Bob and Monica' Westward Journey: June 30  

TOPIC: June 30th

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Date: Tues, Sep 30 2008 6:59 am


This installment brings Monica and I to Pocatello. I'll present events and side trips while at Pocatello. No need for a daily accounting of our breakfast menu.


June 30th

The morning of June 30th blessed us with a continuation of spectacular weather. Our travel through each geographical province had been accompanied by a daily bath of sunshine. Moderate temperatures prevailed. These meteorological gifts had not gone unappreciated. I had remembered past crossings of the country when torrential downpours, threats of tornados, hail, high winds, and other forms of inclement weather had made driving hazardous. I had also remembered a July trip across the Mid-west in a non-air-conditioned car with two young children: the kind of experience that parents usually like to forget. Although in the case of my two children, they endured the heat and long ride magnificently. I faired less well.

Monica and I were able to have breakfast on the small, intimate porch outside the restaurant in the cool of the morning. From our table, I could look east across the valley to the Snake River Range and southward into its extension, the lonely, underappreciated Salt River Range. Other patrons seemed equally pacified by the early morning stillness, the surrounding mountains, and the slow pace.

Our breakfast was prepared by the capable chef, or his apprentice. The menu was maybe a little shee-shee, but the food was good. The motel caters to a somewhat upscale clientele. It is not a motorcycle and pickup truck stopover, nor is there the slightest hint of improprieties such as sometimes accompany the lesser expensive accommodations one may have to settle for on the outskirts of a town. Monica and I would recommend the alpine motel to anyone with a little cash to spare. The management genuinely cares.

We left the town of Alpine with full stomachs, and to my best recall, happy dispositions. We were headed for Idaho and new adventures. The Wyoming-Idaho border was only a few miles distant. Although the landforms were of the same type on either side of the border, our passage from the Cowboy State to the Gem State had significance. It marked a transition from the Rockies into part of the vast basin and range province that Idaho shares principally with Oregon, Utah, Nevada, and Montana in the northern end. First, let us look at Idaho as a whole.

Idaho is a large state. Its physical area is 83,482 square miles, virtually all land, but how large is that? What is in a number without some meaningful comparisons? Idaho is about ten times the size of my little state of Massachusetts, yet the population of Idaho is a modest 1,500,000 souls, compared to Massachusetts’s squeezed-in 6,500,000 folks. In addition, Idaho has no truly overwhelmingly congested metropolitan areas. Boise is the state’s largest city. Its internal population is now around 200,000 and its metropolitan area is estimated at about 640,000 people. That is plenty large enough, but small compared to Boston’s estimated 4,500,000 people in the greater metro area. Idaho’s two prominent Indian tribes are the Nez Perce and northern-western Shoshone.

Idaho is usually regarded as a Rocky Mountain state and with good reason. The Rockies cover a large part of the state and achieve impressive elevations. The highest point in Idaho is impressive Borah Peak at 12,662 feet, but Borah is one of those summits that rises boldly above basal lowlands. Borah juts up almost 6,000 feet above the surrounding plains. The state only has a sprinkling of peaks over 12,000 feet, but many over 10,000. Idaho’s average elevation is an impressive 5,000 feet, which is even more impressive when it is remembered that the lowest point in Idaho is only 710 feet. This minimum starkly contrasts with the low points of other Rocky Mountain states.

As a brief digression, in the state average altitude department, Idaho ranks 6th behind Colorado’s ostentatious 6,800 feet. Wyoming weighs in second at an equally ostentatious 6,700 feet. Utah rounds out the 6,000 club at 6,100 feet. New Mexico follows at 5,700 feet and Nevada registers 5,500. The foregoing are the states with average altitudes over a mile. However, that is only part of the elevation range story. Colorado and Wyoming have low elevations of 3,350 feet and 3,099 feet respectively. In the high level of their low points, Colorado and Wyoming stand conspicuously alone. However, a couple of other states are not far behind. New Mexico’s highest elevation is Wheeler Peak at 13,160 feet in the Sangre De Cristo Range, and its lowest elevation is 2,842 feet. Consequently, I typically think of Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico as the quintessentially high Rocky Mountain States, but Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, and Montana are close behind, all boasting the combination of individual high peaks and high overall average elevations. It is their minimum elevations that separate the latter states, as a group, from the previously mentioned big three.

One can slice and dice elevation-associated data along many lines of interest, but in terms of high averages, the Rockies and the basin and range province are at the top of the food chain. It is the Rocky Mountain-Basin and Range states that feature town after town lying at near or above a mile in altitude.  In terms of climate, Idaho has cold to very cold winters and in the southern part of the state, hot summers. It has been as cold as 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in Idaho and as hot as 118 degrees. This represents a minimum to maximum swing of 178 degrees, which can be used to point to levels of extreme discomfort that one can expect to feel in the Gem State – not a good way to characterize Idaho from the standpoint of tourism or attracting retirees.

