Category Archives: Idaho

Twin Falls, Idaho and Bruneau Dunes

May 2- May 3, 2015.

As we said good bye to Utah, it was clear that we were on the tail end of the trip. Our route was looping us back towards home in the central Willamette Valley. We made a couple of short pit stops in the Twin Falls area along the gorgeous Snake River.

twin falls mapWhen I’m a passenger for long periods of time, I like to pore over the maps and guidebooks I’ve brought along so I can learn more about the area I’m driving through. On our way to Twin Falls, I noticed a curious symbol in the Gazeteer. Quietly tucked away, alongside the symbols for Information Center, campground, and boat launch was something that looked like a spaceship-car hybrid.

Soon, I would find out exactly what that symbol was all about.

Perrine Bridge

Our first real stop was the iconic Perrine Bridge, where BASE jumpers from all over the world come to take a leap. It’s one of the only places where it’s legal to do so without a permit. Just upstream from the bridge, the daredevil Evel Knievel tried to jump across the river in his “skycycle.” While he didn’t make the jump, he survived the crash with just a broken nose to show for it. And now, his unbelievable attempt is recorded forever in the Idaho Gazeteer with a spaceship-car hybrid marking the location of his jump. I thought, if I was a map-maker, what might I try to sneak into a map…?

The bridge itself was beautiful. We walked to a viewpoint of the bridge, then stopped inside the Visitor’s Center, a modern building with big windows and interpretive signs about the area. There was a little gift shop as well as a wall full of pamphlets outlining nearby attractions. Lucky for us, there was also a little cart full of free ice cream cups from the folks at Coldstone Creamery. It was some sort of promotional thing, a delicious, delicious, promotional thing. Even without the ice cream, this would have been a worthwhile stop.

Caldron Linn

There is one type of map symbol that always grabs my attention: Unique Natural Feature. This symbol looks like a fan with four blades (see above map) and it corresponds to a key in the front of the book that gives a name and a short description of the feature. One feature that I wanted to see on our drive through Twin Falls was called Caldron Linn. Or Cauldron Linn, depending on what you’re reading. It took some sleuthing to find driving directions to this place. Even the fact sheet at the Visitor’s Center said “inquire locally for directions.” It seemed weird that this place was right outside a major city and its whereabouts were sketchy. I really wanted to go there, and really hoped it wouldn’t be another Pillars of Rome situation.

We found the place without much trouble, although we definitely should not have driven down the last section of steep, scary dirt road. We arrived unscathed and tumbled out of the car to see what this was all about.

The description was something like “a raging fury of churning water that cast early explorers to their deaths as they attempted foolishly to travel downriver.” That’s absolutely not a quote but that’s what I was picturing in my mind as we walked towards the river. Funny, we couldn’t even hear any rushing water.

The river was eerily low, which made for a mediocre waterfall but gave us an interesting look at the rocks that are usually covered by water. The bleached white rock looked like a jumble of dinosaur bones piled up on shore. Water pooled in cavities that were bored down into the rock by a more vigorous flow in times past. Lizards sunned on the rock and birds chattered away in the sagebrush. While I was sad that I didn’t get to see the river in its most dramatic state, I still enjoyed the diversion and adventure off the main road.

Shoshone Falls

I should not have expected anything different on our next waterfall stop. But, Shoshone Falls was nicknamed the Niagara of the West, so it had a bit more credibility than our little Cauldron. We stopped at the falls around lunch time, eager to get out of the car and have a nice little picnic. During our visit to this oversold attraction, the water levels were pretty low, and so it was a pretty disappointing stop. The falls were pretty, but they didn’t earn their nickname and certainly didn’t need to command the crowds that were swirling around us. We got our obligatory couples photo and ducked out of there.

The nearby park was also overrun with visitors but we found a spot on the grass where we could lay out our picnic spread and stretch our legs a bit. Today felt like a lot of driving. It was nice to just hang out and not feel like we had to get somewhere fast. We wanted to experience the last stop of the day after dark, so we were in no rush to get there.

