A little after leaving the hotel, we hit the 5000 mile mark. Whether this is the halfway point or something a little after that remains to be seen.
We followed secondary roads as we meandered our way back to the Idaho border. The roads were scenic and followed the zigzagging Snake River as we passed by tall mountains. Many birds were present in the region, including a number of osprey, who made their distinctive nests on the top of telephone poles (when the tops were flat) and on specially-made poles when the telephone poles were not conducive.
(For some reason, there were hilarious - and official! - signs along the side of the road that designated some part of the Targhee National Forest as "Lunch Counter Kahunas." You can't make this stuff up, folks.)
As we neared crossing the border back into Idaho, the land flattened into a stereotypical land of dairy. Black and white cows munched grass and lounged around, and signs advertised cheeses. We crossed back into Idaho via the small community of Freedom.
We looped back into Idaho via a scenic but bizarre road that went due west before a series of crazy hairpin turns (for what reason I can't fathom; there was no obstacle to prevent the building of a more gradual turn) which took us south over rolling hills of roller-coaster proportions. The Idahoans took the road at a snail's pace, but the nature of the road - with blind curves and hills - meant passing opportunities were rare. This was not a problem for an enterprising Utahan in a black SUV, who passed the slowpokes on the aforementioned blind hills and turns. He was lucky that no one was coming in the other direction.
The scenery was quite gorgeous, and at one point featured a conglomeration of almost every kind of scenery we'd seen on the trip: rolling hills with scrub brush, prairies off to the distance, mountains beyond that and snowcapped peaks poking out from behind them. To the side was a lake of considerable proportions, complete with islands.
Lava-like rocks were common along the side of the road, and a number of mounds of black rock similar to the a'a lava of Craters of the Moon. We didn't pass by close enough to any of these nearly circular piles to get a good look, but if I had to bet, I would say that they were formed from some sort of volcanic activity.
As we rolled on towards Soda Springs - the only Idaho town of any real size east of Pocatello - we saw a number of unlabeled mines with large barbed-wire fences and a little too much security to not be suspicious. I suspect that these are mines for some kind of precious element - possibly uranium, due to its high quantity in this region. One was a phosphate mine and was one of the closest to town - but it, too, had quite a bit of security.
We got to Soda Springs and filled up the tank, then followed the signs for Geyser Park. The geyser is from a naturally carbonated spring, one of a number in the Soda Springs area and the namesake of the town itself. However, back in the late '30s or so, the original geyser hole was filled in with concrete and a somewhat random tree stump, then rerouted through pipes to a new location. They then rigged the system to open it up every hour on the hour to let off steam. The National Park Service actually sent a letter to the town soon after they did this, requesting them to shut the geyser off as it was "interrupting Old Faithful" - but they were more concerned about the potential tourist competitor to Yellowstone. Fortunately for them, that did not happen.
Well, we'd arrived there at the bottom of the hour and had some waiting to do until it exploded again. We walked around the entire geyser area, which mostly consists of yellowish-orange travertine that is left behind by the geyser's stinky mineral water. Seagulls seemed to enjoy the water, however, and fought over various puddles on the travertine.
While waiting for the 2:00 eruption, we met a couple from the Netherlands who were on vacation in the US, along with the woman's Austrian sister and a biker dude that turned out to be her son. Small and uncontrolled kids ran around on the slippery, puddle-filled travertine around the geyser with only token parental supervision. They were obviously local but knew something we didn't about the temperature of the geyser; we stayed where the wind wouldn't blow the spray into our faces under the impression that the volcanic activity that fuels the geyser would make the water hot. It apparently was not, as the kids ran around in it with abandon and were not scalded for their efforts. The geyser spewed for about ten minutes and reached a hundred feet into the air.
Near the geyser is a small hut which housed part of the Ground Observation Corps, which was a volunteer force dedicated to watching the sky for enemy planes near holes in the radar system. It was discontinued in the 50s when radar was significantly improved, but Soda Springs has preserved their little hut for geyser-goers to see. Also, on a mountain overlooking the geyser is a slag pile from the phosphorus mine: molten rock that's added to the pile by being thrown onto the pile from a specialized truck. The resulting bright red-orange flow is basically man-made lava; if it was actual lava, then we'd have been in a world of hurt.
We left Soda Springs and its slanted light poles bound for I-15. As we went west our temperature steadily increased through the 70s and, before we got on the Interstate, to 80 degrees for the first time on the trip. (We'll have to break out the shorts tomorrow, I think.) In addition to our newfound sunniness and warmth, we saw what we think was a marmot scurrying across the road.
The portion of I-15 in southern Idaho is indistinguishable from northern Utah. Nothing is there to break up the drive until we got to the exit that gets to the Golden Spike memorial where the Transcontinental Railroad was linked together. As soon as we consulted our maps and realized that the historical site would be well over an hour round-trip - and on some unpaved roads to boot - we turned around and topped off the tank before hitting the road again to the Great Salt Lake.
The temperature rose and rose some more until it hit 90 degrees around 4:30. We took I-15 through the city, possible because the traffic was not backed up due to it being a Sunday. The traffic, however, was filled with the most insane of drivers who seemed to display an active disdain for turn signals, the brake pedal, and consistently staying in the same lane. We passed the time by making jokes about the ridiculous billboards in the area, most of which had to do with various aspects of body image.
We checked in at our Orem hotel which has no automatic doors and features a dimly lit and jittery elevator. (The rooms are clean, though, so I can't really complain all that much.) Tired, with very little on our stomachs, and with no local establishments open, we went over to the tart-smelling IHOP next door. (I'm pretty sure most places in Salt Lake smell funky - everything both last year and this year, new and old alike, features a similar smell.) The food was mediocre, but we needed the sustenance.
Utah is not my favorite state, but it's hardly my least favorite. I have a distaste for most metropolitan areas, and Salt Lake is no different, but the gorgeous scenery of southern Utah more than makes up for Salt Lake's relative blandness.
Tomorrow: we traverse the state to Moab, the jumping-off point for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.