When we tried to merge in, I knew it wouldn’t make people happy, and sure enough, we drew the ire of a couple of ladies trying to prevent us from getting in. It kind of made me think about some of the road rage we observed in Napa, except here in Nampa, this pair of ladies weren’t bashful about flipping us the bird…
Day 1: HYDRO LOGIC
Julie and I had to catch a 7:58am flight so I basically treated our wake-up call as if it was a typical workday, where I’d wake up at 4:30am (maybe with a snooze here and there), get ready, have breakfast, and then be out the door.
Since we weren’t going to see Tahia for a few days, we made sure to get our last looks at her while she was asleep. We didn’t want to wake her up so we couldn’t lift her and kiss her like we wanted to.
We’d eventually get to LAX at around 6:30am. There was quite a little more traffic than usual, especially at LAX. We weren’t sure why that was the case, but at least we got to the right terminal to print out our boarding passes, get through security, and find the right gate.
When we got to the correct gate, we saw a couple of tiny planes, and we knew that we were going to be on one of those tiny ones. Well, at least there was a direct flight to Boise, Idaho from LAX, and we got to use some miles to knock off a huge chunk of the air fare.
While we were patiently waiting for our flight to board, there was a guy sitting next to me who noticed that I was reading Gregory Plumb’s book about waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. He proceeded to strike up a conversation with me in a very excited tone seeing that we appeared to be out for an adventure in Idaho.
It turned out that this guy (named Steve) happened to live in Boise, and he was coming back from Kaua’i on a honeymoon. So that explained the enthusiasm as if it was like someone genuinely wanted to visit his neck of the woods, which I’m sure brought out that local pride or that eagerness to share the stuff that he knows. And indeed, he told us some local tips and tricks when we told him where we were going on this trip. He especially mentioned to us some great steak and beer at this place in Baker on the way to Walla Walla, and he also told us about a hike to see Palouse Falls from the Pinnacles.
All this pleasant conversation really made the time go by quickly, and before we knew it, we had to board our flight to Boise.
We had to do this secondary hand-checked baggage thing where we checked our carry-ons right at the tarmac because we knew that they wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment for such a small plane. Heck, these compartments barely would’ve fit my backpack so I decided to use the underside of the seat for at least that personal carry-on.
We were told by the captain that we were 15 minutes ahead of schedule despite the long taxi just to get cleared for takeoff.
Anyways, we were off and in no time we were in the air. The flight went pretty smoothly, and we were at the Boise Airport at 11:10am. I couldn’t help but notice there were quite a few tech companies, which we saw from the air. We also noticed how dry and brown most of the area was despite the fact that it was Spring.
That kind of killed our preconceived notion that somehow eastern Washington and southern Idaho were much greener and wetter since the Pacific Northwest states tended to have that wet and misty reputation. But with this being our first waterfalling immediately east of the Cascades, I guess that kind of made us realize that we were definitely in rain shadowed territory.
After collecting our bags and then our rental car (we declined everything since we knew that we’d be on sealed roads pretty much the whole way), we were out of the airport area and right onto the I-84 east at 11:40am.
The immediate goal for today was to visit Shoshone Falls, which was something we really looked forward to. We were told by Steve that the falls should be flowing well this time of year. So that kind of amped up our anticipation.
The drive was pretty uneventful and smooth going. The speed limit was 75mph and I did see a couple of cops looking for speeders. Fortunately, I found the cruise control and tried to stay reasonably close to the speed limit while on cruise. The volume of traffic on the I-84 kind of surprised me a bit since we were in the middle of the week out in what I thought was kind of the middle of nowhere, and it wasn’t even Summer yet.
We’d eventually make it to the town of Twin Falls at about 1:25pm. We used this time to do some grocery shopping for some water and some munchos. When we checked out, it turned out that this supermarket didn’t accept credit cards, so I ended up paying in cash.
Julie and I then had a quick lunch at the Chik-fil-A here before checking into our Best Western accommodation at 2:25pm. It turned out that we had a ready room despite being nearly a half-hour before the official check-in time of 3pm. Still, our intent was to just drop off our bags, and we promptly did just that so we could get going towards Shoshone Falls.
The drive proceeded further south of the Best Western on Blue Lakes Rd (which was also Hwy 93). We turned left onto Falls Ave, and then turned left again at 3300E Rd. The road eventually curved towards a descending and winding road as it started to snake its way beneath some interesting gorge walls. We were momentarily stopped at a payment kiosk.
Julie and I noticed that there was an indicator sign here that said the water level was “low”. I thought that was a little unusual considering this was supposed to be the high runoff season, but then again, perhaps the definition of “low” might be such that anything higher must be insanely gushing. Anyways, the payment collector asked where we were from.
We told him Los Angeles, and he then proceeded to say (tongue-in-cheek), “Never heard of that place.”
So we paid our $3 for the vehicle entry fee, and then we proceeded to drive all the way to the car park at the dead-end. We could already see part of Shoshone Falls, and we couldn’t wait to get out of the car to see more of it. Wed parked the car at the car park at 2:40pm.
The skies were clear and it was a bit warmer here than it was in Boise. In any case, we knew there was a high likelihood of seeing rainbows at this waterfall given the sunny conditions.
And when we got to the nearest overlook to the car park, sure enough we saw a double rainbow before the base of Shoshone Falls. However, we also noticed that the right side of the falls only had a wet wall. Certainly, that part of the falls would have been flowing if its flow was higher. Nonetheless, the falls did have satisfactory flow, and I recalled hearing some kids behind me say, “Whoa!” when they first laid eyes on the falls.
