Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024
Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Island Park, Idaho, and Mesa Falls Scenic Loop - Friday, June 26, 2020

Many people don't think of Island Park, Idaho, as a destination. We think otherwise.

First, there's great fishing. 
Second, you can visit Harriman State Park and learn how the wealthy vacationed in the early 20th century. 
Third, it is just west of Yellowstone National Park so you can add it to a Yellowstone vacation. 
Fourth, if you like waterfalls, you can drive the Mesa Falls Scenic Loop to see Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. Be forewarned, if you like a little more adventure and don't mind an extremely bumpy, sometimes muddy, five-mile drive on a sketchy dirt road, you could also visit picturesque Warm River Springs (Falls).
Fifth, there's a chance you could see moose.
Sixth, ride bike paths in the area (Harriman State Park).  
Seventh, go bird watching in spring, summer, fall. 
Eighth, aside from Yellowstone itself, Henry's Fork Caldera is the second largest in the world. 
Ninth, you can go to the southwestern portion of Yellowstone National Park which is very lightly visited. It is a bit of a drive, but there are some pretty hikes and waterfalls. The Bechler Ranger Station is one of the smallest I've ever seen! 

This morning, Bob did a bike ride at Harriman State Park. He's used to riding on paved bike paths. The bike trails at Harriman include dirt, gravel, and rocks. When he came home, his knees, arms, and hip were scraped up after taking a spill. Nothing is broken and he is fit to ride another day.

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.

Our main purpose for being in Island Park was to drive Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. After Bob came back to the RV and got cleaned up, we headed out in the pick-up to do the loop drive with a side trip to Warm River Springs (Falls). 

From Buffalo Run RV Park, we traveled south on U.S. 20 to Ashton, Idaho. From there, we took ID 47 east to Forest Service Route 294 north. (From U.S. 20 in Ashton, Idaho, back to U.S. 20 to the north is 28.7 miles--allow one hour for this portion of the trip, fuel up before you go, and take water and food). The forest service road is paved, but it's bumpy and loaded with potholes. (In other words, repaving it isn't high on their budget list!)

Ashton, Idaho, is known for growing seed potatoes (small sprouting potatoes). You will drive past miles of potato farms before coming to the Warm River. (Along the way, you will have views of the back side of the Grand Teton Range.) Here the road turns north onto the Forest Service road. 

Ashton, Idaho, storage silos.

Seed potato fields and Grand Tetons.

Seed potato fields.

Warm River.

Travel about seven miles through Grand Targhee Forest. You will come to Lower Mesa Falls about 0.7 mi. before Upper Mesa Falls. Lower Mesa Falls is a parking lot and viewpoint from way above the river. It's definitely worth seeing and, at the viewpoint, has interpretive signs about the calderas in the area and how the falls were formed.

Lower Mesa Falls from an overlook.



Rhyolite tuff.

Rhyolite tuff.

Upper Mesa Falls is a 10-story waterfall (114' high, 200' wide) on Henry's Fork of the Snake River. From the Visitor Center is Mesa Falls Nature Trail, a 2.2-mile-long paved hiking path with lots of stairs, though there is a handicapped-accessible route as well. This is our second time visiting because it is so grand. At certain times of the day or year, you can see a rainbow in the mist from the waterfall. 

Bob at the top of the stairs (far right top).

Bob at Upper Mesa Falls.

Upper Mesa Falls

Bob at Upper Mesa Falls.

Me at Upper Mesa Falls overlook.

Bob - Upper Mesa Falls.

Because of coronavirus, the Visitor Center was closed, but there were two Park Rangers on the porch with interesting displays. We described to them a waterfall that comes out of the rock at a spring and joins a river, but we couldn't remember the name of it or how to get there. They were quick to answer our question about Warm River Springs (Falls). 

Visitor Center - Upper Mesa Falls.

After we finished our hike, we took off for Warm River Springs (Falls). I would recommend if you plan to do this five-mile, one-way road, use a Jeep; otherwise, plan to drive real slow and avoid potholes, rocks, deep ruts, cattle, and sometimes mud pits. 

The reward is a peaceful setting where the falls rush out of the ground from a spring.

View of Tetons from route to Warm River.

Arrowleaf balsamroot

Here it is! Warm River Springs (Falls).

There is a cabin right next to the falls that can be rented by the public. Can you imagine hearing the falls all day and all night? It would be music to my ears!

Looking upriver from the falls.

The cabin that you can rent.
Looking downriver from the cabin.

Right next to the falls!

After spending about a half-hour here, we made our way out over the extremely bumpy road. 

Just a little rough here.

The thing we couldn't understand was all the RVs we saw back in the trees. It was the week before the 4th of July and I think people were staking out their spots for the week. We were amazed people would bring their 5th wheels, trailers, and motorhomes out here. They did look a little beat up. We found families out on their motorbikes and ATVs on a rails-to-trails path along a fenceline. Apparently, this is a well-kept secret. But you also really have to want to come here. In many places, the road is a single lane, so you have to watch out for the RVs coming in or out!