Bruneau Dunes

By the time we rolled in to Bruneau Dunes, nearly all the campsites were taken. There were just a handful left in the Equestrian Camp just outside the main park, so we took it. Like Great Basin National Park, Bruneau Dunes boasted of its spectacular night sky program. They even had an observatory with a huge telescope that was open to the public on the weekends. So, we set up camp, made dinner and waited for the sun to go down.

When we finally made it over to the observatory, there were a bunch of people milling around. We got there late. It was dark, we didn’t know what was going on, and it took us a while to figure out how to pay. We dutifully stood in line to wait for our turn to look through the telescopes that were set up outside. Then, we waited in the longest line, the one at the big telescope, just to see a fuzzy cluster of stars half a zillion miles away. Yawn.

What I really wanted to do was hike the dunes under a starlit sky. So we grabbed our backpacks out of the car and set off on what we hoped was the trail we wanted, angling for the dunes.

When I planned this in my head, I imagined it would be like our night hike in Death Valley. But as I am noticing now, my images of reality don’t always match actual reality.

The Bruneau Dunes are an interesting phenomenon. They sit in the center of a semicircular basin, with winds blowing pretty evenly from all sides so they don’t move very much. At the foot of the 400-foot high dunes is a pair of lakes that formed only a few decades ago, after the water table rose due to changes in irrigation practices nearby. At the edge of the lakes, as one might guess, was a tangle of shrubs, grasses, trees, and other water-loving vegetation. That made finding our way to and from the dunes extra challenging.

Once we broke free of the plant life, we began hiking straight up the steep side of one of the big dunes. Right foot forward, slide back, left foot, slide… and on and on. At one point the dune ridge got so steep we had to crawl and monkey walk sideways just to keep going. It was exhausting work. In daylight, perhaps, we could have found a better route. But, we did the best we could.

Clouds covered large patches of sky for most of the night. Occasionally the moonlight would break through a gap in the clouds.

After we walked the entire length of the ridge, we happily ran down the side of the dune and headed for the lake. That was the best part. The worst part was trying to navigate a braided mess of user trails leading every which way through the thick, lakeside vegetation. Eventually we stumbled out on the other side of the water and made our way to a road that led back to the car. Mission accomplished.

In the morning we took a quick drive through of the park to see what it looked like in daylight. It was very pretty, and the dunes were scarred with mobs of tourists hauling their children and sand-boards up the hills. Glad we did the park by night.

Next up: Eastern Oregon. The grand parks tour was coming, sadly, to a close.

Rock Climbing at City of Rocks, Idaho

June 16-June 23, 2012.

School’s out! It was time to hit the rock. I was able to spend 8 days climbing and hiking in this beautiful park. It was my first trip there, and so I hit many of the classics. It took a few days to warm up to granite slab climbing, which is much unlike what there is to climb in Oregon.

I took some pictures on this trip, and I also went for a hike.

My favorites:

Lost ArrowBloody Fingers (5.10a)—WOW. Here’s a climb that lives up to its reputation. A strenuous start leads to sweet hand and finger jams above. Just when you think you’ve got it nailed, the crack disappears into a friction slab with some minor stress-inducing moves to the top. Very enjoyable route. We toproped it; I think it would be a scary lead down below. Trad.

Classic Route on the Lost Arrow (5.7)—I was glad Tom led the first pitch, because it would have been very heady for me. The second pitch was exciting on lead as well with an airy step around the corner to reach the slab. I bootied an old #1 Camalot from the upper crack. In fact, I wasn’t even expecting an upper crack but it came in handy to protect the so-called runout finish. Great views from the top followed by a nice free rappel make this a definite classic. Trad.

Columbian CrackColumbian Crack (5.7)—If you asked me while I was leading this, I wouldn’t have but it on my favorites list but in hindsight I think it was a stellar route. It begins in a wide to narrow chimney, then you pop up onto a block before stepping into the crack. Minimal crack skills are required since there are holds and ledges all over the face. Scary runout on top unless you bring the right gear (duh)–think, WIDE.

Double Trouble (5.8)—Slab to hand crack to chimney. Varied and enjoyable, albeit soft for an 8. It was nice to finally get some crack moves in as they are pretty hard to find in the moderates here. Trad.