We spent some time taking movies and trying to compose photographs, especially with the buttes behind the falls. The arid scenery with such an impressive waterfall was definitely something we didn’t expect, but then again, it probably showed just how little we knew about Southern Idaho going into this trip.
There were also a couple of tributary waterfalls spilling just downstream of Shoshone Falls that looked interesting, too, but we couldn’t get clean looks of those waterfalls. I even wondered if they had formal names. Later on, we’d see a pair of kayakers before the falls, which helped us appreciate the size of Shoshone Falls.
Julie and I were discussing whether Shoshone Falls belonged on the US Top 10 List, and after some deliberation, we tentatively decided that it might nudge Burgess Falls off that list. Barely!
However, it was just a shame that all the hydroelectric developments immediately upstream from it kind of took away from the scenic allure of the falls. We felt this waterfall could’ve easily placed higher on our US Top 10 list (in a way that Cumberland Falls in Kentucky impressed us), but given all the power lines, water diversion, unsightly hydro structures, and seemingly lackluster flow (though still impressive nonetheless) it kind of took away from the overall experience. So we vacillated a bit on whether it belonged on our America’s Top 10 List. If it would end up making the list, it would just barely make it.
We also wondered if this waterfall should be rated a “4” or a “3.5”. My first instinct was a “4” and Julie initially agreed, but when we thought about all the other waterfalls that have earned a “4” as well as those that have earned a “3.5” when compared to this one, it was a tight call. It could’ve been a very solid “3.5” or a very weak “4”. I kept going back to Cumberland Falls, but that one was more naturesque and the fall colors really helped. This one just seemed a bit too disturbed and really became a contest of whether we liked this better than Burgess Falls or even Grand Falls, which was nudged off the list after we went on our Appalachians trip last year.
Nonetheless, that didn’t stop me from pursuing other overlooks of the Shoshone Falls for a different perspective. When I continued walking away from the falls as I was following the lower walkways skirting the edge of the gorge, I came across a fenced off area where there were stairs leading further down into the canyon. It appeared the area was fenced off because there was erosion and the stairs looked like they disappeared right into the gorge itself.
So seeing that I couldn’t go any further, I took this as the dead-end of that lower path, but I did notice there was an overlook higher up the canyon, and I still wanted to figure out how I could get up there.
After meeting up with Julie in the picnic area at the main overlook (who at this point was occupying herself reading her Kindle), I came to realize that there was a sign for the Canyon Rim Trail next to the souvenir and snack shop at the car park. So I went ahead and followed the trail up the steps until I got onto a paved walkway.
This walkway was nestled against some interesting cliffs, but I got the sense that locals would use this paved “trail” as a jogging or running path. I saw two women running together as well as a guy who ran on his own later. I wondered if they started their jog all the way from the town of Twin Falls.
Anyways, my hunch about accessing that distant overlook turned out to be correct. I found the upper overlook that gave me a contextual frontal view of Shoshone Falls. Backing the scene was a different butte near the car park, which made for interesting photos. The only thing this viewpoint didn’t have was a rainbow given that the angle of the light wasn’t in that sweet spot like the closer overlooks.
More interestingly, I’d learn later that this overlook was the site of an Evil Knieval daredevil jump. I wasn’t terribly aware of the stunt, and perhaps it was before my time. Still, if the daredevil jumped across the Snake River Gorge (just an assumption since I didn’t know much about it), it boggled my mind considering just how wide this gorge and the river was.
From this vantage point, I could also appreciate the fact that this waterfall should’ve exhibited that classic horseshoe shape found in only wide and powerful waterfalls. However, given the human intervention, a lot of that water was diverted so the right side of what would’ve been a wall of water but was now trickling. Thus, it had kept the falls from being its former impressive self that would’ve earned its nickname the “Niagara of the West.”
At 3:55pm, we were back in the car. There was still plenty of daylight left so we decided to drive further east to check out Twin Falls, which we knew from our pre-trip research that it was also a waterfall on the Snake River yet it too was harnessed for hydro.
At 4:15pm, we made it to the Twin Falls viewing area. The drive on 3500E into the area was a little less inviting as we went past a no trespassing after dusk sign, which then led us to a picnic area and a small car park area. Earlier, I had made the mistake of going past the Idaho Power gate when I realized that it was going past some playgrounds with no apparent car park or obvious signage for viewing the falls. I wasn’t sure where that road went, but I realized my mistake and then backtracked and got right to the signposted viewing area.
When we were walking the partially-crescent-shaped walkway and overlook area, we saw a sign indicating that we happened to be here at a time when they would release the waters (I believe it started on April 1), but who knew how long this waterfall would last.
Anyways, as we walked the crescent path, we could see the Twin Falls below us on the gorge. It certainly lacked the width and vigor of Shoshone Falls, but it was an interesting falls nonetheless. There was even a rainbow at the base of that waterfall, but it wasn’t quite as pronounced as at Shoshone Falls.
The fencing at this overlook was a bit taller than at Shoshone Falls so it was a little tricky trying to either take photos between the annoying fence bars or to try to tip toe so I could take photos over the top of these rather intrusive protective fences.
Upon examining the Twin Falls, we could see where the other waterfall comprising the “twin” nature of the falls was completely dry due to the hydro scheme here. That one looked like it didn’t have much of a chance of flowing even if the flow was high. And even with the part that was flowing, the unsightly transmission lines along with dam infrastructure took away from the scenic allure of this waterfall as well.
We followed the pre-trip waypoints that I loaded onto Julie’s Garmin Nuvi device, and by 4:50pm, we made it past some residences perched atop the Snake River Gorge rim before descending into the gorge itself. When we got to a hairpin turn where there were a handful of informal pullout spaces for roadside parking, the GPS told us to stop here and we did just that despite no signs indicating such a feature was here.