At this point, I acknowledge that one can have memorized a wealth of statistics about a state, yet really know nothing about the quality of life there, and relative to Idaho, that was the case for me. My mental image of Idaho was an embarrassingly negative one. I imagined Aryan Nation skin-headed thugs intimidating anyone of a different political persuasion or possessing of a dark skin tone. I am inclined toward rushes to judgment, but I am educable. Since my daughter had moved to Pocatello in June 2007, she consistently painted for me a very different picture of the Gem State and quality of life there that quelled my fears and counteracted the image of roving militant rednecks and Nazi sympathizers. I was anxious to adjust my attitude – to get real.

As we crossed the border of Wyoming into Idaho, I felt my curiosity slide into hyper-drive. Yes, I had crossed the state of Idaho in years past on my way to an assignment in Taiwan with the U.S. Air Force, but outside of mental flickers of the stark landforms seen in the Craters of the Moon, I had forgotten any landscape details that had impressed me at the time. My memory coffers were empty. Since then, beyond occasional map perusals, searching for the source of a river, the location of a mountain range, or quickly viewing one of those generic calendar images, I did not know what to expect in the way of mountain ambiance. I would likely see only a small part of Idaho, the southern part, but the level of intimacy would be off the charts.

Southern Idaho is technically part of the basin and range province, with intrusions of what is more generally agreed to as the Rocky Mountains proper. Wide valleys and sagebrush plains gradually give way to geographically aligned uplifts. Often there are no foothills. The summits may not set any altitude records, but the mountains are, nonetheless, scenic and highly varied in their geology. Uplifts often have a volcanic origin and are younger than the bulk of the Rockies.
As we neared the border, crossed into Idaho, and sped along our way, the visual images were pleasant. The surrounding land still wore a garment of green, the beneficiary of abundant winter snows and early spring and summer rains. I felt a shift in the ambience imparted by the surrounding landforms from those experienced the day before. I was in the earliest stages of making a new Bob-to-landscape connection. This brings me to another digression, namely energy imprints of land and life forms as they are impressed onto or into our subconscious minds.

What I am about to describe is a perceived phenomenon that I cannot objectively prove, and consequently, I cannot rule out a significant psychological component. However, long-term experience inclines me to accept the phenomenon as a part of objective reality. What is the phenomenon? I believe there is an underlying energy imprint of a place, a kind of energy signature that represents the totality of the matter present, i.e. all the constituent elements of the landscape, organic and inorganic, large and small. This imprint is obscure to left-brain processes. It exists in the psychic realm. I realize that what I have just said has all the clarity of mud. Let me try to be even more specific.

Following the line of research conducted by Dr. William Tiller, I believe that every place and thing exists in multiple energy states or levels. Each level possesses a signature to which psychically gifted people can attune themselves. Most of us are blind to the unseen energy world that Dr. Tiller investigates, but we do have inner tuning mechanisms that can be brought into play. Native Americans felt the life force of a place and attributed it to the spirit they saw existing in matter, organic and inorganic. They heard the voices on the winds.

How do these energy imprints reveal themselves to sensitive people? Beyond intuitive feelings, I am not sure. I’m sure it varies from person to person. At this point, I can only describe how the phenomena works for me. If I am in a sufficiently neutral state of mind, I can find myself suddenly influenced positively or negatively at specific locations without knowing why. The sensations being experienced are not upward biased by the size of the trees, heights of mountains, etc. Other things being equal, big trees and high mountains exert strong influences, but I can distinguish their effects on me. The sensations I refer to are come on suddenly and are intuition-based.

I will say more about this idea of energy imprints in chapters to come, but for now, suffice it to say, that I felt favorably toward the eastern Idaho landscape through which Monica and I traveled. I sensed its uniqueness and its separateness from the Wyoming landscape of the previous couple of days, not based on strictly surface details, but underlying energy imprints.  One area we passed by on our way to Pocatello was Grays Lake National Wildlife Sanctuary, 27 miles north of Soda Springs on State Route #34. We would return to the sanctuary, driving completely around it, stopping frequently, and tabulating an impressive census of birds, but what we were able to briefly see on the southern bypass impressed us enough.