Night Vision (5.9)—Really interesting opening sequence made me think and grunt a bit. With the right counterbalancing and body position, you can get up to the more straightforward slab. Toprope.

SinocraniumSinocranium (5.8)—Super fun, 5 pitch bolted multipitch route on Stinefell’s Dome. Most of the slab is easier than 5.7, with one 5.8 pitch that follows a dike full of quartzite crystals. There are a ton of bolts, so you can skip some to make things more interesting. This was definitely worth the hike. Sport.

Raindance (5.7)—This very well bolted route has a traversing lower pitch and a long slab for the upper pitch. It was an excellent introduction to the type of climbing here. I really enjoyed the second pitch. Sport.

Snack Break (5.9)—This is a very sparsely bolted route with a spicy opening sequence. There was a lot of reaching up and feeling around for jugs that weren’t visible. Mixed.

Snack Break Direct (5.8)—Same feeling as Snack Break, but considerably easier. Mixed.

White FlakeTennish Anyone? (5.10a)—Easy lower half gives way to some thoughtful, balancey slab moves on the upper half. Enjoyable route with very minimal 10 climbing. Mixed?

Triple Roofs (5.7)—The roofs aren’t the hard part. My crux came much higher, and it took a long time to commit to the moves to bypass it. This one made me think! There were a couple of bolts that may or may not have been for this route; I clipped one somewhere below the large roof. Trad.

Wheat Thin (5.7)—Followed Nate up this mellow flake/crack. Pretty straightforward and fun! Trad.

White Flake (5.8)—This would be my favorite climb if it wasn’t for the strange, smooth bowl in the middle of the route beneath the triangular rock. I had no idea what to do or how to protect it, so I stepped left onto the adjacent sport route and clipped a bolt before delicately traversing back right. The white flake at the top of the climb provides fun climbing, and I was so happy to jam my hands into a great crack at the top. Spectacular route! Trad.

And the rest:

Adolescent Homosapien/Homosexual (5.7)—I hated the opening chimney, which colored the rest of the route for me. It was incredibly windy and I was stressed out the whole time. I’d forgotten the beta for a “difficult to protect upper crux” so it took me a while to work through that. Not my best effort. Trad.

Cruel Shoes (5.7)—I wanted to do Dikes of Gastonia but my partners preferred this route. Nothing special, just another long, well-protected slab with remarkably uncomfortable belay stations. Sport.

Eastside Groove (5.6)—A not-so-memorable climb on the east side of Bath Rock. Trad.

Finer Niner (5.9)—This route is a bit contrived, but we did the best we could. The roof move is excellent and not that difficult, and the rest of the route is much easier. Sport.

Fledgling (5.7)—A really awkward leaning crack led to more interesting, but easier climbing on top. I was not happy with the bottom. Trad.

Fred Rasmussen (5.8)—This climb seemed to only go about 40 feet, unless we missed something. Too short to be much fun. Trad.

Funky Bolt (5.9)—I really wanted to like this one. I don’t know if my feet were trashed by this route or before I started, but my feet were in raging pain by the end. The sequence at the “funky bolt” was really reachy and stressful, even when following. The anchor is a ton of slings wrapped around a gigantic horn. Trad.

Pure Pleasure on the rightIntruding Dike (5.7)—Maybe because this was my first gear lead at the City, or because of the lousy walk-off, this was not one of my favorites. I wished I had more than one 0.5 Camalot. Trad.

Pure Pleasure (5.6)—Longish slab leads to a shortish crack. A reasonable warm-up if you’re in the area. The coolest part was exploring the window arch and algae-filled potholes above the top of the climb. Trad with one bolt.

Theater of Shadows (5.7)—I thought this was so easy and devoid of interesting moves that it was a waste. I’d never recommend it to anyone besides a first time climber who wanted to get on a multi-pitch. Yawn. Sport.

Too Much Fun (5.8)—The tricky move at the start for “short people” was definitely the crux for me. I had to deadpoint to an undercling before being able to reach up to a jug. It was good, but not sure what all the fuss is about this route. Sport.