When we got out of the parked car, we could hear the falls so we knew we were close. And as soon as we walked closer to the obstructing cliff that kept us from seeing the falls at first, we scrambled around the that cliff and were greeted by the impressively tall waterfall. Unfortunately, we were looking right into the afternoon sun so we decided to scramble down to a path that let us go behind Perrine Coulee Falls.
It was a bit misty behind the waterfall, but when we looked out from the waterfall, we could see some interesting scenery towards the base of the Snake River Gorge. Julie did some researching in real-time on her 3G phone and it turned out that there was a country club down at the base of this gorge against the Snake River and the wide plain down here.
We followed some younger folk both behind the falls and then out to the other side of the falls where the afternoon sun wouldn’t be as much of a nuissance. We could also see when we looked up towards the top of the falls that there were two protruding overlooks promising to offer top down panoramic views of not only the waterfall, but also the Snake River Gorge. We didn’t have time to look for a way to get up there, but our experience at the falls from the hairpin turn seemed pretty worthwhile anyways.
As for the view of the falls itself, we learned that this one was so tall that it was hard to get it all in on our photographs. So we were busy scrambling to get a little further set back from the falls so we could get everything in one frame. This waterfall seemed to scatter its spray from its base a little more indiscriminantly than other waterfalls we’ve been able to get behind so that kind of kept us a bit chilly and somewhat wet while conspiring to put water on our camera lenses.
When we had our fill of this waterfall from the cool, shadowy, and misty backside, we headed back up to the hairpin turn starting point, and that was where I spent a little more time to appreciate the context of the Perrine Coulee Falls’ location.
Upstream along the Snake River below me, I could see the Twin Falls Bridge. As I turned and looked further downstream on the Snake River, I could see the panorama of the gorge with some buildings and some greens, which was probably that country club that Julie spoke of. And when I turned back against the sun, I could see the waterfall itself towering over the immediate foliage blocking its lower sections. We also happened to have showed up when there were a couple of folks working together to photograph an attractive young lady nestled admist the foliage for something that looked like it might go into some publication (they looked professional).
One thing that we noticed was that this waterfall seemed to be very popular with locals. We saw several folks jogging that hairpin road that we were driving. We also saw whole families slowly walk up the road towards the top of the gorge. Since there were residences nearby, I guess it made sense why we saw so many people strolling about. I wondered if this would be their after work activity seeing that it was midweek after all.
At 5:25pm, we returned to our parked car. And that pretty much concluded the waterfalling for the day. Ten minutes later, we returned to the Best Western Inn where we told the clerk that we weren’t going to spend a second night here (especially considering that I had a strong desire to break up the drive going all the way to Walla Walla in a couple of days).
That meant that we’d have to book a place in Boise for tomorrow. But that would also mean that it might open up the possibility of doing Jump Creek Falls near Boise as well. We might even have another opportunity to spend time with Julie’s friend Dana, who moved here a short time ago.
At around 6:45pm, we ended up eating at this place called Elevate 486. They had pretty decent “American Kobe” steak with chimichurri sauce. But perhaps what impressed us about this place was the gorge view, which reminded me a bit of a much smaller version of the Grand Canyon when looking out from the restaurant, especially towards sunset. I was regretting not bringing my camera to the dinner because I would’ve loved to have taken more photos along the scenery along the canyon rim.
One thing that didn’t sit well with us, however, was that they charged us $6 for splitting Julie’s main. This despite having also ordered two appetizers. What a rip off! I guess in hindsight, we should’ve just grabbed the main and then split it ourselves without announcing our intent to split.
Anyways, we were back at the room at 8:30pm. So we were finally able to unwind from this rather busy day. And both Julie and I were pretty much conked out…
Day 2: IT’S NAMPA NOT NAPA!
It was 6am when I awoke. Julie got up a half-hour later. We spent some time getting packed and ready to go since we changed our stay in Twin Falls from 2 days to 1 day yesterday after realizing that we didn’t need a second night here.
It wasn’t until 7:40am that we left the Best Western, and it was very chilly outside. It was said to be 37 degrees according to the rental car’s thermometer. I couldn’t imagine how it was going to be in the 70s later in the day as forecasted.
So basically, we followed the Hwy 93 north of Twin Falls and followed it through some two-lane rural roads as we passed through a myriad of farms and small towns (though farmlands seemed to dominate). We would eventually turn right when we got to some railroad tracks in another small town, and then we followed that road for a while as the scenery got even more wide open and desolate.
We saw the odd barn sitting out alone in a large field plus a small town here and there, but the rest of the landscape pretty much was large tracts of open lands interspersed with farms. The scenery was quite brown and it was a far cry from the greenery we kind of expected to see in this part of the Pacific Northwest. We weren’t sure if it was because this area might have gotten less rainfall than usual this year, or if it was just the way the climate was in the Snake River Plains of Southern Idaho.
It wasn’t until about 9:10am when we finally got to the entrance to the Craters of the Moon, which was the main reason why we drove this far to the northeast of Twin Falls. Even as we drove into the National Monument’s boundaries, we could see evidence of old lava flows and blackened terrain in much the same way that we associated with what we recalled seeing in the Big Island of Hawaii.
Since it was National Parks week from April 22-26, there was a sign at the kiosk that said admission was free today. So we proceeded forward and pretty much followed the winding road and the 15-25mph speed limits.
We’d ultimately make a brief stop at the North Crater lava flow where I did a short loop walk that yielded me some early morning looks amidst one of these lava flows that featured pillars, ragged surface formations, and even a dead tree as well as a bird flying about. All this was backed by some nearby mountains still hanging onto its snow on this chilly morning (it was still in the 40s at the time).
