There's nothing better than a night with temps in the high 40's a light breeze, and a river gurgling along below camp. Coupled with our position at the bottom of a valley, there was no reason to get up for sunrise, and it was nearly 8:00am before we finally poked our heads out of the tent to take in our beautiful surroundings - the creek below, the hot springs to the west, and pinnacles to the east. And, we did it mostly because we knew that it wasn't going to be long before it got even hotter than the previous day, and we wanted to get a move on before we were sweating it out under the mid-day sun.
Opting to skip breakfast given the mosquitoes, we figured we could spend a few minutes exploring the ghost town on the east banks of the Bruneau River before heading out, so we crossed the bridge and checked out the old stone buildings - most of them reduced to their rubble foundations, but one still partially standing, even it's roof resisting disintegration after all these years.
And then, it was back up the road and out past the old Chevy pickup as we made our way to the top of the canyon, where we were greeted - as one is - by a cow hip guarding the road.
Taking our cue from the cow hip, we kept moooooo-ving, making our way back along the poorly maintained road as quickly as we could. Having come this way only 12 hours earlier, we didn't stop much - though an Idaho Centennial Trail marker and some red wildflowers were enough to get us to pull over as we ticked the miles away, eventually hitting a well-graded gravel road.
Travelling along the gravel road - Balanced Rock Road - we hoped that there'd be something cool to see - so as the road ended at a paved intersection, we figured it was time to air up for the several-hour cruise to our next destination - Idaho's City of Rocks National Preserve.
Tires full, it was only a mile or so down the road that we ran into Balanced Rock! Now, it seemed a little strange that it wasn't actually on Balanced Rock Road, but we'll just chalk it up to Idaho being a little on the weird side - I mean, given what we know of the good folks who live there.
From there though, it was smoothing sailing with only a quick stop for food and fuel - the Tacoma racing along towards City of Rocks, happy to have full tires and a full tank of gas. And so, it was early afternoon when we arrived at City of Rocks, a place we'd been excited to see since Ben @m3bassman had posted some photos of a trip he'd done with Will @willhaman21 earlier in the year.
It was an extra-nice surprise to find that the roads leading to the reserve were dirt as we pulled into the northeast entrance.
Side note: we'd later find that they'd recently sprayed Magnesium Chloride on the road for dust control - the compound pulling water from the surrounding air to keep dust particles down - and in the process, sticking to every surface it touched. Liquid rust, as it were. Needless to say, the truck was getting a good undercarriage wash when we got home.
For now, unaware of the extent of the evil, and excited for the views that were expanding in front of us, we continued on - our first stop the deliciously-stacked Breadloaves, surrounded by wild iris.
As we made our way to the visitor center to check in and get the run-down on any aspects of the park that we shouldn't miss, we stopped a few more times - the City of Rocks rising up around us - the sights irresistible.
A relatively small park, we arrived at the Visitor Center right around 3:30pm and introduced ourselves to the employee behind the desk. "How long are you staying?" she asked. Our answer of a day to day-and-a-half seemed to catch her off-guard - "Oh, you'll have plenty of time to see everything!" she told us.
We started with a reasonably cool, but nonetheless replica, covered wagon outside the front door. City of Rocks it turns out was on the old California Trail and had been used as a natural stopping point along the way - it's splendor a worth place to rest weary feet and stock.
From there, a short hike at the end of a dirt road that we were warned was "steep and single lane," but was in fact just as well graded as any other road we'd travel in the reserve gave us an overview of the rocks, and a nice blooming wild onion and prickly pear cactus as well.
It turns out that City of Rocks is a National Reserve, not a national or state park, not a preserve or recreation area, etc. What that means is that it's a combination of federal, state, and private land, run by the state - and as a result, there are several pieces of land within its borders that are private and unexplorable without permission from the landowner. Circle Creek Ranch, built in 1882, is one of these places - some 320 acres that's still actively grazed and still contains the ruins of the old stone homestead.
A little bummer we couldn't walk around inside, we continued on around a self-guided, driving loop of the park. Definitely the American way, hahahaha. Next up were Chicken Rock and Camp Rock - a popular stopping point along the California Trail, where emigrants wrote their names and the date of their stay using axle grease!
We continued west, pausing only momentarily at Twin Sisters - the formation that would tower over our camp once we settled down - and out of the park, to continue the loop.
The ghost town of Moulton, Idaho sits just west of City of Rocks border and not much is left - a single building in the middle of a pasture, all we could find. This town was a farming community - farmers having settled Junction Valley in the early 1900's to dry farm. Perhaps predictably, the town wasn't long lived - by the 1920's the farms had failed, due to drought. Nice dovetail joinery on the log cabin though!
Back in the park, we headed out on our second short hike - this one to Window Arch. I was really looking forward to this one, in my mind an arch along the lines of Druid Arch that I'd seen earlier in the year as part of the trip to The Needles in Canyonlands. I probably should have done a bit more research though - this arch was much smaller (but still cool, and fun to play around on ).
Like Druid Arch, the surroundings were spectacular - we found ourselves in the middle of the granite formations that made up the heart of the city, the perfect place to lose yourself with some bouldering gear and a bag of chalk.
Now early evening, we decided it was time to head to camp - I'd reserved a site online - for a bit of relaxation and a favorite dinner of tacos and guacamole! As we made our way back to Twin Sisters, we passed Elephant Rock - the elephant figure shown plain as day in the evening sun.
As we pulled up to our spot - campsite #4 - at Twin Sisters, a surprise! Tents were already setup in "our spot." And what's this? - someone else's name on the reserved sign. Uh oh. I checked the reservation. Yep - I had a confirmation email, my credit card had been charged. And then, I noticed - we'd reserved spot #64 - as far away from Twin Sisters as you could physically get, a site that I'd looked at but - I thought - only in passing. There'd clearly been a snafu somewhere along the way - either in the web site, or between the keyboard and monitor.
Luckily, we'd noticed that across the street - so still in the area we'd planned to stay - the Twin Sisters group site was free for the evening - it's occupants not scheduled to arrive for another 48 hours. So we headed over that direction for what turned out to be an even better site than the one I'd thought I'd reserved for the night.
Spirit of the law for the win!
Nestled into the rock, we did a it of exploring around camp - who wouldn't with boulders to explore around, an on!? The setting sun's rays, warm and long across the valley floor.
Then, it was time for dinner, before pulling out our chairs to enjoy the pleasantly warm air - a hint of a breeze refreshing after our long, hot day - for an hour of reading and sunset views before heading to bed.
The middle of summer, it was late - for us - when we finally called it an evening and climbed into the tent. Here, unlike our spot the night before - the mosquitoes were rare (though I think we later realized the noseeums were not) - and I nearly finished the book I'd planned to read for the entire trip!
But we were happy and looking forward to what the next day would bring - some exploration to the north, and - unbeknownst to us at the time - a trip to the "moon."