We have such a busy day planned! First there is a visit to a geologic site of an ancient lava flow, then a ride up to Idaho Falls to see another Whispering Giant, followed by a visit to the Idaho Potato Museum, then lunch in the first town run entirely on atomic power, and lastly a stop at the Sacajawea Cultural Center. I can say that we got most of it accomplished.
The first stop we make is at a geologic site that is hidden behind a rest stop. It is called Hell’s Little Half Acre. About 4000 years ago lava oozed out of a weak portion of the earth’s crust. The non-explosive lava flow eventually covered about 222 square miles. It is part of the same system that created Yellowstone’s hot pools and geysers. We take a walk on a short interpretive trail through the lava field.
This lava is the same sort as in Hawaii and is called pahoehoe. The lave flows like a river and the top layer cools first and hardens. The hot lava still flowing underneath causes the cooled skin on top to wrinkle causing a ripple effect.
Not much can live in this harsh environment and it takes thousands of years for the elements and plants to break down the lava into soil. One plant that thrives here is sagebrush. Native Americans used the bark to weave clothes, the leaves for medicine, and burnt the plants for warmth.
When I was learning about the Whispering Giants yesterday I discovered that there is another sculpture in Idaho Falls which is only about 20 minutes north of here. We decide to go take a look. We were in Idaho Falls about five years ago. I am amazed that we overlooked it.
Now we have to backtrack to Blackfoot, Idaho to see the Idaho Potato Museum. We could not miss a chance to see this! Blackfoot is the potato capitol of the universe situated in the volcanic soils of southeastern Idaho. The sandy volcanic soils make potatoes exceptionally happy. I am hoping for free potato chips at the end of our self-guided tour. But first we must take a picture next to the giant potato topped with sour cream and butter!
Inside we learn many amazing potato facts. Here is the way ancient Incas learned to defeat their enemies from the Potato God.
Interestingly, potatoes reached North America from South America via Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and, Bermuda. They were known as Irish potatoes so they would not be confused with sweet potatoes.
Here is some interesting signage from the museum.
Sadly at the little potato cafe at the end of the museum tour there were no free potato chips!
After heading out in the wrong direction for the second time today, we get turned around and decide we will need to find somewhere for lunch as it is all ready after noon. We decide that Arco, Idaho is only a little out of our way to the Sacajawea Cultural Center in Salmon, ID. Plus Arco is THE FIRST CITY IN THE WORLD TO BE LIT BY ATOMIC ENERGY! And we know that we can eat at the Golden West Cafe because we have eaten there before!
Now Arco may be at an elevation of 5320 feet but according to the 2010 census only 995 people live there so it is important to know that there is somewhere to get lunch. One of the reasons Arco exists at all and was the first place to be powered by atomic energy is because it is near the Idaho National Laboratory where they developed such things as the EBR or Experimental Breeder Reactor.
After lunch we still have a couple of hours of driving to Salmon, ID and the Sacajawea Cultural Center we change drivers in the middle of this trek and notice that the sky ahead is getting dark.
By the time we get to Salmon the rain is coming down sideways driven by very strong winds and there are bolts of lightning. Viewing the cultural center on 70 acres of park like surroundings no longer seems like a good idea. So, change in plans, we head directly for Missoula on the Scenic Salmon River Byway where I am driving along clutching the steering wheel and only interested in getting through the storm. Missoula is still over 2 1/2 hours away.
Obviously we made it to Missoula and celebrated with chicken wings and beer. This is our third chicken wing dinner. Jonathan has named our trip the Chicken Wing Tour.