Continuing on, we’d eventually briefly check out roadside stops like the Splatter Cones, the some caves area, the Devil’s Orchard, and the Inferno Crater. The caves looked interesting to check out, but we needed permits since the park was trying to protect resident bats, and we would have to spend some more time hiking here than we had budgeted for. We still had a couple of waterfall excursions while having to stay all the way at Meridien tonight, which was a surburb west of Boise.
It wasn’t long before we’d complete the one-way crater loop drive, but we felt there was something missing. There didn’t seem to be that signature cratered landscape photograph that we thought we had seen in calendars and post cards before and we had expected to see on this visit.
So we drove another loop on the 7-mile Crater Loop Road, but this time, we took a 2-mile out-and-back detour to the Tree Molds parking area. Then, I briefly walked a trail towards the Broken Top Trail, but I still wasn’t seeing that post card crater view I was hoping to see. Julie was starting to get a little disappointed with our Craters of the Moon visit and she was starting to wonder why this national monument was pretty empty during our visit, despite being free.
It wasn’t until about 10:30am that we finally gave in and went to the visitor center by the entrance of the park so we could pick up a map and look at some of the post cards to get ideas on where the most scenic spots were. Apparently that crater view that I fancied was confused perhaps with something we might have seen already from the Big Island of Hawaii or something.
It turned out that perhaps the most striking scenery was from the Splatter Cones that we had visited earlier in the morning, but what we neglected to do was to take the North Crater Trail to get a more top down view of the trio of splatter cones in context with the moonscape around it.
So with that, we left the visitor center and drove onto the Crater Loop Road for yet a third time.
Within minutes, we were back at the Splatter Cones parking area, and this time I got out and quickly did the North Crater Trail backwards as it promptly went away from the trio of splatter cones and climbed in earnest as those cones went out of sight. Still, I proceeded on the faith that I would eventually get that top down vantage that I was expecting to get after seeing it on the post card at the visitor center.
After passing by a couple of guys who were going the other way as they were descending, I was pretty much all alone as I huffed and puffed my way up this hill as the paved walkway gave way to black volcanic dirt, which was loose enough to get between my socks and my Chacos (I was hasty and didn’t bother putting on hiking boots).
When I got to the top of this initial climb, I realized that I was on the rim of a pretty cool looking crater. That was when I realized that this must be the Red Crater that this trail was named after! And indeed, there was a mix of black and red soil as I was peering down from the crater rim. It was very Tongariro-like (in New Zealand’s North Island) in that I was skirting the very rim of the crater and trying to improve my viewing angle as I was going around its southern end.
There was a fence there that looked like it was discouraging walking onto what appeared to be a trail that was once publicly accessible. I wasn’t sure if they closed it off due to the ruggedness and narrowness of that section of trail or if they were trying to protect some kind of cryobiotic dust-like organisms. But one thing was clear was that the post card view came from behind that fence. Plus, the view back towards the Red Crater with a backdrop of by snowy mountains was also from that area as well.
So I did my act of rebellion and went that way as I got right to the southern tip of the rim. And sure enough, I looked down at the splatter cones and I could see the car park to the lower left. Julie didn’t get out of the car so I knew she was reading her Kindle in there. Still, I got my shots, and I guess I could finally say I got a vista that was punctuated our brief visit to this desolate place.
As I turned around and looked the other way, I saw that Red Crater backed by a hint of snowy mountains as I had expected. And now that I got my two desired views, I headed back to the sanctioned part of the trail and proceeded to get all the way down to the car park.
I realized that if there was something very worthwhile to do in this park, it would be to hike the Red Crater trail from the lava flow area in the north and go the roughly 2 miles one-way to the Splatter Cones in a southerly direction. In hindsight, I should’ve done that one-way shuttle hike by having Julie come pick me up at the Splatter Cones since she wasn’t going to leave the car.
In any case, I was back at the car at 11:20am, and I knew that we were running a little behind schedule as I was hoping to be back at Twin Falls at noon to give us a little more time to get to Meridien later in the afternoon while fitting in a waterfall excursion at the Jump Creek Recreation Area.
But given the long driving distances, we knew that was going to be a bit of a tall order to fit it all in today, especially since we wanted to devote most of Saturday to visit Julie’s friend in Boise and not have to take more time away from her doing another waterfalling excursion that day.
So anyways, we’d eventually be back at Twin Falls at 12:55pm, but that sidewalk that I thought would go behind residences along the canyon rim and towards the top of Perrine Coulee Falls was cut short. Apparently, that wasn’t the way we were supposed to go to get to those pair of upper overlooks that we noticed yesterday.
However, we did see some nice gorge scenery of the Snake River Canyon below. All the development down there kind of made me think about how Canyonlands National Park (with the Green and Colorado Rivers) might have looked had it been allowed to be developed. So I guess the Snake River was more conducive to development as it was a bit less desolate than Canyonlands, and then again, Canyonlands was part of the last of the lower 48 states to be mapped so perhaps its remoteness was a good thing in terms of its protection.
The Snake River Canyon probably didn’t have a chance at being protected since a lot of the hydro infrastructure had been around since the late 19th century with the discovery of gold in some of these parts (around the time of the Gold Rush in Northern California). Interestingly, amongst the early gold miners were Chinese immigrants (something we had read at an interpretive sign back at Shoshone Falls).
In addition to the nice scenery, we also noticed that those overlooks above Perrine Coulee Falls that we noticed yesterday looked accessible from the Elevation 486 Restaurant, which we were also at yesterday. Since we knew how to get there, we quickly drove over there and started walking on the Canyon Crest walkway at 1:15pm.
