Monday, September 17, 2007

#17 - Back to Idaho

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, we waved goodbye to the I-80 truck traffic and headed northwest on relatively peaceful US-30 toward southeastern Idaho. We found the lowest gas prices of this trip at a Flying J truck stop in Cokeville, Wyoming. We grabbed the opportunity to gas up the RV at $2.62/gal. before continuing north through the small Idaho towns of Montpelier, Georgetown, Soda Springs and Lava Hot Springs. Our next campground was Downata Hot Springs (no kidding).

Downata Hot Springs is located in a very quiet peaceful farming valley about three miles south of Downey, Idaho (pop. 615). It’s in a beautiful setting at the base of rolling hills with cattle and horses grazing all around and a nearby rail line for Ron’s enjoyment.

Since it was the off-season, the hot spring-fed pool and most other facilities were closed, which made it very quiet indeed. There were only three or four things we didn’t like about this place: (1) The hot springs pool was closed; (2) There was no on-site holding tank dumping facilities; (3) the bathrooms were old and poorly maintained; and (4) There was a minor infestation of box elder bugs which look somewhat like black with red trim flying cockroaches. They didn’t bite but they were everywhere and very annoying.

We stayed three nights at Downata Hot Springs to relax, take a break from the highways and enjoy a little down time. The first two nights we were almost the only ones in the campground. Bonnie heard a coyote howl in the middle of the night and a train went by. Other than that, it was unbelievably quiet.

A few miles up the highway was Red Rock Pass. It was an interesting side trip. The pass has an interesting history as one of the outlets of ancient Bonneville Lake (or inland sea) when it broke loose and spilled into the Snake River drainage. An historical marker provides information about that important occurrance. A Mormon monument and small family graveyard are also in the area and have their own history, although I don't recall the details. We hiked the long steep stairway to the monument, read the Mormon marker and viewed the rugged terrain at the pass.

We went into the nearby town of Downey for groceries. It has a small city center consisting of about two half-blocks. The grocery store was the main business, along with a beauty shop next door. The old Downey theater and a small restaurant shared the block but both appeared to be out of business. A small library and bank were across the street to the east and the City Hall and community center were to the south. The residential areas of town seemed to be in pretty good shape with very wide streets, lots of trees and a nice school and county fairgrounds complex. One of their signs proudly proclaimed that Downey has been a “Tree City USA” for the past ten years.

Downey is a nice little farming community, and not unlike many small towns throughout the country that have mature trees along friendly residential streets, classic buildings and unique histories. Similar towns are everywhere, but especially in these very rural areas. They have been nice places to live and raise families for generations, but many are now failing economically and slowly deteriorating and fading away as life in the fast lane passes them by. Sad to see, but a fact of life.

#14 - Mt. Rushmore & Keystone

If this #14 is out of sequence, it's because we got ahead of ourselves as we were blogging merrily along, and left out a couple important places. So, we'll fill in here.

Our primary South Dakota destination was Mt. Rushmore. We had been there before, but it was three or four decades ago so we weren't sure if erosion over that length of time had distorted the presidents or not. We were happy to find the mountain intact and fresh from a cleaning. The presidents haven't changed but the tourist facilities have been expanded significantly. The complex now includes a video theater, restaurant, gift shop, parking structures, stairways, elevators and boardwalks to viewpoints, an amphitheater and a promenade of flags of all the states. It’s pretty impressive and the park ranger did a great job of narrating a walk around the base of the mountain.

The small town of Keystone is just a few miles downhill from Mt. Rushmore. We happened to be there during their annual “Holy Terror Days.” The festivities began with a disappointing breakfast of scrambled eggs, slightly burnt potatoes, dry biscuits and warm apple juice, but improved from there. Later in the day they had an old time parade of mostly horses and horse-drawn vehicles of various kinds, along with a few cowboys shooting off their guns. It was a fun down home style parade.

After the parade, everyone went down to the Big Thunder gold mine store for a cowboy barbecue dinner of spuds, beans and steaks. Entertainment was provided by the 7th Cavalry (Custer's group) Drum and Bugle Corps from Rapid City. It was a fun and relaxing afternoon. Due to limited seating and general fatigue from lots of climbing and walking around on a hot day, we skipped the dinner but listened to several numbers by the band.