Spon­ta­neous ex­pe­ri­ences shed light on spirit of Idaho

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY BETH J. HARPA As­so­ci­ated Press

Huck­le­berry beer, Craters of the Moon park and Sun Val­ley: It was a trio of unique Idaho ex­pe­ri­ences.

My hus­band and I came up with the spur-of-the­mo­ment itin­er­ary on a road trip out west last Septem­ber. We’d planned on hik­ing in Idaho’s Saw­tooth Na­tional For­est but smoke con­di­tions from fires in the re­gion scut­tled our plans. So we came up with a Plan B that more than made up for the loss.

CHALLIS

We drove into Idaho from Mon­tana, on a beau­ti­ful drive along High­way 93, also known as the Sal­mon River Road. We were head­ing to Challis, Idaho, to spend the night at the won­der­ful Water­mark Inn, where the staff struck just the right bal­ance: pleas­ant and help­ful but not in our faces. They gave us great advice for din­ner, too: the River of No Re­turn Brewing Co., a tiny spot we never would have found on our own. We dined on lo­cally made gar­lic and sage sausage with an ice-cold huck­le­berry lager to wash it down. The River of No Re­turn, it turned out, is another name for the Sal­mon River, from the era when boats could only nav­i­gate in one di­rec­tion due to the rapids.

CRATERS OF THE MOON

The next morn­ing, af­ter gra­nola and omelettes at the inn, we headed for Craters of the Moon Na­tional Mon­u­ment and Pre­serve in Arco. It’s a weird, stark land­scape: fields of cold, black lava punc­tu­ated here and there with col­or­ful bursts of sage­brush or wild­flow­ers. A ge­ol­o­gist in 1923 com­pared it to “the sur­face of the moon as seen through a tele­scope,” and NASA has sent as­tro­nauts and sci­en­tists here for re­search. It be­came part of the na­tional park sys­tem in 1924, and last year was des­ig­nated a “Dark Sky” park, per­fect for view­ing stars be­cause there’s so lit­tle light pol­lu­tion around.

A 7-mile loop road takes you around the park to a se­ries of view­points and mostly short hikes to see fea­tures like cin­der cones and craters. But you won’t see a vol­cano. The lava came from a se­ries of fis­sures in the earth known as the Great Rift, ac­cord­ing to the park ser­vice, begin­ning some 15,000 years ago.

You can also visit caves here, but you must ob­tain a per­mit to do so from the visi­tor cen­ter and you’re re­quired to carry a flash­light. Sturdy shoes are a must as the ter­rain in the caves is un­even. The caves are ac­tu­ally tubes cre­ated by flow­ing lava that later cooled.

SUN VAL­LEY

From Craters of the Moon, we drove about two hours to the world-fa­mous Sun Val­ley Re­sort in Ketchum. The re­sort is known for ski­ing in winter and has been a haunt of the rich and fa­mous for decades. Black-and-white photos lin­ing ho­tel hall­ways show vis­i­tors like Ernest Hem­ing­way and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

We checked out menus at a few of the many din­ing op­tions onsite and set­tled on Gretchen’s, where we had a lovely cheese and fruit plate, fish and chips, and a veg­gie gnoc­chi dish. Since my hus­band was driv­ing, I de­cided to have a cock­tail – a Hem­ing­way daiquiri in his honor.

BETH J. HARPAZ AP

The Idaho town of Challis is home to the Water­mark Inn and the River of No Re­turn Brewing Co., which serves huck­le­berry lager.

BETH J. HARPAZ AP

The caves at Craters of the Moon Na­tional Mon­u­ment and Pre­serve in Arco, Idaho, are ac­tu­ally tubes cre­ated by flow­ing lava that later cooled. Vis­i­tors may en­ter the caves, but they must ob­tain per­mits from the park’s visi­tor cen­ter. They are re­quired...

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