The paved walkway was shared with quite a few friendly locals (mostly women) either jogging, or walking with strollers. It immediately was clear to me that this Canyon Crest walkway was a locals favorite to get some exercise and soak in the scenery. The paved walkway proceeded along the rim of the gorge. To our immediate right were some buildings that seemed to belong to businesses. There was a dental office as well as some kind of dining events center. It was probably about 5 minutes or so of walking when we made it to the first of the top overlooks of Perrine Coulee Falls.
Just as I had thought, the views were grand from up here. In fact, it might have been better than I anticipated because I was able to use the wide angle of my lens to capture both the bridge spanning the Snake River gorge as well as the falls itself. In between were the switchbacking roads that we stopped at yesterday.
Looking in the other direction, we could see the now familiar Snake River Canyon scenery with the country club down below. I thought to myself how lucky the residents here must be to get to enjoy this scenery as part of their neighborhood stroll.
After having our fill of this overlook, Julie headed back to the car, but I quickly made my way over to the other overlook. From that further overlook, I only got a partial top down view of Perrine Coulee Falls, but it was definitely felt more precipitous as the sheer drop of the gorge was right below the events center building. I was also able to see the smaller upper cascades of Perrine Coulee Falls.
Still, it wasn’t quite as interesting as the first overlook so I got my shots and movies, and then rejoined Julie at 1:50pm. Now it was getting later than I anticipated given how much more we still had to do today, and that Julie had to quickly go to Target (to buy the underwear she had forgotten to pack) and get some takeaway lunch at KFC. Even though it wasn’t on the menu, it was a good thing that they accomodated our request to grill the chicken instead of deep frying it.
It wasn’t until 2:15pm when we were finally leaving for Meridien.
Fortunately, that drive along the I-84 was pretty smooth. We’d ultimately make it to the La Quinta in Meridien at 4pm though the surprising amount of cars on the Eagle Drive exit threw us off. I think the last 15 minutes of the drive was just at the stop light and the traffic here alone.
After checking and dropping off our belongings in the surprisingly chic accommodation (good value for what we paid), we got back into the car at 4:25pm. The thermometer now said that it was 77 degrees F! So we went from freezing temperatures this morning to nearly Los Angeles-like Spring heat. Anyways, we filled up gas and were on our way to go find Jump Creek Falls, which was one thing we wanted to do to say we did a waterfalling excursion not far from Boise.
We were a little concerned that it might not be an easy place to find from reading Gregory Plumb’s description of this place in his book, but we had to give it a try despite it being pretty late in the afternoon.
So we continued briefly west on the I-84, then we got off the freeway and onto the Hwy 55 at the town of Nampa. There were lots of wine region signs around here, and that prompted Julie to say to me, “It’s Nampa, not Napa!”
Anyways, like our Napa experience (where there was quite a bit of traffic in the Napa Region when we visited last Summer), there were certainly a lot of cars in Nampa. And that was made worse when the main two-lane road merged into one in each direction, and that seemed to make the traffic a little worse.
When we tried to merge in, I knew it wouldn’t make people happy, and sure enough, we drew the ire of a couple of ladies trying to prevent us from getting in. It kind of made me think about some of the road rage we observed in Napa, except here in Nampa, this pair of ladies weren’t bashful about flipping us the bird.
But once that was over with, we slugglishly wound our way through the straight-shot Hwy 55 through several farms (or were they vineyards?) of this Snake River Valley Wine Region. Since we weren’t much into the wine scene, we had no problems not making any turns and just kept going.
Eventually, we made it past the small town of Marsing, and not much further from there, we junctioned with the Hwy 95. After turning left on Hwy 95, we now really had to pay attention to Plumb’s directions as neither Jump Creek nor the roads leading there were in our Nuvi.
As we drove south some 2.5 miles or so, we saw the easy-to-miss (especially with the 60mph speed limit on Hwy 95) Poison Creek Road to our right. We quickly made the sharp 90-degree turn onto the paved two-lane road between more farms. Now, we had to follow this road for another 3.5 miles until we had to follow some obscure directions about not being discouraged with No Trespassing signs at a sharp right turn.
Well, it was hard to tell where that was supposed to be and we ended up finding ourselves driving alongside some irrigation ditch until we finally made it back to pavement, but from a different entry spot from where we entered in. When we drove that paved road to a four-way intersection (a junction of Poison Creek Road and Jump Creek Road), that was when we realized that we had to turn back and head south again. We should’ve stayed on Poison Creek Road to the 4-way intersection with stop signs, and then turn left onto Jump Creek Road.
Anyways, we then went to the pavement’s end, but instead of going straight back onto that private property where we had realized that we just trespassed earlier, we turned right and went past a cattle guard and a single-lane bridge. I guess the tire with writing on it that said then something but was smeared (did it say “No Trespassing”? Or “No Hunting”; couldn’t tell) as well as the single-lane bridge sign and cattle guard were the key features to notice to go onto this road that now seemed to be the right one. We were especially assured when we saw more signs indicating the presence of the Jump Creek Recreation site kind of telling us where we had to turn at the forks to avoid trespassing in more private property.
There were a few more confusing forks where we actually hung lefts (not mentioned in Plumb’s book, which might have been outdated by the time of our visit) by a “Pack In, Pack Out” sign and another one by a “No Shooting, Safety Zone” sign. Eventually after that no shooting sign, we would go past a gate and descend right down a rippling and rutted spur road to an open space at the mouth of an attractive-looking canyon.
Still, we couldn’t wait to get into the scenic canyon which was looming right in front of us. We put on our hiking boots this time, and then quickly went right into the shadowy confines of the canyon.
Aside from an alcove that was full of graffiti, it was almost as if we stumbled upon something that was transplanted out of Death Valley, except there was running water here so there was some vegetation as well.
