Famous Idaho, scenic potatoes

….Or else that’s what you get when you reverse what’s written on most Idaho license plates.

“Scenic Idaho, famous potatoes”

If you’d asked me what I knew about Idaho before that trip, I would have probably told you my mind was going blank. I knew this was the name of a US state, but I didn’t know anything about it, except that they seemed to have a lots of potatoes. Both Ian and I did hear slightly about it on the bicycle scene before we got there, and did some research before we booked our plane tickets to Boise, but we got really pleasantly surprised when we got to Boise and beyond.

It felt strange to be in the US again after a short flight, we could definitely sense somehow that the atmosphere was quite different in Boise than in Calgary, not in better or worse, but just different. We were looking forward to explore.

In Boise, we stayed with Warmshowers hosts Patrick and Rachel- who are very active in the local bicycle scene, and themselves have done A LOT of cyclotouring so we had a lot of interesting travel-related conversations. We had a great time with them and they gave us so much information about cycling in Idaho and Yellowstone, and among other things showed us the amazing Bicycle Project. At the Bicycle Project (https://www.boisebicycleproject.org/) you can find pretty much any bicycle part second-hand, but barely used, for a fraction of the initial price, get some help fixing your bike, and locals can also get credits towards parts/building a bike by volunteering there.

I paid for a well-spent hour on a stand at the place (12USD), where a couple of resourceful staff helped me work out what had been wrong with my disc brakes for a while. They needed a different adaptor, that they had.

Our hosts also had the biggest collection of travel and more specifically cyclotouring-related books I’ve seen so far. I’ll be reading some of these titles sometime soon…

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Some inspiration…this is not everything !

We also spent some time exploring Boise. We definitely understood why it was dubbed one of the most livable cities in the US, though accommodation prices have risen dramatically because it has been attracting more people recently.

 

With a pleasant market and downtown area, there was also nice areas along the river and ponds to swim and kayak. One of the best surprises was riding the bicycle path all the way out to the Black Cliffs (more than 10 miles out of downtown Boise), where I managed to unexpectedly meet up and have some relaxed climbs with other climbers.

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Scenic cycleway

 

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Leaving Boise, we rode on the I-84 to Mountain Home and then took a back road down to the Bruneau Dunes State Park.  The State Park is known for its big 140m tall sand dune (which you can see in grey accross the lake in the picture below) and smaller dunes, as well as its observatory with a telescope, birdwatching… and sandboarding (gliding down the dunes with a wooden board you can rent from the visitor centre!).

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Having camped on the way to Bruneau, we made it to the park late morning and just went up the smaller dunes, but it’s also possible to do a longer hike accross the tallest dune.

Back on cycling on the road we were surprised to see this oasis of green past Bruneau (you can still see the tall sand dunes on the left in the background). Sure, Idaho is well-known for crop farming, but it was still strange to see this green field in a somewhat desertic landscape !

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We then got back to the I-84 and afterwards followed the 30 to Twin Falls. Again, we saw a few things which reminded us we were in farming country…In Hagerman we stopped after seeing a sign for someone selling their local produce. We didn’t find Idaho potatoes but bought some melon and tried their sweetcorn too, which was delicious. So much that the cute farmer’s dogs were after it, too!

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We then made it to Twins Falls and stayed overnight with a Warmshowers host there. Twins Falls wasn’t exactly bicycle-friendly- a lot of traffic and not many shoulders and cyclists. After resupplying for several days we headed out in direction of Kimberley. Along a back road we took completely by chance we stumbled onto a CLIF Bar Factory. A lot of their products being vegan-friendly, between Ian and I we had eaten a few of those bars…

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Outside climbing wall on one side of the Clif Bar Factory

Upon going inside to say hello and introducing ourselves we ended up riding on with some goodies offered to us… a lot of them actually !

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Me wondering which kind of bar I’ll start eating first

That night we camped at a campground by Murtaugh Lake. The water was cold but refreshing after a hot day cycling and we still managed to swim for a little bit. Then putting up the tent we got startled by some hooting sounds from a nearby tree…

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Our neighbour… a horned owl!

Turned out there were two or three horned owls nearby, who were quite noisy for a while before dark.

After Murtaugh we kept going in Oakley’s direction. There wasn’t much to see for long stretches, lots and lots of fields and we passed nearby what looked like a major cattle farming operation…

When we made it to Oakley we were surprised by the old western-style buildings, some of them standing since the late 1800s. There wasn’t much in the little town, but we managed to find some cheap food at the local grocery store, which surprised us given the relative remoteness. There was also a cafe who made delicious hand-cut fries from Idaho potatoes. In any case the place had character.

