Today began day one of a two day stretch with no stopping in a hotel. Since we decided to stay in Keystone an extra day we killed our other reservations and we (Lauren) decided that the trip had been too “structured” to date. I was happy to give it a whirl and see what came up. I jotted down a of couple notes on paper, regarding our route, and headed out. We were to be electronics free for this drive (with the exception of our camera of course). We ended up driving 626 miles from Salt Lake City to Montana, and ended up cutting through Idaho. We also saw some of the coolest terrain ever at The Craters of the Moon, drove through a town of 28 called Atomic City, got hit by a dust storm, learned what a scarp is, and drove through a canyon.
We left our hotel around 10:00 that morning and decided we should at least see the Temple in Salt Lake City. We were there, it wouldn’t kill us to do a drive by. We drove into downtown and immediately felt ill at ease. The entire city felt a bit sterile to us, like a movie set where all the actors were cast from the same place, or like the Stepford Wives. We’re not the first ones to say that Mormonism feels a bit cultish, but it’s really the best way to describe it (not that there’s anything wrong with that). After driving around for about 30 minutes we decided to book it out of SLC and drove North on I-15.
We crossed into Idaho and got off the interstate in a town called Blackfoot. It wasn’t very interesting except for the giant lady statue. We went West on Highway 26 and the scenery quickly went from “Potato Farm City” to down right desolation.
It was right about there that we started to see signs about a place called Atomic City and the Idaho National Laboratory. This is when our electronics embargo ended and Lauren pulled up Wikipedia. I’ll let you read all the details about it here. Now that you’ve spent an hour in the time-suck that Wikipedia is, I can continue. We ultimately decided not to go into the actual town, but we did stop and check out a few of these weird Department of Energy signs and marvel about how dried and charred the earth looked.
It was during one of these road trip stops that we saw a huge dust cloud barreling towards us. We hurried back to the car (after snapping some photos) and booked it out of there just as the storm crossed the highway. It was a small one, but amazing how quickly the visibility went to almost zero.
After Atomic City we started seeing all these signs for a place called Craters of the Moon. We were supposed to connect with HWY 93 and go North, but I couldn’t pass up the intrigue, so we diverted our road trip and went South on HWY 20 instead, and headed towards the Moon. This is one of my favorite detours to date on this trip and I am ecstatic that we made it.
Apparently in the middle of rural Idaho there is a giant lava field that’s part of the Snake River Plain. The area was preserved and named Craters of the Moon. As you approach the area the soil quickly becomes as black as night and you can see strange formations in the distance. When you enter the park there is a great educational center and then you can drive into the preserve after paying a small fee. The dogs were welcomed here as long as we kept them in the car. The park ranger even gave them dog treats.
We took a drive through the designated “Auto Tour” and we’re absolutely amazed at the giant cones that were formed by volcanic explosions. We stopped at one point and took a short 1/2 mile hike but couldn’t do more because we had the doggies with us. Sadly, they aren’t allowed on protected land out of the fear that they may introduce something foreign. There were a bunch more hikes to take and even some caves to visit. If you decide to go, I suggest spring time so the heat doesn’t get to you.
After leaving the Moon we thought our adventures would be done for the day. We were cruising along Highway 93 and we saw one of those random “historical site” markers near the Challis National Forest. We decided to turn in and found ourselves driving the GTI down an un-paved gravel road. After a few miles of jostling down the road at 20 MPH, we came to the “historical site” . There was an earthquake in 1983 that was severe enough to cause the entire valley floor to drop about 7 feet. That formed what geologists call a “scarp”! It doesn’t sound like much but it’s pretty cool when you see it. We took a few pictures and just kept driving down the road for a while enjoying the serenity. Eventually we turned back and continued on our route. Highway 93 also takes you through the Grand National Canyon. It was probably one of the most beautiful things we had seen to date and we were so awed by the majesty of it, we never stopped and took any pictures.
After all this scenery we sat in the car in pensive silence and then started to talk about our futures again. We realized that the only thing holding us back from our dreams were the barriers we placed on ourselves. No matter where we’ve lived or what we’ve done in the last 12-years, we have always been able to find a way to survive. We started talking about how amazing it would be to drive to Alaska, or Chile, or work seasonally in a resort town, or on a cruise ship. When we first met we had dreams like that and then as we got older we shelved them. We decided to really start to focus on how to achieve our dreams and to resist falling back into the live to work mentality that most of America has. It was one of those conversations that left us both quiet at the end, amazed that we were both willing to throw away everything we had amassed just to be together and travel.
We continued the drive as the sun set on our day and then started to find somewhere to camp out. First we stopped and grabbed a bite to eat and fed the doggies while in a parking lot. We then continued driving north for another hour or so. It was at about that point where we hit elevation again and continued to do so as we crossed into Montana. Then we found ourselves on pitch black mountain roads going up and down steep grades. We decided there wasn’t going to be anywhere to stop and camp that night so we decide to keep pushing forward.
We kept driving and driving until we were both exhausted, our goal at that point to find a rest area. We finally hit the interstate in Montana and found a trucker’s pull out that had a couple of semis in it. We parked the car along the side of the pullout as to not get hit by a truck and passed out to the sound of cars passing by and the rumble of diesel engines all around.
Check out all the pictures that we took that day below.
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