It didn’t take long before we made it right to Jump Creek Falls at 5:55pm, which didn’t quite have the flow that Plumb exhibited in the photo in his book. But it was still scenic as there were tall canyon pillars perched right above the falls that made this otherwise ordinary 40-60ft falls stand out a bit more. We even noticed a hole or small arch on one of those canyon features above the falls.
So we spent some time taking photos here with the tripod, checking out a small tunnel or natural arch to get me right in front of the falls, and enjoying being surrounded by the tall cliffs in the presence of a waterfall. There were quite a few echoing sounds of pidgeons that were flying about here, but we’d have to echo Plumb’s sentiment that this had to have been one of the real hidden gems of this part of Idaho.
In fact, we thought after having to navigate through the maze of private property that there was a reason why this place was so hidden. Indeed, when we had our fill of this place and headed back to the car, we saw a few more locals start to show up, and that convinced us that this was certainly a locals’ place and not so much one that tourists would typically find. Yet we felt richly rewarded for going on such an adventure in this instance.
At 6:35pm, we were back in the car. After driving out of the unpaved area (always concerned about chippies that might occur to the rental car since we didn’t take out any insurance), we were finally at the four-way intersection landmark at 6:50pm, and now we had to head back to Merdien.
We’d eventually eat at this place called Epi’s at 7:40pm since we were intrigued with having Basque food (from Spain). We were warmly greeted by the owner who was the granddaughter of the lady who emigrated here from the Basque region of Spain (and whose nickname was the name of the restaurant), and the service was really good.
However, the food was a bit on the rich side and we figured it was probably catering more to the local flavor, which were large hearty portions. We felt real guilty after being thoroughly stuffed from our meal, and in hindsight, we should’ve just stuck to one main course like yesterday at Elevation 486 (except for that rip off $6 split charge). There was absolutely no way we had room for dessert, though we were originally keen to try the bread pudding in apple or something like that.
Anyways, after getting a warm hug from the owner, we were back in the car at 9pm. And we were back in the room at 9:10pm. Totally stuffed, I knew we had a very guilt-ridden dinner, and my stomach still felt the effects of being expanded to hold all that food (especially the lamb leg meat and croquetas plus the breaded halibut that Julie didn’t really want to eat).
And with that, the day finally drew to a close. At least, we expected a bit less of a hectic day tomorrow as Palouse Falls would be the only real sightseeing we’d do…
Day 3: STEALING THE SHOW
We awoke at 7am, which was later than our alarm time of 6am. We decided to sleep in on this day since we knew the only waterfall excursion was Palouse Falls as we were headed west into the Pacific Time Zone through Oregon and eventually to southeast Washington. We figured there was no rush.
Besides, my stomach wasn’t feeling terribly well since yesterday we over-ate at Epi’s. And on this morning, I certainly felt like I paid for it.
As I was busy getting caught up on writing yesterday’s travel entry, Julie was actually finished packing and was ready to go well before I was done doing my errands. That was kind of rare as usually I would be loading up the car while she was still getting ready for the day.
Anyways, we’d eventually be out the door at 9:20am.
Our late departure time was a bit unusual for us since we’d usually be out the door at least an hour or so earlier than this. But we appreciated the recovery time.
Now, we were headed west on the I-84, and we knew that it was going to be a long drive.
Within an hour of driving, we left the state of Idaho and entered the state of Oregon. It was noteworthy that we had also crossed into the Pacific time zone (as indicated by one of the signs by the state border), which meant that we had just fallen back by one hour.
Much of the scenery was still brown as we were still within the Snake River basin. After nearly 90 minutes of driving, we found ourselves in Baker City. We thought we might try to have an early lunch here at the bar that Steve at the airport suggested we try, but after Yelping that particular place, we learned that they wouldn’t be open until 4pm. Since there would be no way we’d be staying in Baker City until then, we just kept going.
As we left Baker City, the scenery was still brown around us with some long sprawled out farms adding some contrast to the monotone with some green pastures thanks to the irrigation. There were snow-capped mountains in the distance on both sides of us, and if we had time to stop, we easily could have taken some landscape photos. But zooming along the I-84 just didn’t make it seem like a wise thing to do.
Before long, the road started climbing some more and we found ourselves on the Columbia Plateau. What made this part of the drive striking to us was that we saw more green! In fact, we were surrounded by pine trees or something like that, which suggested that this area probably tended to get snow. Fortunately for us, the snow stayed on the mountaintops and away from the interstate.
At about 12pm (PST), we finally crossed out of Oregon and into the state of Washington at the town of Walla Walla. What surprised both of us was that Walla Walla was actually a pretty large town. It was said to be historic (established in 1856, I think) and its downtown area seemed to have that bit of a mix of historic charm with modern development. Still, we had expected the town to be a sleepy backwater, but this place felt young and vibrant (was there a college here?) and it shattered our perception of this seemingly out-of-the-way part of the state.
Julie had yelped for a lunch spot in town, and we decided on going to this sandwich place called Graze. So at 12:20pm (PST), we were parked close to the front of the place and we saw that there was a line that almost went out the door. Clearly this place must’ve had a bit of a reputation.
As we exited the car, we noticed right away that it was pretty warm. Indeed, it was over 80F, which I would imagine might have been unusual for a late April day in this part of the Pacific Northwest.
When we lined up, placed our order, and got our sandwiches (I think we got a flank steak torta and a grilled turkey with pear panini), we could totally see why the place was as popular as it was. Julie said it was way better than Panera. Moreover, we felt less guilty about our meal here than at any time we were dining in Southern Idaho so far.
