Sunday, September 9, 2007


We planned a romantic trip for Dianne's birthday (September 1st) to beautiful Boise, Idaho. We enjoy road trips, and Boise was chosen because neither of us had ever been there or spent any time in Idaho. We loaded up the CD player in our rental car with 2 Kenny G albums, a Beatles, and an easy listening instrumental CD. We started driving past the State Capitol and took the required picture.

The plan was to drive around Idaho like maniacs and then head for Las Vegas where I was scheduled to play in a Video Poker Tournament (with no entry fee). We knew little about Idaho except that they grow potatoes there. In fact, the fries for the McDonald's restaurants come from Idaho.

Boise State University became well known last year for its outstanding football team, which beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. We drove by the stadium. We arrived there the day Senator Larry Craig (R. Idaho) resigned after pleading guilty to lewd behavior in a public rest room in Minneapolis. In some states (you know who you are), that behavior would get him re-elected for sure, but Idaho isn't one of them. In any event, I saw on one rest room wall a sticker with a picture of Sen. Craig with a line drawn through the circle saying "Craig free zone".

Our adventures started in Idaho City, 30 miles from Boise. Idaho City is a touristy frontier town with 2 ice cream shops and a few other ramshackle stores selling junk (antiques?) and not much else. The ice cream and hot fudge were very good.

From there, we continued on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, a winding mountain road with many 20 mph hairpin turns, to Lowman, which wasn't worth the drive. The scenery was beautiful, but Dianne was getting seasick because our Chevy Impala had bench seats and there was nothing to hold onto as the car was winding up and down and back and forth through the mountains. At Lowman, we headed West to Garden Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and Eagle, and fortunately for our health, the road, although scenic, was not over a mountain. We saw wild, rushing rivers like the turbulent South Fork of the Payette River. Most people who visit Idaho in the summer go rafting, fishing and mountain biking, along with camping. We do none of these, although we'll go rafting on a slow river.

We stayed Saturday night in a nice Hampton Inn in Mountain Home, ID. We like Hampton Inns because they serve a hearty free breakfast. Also, by seeking one out, we were able to get extra points in our Hilton Honors account by having 3 hotel stays in a certain time period. We can then use the points to stay for free in really nice Hiltons like the Palmer House in Chicago or the Waldorf in New York.

By this time we were getting tired of Kenny G, and we spotted a Walmart near our hotel where we could buy another CD. We chose Carly Simon's Greatest Hits for $6.98,
and listened to that for a few hundred miles.

On Sunday, we drove to Sun Velley a faux rustic ski resort town. The resort was created in the 1930's by Averill Harriman who was Chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad (and later Governor of New York). He discovered the railroad was obligated to maintain a passenger service, so he decided that an alpine ski resort would stimulate tourism. He sent Austrian ski champion Court Schaffgotsch to scout out the best ski area, and he turned down Aspen, but picked Sun Valley, near Ketchum, ID, an old sheep ranching town. They built the world's first chairlift there in 1936.

Ernest Hemingway lived (and died) there, and there's a memorial to him. He wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in Ketchum. Hemingway became despondent when the Castro regime confiscated his considerable holdings in Cuba, and he committed suicide in 1961. He was buried in Ketchum. There are beaucoup bucks in this town, with many expensive cars and upscale shopping--Palm springs without the palm trees.

Our next stop was Craters of the Moon National Monument, about 70 miles Southeast. Every couple thousand years or so, a volcano erupts and strews lava all over the countryside, creating a surreal landscape--well--like on the moon. The last eruption was about 2,000 years ago, so we're overdue. We went to the Visitor's Center and watched the video and then drove the loop and hiked around the paved paths, marveling at the volcanic cinder cones and black lava rocks strewn all around the area. Each type of lava has a name--all with Hawaiian names, like pahoehoe and aa, a rough cindery type lava. If you play Scrabble, that's a good word to know.

We had to hightail it out of there about 1:30 in the afternoon because we had a hotel reservation in Ely, Nevada, over 300 miles away, and I don't like driving unfamiliar roads at night.

On the way we stopped in Twin Falls, ID., which, for me, was the best thing I saw in the whole state. Coming into town from the North, one must cross the Perrine Bridge, a huge bridge spanning the Snake River Canyon, which snakes through the town. While not as spectacular as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, it is pretty impressive, nevertheless. The bridge attracts thrill seekers who are allowed to base jump (parachute) off the bridge into the canyon.