Grays Lake is a vast marshland of cattail and bulrush that teams with bird life and boasts the largest breeding ground for Greater Sandhill Cranes on the planet. The statistics quoted for breeding pairs cites over 200 for the refuge. The peak population occurs in September when over 3,000 birds pass through. Gray’s Lake is highly significant for the Sandhill alone, but there are many other bird species there, and this isolated wildlife refuge is incredibly scenic. On the east, the Caribou Range rises abruptly without foothills. The high point is Caribou Peak at 9,803 feet. The vertical rise from Grays Lake is approximately one mile. Steep mountains absent of intervening foothills always hold my attention.
Passing Grays Lake we headed for Soda Springs. Neither of us knew what to expect, but as we neared that well-known mining town, our impulse was to quickly pass through and beyond. Monsanto’s giant facility and long piles of mining debris make Soda Springs not a place to vacation. The underlying energy imprint was in a bit of turmoil as gauged by my internal sensing apparatus.

Safely out of Monsanto-Land, the countryside again became pleasant with mountain ranges rising prominently in all directions, but maintaining their distances, never threatening the openness of the land, compromising its airiness, its spaciousness. The mountain range names of the region were unfamiliar to me, but I expected to gain an appreciation for all topographical features in due course. With intent, I would investigate the extent of each mountain range, its high points, its named canyons, its streams. Once ensconced at my daughter’s home, I would have the time, but at the moment, I was content to visually survey the new ranges from a distance.

Near midday, we rolled into the small tourist community of Lava Hot Springs. This small, picturesque town is set scenically in a narrow mountain valley cut by the Portneuf River. The town lies at 5,020 feet altitude and is literally walled in by the steep sides of the Portneuf Range, mountains that now figure prominently into my appreciation of southern Idaho. This and the Bannock Range helped to shape my thinking about the true nature of the basin and range topography while visiting my daughter.

The climate of Lava Hot Springs is not overly severe, considering its altitude and latitude, but severe enough. The January temperature averages 23 degrees Fahrenheit, and July is a manageable 68. In Lava Hot Springs, it has been as hot as 103 degrees and as cold as 31 degrees below zero. Three months have seen temperatures of over 100 degrees recorded and the annual temperature averages 45.4 degrees. Just for comparison purposes, Lava Hot Springs is on virtually the same latitude as Florence, MA, which has an average annual temperature of 47.3 degrees with a minimum of 30 degrees below zero having been recorded and a high of exactly 100 degrees. Lava Hot Springs has a hotter summer, colder winter, and is a lot drier. For most folks, it is located in the middle of nowhere, but it is blessed with hot springs that are the envy of larger places, and so far, seems to be managing them tastefully. I hope it continues to thrive without developing sprawl.

Once beyond Lava Hot Springs, we headed west, then turned north toward Pocatello. We were on the last leg of a journey to reach Pocatello and the landforms continued to be pleasing to me. There were mountains all around us, but nowhere did they engulf or imprison us. They presented gentler contours than what we had experienced the day before. They were not high enough for timberlines, but because of the semi-desert character of the surrounding landscape, their summits were often grass covered. Trees populated the ravines and gorges where more water is available. For me, they represented a class of mountains that most people from other parts had not learned to assemble well in their thinking. I have long observed that signs and advertisements are necessary to grab the attention of many people. An isolated range with just a name and no signs can be as beautiful as can be imagined, but be routinely bypassed. All in all that is a good thing.

Off I15, we climbed into a short section of uplands that lead to the neighborhood where my daughter and son-in-law live. The day had turned hot and I was thankful for the thought of the very spacious and comfortable quarters that awaited us. I had seen pictures of my daughter’s home and I knew Monica and I would be blessed with creature comforts.  As we pulled into the multi-car driveway, my daughter and grandson were waiting outdoors, broadly smiling. It was wonderful to see Celeste. I had not seen her for two years and the intervening illness had left me at time wondering if I would see her again in a sufficient state of health to allow for the kind of mutual enjoyment of the great outdoors we had shared before. Celeste and Stephen had been enthusiastically awaiting our arrival that was projected to be around 1:00PM – and there we were. We had made it. Celeste’s and Dale’s home was to be Monica’s and my home for the following 17 days. I could sit on the deck and look toward naked summits rising 2,000 feet above us immediately to the east and north. I could look to the west across the valley of the Portneuf to mountains reaching to almost 7,000 feet, a rise from the river of nearly 2,500 feet. I could also see a layer of jet-black basalt lower, near the river, a reminder of a geological violent past that now blessed the valley with deep, rich soils. In the distance, higher mountains rose, with peaks surpassing 9,000 feet and one photogenic summit named Scout Peak topping out at a little over 8,700 feet. It was only 35 minutes away. There was much to take in and plenty of time to do it. So, we settled in ready for a long, comfortable stay.

Bob Leverett