Sunday, August 3, 2008

Craters of the Moon

On our way out of the Grand Teton area, we stopped to get gas. Then immediately the road began to climb – at a 10% grade! This seemed to be almost beyond Caroline’s abilities, as Brian had the accelerator floored and Caroline refused to go beyond 35 mph. Then Brian started smelling gas through the open window. He looked back and noticed that the gas cap door was open. Oh no! We stopped at the next pullout (much to the delight of the drivers behind us, who were apparently anxious to go faster than 35), and sure enough, the cover was open and the gas cap was nowhere to be found. Apparently, we had driven off with the gas cap still sitting on the roof of the car, where Brian had placed it while he was filling the tank.

So back down the 10% grade we went. Now Caroline was off to the races. We got back to the gas station in record time and found the gas cap sitting right in the middle of the road next to the gas station. Whew, what a relief! We screwed it back on tight and climbed the steep hill again, this time minus the gas smell.

After about two hours of driving on slow, twisty roads, we finally made it to the Yellowstone Motel, only to find that they’d given our room away. The guy at the front desk suggested we go to Motel 6 instead. But we only called two hours ago! But we drove as fast as we could, straight from Grand Teton! Don’t you have anything? The Motel 6 is more expensive! Apparently, they’d been taking reservations over the phone with just a name and no credit card, so when people didn’t show up, they had no way to charge them, and the manager was unhappy that rooms were going unfilled. They needed a better system, the front-desk guy said. But he felt bad about our situation, so he offered us $20 to make up the difference in cost between the Yellowstone Motel and the Motel 6. We thanked him and headed over to the Motel 6, which advertised “wi-fi available” with a big banner but turned out to have no wi-fi available. Otherwise, though, our stay seemed quite luxurious after weeks of camping – we got a Gotham pizza from Domino’s (Gotham = extra pepperoni), each took multiple showers, and quite enjoyed the air conditioning, TV, and lack of mosquitoes.

In the morning, we lazed around the motel, with Brian eventually going to Burger King to pick up some breakfast – French toast sticks, a breakfast burrito, and tater tots, mmm! Despite eating only two pieces of pizza and very little breakfast, Sarah’s belly was unhappy with her for the next 24 hours or so after the combined Pizza Hut / Burger King assault.

We ran some errands around Idaho Falls, including browsing books at Barnes & Noble to find a good backpacking route in the Sawtooth Mountains. We didn’t know a whole lot about the Sawtooths, other than that they weren’t too far away and that they were supposed to be beautiful. We found a great book called Backpacking Idaho, which described the 63-mile Grand Sawtooths Loop as the epic tour of the Sawtooths. Score! We called the ranger station, and they said we’d hit some snow and a couple of fords, but as long as we had trekking poles, we should be able to make it around the loop. We planned out a six-day trip, starting the next day, after which we would head to Boise for a luxurious stay in a bed and breakfast to celebrate Sarah’s birthday a bit late.

After our planning, we drove toward Craters of the Moon National Monument, where we planned to spend the night. We got there and admired the landscape. It didn’t evoke the moon for us, but it sure looked a lot like the Hawaii Volcanoes area on the big island.

We also arrived amid extremely strong winds, which the ranger at the entrance station assured us would die down around 9:00. So we found ourselves a campsite – there were plenty available, although the best (that is, most protected from the wind) were all occupied – and settled in to make dinner. Brian also made his first attempt at baking using our Coleman oven – tomorrow was Sarah’s birthday, and a cake was in order. Brian had chosen a marble cake, with chocolate cake swirled into yellow cake, not realizing that this would be more complicated to prepare than a plain single-variety cake. But it turned out well, and he even found a sheltered spot to sing “Happy Birthday” where the wind wouldn’t get to Sarah’s candles before she could blow them out.

Sure enough, the wind did die down, and we set up the tent and then hung out at the picnic table for quite a while writing postcards. The lack of bugs and pleasant temperature were quite welcome. The full moon was pretty impressive, too – it looked huge as it rose just above the horizon.

The next day, Sarah’s birthday, we took a quick tour of the sights in the park before heading to the Sawtooths for our backpacking trip. Craters of the Moon is a pretty easy park to see – there’s a seven-mile scenic drive that contains all the main attractions. Much of the landscape looks very similar to what we’d seen the night before – hardened lava, with higher mountains rising in the distance.

The first attraction on the drive was Devils Orchard, which was full of lava boulders strewn everywhere.

There were a few places where you could hike to the top of a cone. We skipped the hiking so we could get to the Sawtooths faster.

The Spatter Cones were pretty neat. Nearby was the Snow Cone, a narrow and deep cone that contains snow late into the summer.

One last view of Craters of the Moon.

Then we left and aimed north for the Sawtooths.

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