We returned to the main Scenic Byway and headed back to the RV park. 

Heading back to camp.

It was a normal evening of reading, spending time on Facebook, and blogging or working on pictures for the blog. But then, doo doo, doo doo, it was Twilight Zone! time for me. Bob considered it slapstick comedy or chaotic antics. 

We had an invasion of mosquitoes in the RV. No idea whatsoever where they came from. Both of us were killing mosquitoes on the walls, on the drapes, as they flew through the air, as they landed on us, etc. Sometimes, we would each kill two at once. We figure we killed over 50 mosquitoes in the course of about 20 minutes. Bob looked like he was doing the Schuhplattler Polka, slapping his ankles, knees, and thighs in a rhythmic motion! Sometimes, we slapped each other!

Finally, the idea came to us that our door was not closed tightly. I sprayed Off Deep Woods around the door. After we killed a few more mosquitoes, they tapered off and we had some peace. Bob got a couple of bites, but I didn't get any. What a weird experience.

It was a fun day, but our evening "sucked," so to speak. Nasty mosquitoes.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

How We Avoided the Road Construction on U.S. 287 On Our Way Home - Thursday, June 25, 2020

In my June 22 blog, I recounted our displeasure with U.S. 287 north of I-90 on the way to Helena, Montana. We did not want to return through the miles of torn-up roadway. So we bit the bullet and took I-15 south from Helena to Butte, Montana.

The scenery was gorgeous, but there were passes to cross and this route is longer than U.S. 287. We crossed the Continental Divide three different times today! So, we missed the road construction that we dealt with on the way north, but we were slowed down by the passes. Still, it was a very pretty way to go. Slow and steady wins the day.

Continental Divide
north of Butte, MT.

Butte, Montana, and the Rockies.

I-90 east of Butte, Montana.

I-90 east of Butte, Montana.

I-90 east of Butte, Montana.

Rock formations on I-90 east of Butte.

We took I-90 east, crossing the Continental Divide twice more, to MT 2 toward Lewis and Clark Caverns. Our ultimate destination today is Island Park, Idaho, south of West Yellowstone. 

We were pleased to learn that even though MT 2 is a two-lane highway, it is very picturesque as it flows along Boulder River. Also, we avoided another steep pass on I-90. There were very few cars on MT 2!

Boulder River along MT 2.

Boulder River along MT 2.

MT 2 is a two-lane highway.

Beautiful geology.

Our route along MT 2.

MT 2 was only 11 miles long, so we were quickly past Lewis & Clark Caverns (with a very nice-looking campground). We connected with U.S. 287 south and stayed on that along the Madison River. Again, more pretty scenery.

Madison River by the rest area.

Madison River.
Bozeman Trail historical marker.

This route to Island Park, Idaho, really impressed us. Our next choice was whether to stay on U.S. 287  to Quake Lake (which is impressive, but we had already been there) or take SR 87 and cut off a number of miles and miss West Yellowstone. We opted to take SR 87 which is a wonderful road. We didn't need to get into the traffic of West Yellowstone. We took SR 87 straight south to U.S. 20.

Our campground for the night was Buffalo Run RV Park on U.S. 20 in Island Park, Idaho. It's a cute little park right up against an area with a lot of moose browse. In the campground office, I asked if moose come into the campground and the manager pulled out a photo of a moose and baby moose taken in the campground. We weren't lucky enough to see any while we were there. 

We took the rest of the afternoon off. Tomorrow, we will do the Mesa Falls Scenic Loop. It has been a while since we've been there and the falls were worth seeing again.

I forgot to take photos of Buffalo Run RV Resort. It has trees and most of the RV sites are back from U.S. 20. The park is close to Harriman State Park which has bike paths that Bob will explore tomorrow before we drive the scenic loop.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour: a Relaxing Experience - Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Yesterday, Bob, Diane Howell Evans, and I did the 11k Helena, Montana, Volksmarch. For Diane and I, it capped our goal of walking in all 51 U.S. capitals (including Washington, D.C.). 

Today, we are resting. By that I mean, we (Bob, Diane, her husband Rick, and I) are taking a two-hour boat tour called Gates of the Mountains out of north Helena, Montana. 

Upon arrival at the marina, we checked in at the office/gift shop to pick up our tickets. Then we went to a pavilion next to the marina to wait for our tour to leave. The pavilion contained the history of the area: Lewis & Clark Expedition, flora and fauna, Mann Gulch Fire, and geology. 

Two tour boats headed out today. We were able to choose the boat we wanted to be on. One boat, "Sacajawea II," was open air and had a planned stop to use the "facilities" at a picnic area half-way through our ride. The other boat, "Canyon Voyager" (the one we chose), had a bathroom on board, seating was covered and enclosed, although all the windows were all open, and there was also an outside seating area. 

