Friday, March 30, 2012

Idaho - Northern and Southwestern

Today, let’s start with the tippy top of the state of Idaho.  They call the northern part of Idaho - The Panhandle. You can explore the beautiful and rugged Canadian/USA border while on the International Selkirk Loop named after the Selkirk Mountains.  It covers Washington, Idaho, and the province of British Columbia, Canada.  The biggest thing to remember is to bring your passport.  You will need it to get into Canada.  Along the loop, there are all types of accommodations from campgrounds, cabins, hotels, and even T&Bs (Tents and Breakfasts – its a bed in a fully furnished tent).  There’s so much to see and do.  The website suggests 7 days and I wouldn’t doubt that it would take that long.  But, they also have a 3 day sample itinerary as well.

Selkirk Mountains in Idaho
I’ve recently been schooled in how to pronounce this place in north Idaho – Lake Coeur d’Alene.  I might still not know how to pronounce it but from the pictures and of what I hear – it’s BEAUTIFUL!  Check out the Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway for some pretty country roads.  The travel guides say to bring your binoculars and watch for bald eagles and the osprey that nest in trees along the lake. 
Lake Coeur d' Alene Scenic Byway
There’s also a 73 mile hiking/biking trail called the Trail of Coeur d’Alene that is said to have breathtaking viewpoints.  It crosses the panhandle from near the Washington border to near the Montana border.
Trail of Coeur d'Alene
A few friends of mine are from the Lewiston area.  At the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, it has the lowest elevation in Idaho at only 738 feet above sea level.  Lewiston is a great jumping off point because it has all the basics you’d need as in grocery stores, nearby Walmart, hotel/motel, etc.  But, it’s also near a lot of places.

Lewiston isn’t that far from Hells Canyon.  It’s North America’s deepest river gorge and comes from the Snake River.  The rapids in the canyon can range up to class IV and V (aka POWERFUL rapids).
Hells Canyon with Snake River
In the southwest part of the state is Idaho’s capitol, Boise.  It being their capital, you know I’m going to have you check out their capitol building.
Idaho's Capitol Building
This area has a LARGE Basque population. The Basques are an ethnic group from a region in the north-central part of Spain and southwestern part of France.  I had never heard of this group of people.  But, it fascinated me that these immigrants would be in such a rural part of America and have created their own community in IDAHO of all places!  They have a museum where you can learn more about where they’re from and their immigration to America.  They also have one restaurant in particular that they praise, Lekuonaid.

Another type of people that I was SHOCKED would live in IDAHO were those that like good ole Soul food!  Boise has a pretty big Soul Food Extravaganza.  I wonder how it compares to REAL southern restaurants.

Right outside of Boise, there are other great sites.  The Bruneau Dunes State Park is filled with shifting sand dunes that are up to 470 feet tall!  On my last post, we learned about southeastern Idaho’s St. Anthony Sand Dunes that are 50-500 feet tall too.  In two weeks, we’ll discuss the state, Indiana, where I climbed 200 feet tall sand dunes and thought that was a workout.  WOW!  I’m just marveled by these tall sand dunes – how they got there, why are they still there, etc.
Bruneau Dunes
In the same area of the state as the Bruneau Dunes, you’ll also find the Bruneau Canyon.  It’s another interesting marvel of nature.  It’s a desert gorge on the Bruneau River that is 1300 feet wide, 800 feet deep and 60 miles long.
Bruneau Canyon
In June, the town of Weiser will host the National Old-time Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival.  This is a 60 year tradition that began during intermissions of the fifth annual Weiser Square Dance Festival.  Turns out Weiser has been recognized as the “Fiddling Capital of the World!”  Each of the almost 350 contestants have four minutes to play three tunes; one must be a hoedown, one must be a waltz, the other is a “tune of choice” (something other than a waltz or hoedown) with judging based on danceability, old-time style, rhythm, and tone.  Just sounds pretty cool to me but I like ALL kinds of music.