Twist and Crawl (5.8)—Long, runout start. Tom put a big cam in a horizontal crack before the first bolt. Slab climbing leads to a crack at the top. We climbed this route to set a TR on Bloody Fingers. Mixed.

Overall, I must say I was a little intimidated by the City. I did not push my climbing grade at all, since I felt humbled by several 5.7 leads. Climbing on granite is a different experience, and I felt like I improved my footwork considerably over the course of the trip. I was happy for the opportunity to place a lot of gear and travel to a new destination. Back in Portland, I’m already sick of the weather and desperately missing Idaho’s sunshine.

Granite Mountain Ridge, Idaho

June 21, 2012.

Flaming Rock TH > Banana Crag Turnoff > Granite Mountain Ridge, somewhere > gully northeast of Granite and back

8-9 miles? | 2000′ ele. gain? | 8 hours

I needed a Jess day. I had been climbing in the park for 5 days and I just wanted to go for a walk. Bingham’s City of Rocks climbing guide book included some hike suggestions in the introduction. The Granite Mountain ridgewalk appealed to me most, and I’d been ogling the distant skyline since I arrived at camp. There would be some bushwhacking involved, but I was sure the wide open views would make that easy enough to manage.

I set out from our campsite, adjacent to the Flaming Rock trailhead, around 8:30 in the morning. It was already warm and I knew it would be a hot day. I covered the trails quickly, stopping to photograph the pretty wildflowers and stay hydrated. When I arrived at a sign pointing to Beef Jello/Banana Crag, I knew I’d be saying adieu to trails for a while. I stayed on the climber’s path as long as it lasted, then followed a faint trail through the forest. Even though it angled northwest (instead of northeast, towards the ridge), I patiently followed the path. Eventually I figured I was heading too far west and picked through the forest. Soon after I came across a well-worn trail that was too good to be true. I had no idea how popular this hike was, so again I put my faith in this trail. It became obvious that it was taking me to another pass leading to a totally different part of the park. I got out my compass, scoured my surroundings for a break in the trees, and changed my direction.

I know I’ve learned my “no bushwhacking in shorts” lesson before, but for some odd reason I thought the desert would be kinder to my legs. This was not the case. Although the area reported an average of 12 inches of rain each year, the understory was remarkably dense. Every leaf, branch, thorn and bristle was razor sharp. Branches grew in tangled mats that were hard to avoid or brush out of the way. I knew I’d be donating a lot of blood today.

As I meandered along the ill-defined ridge, I savored the views south to the inner workings of the park and north to Graham Peak. My path alternated between navigating through the brushy forest and working my way up to rocky viewpoints. I did not feel like I was doing a ridge walk. Every pile of rocks I scrambled up on top just gave me a great view of how much elevation I’d have to lose to get to the next saddle. It was smarter to stay low and avoid the only enjoyable part of the walk. It was miserable. And now it was very hot.

At some point, I distinctly remember feeling close to the summit block of this beast. I also remember feeling even more closed in by dense trees, crumbly rock, and shrubs. Ugh. I trudged on at a snail’s pace, snapping all the face-high branches and ducking below the limbs that were too big. I’d climb up on some rocks that would dead end, then drop back into the unruly orchard from hell. This happened to me several times before I finally came to the summit block.

So I thought. I got to the top of this thing, and there was a large gap between the pile I was on and the true summit. Crap. I downclimbed to a few other points that left me with some very exposed 4th class scrambling to get just another 15-20 vertical feet to the top. Alone, this was not happening. The slab on the north side leading to the summmit looked promising, 5.0 or just a bit more, but it was really long and also exposed. A fall would certainly leave me dead at the bottom of the face. No thanks. Frustrated, but accepting of my non-summit, I ambled off to a flat and windy lunch spot where I sat and rested, drank lemonade, and ate lots of food.

