Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels in the Red Lands: Le Tour d'Idaho

Idaho is a good place to visit!
Idaho is an underrated state, I think. I mean what does anybody know about it besides famous potatoes and white supremacists, if you're old enough? It's shaped funnily what with that real skinny part at the top which seems like all it does is to separate Montana from Washington for no apparent reason. I imagine that if you drive it through the pan handle from Montana to Washington, Idaho must be a big yawn. Or a tiny blink. "Oh, did we just go through another state? I guess we did. Oh well."

But Idaho is right on top of Utah, and people from Utah go there from time to time, not just when they are driving through to Oregon or Washington. Fly fisher people know it as a kind of paradise. It has more natural hot springs than any other state (who knew?).

And they say that Boise is "the new Asheville".... or that Boise is a trendy place to live now that all the other places are "filled up" and maybe even "spoiled." Like Prescott Arizona, Boise shows up regularly now on lists of good places to live for a variety of reasons.

So a visit to Boise and therefore surrounding areas in Idaho has been on my list for some time now. Time was getting short in Utah for me, and I just decided to do it NOW. I told my knitting friends of my plans. Two originally signed on to go with, but one cancelled, so it ended up being my friend J and I taking this trip. J drove her car which was fine with me.

And it turns out we were able to tick off pretty much all of my "things to do when traveling" boxes on our 4 day trip, even though the weather turned terrible. It actually snowed in Salt Lake City while we were away. We had rain and some snow a lot of the time. You can see all the photos I took here if you want.

That did cut out a few things we had planned, like a walk along the developed river front on the second day. But c'est la vie. We made the best of a soggy wet day.... knitting at a local coffee shop, a visit to a local yarn shop, lunch at a local French patisserie, a nap, and supper at a local neighborhood restaurant. A day filled with knitting and good food. What's not to like?

A Beautiful Natural Area

Some of the Shoshone Falls. There are more close by in different directions.
That would be the Snake River Canyon and Shoshone Falls. The highway follows the Snake River for some distance. The canyon for the river is amazingly deep, all cut by water over time as those things are. It's really hard to photograph, but stunning to look at. It's just one of those places that you have to see for yourself.

Shoshone Falls are in a city park owned by the town of Twin Falls (guess what the town is named after.) Waterfalls are always something I can't get enough of. They are beauty coupled with danger that makes them so exciting. Shoshone Falls do not disappoint. There are several of them, each one as interesting as the next. I loved the sound of the water, and I think maybe the water changes the local atmosphere some how so that I just feel good being there and watching all that water that just doesn't stop.

National Parks

Overlooking the Snake River within
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
I got passport stamps for two of them, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Hagerman is a comparatively new monument a little bit west of Twin Falls. As you know, there are fossil beds all over the mountain west. This one is known as the place where the ancient "Hagerman horse", a prehistoric horse, was discovered.

We were there late Sunday afternoon, having lingered for quite some time at the waterfalls. We ended up missing the opening hours of the tiny visitor center, but they did put a passport stamp station outside, so we peered in the windows, saw a complete Hagerman horse skeletin and got a passport stamp.

There was a marked scenic drive throughout the monument, but I found it a bit disappointing. You could not actually see any of the excavation beds. And the drive ended in this odd dead end with no more signs, and no indication of what you should do now. We drove a bit, figured out we were now driving into private agricultural land, which was not terrible interesting. So we turned around and doubled back the way we came. We stopped at a marked overlook of the river. There were signs indicating that some excavations were done on the other side of the river, but those areas were too far away for us to actually see anything.

They don't have snow on the moon, but maybe the landscape does look like this.
On the way home to Salt Lake we drove a different route and went through Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. That day was the day of the big snow down in Utah. Up in Idaho, we had a little snow. It made the sky gray and made us a bit cautious with the driving. But really the roads were fine.

Craters of the Moon is yet another ancient volcano. It too is mostly lava flows that that have sealed over time and are now gradually being changed by things like small plants and water. Because of the snow, the roads through the monument to the designated scenic areas was closed, so we mostly just stopped at the visitor center. Lots of people came in and asked the ranger about driving and hiking through the land, but were all disappointed because of the weather. Oh, well, what we could see was amazing as those things are and would be worth a trip back at another time.