One funny recipe I found while researching Idaho is a recipe for Ice Cream Potato.  It’s funny because no potato is in the recipe.  I might try it one day.

Another thing I found while researching is that at three of their state parks, you can rent Yurts to stay in.  Cool!

Lastly, I found this website to have a lot of information about Idaho and the rest of the Rocky Mountain area.

These are just the places I’d like to visit in southwestern and northern Idaho.  If you know of anywhere else in Idaho we should check out, please leave a comment below.  Next week, we’ll see what’s just round the corner in Illinois.

**All Photos Found Online

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Idaho - Southeastern

I visited Idaho a few years ago on an early October road trip through the Northwest with my friend, Lori.  We crossed into Idaho from Wyoming near the Grand Tetons and saw mountains and valleys covered with yellow trees and it was snowing on and off. 

We traveled through the southeast part of Idaho and had plans to check out the Idaho Potato Expo Museum in Blackfoot.  The museum was closed when we got there.  I still suggest people go, but call first. 

We met a friend of Lori’s for lunch in Twin Falls at a bar and grill that was just okay; nothing to write home about.  Afterwards, we walked around downtown and saw geese in the two man-made falls that the town (Twin Falls) was named after.  From there, we drove to Salt Lake City, Utah for the night. 
Geese lined up on the top of the falls.
One of the falls we saw.
Many have laughed at my attempt to check off Idaho on the list of states visited.  I wasn’t overly thrilled with my trip to Idaho but it wasn’t half bad either.  Since coming back from that trip, I’ve met people from the Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho area that have taught me that there are MUCH better things to see and do in their part of the world than the POTATO EXPO!  Between what I have learned from my new friends from the Northwest and the research I’ve done for this post, I now agree with them that the Potato Expo wasn’t where we should have stopped.

I found that if you’re the outdoor type – RUN, don’t walk, to Idaho!  They’ve got RV/camping sites everywhere.  You can fly fish, rock climb, hunt for anything, canoe/raft/kayak, snow mobile (almost year round it seemed), ski, etc.  If all the outdoor stuff excites you, then Idaho is where you need to be.  HOWEVER, if you haven’t figured it out already by state 12 - I’M NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL!

So, here are a few things I found that I’d like to do in Idaho (and still be able to sleep in a nice bed at night while there).

A site in Twin Falls that we should have checked out was Shoshone Falls.  At 212 feet, it’s taller than Niagara Falls in New York and its beautiful!
Shoshone Falls
picture found online
Leaving Twin Falls, you can take the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway.  It’s a peaceful 67 mile drive through the Snake River Canyon area.  It would have only taken 1.5 hours to do.  I wish I had known about that.
Snake River along side the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway
picture found online
South of Blackfoot (where the potato expo was) is the Fort Hall Indian Reservation where they host the Shoshone – Bannock Indian Festival each August.  Thousands of people come from all over North America and celebrate the Shoshone – Bannock Native American tribes.

Two desolate, but very interesting areas are the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and the St. Anthony Sand Dunes.  The crater monument is described as a vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush. 
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
picture found online
While, the St. Anthony Dunes are made up of white quartz sand that covers an area of 35 miles long by 5 miles wide and can be from 50-500 feet tall.  WOW!  Talk about some peculiar places!
St. Anthony Sand Dunes
picture found online
If for SOME reason, you go to Idaho and hadn’t seen any wildlife, go check out Yellowstone Bear World, which is a drive-through wildlife park that has free-roaming animals and don’t forget to feed some bear cubs while you’re there.

One place you could go to for an entire vacation seems to be the Caribou-Targhee National Forest full of exciting sites and activities – Nordic skiing, horseback riding, the reservoir, Minnetonka Cave, Charcoal Kilns Interpretive Site, and the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls.  The Mesa Falls are gorgeous.
Lower Mesa Falls
picture found online
If REAL adventure is what you’re wanting, I thought you might love the Mesa Falls Marathon which travels 26.2 miles through wildlife laden woods and offers the runner breathtaking views of the Teton Mountain Range.  If that’s not enough for you – you get a free huckleberry milkshake at the end!  HOT DANG - YUMMY!