Turns out we picked the boat with Brian Zimmerman as captain and tour guide. He is the manager of Gates of the Mountains Boat Tours. Good choice of boat and guide. 

[NOTE: I wanted to mention that this boat tour has been on my bucket list since the boys were 13 and 9, that's 54 years! We tried to go on it back then, but I miscalculated the time it would take to get here from Glacier National Park and the last tour of the day was sailing away as we drove in on the access road. Time flies. Eventually, you will be able to do things on your bucket list (if you have one).]

Entering Gates of the Mountains
Recreation Area
Our first wildlife sighting.

Brian Zimmerman, manager,
captain, tour guide.

I've had people comment that no one on the tour was wearing masks. All the windows were open with a steady flow of fresh air as we made our way down-river. The boat was not full. We didn't have much contact with others.

Bob on the tour boat. 

Diane Howell Evans. 

We started out in scenery like this. 

The tour brochure describes the experience like this:
"Nestled halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Park beats the heart of Montana named the Gates of the Mountains by the undaunted explorer Meriwether Lewis, July 19, 1805. He wrote in his journal 'this evening we entered much the most remarkable cliffs that we have yet seen. These cliffs rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the height of 1200 feet.'"*
Our first wildlife sighting was a deer at the edge of the water. The area is also home to black bear, bighorn sheep, moose, otters, ermine, beaver, and even cougars. Our guide explained to us that mountain goats do not do well here. The reason is that mountain goats are used to living in higher, more hostile environments and they are not used to looking UP for predators. Here, there are more predators that attack from above than there are at higher elevations, so mountain goats are at a disadvantage. 

It wasn't long before we were dwarfed by towering Madison Limestone cliffs. The cliffs are punctuated with hundreds of small holes, caves, and natural bridges showing the force of the Madison River over eons.
"The river appears to have forced its way through this immense body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 miles and where it makes its exit below has thrown on either side vast columns of rocks mountains high."*
Today, 20 miles down the Missouri River is a hydroelectric dam named after Anton Holter, Holter Dam, so the campsite of Meriwether Lewis is covered by the waters of Holter Lake. Holter Lake did not exist in the time of Meriwether Lewis so the columns of rock looked 60' higher then than they do today.

An opening to one of the caves in the limestone.

Limestone cliffs.

Holter Lake formed by the Madison River.

Helena formation (Mesoproterozoic).

Along the way, Brian pointed out the nests of a pair of bald eagles in a tree and an osprey nest atop a rock formation.

Center bottom is an osprey sitting in the nest. 

Note the huge bald eagle nest at
the top of the tree on the left.

We passed a picnic area and a couple of camping areas accessible only by boat.

Coulter Campground.

Meriwether Picnic Area.

Find your own place to camp!



The flora (Kelseya Uniflora) that looks like broccoli in the photo below is rare. Kelseya is in the rose family and clings to rocky cliffs around here. It was discovered by Francis Duncan Kelsey in 1888. If you come to the Gates of the Mountains when it is blooming, the canyon walls would be covered in pink.

Kelseya Uniflora

When Meriwether Lewis and crew were exploring the Missouri River trying to find a passage through to the West, upon first encountering the area now known as Gates of the Mountains, it looked to them like a dead end due to the configuration of the rock walls. However, as they got closer, it looked like the rock walls opened up and they found where the river flowed through. 

When we got to the area where the Gates of the Mountains were, our captain moved the boat around so that we could see how the passage disappeared from view, and then reappeared. Of course, back then it looked much different, wilder, there was no dam in place to tame the river.

As our tour boat gently motored on the lake behind the dam, Brian pointed out different rock formations that people thought looked like elephants, rhinoceros, and a monkey face. There were lots of opportunities to find your own rock formation to be creative in designating what it might look like.

Here's one right in front of us.

Brian also told us the story of the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949. Thirteen firefighters, most of them smokejumpers, lost their lives. They got trapped when the fire came back on itself, surrounding them. It is reminiscent of the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013 when 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives. 

And in 2007, most of the wilderness was burned by the Meriwether Fire. Trees and shrubs are starting to regrow in this area.

Gorgeous scenery and weather today.

Gates of the Mountain marina.

I am in front of "Canyon Voyager."

After a visit to the gift shop, where everyone wore their masks, we headed back to north Helena and the four of us had lunch at Grub Stake Restaurant. It was a very nice time spent getting acquainted with our new friends, Rick and Diane. We have a lot in common and plan to see them the next time we travel to the Olympic Peninsula. 

After lunch, we invited them over to see our 5th wheel. Then they headed home and we got ready to head out in the morning.

Tomorrow, we will make our way to Island Park, Idaho. 

* Meriwether Lewis quotes are from "The Journals of Lewis & Clark, Volume 4," Gary E. Moulton, editor.