Driving Across Southern Idaho

On our way back to Seattle from Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, we stayed at a great AirBnB in Victor, Idaho on the western side of the Grand Teton range before driving across the southern part of the state toward Boise.

When we arrived, the family was hosting an outdoor gathering, and we had to somewhat awkwardly navigate around their games on the driveway to enter our rooms above their standalone garage. They were very nice, but none of them were wearing masks and we didn’t want to get too close.

We quickly established ourselves in our room and set about relaxing while they went about their festivities. The best part about the place was its giant deck overlooking the valley and surrounding mountains. We had picked up a pack of local Grand Teton Brewing Company IPA on our way there and spent some time admiring the views, having a snack, and reading our books in the shade.

After several days of driving and hiking, it was a perfect moment to pause and enjoy a sunny afternoon. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay with easy access to either national park, this is your place!

Just north of our AirBnB was a Roadside America attraction Brian didn’t want to miss — a gigantic (fake) potato!

While I typically take the lead in planning our trip itineraries, Brian always contributes some kind of roadside attraction to the list. This one wasn’t too far from our AirBnB. I admit I was skeptical about making the stop, but I didn’t realize the potato was at the Spud Drive-In Theater and that there were some other fun potato-themed things to see.

Did I expect to see potatoes in Idaho? Yes. Did I expect to enjoy seeing a gigantic fake potato in Idaho? No. It was a brief and fun stop, and Brian was thrilled!

Another thing I did not expect to experience as we drove across southern Idaho the following morning on our way to Craters of the Moon National Monument was all of the nuclear energy work taking place in the high desert of this area of the state. Brian knew about the national laboratories and their work, but I had to do some research to learn more.

Nuclear energy is a carbon-free power source. Idaho has no commercial-scale nuclear power generation plants; however, nuclear power has a rich history in Idaho, notably at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), established in 1949. In fact, INL was the site of the first use of nuclear fission to produce a useable quantity of electricity, and in 1955, the Borax III reactor provided electricity to the town of Arco, ID. Although temporary, this was the first time that a nuclear reactor powered an entire US community. INL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s complex of 17 national laboratories and is the lead laboratory on integrating nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and deployment.

According to the Idaho Governor’s Office of Energy and Mineral Resources

As we cruised through this vast expanse of land, we would occasionally see a road leading to the 890-square-mile INL complex in the distance. We pulled into a singular rest area in the middle of this stretch of road and found informational signs about the work underway.

We also drove through Arco, Idaho, the first U.S. city powered by nuclear energy, where there was additional information. This somewhat sleepy town reminded me of something you might see on Route 66 – it was clearly a hot spot on the journey to Craters of the Moon National Monument at some point – now past its hey-day.

After driving across the mountainous and forested areas of northern Idaho on our way to Montana, it was fascinating to experience the very different landscape in the southern part of the state!

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