The guidebook suggested finishing the ridge by descending Granite Mountain’s summit and walking around the north side of Stinefell’s Dome to connect with the climbing trail that led back down to the valley. I had scoped out this descent just a couple of days earlier so I knew the way. But I was SO done with bushwhacking that I wanted to get to open sagebrush country as quickly as possible. I began to follow the ridge east until I found an obvious gully leading downhill. I thrashed my way through the gully, which had some nice open areas and some really tight spots, until I popped out right onto a trail. Hoorah!

The sun was brutally hot here, with little breeze and no shade for miles. I didn’t care. I needed time to lick my wounds. Walking was incredibly easy now; I could let my brain and body run on autopilot for a while. Wanting to make a loop out of the whole ordeal, I chose different trails for the return trip for a change of scenery. I enjoyed looking at the cactus blooms the most, and was excited to find a rock that looked like a giant chickadee.

I kept an eye on my water supply, which was running low. I was overheating big time. Just about a mile from the trailhead, I plopped on the ground under a shade tree and recovered a bit before the last uphill stretch back to camp. There were lots of ups and downs on this trip, which was very tiring.

Stepping into camp marked the end of a long day. I was happy to take off my socks and shoes, scrub up with some soap and water, do crossword puzzles and watch birds fly among the trees. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this hike to anyone, for any reason, unless perhaps the entire ridge is covered with 20 feet of snow. Live and learn. The trails were great, but trekking off trail required some serious willpower. Next time, Granite Mountain, I’ll take the short way up and bring a partner with a rope.

Hells Canyon Overnight Adventure

November 23-24, 2006.

I planned an overnight trip to Hells Canyon, in the northeast corner of Oregon. Much of the area is inaccessible due to snow, so my starting point was the Hells Canyon Reservoir TH, at about 1700 ft. My goal was to find McGraw Cabin by following the Reservoir trail 2 miles to the junction with Old McGraw Creek Route, which is now mostly destroyed and impossible to follow. I figured it would be easy enough to navigate just 2 more miles to the cabin, located right there, near the creek.

Of course, I forgot the golden rule of hiking, which is: Nothing is “just” that simple and if something looks like it’s “right there”, it really isn’t.

I carried enough food and gear to last several nights, in case I decided to stay longer. Weather reports looked grim, so I was prepared for cold, rain and snow. All I had for navigation was a sketch map from a guidebook and a detailed description of the route. I set out along the Snake River, beginning a little before 10 am on a beautiful Thanksgiving morning.

I’m not used to carrying a heavy pack so every step felt like death. After the first half mile or so, the weight seemed to ease up and I became more comfortable moving along the trail. After 45 minutes I reached the mouth of McGraw Creek. I crossed the debris and picked up the old trail at the other side of the canyon. After a few tenths of a mile, the bushwhack begins. Although my guidebook had described the route perfectly up to this point, it now left me with “the January 1, 1997 waterspout obliterated most of the trail for the next 1.2 miles. If you continue your hike through this very rough area you will be able to climb out of the north side of the creekbed for the last time about 1.6 miles from the junction…” Great, I have 1.2 miles to figure out for myself.

Orienting myself was easy, since the creek was at the base of the canyon, the main canyon and the Snake River were behind me, and I knew the cabin would be on the northern wall on my right hand side, just up ahead. Getting lost was not an issue. But after about an hour of picking my way along the streambed I got really frustrated and decided to head up the canyon wall. I knew I needed to gain some elevation, and climbing looked far more interesting than navigating slimy pebbles. So I ascended.

Along the way, I traversed some sketchy talus slopes, dislodged my fair share of rocks and mud, and came across some interesting shells and bones. Although the top never seemed to get any closer, I had made it about halfway up the canyon and soaked in some amazing views. At one point, however, I realized that the higher I climbed, the more I’d have to descend, since I obviously hadn’t gone far enough into the canyon to reach the cabin. Climbing was the easy part; going down looked scary as hell.

I tossed down my pack atop one of the slanted rock ledges and scrambled up a bit to get a better view. It looked like more of the same for miles and miles. Suddenly it occurred to me, however, that if I was a homesteader looking to build a cabin, wouldn’t I find a flat spot close to the stream? Duh, I wasn’t going to find a cabin up here. I’d have to keep moving forward along the stream and be on the lookout for flat, grassy terrain.