At 1pm (PST), we were fully satisfied with our lunch and continued driving a short distance to our accommodation. Five minutes later, we were there, but the America’s Best Value Inn here was definitely a cheap motel that was a far cry from the chic La Quinta we stayed at earlier this morning (though it actually costed more than La Quinta in Meridien possibly due to location).
Nonetheless, Julie picked this place because it was way cheaper than most of the other places in town that received good reviews. There was no way we’d spend $161 for the night when we could’ve paid less than $100. However, we couldn’t figure out why Walla Walla was so expensive, but then again, it might have had something to do with the history of the place (was it a tourist attraction?) or perhaps it was close to a wine region or something.
After dropping off our bags at the “sleep eazy” motel, we got back into the car and proceeded to drive towards our lone waterfalling excursion of the day to Palouse Falls. We took off at about 1:35pm (PST).
It took a little bit of time to get out of town because I had to fill up gas, but then we were off. The GPS wanted us to take some direct route on some rural road, but we opted instead to take the Hwy 12 and then the Hwy 261 to Palouse Falls State Park.
While most of the highways were only two lanes going in opposite directions (so we frequently found ourselves behind slow pokes or trucks until it was safe to pass or we had a passing lane), we were making pretty good progress as it was typically 60mph speeds with a few 25mph zones when we passed through some sleepy towns.
One of the towns we passed through when we got onto the Hwy 261 was a place called Starbuck. We speculated whether this place had any correlation to the famous Starbucks coffee brand, and so when we were in front of one of the Starbuck welcome signs at 2:55pm (PST), Julie went ahead and took a photo on her iPhone.
Eventually at 3:15pm, we would arrive at the Palouse Falls State Park after driving the last 2.3 miles on unpaved roads. Still, this park was pretty busy with visitors, and it was for good reason because we could hear the thundering rush of water as soon as we had got out of the car.
I was a little nervous about not paying the $10 fee, but we were one day before the National Park week being celebrated at this park, which would’ve meant we would be exempt from fees. The $10 fee was pretty steep for a quick visit here, and I wondered if it was really meant more for people camping here since we hardly saw anyone drop money into the fee envelope drop slot.
Julie and I promptly went down the steps where at its bottom was the fenced off overlook. And right before us was the thundering Palouse Falls with a rainbow! Right off the bat, our first impressions of the falls were that it was awesome. But then the surrounding scenery started to further augment our impression of the falls as the gorge and hills above the canyon rims were reminiscent of the raw naturesque locales we saw in Iceland.
So we took our time taking what photos that we could including a few awkward couple shots using the tripod and camera timer. And so when Julie had her fill of the falls, she went back to the car park area to read her Kindle. Meanwhile, I was slowly checking out every conceivable overlook that I could find to get as many looks, photos, and movies of the awesome falls as possible.
I ultimately went as far right as this sheltered overlook called Fryxell Overlook. Apparently, there was a major archaelogical find by the person for whom the overlook was named after, and it was said to have dated back a thousand or more years ago (I forget).
When I had my fill of this spot, I then proceeded to follow a gravel path that also left the main car park area. This gravel path would eventually lead me to a steep descent onto some railroad tracks. Then, the descent would continue below the railroad, where I’d eventually get to the Upper Palouse Falls.
This particular waterfall was more of a wide and short river waterfall, but it was backed by an attractive butte. I then continued on a faint path that went along a ledge hugging graffiti-laced cliff walls while elevated above the Palouse River.
Within a few minutes, I made it right to the “mohawk” (as one couple said whom I conversed with briefly while doing this hike), which was perched right above the main Palouse Falls. However, the view from this spot was a bit dodgy as only part of the falls could be seen. The slope of this section was such that I didn’t want to get too close to the edge (even though I knew I might get much better views from there). Still, I’m sure I must’ve been someone else’s photo subject from the main overlook area by the car park.
So I headed back up and managed to briefly converse with another couple who were hiking in flip flops. They told me that they actually went to the bottom of the main Palouse Falls, and when I inquired about that, they said that they actually hopped that locked gate that I had noted earlier.
They then said that it wasn’t an easy hike because they had to hug a ledge that was sandwiched between two cliffs. And from looking across the canyon from the mohawk or pinnacles or whatever that thing was above the falls, that ledge path sure looked like it was full of risk.
Anyways, when I went back up to the top of the gorge, I skirted the gorge rim in search of more overlooks where I had hoped to photograph both Palouse Falls as well as the canyon further downstream. I’d eventually get to a very precarious corner where that might have been the spot to get both the falls and the canyon downstream, but the problem was that my lens didn’t have a wide enough angle.
There was another couple that was here, and they managed to get to the precarious corner in flip flops. I didn’t know what the deal was with people doing these risky scrambles in flip flops, but at least this guy said he didn’t come prepared as he didn’t expect there to be any hiking here until he saw the trails.
After getting my fill of this corner view, I then proceeded to walk back towards the car park, but not before seeing another pretty cool view right on another protrusion. This time, I was able to see a rainbow again that appeared to arc directly beneath the mohawk.
Finally at about 5:40pm (PST), I was back at the car to rejoin Julie. She wasn’t too happy with me going by the mohawk as she said she saw me from her vantage point. Indeed, she realized that the excursion I went on was that hike that Steve from Boise whom we met at LAX had told us about.
So after having some fruits and water to quench our thirst from this rather dry place, we would finally leave Palouse Falls State Park at 5:55pm (PST). We’d eventually make it all the back to Walla Walla at 7:20pm (PST), where I finally had time to shower and wash off the dust and sweat I had accumulated at Palouse Falls.
