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Road Trip USA – Idaho & Northern Utah

It has been on my bucket list for many years to partake in a road trip across at least some of the USA. I didn’t, however, think it would happen this early on, until, as outlined in my last post, the opportunity arose, and a very rough plan was thrown together and a route sketched in Google Maps.

This inevitably changed as the days leading up to the trip wore on. We realised we were being a bit ambitious trying to get all the way up to Yellowstone National Park in Montana given the time constraints, so the decision was made to head east out of Oregon, south east through Idaho and enter Utah from the north west after a brief couple of hours in northern Nevada.

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The first 859 miles of our trip

The Tuesday we were due to leave was plagued with problems, including bad traffic, wrong turns and a car breakdown. I am eternally grateful to the pickup driver who stopped to jump us out of that particular tricky spot.

At 5pm we finally departed Portland and onto the open road with the nice lady in my phone satnav declaring we “continue on Interstate 84 for 564 miles.” Unlucky as we had been that day, we were struck by some good fortune when we reached the highest point of our trip (30 miles west of La Grande) just as the sun was setting.

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Sunset from the mountains

As darkness fell, we continued east towards Boise, the state capital of Idaho. Glancing over at Marina and seeing that she was out for the count in the passenger seat, I decided to drive another ninety miles before pulling over in a rest stop area in Bliss at 3am.

(Just as a side note, don’t let the name “Bliss” fool you. It’s utter crap.)

Five hours later and I was up and driving again to what would be our first real stop: Twin Falls, Idaho. I had been told by so many people that Idaho had absolutely nothing going for it, but we had stumbled across its redeeming feature. The landscape is stunning, with the sole 150-metre-high Perrine Bridge crossing the thousand-mile Snake River.

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The Snake River Canyon

Twin Falls appeals to those who seek thrills. It always has. This is the place where, in 1974, Evil Knievel attempted his doomed canyon jump in a makeshift rocket; the mound of dirt used as a ramp is still on the canyon’s side. A local, who was there for the launch, recounted how the parachute had already deployed before take-off, calling the daredevil “nothing but a chicken-shit showman!”

Nowadays, the city holds the name of BASE jumping capital of the world. For those who don’t know, BASE jumping is the art of throwing oneself off an inanimate object and opening your parachute before you hit the ground. It is skydiving’s more extreme sibling. In Twin Falls’ case, the inanimate object comes in the form of the bridge.

In the two hours we spent there, we saw at least twenty jumpers make the leap of faith. After watching longingly, but not wanting to dip my hand in my pocket and spend $400, I settled for taking some pictures from the bridge. This should give you an idea of the view one has on their way down…

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BASE jumpers generally shout “See ya!” before plummeting to earth

As the morning came to an end, we drove on through Idaho, northeast Nevada and into Utah, marvelling at some of the so-called cities we passed through along the way. A personal favourite of mine was Jackpot, sitting a hundred miles from nowhere, comprising of approximately three casinos, one hotel and a smattering of houses. It is the kind of place that is impossible to ever leave if one is unlucky enough to be born there.

Our first stop in Utah was a surprise to Marina. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, ever since watching “The World’s Fastest Indian” in fact. As we pulled off the freeway, one hundred miles from Salt Lake City, and crossed over the bridge, there they were, laid out in front of us. I am of course writing of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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Panorama of the Bonneville Salt Flats

Used for the last 99 years to break land speed records and, more recently, host events for motoring enthusiasts to push their cars to their limits, the flats offer ten miles of uninterrupted smooth surfaces, framed to the north by mountains and to the south by the freeway.

It is a public area, and visitors are permitted to drive on the salt. We decided against it, however, seeing as we had brought a Honda and didn’t want to pay for a car wash. So instead, we went for a run and took photos of each other doing silly jumps. It was amazing fun, and I am so glad I have managed to do it before the potash plant nearby decreases the flats’ size further.

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An amateur photographer’s dream come true

As darkness fell, we drove onward to Salt Lake City. By another stroke of luck, we had arrived on Pioneer Day, a Utah state holiday celebrated on July 24th to mark the entry of the first Mormon settlers on the same day in 1847. We were treated to firework displays as we drove into the city and automatically assumed they must have known we were coming.

We parked up and realised fairly quickly that absolutely nothing was open due to the festivities, so we instead used the time to explore. We walked from the main shopping district to the Mormon Church, where we unashamedly waited for a security guard to pass by before stripping off and taking a free bath in the local fountain.

The night was warm, allowing us to dry off as we walked up to Capitol Hill, where it felt like we were suddenly transported to Washington, D.C. The 101-year-old Utah State Capitol is majestic, to say the least. It sits upon a grassy mound overlooking the city, and provided quite a view at 11pm; fireworks could be seen in every direction and there were close to fifty people on the steps enjoying the spectacle with us.

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Utah’s State Capitol building

A half hour later and we were walking back into town to attempt to find food. Dairy Queens, McDonald’s, Taco Bells and Starbucks, most of which normally open late into the night, were all closed for the occasion.

At last, we found an urban coffee shop that was open until 1am and settled down with some food and a book. For the second night in a row, we found a quiet spot in a cul de sac in the hills that possessed no streetlights and, with our seats reclined as far as they would go, slept a solid seven hours.

At 8am, we were up and ready to keep driving to our first full-day stop on the trip: Arches National Park.

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