Or there is the Perrine Bridge.  It’s pretty to look at, and yes, you should go and visit it.  However, it’s best known as one of eight Famous BASE JUMPING SPOTS in the WORLD.  You can jump off a bridge that’s 486 feet above the river.  Yeah, I don’t think so, but you can do it and let me know how that goes.
Perrine Bridge
picture found online
These are just the places I visited and the places I drove right past that I should have stopped for in southeastern Idaho.  Later this week, we’ll explore some places I’d like to visit in southwestern and northern Idaho.  Then, next week, we’ll see what’s just round the corner in Illinois.

**Pictures were taken by me if not noted.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hawaii - The Other Islands

When I visited Hawaii, I explored just one island, O’ahu.  However, there are 5 other islands in Hawaii full of adventure and fun yet to explore.  Here’s my list of places I’d visit and things I’d do by island.

The Island of Kauai (http://www.hawaii-guide.com/kauai)

The Wailua Falls of Kauai (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60623-d546344-Reviews-Wailua_Falls-Lihue_Kauai_Hawaii.html) is a 173-foot waterfall and is used in the opening credits of the TV show, Fantasy Island.  In the aerial shots, the area looks so pretty.

Also, I’d like to visit the Kilauea Lighthouse (http://www.kilauealighthouse.org/about_lighthouse.html), which opened in 1913.  It’s just so cute and I bet it has a great ocean view.  It is said to be one of the island’s most visited site and best loved places.

The Island of Maui (http://www.to-hawaii.com/maui/)

The Hana Highway (http://www.vacationidea.com/maui/hanahighway.html) looks so beautiful and there are so many places along the road to stop and just enjoy the experience and the views.  The Wailua Falls of Maui (http://www.traveltohawaiireviewed.com/maui/Attractions/Wailua_Falls.html) is one such place located at mile marker #45 off the Hana Highway.  That looks like paradise to me.

Another place on the island of Maui I’d like to visit is the Haleakala Crater and National Park (http://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm).  It’s just so different than what I’ve seen before.  They also have endangered species that don’t exist anywhere else.

The Island of Molokai (http://www.molokai.com/)

I have pictures of me on horses and donkeys at the age of 4-6 years old.  But, I got on a horse in West Virginia a few years ago and was petrified!  I stayed on the horse and rode the whole trail though.  HOPEFULLY I could do this AWESOME 2.9 mile mule ride through Kalaupapa National Historical Park to the Kalaupapa Peninsula (http://www.muleride.com/ and a good review of the ride can be read at http://www.travelviews.aaa.com/post/2009/03/05/Molokai-Cliff-Hanger.aspx).  They’re mules so they’re shorter and maybe the ride wouldn’t be so scary.  They ride along sheer cliffs overlooking the Pacific so it might not help being closer to the ground and the cliff though.  But, look at the view!  AH!  Beautiful!

The Island of Lanai (http://www.gohawaii.com/lanai) (also known as Hawaii’s most secluded island)

I found the Munro Trail (http://www.to-hawaii.com/lanai/attractions/munro-trail.php) to be very pretty.  It’s a popular 7-mile long hike that leads up to the highest peak on the island  This is the only spot in the state of Hawaii from where one can see five other Hawaiian islands (Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and Hawaii) but only on a very clear day.  The trail is a one-lane dirt road that is accessible by foot, bike or four-wheel drive – the 4-wheeler sounds fun!