A Botanic Garden

Overlooking the old penitentiary building from
Idaho Botanical Gardens
We spent a whole first morning when the sun was shining at the Idaho Botanical Garden. The garden is on the grounds of the former state penitentiary. There are features of the old place incorporated into the design of the garden like a long brick wall on one edge and the old cemetery that you can explore.

This garden has a educational features that Red Butte doesn't. There is a large vegetable garden, for example, and a really interesting fire resistant landscaping section. Boise is the home of the National Interagency Fire Center. They do a lot of research and education about forest fires out of there, so it seems like a great place for a fire resistant demonstration garden.

Sacagawea is a tender mother
My favorite part was the Lewis and Clark garden. L& C passed through this region, and Sacagawea, the native woman that was their guide was a member of the Shoshone (or Snake) Tribe. The garden ascended in a winding way until you reached a really pretty overlook of the city. Along the way the plants that L&C would have seen and used were cultivated and marked with educational signs.

Our very favorite place was a beautiful statue of Sacagawea in it's own little circle. We stopped there and rested for some time. 

A Local Yarn Shop

We found a real good one, The Twisted Ewe. Technically it's in a place called Garden City, but that really is a part of Boise. We spent the some time there during the second morning when it was pouring rain.

Two rooms filled with lovely yarns. We each got some to make shawls. Of course there was a big round wooden table to sit and knit and visit. And there was cute yarn / sheep art all over. the shop also sold knitting and yarn related other stuff. We each got some tea towels embroidered by a local artisan.
Who doesn't fall for embroidered tea towels like this?
Many, many designs. Hard to choose which one to buy.
A Local Brew Pub

There were a few choice plus wineries not to far outside of town. The brewery we chose was downtown, Bittercreek Alehouse. It was pretty typical, a popular, noisy bar and eatery. Menu was pub food. Lots of selections of beer brewed locally including seasonals. I can't remember exactly what I had to drink, but it was in my classification of "beers for ladies" and it was good. The fish and chips were delicious too. That's one of my test foods for brew pubs. 

A Really Nice Liveable City

Lots of restaurants downtown many with outdoor seating
Yes, I do think that Boise is about as good as Asheville. And I have been to Asheville ... more than once. I could live there, no problem. I might even seek out living there if I was still in the market for a new job.

The downtown is well developed and clearly getting better. You can live there, and the local Whole Foods and Trader Joes are both right downtown. There are lots of restaurants and all kinds of cultural stuff downtown like a local symphony and ballet.

Along the way in the riverside park
The river edges the downtown and you can walk /ride your bike for miles along the riverfront. When we were there the water was running high and super fast. We were thinking that it might could flood. we thought it could easily flood if there were more melt water coming down. The local news had stories about that, but I guess it did not happen or we would have all heard about it by now.

Idaho is a bit unique in that one of the major European settler groups came from the Basque country in Spain and France. It had to do with the sheep industry as one of the defining economies of the state. Nowadays I understand that most actual shepherds come from the Andes, places like Peru or Bolivia, but back in the day those round wagon houses were really used by the workers and their families.

Boise has a small Basque cultural district downtown. We ate supper there at a place recommended by Jane & Michael Stern on Roadfood (my Bible for finding the best regional food in the US), Bar Gernika, which the Sterns rated as "legendary." We agree. I had lamb stew and vinho verde from Spain, and I was in heaven. Be sure you go there if you are ever in town.

Janjou Patisserie,
amazing food and a great decorator too.
AND Boise also has some sophisticated places like Janjou Patisserie, an "artisan boutique bakery" which came highly recommended by the yarn shop ladies. Oh my goodness. Real French pastry from a French trained (in France, not the US) baker in a gorgeous modern setting. We had salad and quiche for lunch, and it was the best quiche we could ever recall eating. I'm pretty sure two secrets were a light crust and separating the eggs, whipping the whites alone and then folding them back into the yolks. I would happily eat lunch there every day of the year. To say nothing about the coffee, tea and all the beautiful sweets. I came home with a container of lemon & lavender sables. It was super difficult to pick the one flavor to take.

I know you can't tell by looking at it, but trust me,
this is the best quiche I can ever recall eating.
So overall, yes, this was another really good trip. We enjoyed everything we did, including crashing a knitting group at the downtown library in Pocatello on the way home; but that's another story!
Knitters ALWAYS welcome fellow knitters, no matter where you find them.

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