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Southern Idaho Road Trip: The Southernest

Southern Idaho surprised us quite a lot. We found lizards at Balanced Rock, cacti near the Utah border, saw a Cow Killer (rare variety of wasp), a variety of Paintbrush flowers, and experienced a real ‘old west’ feel overall.

The towns on our way to City of Rocks were quaint and historic, and the scenery around them featured rolling plains that transitions into  the snowy Albion Mountains.  There wasn’t a lot of public land along the way (which we’re always on the lookout for because of our bikes), but there were plenty of interesting places worth stopping for.  

It was a 3 hour drive to City of Rocks from Hagerman, most of it freeway. As soon as we were on the back roads however, we were enthralled. First we stopped at the Albion State Normal School as mentioned in our previous blog, and ended up making a few more stops when interesting things became irresistible. 

One of those things for me, is old rural cemeteries. We came across Sunny Cedar Rest, a hillside desert cemetery just to the north of Almo. Hopefully this isn’t too morbid for you all, but I love the interesting stones people use for headstones, the various shapes, phrases and symbols, and some of the things people leave behind. In this cemetery it was mainly hats, there’s something about Idaho and hats because we found or saw many just laying on the ground or the middle of the road all the time while we were there. However these were likely hats of people buried there, which I’ve never seen at a cemetery. I’ve seen plates full of food for Dia de Los Muertos, full collections of toys (saddest yet), photo albums, and all sorts of personal things over the years, but never hats. There was also a colorful collection of fake flowers on a grave covered in sparkling rocks (almost like a mica, but not flaky) and several headstones made from Green Quartz, a type of quartz I’d never previously seen. I’ve seen a green soapstone but not granite. Most of the graves weren’t very old surprisingly, but some went as far back as the early 1900’s, those were likely people who had actually emigrated via stagecoach to the area! I find that rather cool. 


The wild grasses of southern Idaho were beautiful and fragrant sage everywhere. I was surprised to see the Paintbrush flowers in both bright pink and orange, a purple prickly pear and a variety of cow killer (velvet ant – which is actually in the wasp family) – mostly known to be in states like Kentucky and the Deep South, however we’ve seen them in New Mexico and now Idaho as well and I bet we’ll see them in Montana. The same can be said for cicadas. Most people don’t know that one variety or another is in just about every state, and even Canada. They have a reputation for being the largest and loudest in the South, which is probably why people think that’s where they all are. We’ve seen dime sizes black ones making a racket in Sedona, Arizona, and heard them high in the trees in Montana. 

Cow Killer in Idaho
Cow Killer in Idaho

 The cactus I believe is the Plains Prickly Pear, found in nearby Utah as well – I’ve spent too much time trying to find out what it is for sure and have given up for now. I couldn’t find any other articles on it so it’s a guess. It seems to stay low to the ground, unlike some Prickly Pear which can get over 10 ft tall (with significant age), and has purple highlights but isn’t totally purple like the Santa Rita Prickly Pear

In the same small area we found these Indian Paintbrush flowers, in both pink and orange, which we’ve never seen anywhere else. Normally they’re a very bright red, those colors obviously aren’t very far from red, but it was significant enough to point out because it seems more uncommon. I can also be a little colorblind with reds, pinks and oranges so if they’re red to you, now you know why haha. 

Pink Indian Paintbrush
Orange Indian Paintbrush

This adorable house caught my eye just before we turned into Castle Rock State Park.  It has a river rock chimney, brick walls, and a several giant willow trees in the yard, all framed with a gorgeous rustic wood fence. I’m not saying I’d live way out there, but I love this house! The house also has spectacular views all around, including the Albion Mountain Range and the strange rock formations of Castle Rock State Park just across the way. The location can’t be beat for someone who loves hiking, climbing, biking or other outdoor activities because of its proximity to City of Rocks as well… and no, it’s not for sale :(. 

Adorable house across from Castle Rocks State Park
Adorable house across from Castle Rocks State Park


My favorite view of them all was of Cache Mountain along the dirt road to Castle Rocks State Park. I made Ross pull over and ran back to the right place along the road for the best shots. It was surprising how much snow there still was at that elevation when it was nearly 70 that time of day just a bit lower. 

Cache Mountain from Castle Rocks
Cache Mountain from Castle Rocks

If you ever take the long road to City of Rocks, make sure to give yourself lots of time!


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