows, and to several spectacular viewpoints. Even destinationless and meandering, it turned out to be my favorite part of the trip so far.

Then - as we neared 8600' - snow! We'd figured we would hit it, but we weren't sure if it'd stop us in our tracks. The first few drifts didn't - they were shallow enough that we could plow right though. But then, only a quarter mile before the end of the road, a 3' deep drift across the road spelled the end of the line for us - this wasn't something we were going to tackle as a solo truck, that was for sure!

Having reached the end of the maze of roads along the ridgelines, I think it was me who suggested we take a break for lunch. Somewhere in the shade, I suggested - the clouds now starting to clear and the temperatures already in the high low 90°F's. So we started making our way back, investigating and rejecting a few shady spots that were also quite wet and buggy - before we ultimately got to the road that would lead us out of the forest and back into town. And what a road it was! Every other road we'd been on was in what I'd call "reasonable" shape. Less traveled for sure - and we were clearly the first of the year - but still obviously traveled the previous summer. FR-606 on the other hand, was different. Headed straight down the ridgeline, it was clearly a road - at one point. One that I'd be hard pressed to tell you the last time it was traveled - the grass and shrubs growing freely, even in the tire tracks.

There were no spectacular views as we descended over 4000' in just over 6 miles - the land in front of us now was rolling hills and farmland - but the excitement of pointing the truck "down" and just seeing what lay ahead was its own kind of fun. A couple gates along the way marking the various property lines before we popped out in the outskirts of Oakly, Idaho to a small herd of horses and foals - still lunchless.

Back in town, we took full advantage of the city park - eating lunch to a fireworks display put on by a group of the town's "under 8" kiddos; ahh, the days of small towns and kids risking their digits! As we ate, we discussed our next steps - the plan had been to go from City of Rocks to the Sawtooth Forest, and then make our way back to Boise - arriving after dinner - but we were way too early for that. If we left now, we'd get there around 5:00pm - likely earlier than Ben @m3bassman or Kirsten would even be home from work!

So, we hatched a plan to visit a place that we'd driven by several times - always in the dark - and never stopped. A place that seemed to always be "on the way to somewhere else" - Craters of the Moon National Monument. It was a couple hours away, but we figured that we could spend an hour or so there and then show up in Boise at just the right time.

Aired up, we headed north and east, making reasonably good time despite the headwinds - and arrived at Craters of the Moon a little after 4:30pm in the afternoon.

Reminiscent of one of our first trips to Jordan Craters in Owyhee Canyonlands, Craters of the Moon was mostly barren landscape. I say mostly, because unlike Jordan Craters, there were several areas where enough time had passed since the last flow that various trees and shrubs were starting to cover the barren land.

Craters of the Moon it turns out is even smaller than City of Rocks - at least as far as driving is concerned - and we were able to complete the entire loop, along with three short-ish hikes, in a little over an hour. That was plenty of time for the both of us - the spot a little crowded for our tastes, especially given what we'd experienced at what we thought was a better site - Jordan Craters.

Still, there were some dramatic sights that we were glad to have seen.

And it's always cool to see how lava cools in it's various shapes and tunnels.

With that, we called it a day and headed west - a 3-hour drive plus a short stop for dinner before we'd reach Boise to hook up with Ben, Kirsten, and Mikey @pizzaviolence and get ourselves a good shower before heading out the next morning on what's apparently becoming a 4th of July tradition - a trip to some cool places in their home state.

We pulled into the driveway a little after 9:00pm - the sky still light and everyone happy to see us. As I set up the tent in the driveway, @mrs.turbodb took the first shower - a welcome cleansing after 3 days in near 100°F heat - as the rest of us caught up on our adventure so far. The stories continued from her point of view a few minutes later, and it was after 11:00pm when we finally called it an evening and climbed into the tent - all of us looking forward to our 9:00am departure time the next morning.

The plan was to get as high as we could - twice - in Idaho. Something I was behind, 100%...

 

 

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