Goodness, it’s been a while. Life has been a bit hectic, but that’s not new.

After leaving Seattle, I drove East, very much looking forward to the next leg of my trip, which would take me to Idaho. It’s a bit of a mysterious state, one you rarely hear referenced outside of tired old potato snark. What else exists in Idaho other than delicious brown roots? I certainly didn’t know, until a chance encounter last year brought me there.

In this place I found unrivaled beauty, diverse landscapes, and wonderfully passionate people. I was very much looking forward to returning, and wanted to take my time this year exploring a bunch of map pins I had placed.

It’s hard to know where to go in Idaho, being as the whole state is a bit of a mystery, and the local culture emphasizes being cagey about its natural beauty so as to deter encroachment from outsiders. You can’t get there from here is a common saying meant to end unwanted questioning. That said, the little I was able to learn about merited further investigation, and I had had a wonderful amount of time to feel it out.

The only damper on this portion of my trip is, that upon my entry, Idaho had about 18 active forest fires, and those and others nearby in neighboring areas shrouded much of the state’s natural beauty in a hazy, unnatural smog. I didn’t realize how fortunate I’d been last year to escape such weather.

It was about six hours East from Seattle before I hit Lewiston, Idaho, a place recommended I see by an old flame I’d since fallen out of touch with. Much of the drive was through yellowed fields of wheat and other farmland, which allowed my mind a break to process the workweek prior and my upcoming itinerary.

Upon arrival to Lewiston, the scenery was striking to see the Snake River nestled between the hills, with the town alongside. I was going to hang out with the Snake River, all 1,078 miles of it, for about the next two weeks as I traveled all over Idaho and some of Wyoming. The nearby forest fire was evident, leaving a scar across the sky.

I grabbed some Pad Thai and hung out at the Kiwanis Park to watch the sunset and check out the river scene. The next morning, I rose early and checked out Hells Gate State Park, so named for its proximity and relationship to Hell’s Canyon, another local area I did not visit on this trip, but plan to in the future. It was peaceful and cool.

Later, I made my way down to Payette Lake outside of McCall, Idaho. It’s another glacial lake surrounded by mountains, and honestly was everything that I’d wished Lake Tahoe to be, without the immense crowds, but definitely with the natural beauty.

Driving South along the Payette River in Boise National Forest was a great experience. There were so many beautiful spots that merited a stop and a closer look that it was hard to make headway in a reasonable amount of time, but it was totally worth it.

Along this route are a great many hot springs that deserve a visit. I made a stop to take a soak and it was absolutely sublime. I’ve been to a bunch of springs on this trip, and these offered a great view for sure.

Idaho also has a few sand dune fields. In this case, I scooted through Boise to hit the Bruneau Sand Dunes in the late evening. I got sand on everything, but it was awesome. I’m still finding sand in the car.

At dusk, I made it to Balanced Rock, just outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. A little hike up yielded a cool view of the rock formation.

Twin Falls Idaho has a bunch of spectacular sights to see, one being Shoshone Falls. Huge cliffs and tumbling waterfalls are never a bad thing to see — and entering the park where you can hang and hike all day is a steal at a $5 admission.

I grabbed some breakfast and headed just a few minutes over to check out the Perrine Memorial Bridge on the North side of town. It overlooks — you guessed it, the Snake River.

From there, I jetted up about an hour and a half to Craters of the Moon National Monument, a scene where huge volcanoes just blew each other apart, hosting vast lava fields, splatter cones, and of course, Craters. I must have been to this park about four times now, and the unique landscape never ceases to just be at once totally alien and also deeply engrossing.

I hit some more dunes — briefly stopping by the St. Anthony Sand Dunes on the East side of the state — at this point the sun was so sweltering that the sand was burning hot. Good for looking, not so great for tromping.

I also went for a brief hike at Mesa Falls — definitely a worthwhile stop.

I exited Idaho from the East to hit Wyoming for the weekend, which I will cover in another post. But reentered for the work week to hit a few more stops and settle in for a bit.

I traveled up to Salmon, Idaho, a small town of about 3,000 nestled on the aptly-named Salmon River. It’s one of my favorite spots, a sleepy place nestled between two mountain rages, that were sadly occluded by the rampant forest fires’ smoke. I worked, ate, caught up on sleep, and spent free time wandering the town.

I learned about this area from a fellow traveler I had met in Ohio — she exalted, “the hot springs there are my favorite place on Earth,” and I thought, “Well gee, I really gotta see this place.” And she wasn’t exaggerating. It’s terrible hike up, but hitting the local hot springs is totally worth it, yielding a fantastic view of sprawling mountains while you soak in natural hot water.

So there you have it — a few mind-blowing places in a totally underemphasized state. Honestly, if I could pick a place to move, it’d probably be Idaho. I probably need to spend about a month there to really see what the state has to offer, and even that would likely not be enough. But we’ll see — next time.