January 26, 2020

Week 14: Dunes, Craters and Dark Skies

A ‘heiligenschein selfie’ at craters of the Moon, Idaho.

(All photos by author)

Think you know Idaho? If you’re like us, up until about a week ago, you had visions of Idaho as the “other” potato growing state. But this past week has taught us otherwise, as the state hosts mountains, deserts, lava fields, and almost every other conceivable type of terrain… OK, we haven’t found the ‘jungles of Idaho’ yet!

This past week sees us venture from West Yellowstone, Montana across the Gem State. We’ve stayed in yurts, crossed high mountain passes and dodged hail storms in our first northwestern adventure.

Into the deserts of Idaho…

Last week, we left off from our first stop in the state, at Idaho Falls. We journeyed into the mountains, across the state and transitioned back into urban ops in the capital city of Boise this past weekend.

One of our first stops was EBR-1. The “EBR” stands for Experimental Breeder Reactor, and EBR-1 was the first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for commercial use. EBR-1 is free to tour, and provides a fascinating look at a much maligned form of energy that many “greens” are once again embracing today.

From there, we stopped for a few nights just north of Ketchum at Smiley Creek Lodge near historic Sawtooth City. We stayed in the only yurt they had on site, an interesting hybrid experience somewhere between camping and cabin life… and what a great mountain view in the morning!

Yurt life at Smiley Creek Lodge.

We also paid a visit to the Craters of the Moon national monument. This amazing area located in the heart of the state features a twisted landscape of cinder cones and lava fields frozen in time. You can easily climb a few of the blackened mounds in about 10 minutes time, and driving the seven kilometre course through the park is a surreal experience. The Apollo astronauts trained here in preparation for exploring the “magnificent desolation” of the lunar landscape.

An alien landscape at Craters of the Moon.

Arrival in Boise saw us setting up shop at the Red Lion in the downtown area in one of the largest cities we’d stopped in since Orlando, Florida. We were just a stone’s throw from the Green Belt area along the Snake River and I managed to jog a segment of it and its planetary “orrery” radiating from the Discovery Center each day.

The city also has a diverse selection of sites as well. We did the Idaho wine circuit both in and out of town, and also stopped at the Birds of Prey Center on the edge of Boise for a behind-the-scenes look at breeding programs and much more.

Boise is also in the heart of a large Basque community, and the Basque Center is worth a visit. We even visited the historical Idaho State Penitentiary… momma always said that a life of freelance writing was a road to the big house…

Bruneau Dunes Observatory… a unique fully rotating structure!

Finally, we paid a visit to the Bruneau Dunes and Observatory just outside of Mountain Home. Yes, Idaho has sand dunes, some of the largest in North America. We managed to climb a dune at sunset, then headed back to the observatory for a night of wide-field astrophotography before retiring back to the Red Lion.

The Earth and the Milky Way converge over Idaho!

Phew! A busy week, for sure. Next up, we’re headed back into the wilderness and into the “stovepipe” region of northern Idaho…

Stay tuned!


  1. [...] a chance to explore dark skies from Bruneau Dunes Observatory in the state park of the same name. Explore and climb the dunes by daylight, then study the cosmos at night with the help of the observatory’s 25 inch reflector. [...]

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