Although I’d been moving for hours, I was traveling extraordinarily slowly, and I probably wasn’t even a mile into the canyon when I’d taken my little detour. Patience, I decided was key, and I carefully made my way back down the crumbly rock slopes to the creekbed.

Amazingly, not far up the creek I came across a Wilderness sign and regained the old trail for a couple of yards before it became washed out again. Moving slowly, I proceeded on, stopping to investigate interesting looking rocks and following countless animal paths. One of these such paths seemed to lead up a gentle, grassy slope, which I decided would be my last hoorah. If I couldn’t see the cabin from the top of this hill, I’d make camp somewhere and figure out a plan for tomorrow.

Climbing that tiny hill was excruciating. Once at the top, I looked all around for some sign of the cabin. Nothing. How could I have failed so miserably? I noticed a distinct path crossing the hilltop and disappearing in the distance. I assumed it was another elk highway, since I’d followed so many of them today. There was much more evidence of wildlife here than of humans. But upon closer investigation I noticed that along this path was an old piece of machinery…a mower? Like the one described in the guidebook? Bingo. I’d found a way to the cabin. I followed the deep muck on this well-traveled pathway, my boots picking up pounds of mud with each step, until at last I caught a glimpse of my destination.

The cabin is in a deteriorated state, just off a gently rushing portion of the McGraw Creek. A barbed wire fence stands between the cabin and the trail but it doesn’t enclose the entire area so its purpose is unclear. Bits of plastic and other human trash are scattered about the area, so apparently it’s not as difficult to find as I’d first thought. I set up my tent just up the trail from the cabin, in a flat area close to some trees and the creek. It was about 3:30pm.

I’d borrowed the tent and some other gear from a friend, so it took some time to get the tent and rainfly assembled properly. I got myself situated and comfortable, then attempted to get the stove going. The stove was also a borrowed item, and I could not for the life of me get it to work. After about 30 minutes of fighting with it, I ended up with a leaking can of fuel and no way to attach the canister to the stove. I set the fuel can away from the tent, tossed the stove aside, and munched on cold food for dinner. A cheese sandwich, sliced deli turkey, and cold water. Happy Thanksgiving.

The darkness swept in while I was engaged in combat with the stove, so I quickly set up my bedding and cozied up in my down bag. Ready for bed, I checked my watch. It was only 6pm. Goodnight!

The next morning, I awoke to light snowfall and temperatures just above freezing. I was warm and comfortable all night, and it looked like I wouldn’t have to battle cold today either. I packed up and took off at 8 am across the grassy bench, hoping to descend the same way I came up, on that rolling hillside. Of course, I picked the wrong way to go down and reached a fairly sheer drop that I didn’t want to take chances with. I climbed back up to the bench and found another, more tame way down.Once back at the creek, I attempted to follow the path of least resistance, which turned out to be much harder than I thought. I’d avoided much of the creek during my canyon wall detour yesterday, so I didn’t realize how difficult the return trip would be. I was cut up by thorns and branches, lost my balance several times on smooth, mossy rocks, and angrily fumbled around obstacles like huge trees, water cascading into deep pools, and steep drops in the landscape. Several times I announced victory to the canyon… “You win!! What do you want from me? Can I get one freebie step, please?” Every move was complicated. My pack got caught on everything and threw off my center of balance. I had no way to tell how far I’d gone, so it was easy to get discouraged.

All that work was producing lots of heat and at one point I just had to stop and de-layer. As I was changing out of my fleece pants I looked ahead and thought, “No way, there’s the Snake River!” I blinked, looked again, and decided I was losing it. I hadn’t gotten that far yet, all I was seeing was another twist in the canyon. Keep pressing on and hang in there, I’ll see it soon.

Shortly after that wardrobe adjustment, I looked up again and confirmed that I was, in fact, staring at the Snake River. Finally, the end of this godforsaken canyon was in sight. Overjoyed, I continued along the bank of the creek, caught up with the old trail, and made my way back to the easily traveled Hells Canyon Reservoir Trail. Today, it took me only 3 hours to travel the 2(+) miles from the cabin to the Snake River as opposed to 4.75 hours it took yesterday.

