Day Eighteen

June 16, 2007

Boise, ID to Pocatello, ID

Incredibly, we got to the World Center for Birds of Prey around 9:15, although it cost us a chance to eat breakfast at Shari's. After our slightly disappointing visit to Wildlife Safari, I was leery of another animal attraction. At least this one was cheaper, only $5 per person. We paid our admission in the small building on the right, which is also the gift shop.


We walked out of the gift shop and looked at a few birds being held in large enclosures protected from mosquitoes by dense netting. We learned later that the center lost a number of birds to West Nile Virus last year. There were all sorts of smaller birds hanging around on the grounds as well. Though they weren't birds of prey, they recognized a hospitable environment amid the Idaho desert. Then we walked along the sidewalk past a lush, green lawn to the museum building. Most of the exhibits were self-explanatory, but Mike gave us a guided tour. We learned that the center has been so successful in reintroducing peregrine falcons that they have turned to other species instead. The center now breeds aplomado falcons and California condors to release into the wild. We got to see several more birds of prey behind mirrored glass in the exhibit building.

Then Mike brought a red-tailed hawk out to the lawn for us. The hawk was tethered, and an area was roped off to keep us from getting within its range. I took pictures of the hawk in various poses while Mike taught us all about this awesome bird.




A western kingbird kept divebombing the hawk from a nearby tree, apparently to protect a nest. Sure enough, when I got home, I read this in the western kingbird's Wikipedia entry: "The name kingbird is derived from their 'take-charge' behavior. These birds aggressively defend their territory, even against much larger birds such as hawks."

Another staff member brought out a peregrine falcon. Although the center no longer breeds them, this bird was a special case. When they tried to feed this bird, he had trouble grabbing food from them. They determined that he had such poor vision that he couldn't survive in the wild, so they kept him as a teaching bird.





We watched the peregrine falcon for a while, and then we headed for the gift shop. I noticed that the California condor T-shirts showed the birds from a distance -- they just aren't very cute up close!

The center was smaller than I expected, but it was a very cool place. I was glad we made time for it in our schedule, and I'm not even a "bird person."

Unfortunately, we spent more time than I had planned at the World Center for Birds of Prey. Something had to change in our schedule. I decided we would have to grab a fast food lunch so we could keep driving to Craters of the Moon, which was 160 miles from Boise. We drove the interstate to Mountain Home and stopped at Wendy's at the U.S. 20 exit. My wife wanted to dine in, but I wanted to eat in the car. Usually it's the opposite; I'm the one who wants to dine in. Anyway, she ended up spilling her pop and had a wall-eyed fit, as her Texan grandmother used to say. After more than two weeks on the road together, tempers were flaring. And tomorrow would be worse. My food was okay but disappointing. That spectacular burger in Daysville was still fresh on my taste buds, and a Wendy's burger simply could not compare. In the meantime, I was driving carefully up and down a series of ridges on U.S. 20. We stopped at this scenic overlook to clean up.

When we got in the vicinity of Crater of the Moon, it was very windy. And hot, especially in the black lava fields. We stopped at the visitor center for information and souvenirs. We only had a couple of hours at most, so I had to choose our itinerary carefully. I felt cheated out of a good hike at Crater Lake because the trails were closed, and our entire vacation hadn't offered nearly as many hiking opportunities as I had hoped. After expressing dismay about my time limit, the park rangers gave me some good suggestions.

Our first stop was the North Crater Flow Trail, a short hike that explained the various lava formations found in the park. My wife was game at first, even walking ahead of me when I stopped to take pictures. I had a feeling her enthusiasm wouldn't last.






The rangers said it might be too windy for the Inferno Cone Trail, but I wanted to try this steep walk up the side of a lava cone. My wife took off while I was puttering around taking some pictures.


The trail was short, but the "typical grade" was 14.9%!


I knew I'd catch her soon enough, and I did... Right before we crested the first hill. When she saw there was a higher hill to climb beyond, she told me I was on my own and returned to the car.