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Our bikes in front of the local grocery store
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A patchwork of different decades

Leaving Oakley the road turned into gravel.

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It was then pretty tough going uphill for some time, until it topped out as we entered in City of Rocks, a National reserve famous for its excellent rock-climbing on granite, and it got really scenic then. A lot of emigrants travelled through the reserve in wagon trains in the 1850s. We kept stumbling upon beautiful and impressively-shaped rocks as we rode downhill to Almo, a local mormon town.

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Look for the climber !

IMG_3524.JPGIn Almo, I had an arranged meet up with another climber, Ty, who was my climbing partner in City of Rocks for a couple of days that weekend. Ian and I ended up putting our bicycles in Ty’s pick-up truck as he shuttled us around between what we wanted to climb, which was quite a good thing as some routes were particularly busy, and there was sometimes a good distance to cover between crags or even the two closest rock-climbing routes of a similar level. So, City of Rocks is not the most cycleable rock-climbing area. Almo, the nearest town is also a 7 miles downhill ride from a good part of the climbing and it wouldn’t have been practical to meet up there every day with someone to climb for the day. Also, free camping is available in Almo and in some places quite remote from the climbs, but if you intend to camp by some of the crags you need to reserve quite in advance for the designated campgrounds. If you go there, I’d also highly recommend pre-arranging a partner as it doesn’t seem like a place where it is easy to buddy up especially if you are a moderate climber like myself, though you might have some luck staying at the designated campgrounds, or at one of the free camps in Almo which gets quite crowded during sunny weekends.

City of Rocks has mostly trad and sport routes. Some sports routes have a lot of spacing between bolts and are better tackled with some gear as a backup. There are short multipitchs near the road, longer ones further with a long approach walk. There are a few top-ropes and some bouldering. Ian, who’s not a climber but still somewhat enjoyed hanging around, thought it was a bit similar to Joshua Tree’s NP landscape.

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Leading a classic-ish 5.7 on granite
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Rock-climbing dog (neighbouring party)

We also climbed at Castle Rock, just past Almo on the way out, where one of the main crags would be a better option if you are on a bicycle and meeting directly there with your climbing partner during the day. There is a cheap youth hostel not too far.

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View from a multipitch in Castle Rock

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A bouldering area (centre) seen from the same multi

After the last climb Ian and I cycled back to Almo, in the direction of the main free campsite, before we found a smaller informal campsite closer. We saw those mantises hidding in haybales by our tent…

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In Almo, there are some hot baths (Durfee Hot Springs) but they are closed often. There is however a general store with a limited selection of food, and showers for 5USD. It was good to feel refreshed after a few days cycling and climbing. The very nice couple of owners insisted on making us some breakfast, even after we told him we were both vegan (and gluten-free). We ended up with some tasty hash browns- but it was not nearly enough for two hungry cyclists so we cooked some oats afterwards…

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We then got back cycling on the road, in Albion’s direction. I felt pretty tired that day, having not had a rest day in a bit, but looking along the road kept my legs going for a little bit more.

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That evening a couple invited us to pitch their tent in their garden along the river. They were growing tomatoes, chilies, and other things in their garden, and they also happened to own potato and corn fields. The husband ended up taking us to his field, where he told us to take some of the potatoes he explained were left over in the corners by the sorting machine because they were not the right size. Idaho potatoes for us !

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Cycling through Burley later on we came accross what looked like a potato sorting facility!

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The following day we started cycling a dirt road past Paul and Kimama to Carey area, through the back of the Crater of the Moon National Monument.

IMG_3634.JPGNot long after that we saw a sign saying “The entrance to Craters of the Moon is not that way. Googlemaps is wrong. High clearance vehicules only”. While we knew it was not going to be the usual way to the entrance, we thought it was a decent dirt road. It was hot that day though, and we kind of regretted not managing to take on more water. I still thought we were making ground and so I convinced Ian to carry on. The dirt road kept on going, we kept on following it. Except it got quite sandy, so we did not make as much ground as we expected to by late afternoon. I felt slightly guilty as we decided to keep on cycling and camp late, limit the water used for cooking and leave early the following morning to make it to the road where we would have found some place to get water, hopefully just after running out. Still, we were expecting to get a bit thirsty. However, just as the sun was setting we encountered a cattle tank, so we took a few bottles and boiled it.