This canyon was made famous a few years ago when Evel Knievel attempted to jump across it on a rocket powered motorcycle. He missed. The jump was no easy feat, however, as the canyon is at least 1500 feet wide and about 500 feet deep. The lady at the Visitor's Center told me that Mr. Kneivel expected to die in the attempt. He didn't do that either. What happened was that he activated his chute too soon and hit the side of the canyon, Wile E. Coyote style, and broke a few arms and legs.

So he didn't exactly walk away either, but he lived to try something else stupid later on.

The canyon leads up to Shoshone Falls, about 2 miles upriver from the bridge. The falls are 212 feet high and are an awesome sight. The falls are described as the Niagara of the West and are certainly worth seeing. I heard that in the Spring, the falls are even more spectacular because the water level is much higher, but we weren't disappointed.

At the falls, peddlers were hawking pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Before she became a famous movie star, she was a top fashion model, and she posed there, wearing an Idaho potato sack. She looked good in it, by the way. If it had been an autographed picture, I might have purchased one.

We had a wonderful steak dinner with Idaho baked potatoes, at the Outback Steakhouse, overlooking the canyon. There's a beautiful golf course at the bottom of the canyon, down river from the bridge. Plus there's a shopping mall overlooking the canyon. Apparently, the environmentalists haven't discovered Idaho yet, or they were driven off by the locals.

By 3:30, we really had to get on our way, and we headed down U.S. 93 toward Nevada. You can always tell when you're entering Nevada. From miles away one sees tall buildings, flashing neon lights, billboards promoting casinos. Entering Jackpot, Nevada was no exception. To my knowledge, that's the only town called Jackpot in the whole country. We didn't stop there.

Nevada is a sparsely populated state with long lonely stretches of road and over 100 miles between gas stations. The infrequent rest areas on the road are little more than outhouses with no plumbing. Even the space aliens the government allegedly keeps in Nevada are bored with the place, and they wouldn't draw much attention anyway when you see some of the characters you encounter along the way.

We had reservations to stay at the famous Hotel Nevada in Ely, and we saw billboards for it for 100 miles around. According to the description on the Internet, it was a favorite hotel for many Hollywood stars who were traveling between California and Sun Valley, ID. There are rooms dedicated to Wayne Newton, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman and Tennessee Ernie Ford, who all stayed there, but evidently, not in the last 50 years. Unfortunately, those particular rooms were all booked, and we had to stay in a normal room. When we saw our room, we really had reservations--about staying there. But since it was nightfall, and anoather 250 miles to Las Vegas, we decided to stay. The room cost $38 for the night, but then, the Motel 6 which costs more has nicer rooms.

When we entered the room, I thought the closet was huge. It turned out--no--that was the whole room. It did have a closet, but that was too small to store our suitcase. There was a sign on the bathroom door that because the plumbing was installed when the hotel was built in 1929, the hot water in the shower sometimes turns cold. But at least they warned us. There was no tub. The vanity was tiny, approx. 18 inches square, so everything had to be stored on the floor. The double bed covered a large portion of the room and we had to climb over each other to get to the bathroom. The lightbulbs were probably 20 watts, as it was too dim to read in the room. To their credit, the room did have a window air conditioner and it worked.

Despite all this, the hotel was quite interesting. There were numerous old pictures of the area on the walls, along with Western art, vintage signs, mounted stuffed animals and mining tools. In their restaurant (where breakfast was good), there was a large python skin probably 20 feet long, mounted on the wall. On the front sidewalk, there were stars similar to those on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring stars like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Wallace Beery, and several other entertainers who were before my time. The other good thing was that I managed to win over $200 in the casino although Dianne lost), so I was able to better tolerate the rough accommodations.

The next morning, we drove through the desert to Las Vegas, where we spent the last 2 days of our trip in luxury at the Paris Hotel. We found some good crap games (my granddaughters call them "craft games"), and we had a good time. I participated in the previously mentioned Video Poker tournament along with about 2000 other contestants and, although I played the correct strategy, had no luck and won no money. In my 2 previous tournaments I had won money (remember, there's no entry fee). So it didn't cost anything either, and we'll be invited back in a few months.

In summary, Dianne told me, for her next birthday, she wants to go "somewhere besides Idaho", although she did enjoy the Craters of the Moon National Monument and the falls.




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