The Island of Hawaii or “the Big Island” (http://www.hawaii.com/travel/explore_bigisland.php)

The Akaka Falls State Park (http://www.gohawaii.com/big-island/regions-neighborhoods/hamakua-coast/akaka-falls-state-park) looks like a tropical rainforest paradise.  WOW.  Beautiful!  The Hilo Farmers Market (http://hilofarmersmarket.com/) is open year round with a HUGE amount of vendors and different varieties of fruits, meats, vegetables, etc.  It seems like a cool place to go exploring and be adventurous with food.  Also, I hear you have to visit the Hawaii Volcano National Park (http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm).  It’s a live volcano!  I think it would be an experience you have to have in your life – something we just have to see.

One of my favorite finds was the Coffee Festivals on the Big Island:
Kona Coffee Fest in November:  http://www.konacoffeefest.com/
Kau Coffee Fest in May:  http://www.kaucoffeefest.com
Awesome!  Every six months, another party that involves my favorite drink – coffee!  Yippee!  I’m all onboard with that.

While researching the Hawaiian Islands I discovered that there are more than the 5 islands I set out to talk about in this post.  In addition to Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii (the Big Island), Hawaii has two private islands – Niiahu (http://www.aloha-hawaii.com/kauai/niihau/) and Kahoolawe (http://www.to-hawaii.com/kahoolawe.php

These are just the places I’d like to visit on the other islands of Hawaii if I went back.  If you know of anywhere else in Hawaii we should check out, please leave a comment below.  See you next week when we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Idaho.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hawaii - The Island of O'ahu

In January of 2010, I spent four days visiting some friends on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii (http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu).  Hawaii is a 5-6 hour time change from the east coast of the United States where I live and they don’t observe Daylight Savings Time (hence why I say 5 or 6 hours).  In order to keep me awake when I arrived in the afternoon, my friends and I walked Waikiki Beach on the south part of the island where I watched my 1st Hawaiian sunset – BEAUTIFUL!  

As we walked the beach, we saw surfers, smelt all the delicious smells coming from the various beachfront restaurants, I stuck my feet in the water, and marveled at all the luxurious hotels on the beach.  We ate at a wonderful burger place (can’t remember the name) that had anything you could want on a burger and more.  I got pineapple on my burger and it was pretty good.

The next morning, my friends went to work.  They thought I’d just sleep in and take it easy by their pool.  Instead, I woke up early, jumped into my rental car and was off to explore as much of the island as possible. 
My Sweet Ride!
The island is fairly easy to get around even with the traffic in the city of Honolulu.  My friends live on the southwest part of the island, outside of the tourist area.  My route for the day was interstate H1 east to Rt. 99 north (Kamehameha Hwy).  I drove Kamehameha Hwy around the north part of the island and down the east coast.  Then, I turned back around at Rt. 61 (Paul Hwy) and took interstate H1 back to the house.  I covered a GOOD piece of the island that day. 

During the day, I drove through the quaint town of Hale’iwa (http://haleiwatown.com/), and stopped at various state parks along the north part of the island. 
One of the cute parks
The waves were huge and the surfers were everywhere.  At one park, I saw a small surfing competition so I sat for a while and watched.  It was really cool.

While I was gallivanting around the north part of the island, I saw this food truck with TONS of people flocking to it.  It smelt so good, so I knew I had to stop!  It was called Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck (http://giovannisshrimptruck.com/ and someone’s blog post about their food - http://onokinegrindz.typepad.com/ono_kine_grindz/2004/05/giovannis_shrim.html).  Word of warning: they use a lot of yummy garlic and yummy butter!  It was so good.  Plus, the smells of the beach mixed with Giovanni’s food smell was so wonderful!
Picture from blog post (link above)
For the rest of the afternoon, I just drove along with my windows rolled down listening to the Hawaiian music on the radio.  I was in paradise!  Needing to get back for a luau, I decided to cut down Rt. 61 to get to the interstate.  Awesome decision!  On Rt. 61, I found the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout (http://www.aloha-hawaii.com/oahu/nuuanu-pali-state-park/), which has A-MAZING VIEWS!  It was really windy, but I’m so glad I stopped and checked it out.