Each trip into the backcountry, on or off trail, is a great learning experience. Although the traveling was very rough at times I had a fantastic journey, saw lots of unique things, and expressed a big part of myself that must remain dormant in the daily 9-5 lifestyle. Would I trek back along this route to the cabin? Absolutely not, but would I go back to Hells Canyon? Yessir. There’s much to be seen there. More research, better maps, and perhaps a willing companion would make another trip to the area very worthwhile.

The drive alone was stunning. I managed to take some pictures from the car 🙂

Idaho, Montana, and Washington

August 7, 2006.

Last night I stayed in a lousy, loud, bug-infested campsite so I was glad to hit the road. I was also glad that the train of ants that formed on the outside of my tent never made it inside to eat me alive. Today’s plan involved driving through southeastern Idaho, into Montana, and then back into the northern panhandle of Idaho. It was longer than taking the southern roads but it looked to be more scenic.

Idaho was one two-horse town after another. I stopped in Dubois to get gas and a cold beverage. The gas station shop was a grocery store, deli, souvenir shop, hardware store, and everything else rolled into one. I probably could have bought a refrigerator there. It was huge. And it was the only vendor for miles upon miles. Driving was tedious so I looked at my roadmap to see if I’d pass through anything worthwhile today. I noticed some unusual museums in Butte, Montana, so I set on visiting there.

The visitor’s center in Montana was staffed by useless teenagers who’d obviously have little insights to offer on the finer things in the town of Butte. I settled on grabbing a few pamphlets and maps before taking off to explore on my own.

I had an hour to kill before the next museum tour so I went into a small cafe for lunch. The service was abysmally slow but the people were friendly and the food was reasonable. And, I had no choice. So I sat there, sipping a delicious blueberry- pomegranate smoothie while waiting for my lunch.

After lunch I hightailed it to the tour company where I embarked on an underground history tour with 3 other folks and a guide. We were informed that years ago, Butte was a slammin’, prosperous party town rich on mining copper and other metals. Skyscrapers lined the streets, money flowed like water and people were always out and about. Today, there are remnants of the old times still visible to the average person but much of the town’s history is hidden underground. Today’s basements are located at yesterday’s street level, so many legitimate and illigitimate businesses are buried beneath modern sidewalks. Our first stop was a barber shop in the basement of one of the old buildings.

The tour company had restored the barber shop to its 1950’s look based on accounts from aging locals. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and had many anecdotes to share. During Prohibition, he said, barber shops were the place to go to get booze because the barbers could hide the bottles among the many bottles of shaving supplies they had on the counter. This barber shop had a hidden back room that doubled as a bar for certain, trusted customers. In fact, more men probably visited the shop for drinks than for a haircut. There was even a hidden escape door that led up to the street if someone’s wife came looking for him. Crazy.

Our next stop was the Butte City Jail. The old one, shut down in the 1970’s. This place is in the process of being restored; some of it is still inacessible to tour-goers. Our guide told stories of police brutality, the “interrogation room” with three foot walls and no windows, the incarceration of Evel Kneivel, and repeat offenders who’d scribbled their names on every wall they could find. The jail conditions were putrid and inhumane; it’s amazing that it was only closed down 30 years ago.

The final stop on the tour was in an old Speakeasy. This was a place for drinking, gambling, dancing, and other shady goings-on. The guide’s tales of life during Prohibition were vivid and interesting. There were secret passwords, one-way mirrors, hidden rooms, corrupt government officials, and much more. For someone who has no interest in history, this tour was really something. I was sad to be let out back to the modern day streets of Butte, which are far less vibrant and lively than they were in the 20’s.

I didn’t want to leave Montana, with its beautiful scenery and cute little towns, but all good things must come to an end. I passed through Idaho again and drove on to Washington. I felt I deserved a nice night somewhere so I settled into a hotel on the outskirts of Spokane where I could take a nice shower, surf the web, and watch cheesy TV. I stretched out on the comfy bed and enjoyed my last evening on the road. Reality is going to hit hard very soon.