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My precious!

We did appreciate not to have to race to find water the following morning. The landscape was quite surprising, with bands of black lava progressively appearing in the distance.

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And here are some rocks… but what is this creature ?

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We finally made it to Carey, where we drank a few sugary drinks, had some food, refilled on water and heard from locals that there were hot springs nearby, and that tourists usually didn’t know about them… They gave us vague indications but the hot springs weren’t too hard to find, and there was only a couple other people while we were there. We were really glad to soak and relax for a bit in this magical spot!

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Some wasps flying around their beautiful nest in the surrounding rocks… Thankfully the proximity of the hot water don’t entice them to come too close while we soak.

We then carried on riding the road to Craters of the Moon National Monument. Black lava is everywhere.

IMG_3677.JPGIt costs 10 USD per bicycle to go on the main loop drive (only paved road in the park) which encompasses some of the most striking features of the park. We weren’t too impressed to see the small caves at that time of the year but the other features and riding and walking in this landscape were definitely worth it. There are also a lot of areas around the loop which are open to backcountry hiking in the Wilderness area and I’d be interested to come back to explore some more remote areas of the monument.

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View from the start of a boardwalk along the loop drive

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IMG_3755.JPGAfter leaving Craters of the Moon we camped in Arco that night, before beneficiating of quite a strong tailwind in the direction of Dubois the following day. We stopped in a hamlet not far from there. Fields and fields on each side for miles on end were not really incitating us to stealth camp. We ended up asking someone if we could pitch our tent in their backyard.

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Arriving in Dubois we stopped at the gas station. It was a strange sight to see a lot of people in full hunting clothes and gear, but this was the start of the hunting season and we were very much in the backcountry. Carrying on to Kilgore, after a bit of a boring stretch of road we made it to the settlement. I couldn’t help but smile at seeing this sign on a shed:

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There were also a lot of ATVs, RVs and snowmobiles parked around waiting for winter action in nearby Yellowstone. We were struggling again to find a good place to camp when a couple of locals offered us to camp in their yard. They were quite amazed by our travels and couldn’t imagine how we had made it safely that far. They told us this was their weekend house, they were living in another town in southern Idaho.

That night it was the coldest it had been in a while. We were somewhat shocked by the sudden change in temperature. While we had warm to hot temperatures throughout southern Idaho during that time of the year (Late August-early September), we were slowly climbing at higher elevations and the area as a whole was cooler. It was more than time to make it to Yellowstone.

The following day though, an other local, who himself had done a cross-country trip invited us to stay at his house on the way. The guest room was really country-style and picturesque.

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Throughout southern Idaho we had experienced an incredible hospitality and friendliness. We also met quite a lot of Mormon-church goers and they didn’t fit the misconceptions Europeans generally have about them. “Mainstream” Mormons don’t have a polygamous lifestyle and are not very different in personality and character than a lot of other Americans or practicing Catholics in Europe. Only certain secluded communities in specific places, who are actually detached from the original Church, adopt a peculiar way of life.

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This is what a LDS (later day saint or Mormon) church looks like.

As we finally headed towards Yellowstone we started to see a lot of fallen elk antlers. Elk actually shed them in the winter or spring.

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Another kind of elk !

We prepared to cross into Montana for a short stretch and in Wyoming just after.

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Made it to Montana !

 

TIPS:

  • Notable off-road cycling in Idaho we heard about: The Idaho Hot springs MTB route (https://visitidaho.org/travel-tips/ride-soak-repeat-3-days-idaho-hot-springs-mountain-bike-route/) which is on the Wild west route
  • The North part of the state is meant to be interesting for cycling too.
  • Plenty of interesting State Parks, National Monuments and National Forests in Idaho with a good diversity of landscapes.
  • If you are interested to spend time in Hagerman area, there is apparently some scenic exploring to do around.
  • Twins Falls is not great to cycle in, and, apart from a lot of resupply options in an otherwise empty area and a really nice library we didn’t thought there was much to do or see for a long-distance cyclist.
  • There are a bunch of climbing areas in Idaho! To start with you can have a look at https://www.mountainproject.com/area/105708958/idaho. Even if some of these destinations are well-known, if you intend to buddy up to go to one of them you’re much better planning to go there on a week-end in season, as they are a bit isolated.
  • City of Rocks apparently has some good hiking and also some mountain biking.

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