I am an equal opportunity hiker. It’s easy to love a trail that winds through a tranquil forest, along a shimmering creek, with picturesque views of mountains every step of the way. And yet, beauty comes in many forms. Trails through strange, stark, dark places call me, too. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in south central Idaho is just such a place. The preserve includes three lava fields that were formed by volcanic eruptions from the Great Rift of Idaho 15,000 years ago. The aftermath has left a weirdly beautiful landscape with tons of volcanic features to explore.
How did I get so lucky? I love hiking so much. And I’ve landed in Boise, Idaho, which, like Denver, Colorado, is literally just minutes from tons of hiking trails. The trails right around Boise are high desert, exposed, wide open spaces, rolling hills of grassland. Sometimes I long for the peaceful, cool, wild beauty of Colorado forests in the Rocky Mountains, with a surprise around every wooded corner or across every murmuring creek. Stack Rock Trail, leading to a granite tower high above the city of Boise, recently gave me just the lush, shaded forest fix with stunning views I so craved. Plus, there’s the fun of going off the beaten path to get up close to Stack Rock.
And, the 10-mile hike kicked my ass!
Are there polecats in Idaho? What is a polecat, anyway? I had to Google the word, having only a vague sense that it was not in the same category as a mountain lion or a bobcat. An internet search revealed that a polecat is similar to a weasel, and despite its name, is more related to a dog than a cat. In any case, there may or may not be polecats in Idaho. But there is a place called Polecat Gulch Reserve with around 7 miles of trails that are great for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. The trails are not too hard but have enough grade to get in a good workout. You can bring your dog, too! I hiked Polecat Loop Trail in spring and found rolling hills, great views of the city, and high desert springtime flowers.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo, features the second largest canyon in North America (after the Grand Canyon). The park offers 30 miles of trails with a fun variety of technical levels. A 700 foot descent to the bottom of the canyon includes striking colors of four geologic layers, southern high plains landscape, and many rock formations to explore. The Lighthouse, a 310 foot rock pillar, is the most popular Palo Duro Canyon hike destination.