We’d eventually go back into town at 8:15pm (PST) or so, and we ate at this place called Saffron, which promised to be something quite different from all the meals we had had earlier on this trip. This was supposed to be some kind of Mediterranean fusion, but it turned out that this food was inventive and quite good.
We had foie gras, burgundy snails in Moroccan tea, quail, and Oregon flank steak with some interesting toppings as well as sticky date for dessert. This was probably the best dining experience we had so far on this trip.
In fact, when Julie and I were comparing Palouse Falls to the earlier waterfalls we had seen in Idaho (especially Shoshone Falls), we came to the conclusion that even though this was supposed to be an Idaho trip, it was Washington that stole the show.
Indeed, the restaurant here in Walla Walla plus the lunch place was easily the best food we had on this trip. Then, the waterfall itself outshone Shoshone Falls, especially considering it was very raw and naturesque (as it was supposed to be).
So as we were fully satisfied and not overstuffed from this dinner, we came back to our room at around 9:45pm (PST) and finally called it a day.
This would conclude our waterfalling on this trip as there would be no waterfalling tomorrow. Indeed, Saturday would be all about catching up with one of Julie’s good friends in Boise. And the day after, we’d finally get to see our daughter once again.
Day 4: WHO KNEW?
It was 6am (PST) when we awoke, and given that we were quite eager to leave our budget motel, we got packed up and ready to go by 6:55am (PST). I guess that was the one thing with “sleep-eazy” motels like this – it was easy to check out and get out the door in no time.
So as the sun was rising and the full moon was starting to wane, we proceeded to go on our long drive back to Boise. The drive was pretty smooth as we were really in no hurry on this day. We had no real set agenda other than to meet up with Dana and Justin as well as to see their newborn daughter.
We did manage to make one quick stop at Baker City at 9:15am (PST) for a restroom break as well as to fill up on gas. I had completely forgotten that in the state of Oregon, all their stations were full service. So that explained why there was an attendant waiting for us to get out of the car and perform the fuel servicing as well as squiggying.
We’d eventually cross into Idaho (the third state on this drive since Walla Walla was in Washington and we had to cross through Oregon to get into the Snake River Plain) so we were back on Mountain Time.
By 11:30am, we finally arrived at Dana’s place.
We’d pass the next several hours eating takeaway Vietnamese banh mi for lunch while getting caught up on baby stuff as well as what it was like to move and live in Boise. We also talked about Dana and Justin’s other exploits when they lived in both Boulder, CO and Holland, MI. Indeed, these folks have seen quite a bit of America where most of us who have grown up in LA haven’t even considered.
It was great getting caught up with them as well as seeing Justin’s brother Chris and getting to hold Aubrey (the daughter), which brought Julie and I back to the days when Tahia was that little.
We’d eventually agree to reconvene and have dinner at this place called Tony’s Pizzeria Teatro, which seemed like an informal enough place to bring a baby to. From the reviews that Julie checked out, it seemed like a promising place to have some authentic Italian pizza.
So at 4:15pm, we finally checked into our Best Western Vista Inn at the Airport Motel to drop off our stuff, and then headed back out into downtown Boise. We’d eventually make it into Tony’s at 5:15pm, which was pretty quiet as it was quite an early start to dinner.
We ended up having a salad called Arrotiti (sp?) as well as 13″ pizza wheels of margherita, dolce vita, bianca, and stagiolini (sp?). All of them were good, and since both Justin and Chris were native New Yorkers, they also agreed that the pizza was very good. Justin actually called it “fancy pizza” as he was more used to the simple no frills margherita pizzas.
But at Tony’s we had one with goat cheese and Italian sun-dried tomatoes. There was another one with prosciutto. Of course the margherita was a measuring stick to see how it compared to Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. Plus, the first one we had was arugula and some other toppings also with goat cheese.
The salad had mozarella cheese as well as capers, and that tasted real good. The bread that came with it was also very light and airy and quite tasty. We didn’t need to add olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
It was a good thing that all of us were there so we each ordered those different pizzas and did a family style type dining arrangement so we could try out the different flavors of pizza. If it was just Julie and I, we probably would’ve only gotten the margherita and not even have the chance to try out the other flavors.
Even amongst the five of us, we still left that place stuffed. According to Tony (the owner who prepared all the pizzas), he said the menu showed a timeline suggesting the place originated in Napoli (Naples) in the late 1800s, then moved to New York, Chicago, and eventually to Boise.
Who knew that we could have authentic Italian pizza in Boise, Idaho of all places?
Anyways, we left the restaurant at 7:30pm and decided to go for a stroll around the capitol building at the very end of Capitol St. We spent some time chatting some more while also playing tourist as everyone had their iPhones armed and ready to take photos in the area.
While we were doing this, we noticed there were quite a few high schoolers dressed in fancy clothes as apparently there must’ve been a high school prom or something. They definitely stood out.
After having our fill of the Capitol building, we read about Abe Lincoln as there was a statue of him talking about how he made Idaho a territory that would eventually lead to area becoming a state.
We then walked along 9th street where there were a bunch of restaurants within a few blocks of pedestrian-friendly streets. This part of town definitely had a bit of a different vibe than what we were used to earlier on when we visited Twin Falls and Meridien. Indeed, Boise seemed to have a bit of a younger and more active vibe. There were even some of the folks out here who seemed like we could’ve easily mistaken them for folks in Seattle or Portland. Perhaps it was the Boise State University proximity or something.
Finally at around 8:30pm, we decided it was time to get going as Aubrey needed to feed once again, and Julie and I had to get back to our motel and pack. Nonetheless, it was great to catch up with long time friends in Boise of all places, and with our body and soul being a bit revitalized from this impromptu and last-minute trip, we were ready to fly home to finally see Tahia again as well as take on the upcoming week in the rat race.
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