5-10-10 Craters and Caves and Brimstone, Oh My!
Day 35 Mountain Home, ID-Lava Hot Springs, ID
The best laid plans…are often thwarted by idiocy. This was something we discovered when we tried to be responsible and get the oil changed in Mountain Home, Idaho. Joanie B. had really proven reliable and had logged over 5,000 miles so far on this trip. We usually try to change our vehicle’s oil every 3-4 thousand so seeing the Pennzoil Quick Oil Change just a block from the RV park seemed perfect—Not!
We pulled in at 8:00 a.m. for the promised 10 minute oil change and waited 20 minutes for a car before us and then the attendants worked on our rig for over 20 minutes. Then one of the guys came to the waiting room and said, “Sir, will you come in here?” Uh oh—now what? Turns out they had broken the dipstick. Kevin told them to “fix it” and we waited while watching the guy and his cohorts pondered the situation as well as making calls, presumably to a repair or service department. To our surprise he came back and told us that his boss said this wasn’t their fault because this is an older vehicle. We could go to the local Ford dealership at the end of the street and they could probably get us a new dipstick for our 1995 Ford motor home. Kevin inquired about their responsibility to fix the problem they made and they replied it was not their problem it was a matter of time and a bad part Ford had created. Despite this displacement of blame Kevin pursued with the ten-minute deal, the reply, “Oh, that does not count for an RV–they typically take longer.” Finally when presented with the final bill, Kevin again tried to get a discount and offered to pay a discounted amount. The attendants’ reply was very matter of fact “either pay it or I will call the cops”. Kevin’s hesitation while considering the visit to the local police station prompted me to give him the eye, count our blessings and get out of there. So the K & H Pennzoil Oil Change on Admiral’s Way Blvd. in Mountain Home, ID may not be the best place for anyone to go for a quick lube.
We drove to the top of the street to see if the Ford dealership had a replacement dipstick. While Kevin went to talk with the Parts Department, I thought I’d just check to see if we had access to the RV park WIFI since we were a stone’s throw away from the park. Voila! I just had time to make Kelly’s summer tuition payment remotely and had a quick conversation with her while waiting. Kelly has a friend who has a blog that calls attention to places that offer poor services. Do you hear that, K&H Pennzoil? I think I’ll start with the time-honored tradition of writing a letter of complaint first…but I’m not opposed to whatever tactic calls attention to lousy customer service.
As luck would have it, the dealership did not have the correct dipstick and the closest place that had one was in Salt Lake City. SLC! That hadn’t been on our itinerary at all but now it kind of made sense with the encroaching storms interacting with the route east. We hadn’t had a truly warm day since Arizona and the idea of traveling southerly was more appealing than chancing further storms brewing in the western plains.
With our route re-mapped we urged onward to Craters of the Moon. Kevin had visited this as a kid and had fond memories of the odd volcanic landscape with obsidian and ash that made mincemeat of his sneakers. It is such an anomaly and we were looking forward to seeing something strange after all the plains and desert driving. We continued on Rt. 20 eastward, pulling over whenever we had enough bars to generate a phone call to the Ford dealership in SLC and confirm that they had the part we needed to replace.
We were on a piece of the Oregon Trail and rose gradually to Saw Tooth Pass, at 5,527 ft. A series of jagged mountains (just as the name implies) was set on this bowl of range land and high prairie. There were ranches every few miles and I spotted some type of large birds in the distance that I could only assume to be emu. I saw some ghostly looking creatures standing together watching the road. They blended into the landscape and just as we passed them I realized they were antelopes. We were driving too fast to come to a reasonable stop so we agreed to keep a sharp lookout so we could get a picture. It wasn’t long before again we passed a trio of antelopes staring at the traffic on Rt. 20—again too quick to get a photograph. It was then that I realized what game the antelopes played that was made famous in the song “Home, Home on the Range”. Punch Buggy!
Big Wood River and Picabo gave way to an eerie landscape that consisted of what looked like broken debris one would find at the bottom of a gas grill. Coarsely crumbed chunks of black pumice, volcanic ash and flecks of obsidian covered the range floor. Craters of the Moon National Park was a scene to be reckoned with.
We stopped at the park visitor center and talked with a ranger who gave us some good hikes to try. We drove into the park (National Park Pass—we salute thee!) and found our way to Spatter Rock and Snow Cone. A quick hike up to a volcanic mesa and we looked into the depths of a great crater formed by an ancient volcano. Fire and brimstone—it was splendid desolation!
We later hiked over to the cave area where lava tubes were prevalent. This geological formation demonstrated how the hot lava flowed across the range floor and as the outer part of the stream of molten lava cooled, the inner core remained hot and fluid and forced its way through a series of caves and tunnels. We stopped at the Dew Drop Cave before proceeding to Indian Cave, which is considered a “wild cave”. A metal ladder eased our descent into the cave but we then had a rock scramble over tipsy rocks and boulders into the craggy depths. There were volcanic versions of stalactites and odd flowing masses of molten floes that had formed 2,100 years ago.
We read that settlers had to traverse this region as the Oregon Trail was created and at one point the passage could barely accommodate the width of the wagons. One step to either side of the trail would have resulted in the wagons tipping over. The trail had consumed its fair share of wagon wheels and it certainly must have taken people of amazing perseverance to cover this inhospitable stretch of range.
We left Craters of the Moon NP and drove through Arco, ID, the first city lit by atomic power. We made it to Pocatello to gas up the camper before heading south, just as we could see rolling thunder clouds coming over the mountainside, flashes of lightning in the distance. Aside from a few small towns, there wasn’t much to see as the rain swept the vehicle and the mountains were hidden from view.
We planned to stop at a campground just off the highway in McCammon. We knew it wasn’t going to be great but it would be a port in the storm. As we exited and started looking for the campsite we came across road work that cut us down to one lane. We waited to be waved ahead by the flaggers and then realized we’d missed the campground. There was no place to turn around on this narrow stretch of road and we decided to stop in a town called Lava Hot Springs, 11 miles down the road, since we really had no choice.
We started seeing signs for the hot springs and Kevin had a jolt of nostalgia as he remembered going here when he was young. His memories involved his two brothers getting into trouble and having to sit on the side lines while he and his parents enjoyed the swings and slides suspended above the water. His memory included that it was fun at first while he was clowning around in the water but then it got boring because his brothers were being punished and he had no one to play with. He said he’d have to ask his folks if this was indeed the same place of his youth.
We fortunately landed at a neat KOA that had the Portneuf River flowing through it and was old school in nature. There was an even older campground behind the KOA that had ‘50’s style cabins and an old cabin. The sun came out for a few hours and we watched some muskrats play in the river before hiking all over the defunct campground to get pictures. The mountainside rose vertically up to sharp peaks and yet again—no sheep.