That night, we went to the Paradise Cove Luau (http://paradisecovehawaii.com/) in the southwest part of the island.  It was a lot of fun.  We started off with drinks, taking pictures with the dancers, getting henna tattoos, paddling a canoe, and seeing a man climb up a coconut tree.  Then, it was time for dinner and watching the Hawaiian dancers.  I highly recommend Paradise Cove.

Over the weekend, we drove all over the island seeing other sites.  In Honolulu, we visited the grounds of the ‘Iolani Palace (http://www.iolanipalace.org/), which was the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy and was built in 1882.  We also passed the state capital, which replaced the ‘Iolani Palace as the seat of state government 43 years ago last week (March 15th, 1969).
'Iolani Palace
State Capital
My friends and I visited Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri Battleship Memorial (http://www.ussmissouri.org/), and the USS Arizona Memorial (http://www.pearl-harbor.com/arizona/arizona.html), which are all together.  Some of it was under construction at the time, but it was still a wonderful visit.  I thought it was such a well done memorial to the fallen, and amazingly enough it was really quiet.  I thought they provided a great tour with a great recap of all the events leading up to, what happened during, and what happened after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The USS Missouri (The Mighty Mo)
Inside the USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial floating over the USS Arizona
Part of the USS Arizona under water

We also visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (http://www.fmschmitt.com/travels/Hawaii/punchbowl/index.html) where military and government leaders are buried.  It reminded me of Arlington Cemetery in the Washington, DC area.  It is known as the “Punchbowl” because it’s in the crater of an extinct volcano so it looks like a - punchbowl.  Amazingly enough, this was the only place I saw a rainbow – in the reflection of the sun in water that came from a sprinkler at the cemetery!  That’s horrible!  So many people have left Hawaii, which much cooler rainbow shots.

My friends and I hiked up Diamond Head (http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu/regions-neighborhoods/honolulu/leahi-diamond-head), which is another extinct volcano.  It was a lot of work to get to the top, but it had beautiful views and we had a lot of fun together along the way.
We were warned!
Basking at the top

One of my favorite places was the Polynesian Cultural Center (http://www.polynesia.com/), which is owned and operated by the Brigham-Young University – Hawaii Campus.  The center is on 42-acres, and is divided up into 7 Polynesian villages – Fiji, Hawai’i, Aotearoa, Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.  In each village, there are native Polynesians that teach you about the country they come from.  The center also has a canoe pageant daily at 2:30 p.m. where native Polynesians from each of the villages come and dance in traditional costumes on top of canoes out in the lagoon.  It was really neat to learn about the various Polynesian countries.
I got a lot of my souvenirs and gifts at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet (http://alohastadiumswapmeet.net/).  It’s only open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays though.  My other souvenirs came from the Hawaii ABC stores we passed during the weekend.  In the southeast part of the United States, we have ABC stores that sell liquor.  These ABC stores however sold tourist souvenirs at a good price.  Hehehe.

On Sunday, I visited my friends’ church and afterwards, we went out for brunch but I can’t remember the name of that restaurant either.  However, I do remember having a bowl with spam, eggs, and rice in it.  It was great!  But, Hawaiians are obsessed with it and even McDonalds has it on their breakfast menu!  My friend Terry had some coconut syrup for something he was eating and asked if I wanted to try it.  It was DELICIOUS!  I decided to be a little creative and pour some into my coffee with a little milk.  WOW!  That was YUMMY!  I brought some back home and poured it into my coffee for awhile after that trip.

Right before my flight, I got to see the sunset from the north part of the island.  It was a perfect way to end my wonderful Hawaiian paradise vacation.

These are just the places I visited on the island of O’ahu and recommend you visit.  If you know of anywhere else on O’ahu we should check out, please leave a comment below.  Later this week, we’ll explore some places I’d like to visit on the other islands of Hawaii someday.  Then, next week, we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Idaho.

** Photos taken by me or my friends unless otherwise noted**