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Shortly after ski season ended my friends and I planned our trip to Southern Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve. Despite early planning, we were lucky to reserve the last available campsite. We entered the reserve on the east side at tiny Almo, Idaho. A leisurely drive through the park with stops to gawk at the amazing rock formations brought us to campsite #63, up a side road near the west entrance to the reserve. A magnificent view looking down Emery Canyon towards Oakley greeted us.

We spent the first day getting oriented with a splendid hike along the South Fork of Circle Creek. The beautifully maintained path meanders through dense tangles of curl-leaf mahogany, Rocky Mountain juniper, Idaho pinyon pine, big sage, and a plethora of forbs and flowers. The path—in some places constructed with series of perfectly placed granite steps and in other places with wooden bridges over the creeks—offered opportunities to watch climbers and to marvel at cartoonish granite pinnacles and monoliths that invite interpretation.

City of Rocks is a climber’s heaven.

Back at old 63, we got our first inkling of why this marvelous spot had been the last one available. Looks can be deceiving. Our terrific view devolved into a rip-roaring wind tunnel that threatened to lift us off our feet and carry us back to the eastern edge of the reserve. My companions are wilderness-experienced and rose to the occasion of cooking while anchoring a delicious salmon feast.

Sunset on night one

That night I tempted fate by folding back half the rain fly over my tent, waking frequently to verify that I was still dry and to gaze at the stars.

Morning view from my tent

The next morning a fat, lazy rock chuck—aka Yellow-bellied Marmot—watched us prepare breakfast while he sunned himself on the rock formation right behind my tent. He planted the idea that I should clamber up there and check out his view later in the day.

This day disappeared in a long, back-road drive where we noted lots of unimproved campsites to take advantage of if a person arrives without a reservation.  We scavenged extra wood for the fire that would cook our steaks and reheat our taters that evening. We also hiked a high elevation trail that led through amazing aspen groves, decorated with Rocky Mountain iris, and myriad native plants.


Again, we returned to our campsite and raging wind tunnel—this time adorned with a heavy front of low-hanging clouds aimed directly at us. Thinking it wise to get dinner cooked before the storm hit, we tried to build a fire. No novice, my friend Bruce tried every trick in his toolkit to get that fire started. Jack London’s Yukon trekker had less experience and more deep cold to worry about, but Bruce battled a wind that blew out every match before it touched wood or fire-starter. We even resorted to a long-handled Butane lighter, which was also not up to the wind challenge. The storm clouds, buoyed by that ferocious wind, loomed. We gave up the fire and I made a quick salad which we ate from inside the car after our happy hour drinks and snacks. We watched our tents gasp with the gusts of wind. My friends’ tall-profile tent, with a distinctive orange triangle on the back side, fought a battle royal. It looked like a mythic creature with a bullseye painted on its rear. It would bend to it’s knees and bounce back at the end of a gust, only to flap some more and gasp for air with the changing air pressure.

During the salad course the ominous cloud arrived. For the first 45 minutes it brought nothing but fog, painting our high mountain hideout with a heavy Scottish feel. And then came the rain. The hail. The cows. I looked over my shoulder, mid-crunch into my Asian salad, to see the distinctive hind end of a cow, tail-raised, over the left shoulder of my friend who sat munching her salad in the back seat! A small contingent of cows and calves ambled past the car glancing first at us with wide-eyed curiosity, then at our raging tents with wide-eyed fear.

We never did get around to the steaks and taters. Nor did I get my afternoon scramble up the rock formation behind my tent. But we did laugh ourselves nearly sick over our “dinner” entertainment.