The grade plus the altitude (6,181 feet) had me huffing and puffing a bit, but I made it. On top, this windswept tree caught my eye.


I would be hiking around these spatter cones next.

My wife was waiting in the distant parking lot.

The spatter cones were an even shorter yet steeper hike. My wife decided she'd rather read a book in the car while I explored this unusual landscape.


There was volcanic rock everywhere.

This was the inside of the first cone.

And this was the second cone. Yes, that is snow at the bottom! The air temperature was well into the 90s and the surface temperature of the black rock exceeded 100 degrees, but volcanic rock is an amazing insulator. Also, the cone was situated such that sunlight never reached the bottom.



Eventually I started hiking up a longer trail.

Around the bend, the asphalt gave way to crushed stone.

I think there was nothing left but the falling over for this tree.

This area was called Big Craters.




I was on the North Crater Trail, which led all the way back to our first hike on the North Crater Flow Trail. It's too bad I didn't have the time (or water) to hike any further because this was one of the best moments of my whole vacation. Blackish rock extended to the horizon, broken by the occasional green-leafed tree.

I headed back toward the spatter cones.

After that experience, my desire to hike was sated. Although the rangers recommended the cave are, we skipped it. My wife doesn't like caves, I'm apathetic, and we didn't have the recommended flashlight. Our last stop was the Devil's Orchard area. I hiked a little while my wife waited in the car. This time my heart wasn't in it so much I think the heat was wearing me down, too.



Our visit to Craters of the Moon wasn't long, but I felt satisfied. It would be nice to return someday. We left the park and continued into Arco, the first city lit by nuclear power. The town wasn't as interesting as I had hoped. We drove northwest on U.S. 93 to collect Custer County, and then we proceeded east toward Idaho Falls on U.S. 20. We went to the site of Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I), the first nuclear reactor to produce an usable amount of electricity back in 1951, but we were an hour too late to go inside.

I was more intrigued by these behemoths.


As you can read below, these are test stands containing atomic jet engines. Yes, there was a program to make airplanes with nuclear reactors inside. After 10 years and a billion dollars, President Kennedy pulled the plug on it. For more on this and related sites, visit the Bureau of Atomic Tourism.


The reactor site is on the grounds of the Idaho National Laboratory, the sort of place that excites conspiracy theorists. Many roads in the 890-square-mile site lead off into the desert with huge "restricted access" warning signs. Considering the cleanup operations underway, we didn't care to stray from the main highway anyway. We happened to be passing through when many laboratory employees were getting off work (apparently they worked on Saturdays). I felt sorry for them because their commutes had to be long -- the nearest substantial city was Idaho Falls, 40 monotonous miles away. I imagined them wishing they had been assigned to a laboratory near Chicago like Fermilab or Argonne (in fact, part of the INL used to be known as Argonne-West). Then they could be home in ten minutes.

When we hit the outskirts of Idaho City, I bypassed the town on U.S. 20 to collect a few more counties in eastern Idaho. On the return trip, my wife wanted to stop at a Wendy's for something to eat and said she could eat in the car. I was nervous about this déjà vu moment, but it worked out okay. We drove back down U.S. 20 to I-15 down to Pocatello. The Super 8 was out of discounted rooms. Since it was Saturday night, they were almost out of rooms completely. The clerk offered me a king-sized bed at the AAA rate of $74.99. My wife encouraged me to accept it, and after a long day, I didn't feel like hunting all over town. Still, paying $75 for a bed in Pocatello, Idaho irritated me.

Although it was a college town of 54,000, Pocatello had few late-night dining options, even on a Saturday. There was a Perkins Restaurant nearby, but I avoid Perkins whenever possible. We ended up ordering Papa John's for the third and final time on our trip. We really liked their apple dessert pizza. With all of our major planned stops completed, we went to sleep before midnight in anticipation of a long few days of driving back home.

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