For children whose eyes go wide with natural wonders and people of the past, there’s plenty to explore in Idaho. Consider one of these daytrips for you and your curious kid this summer:
>> Soda Springs: The geyser in Soda Spring’s Hooper Springs Park produces carbonated water, so bring a pitcher, a Kool-Aid packet and sugar, and your family can make pop in the park. Another option is to fill up water bottles, then add individual packets of Crystal Light so everyone can have his or her own fizzy drink in hand.
While in the park, make sure to keep an eye on the mountain to the east; it’s the place where Monsanto has a slag pour multiple times during the day. The stuff they’re dumping is the byproduct of their phosphorus production, Soda Springs City Clerk JoAnna Ashley said, and “it looks like a volcano when they pour it down the side of the mountain — at night it lights up the sky and makes it orange.” For a better look, drive alongside the mountain and feel the heat of the slag, which is currently poured down the west side of the mountain.
Behind the landmark Ender’s Motel, see a captive geyser that goes off every hour on the hour. Located in Geyser Park, kids will love the walking path that gets them within 15 feet of the spray, where they can “get wet and smell the sulfur,” Ashley said.
To get to these sites from Pocatello, travel south on I-15, then take Exit 47 toward Soda Springs. Turn left onto U.S. 30, then turn left onto Idaho Highway 34, which turns into Government Dam Road and takes you to Hooper Springs Park.
>> City of Rocks: South of Burley and near the Idaho-Utah border, City of Rocks is a national reserve where kids are encouraged to explore, touch and observe. Using the Junior Ranger program, kids are provided a booklet full of activities specific to the City of Rocks that will help them hit all the highlights and learn a lot too.
The activities take a couple of hours to complete, and the Junior Ranger program “helps them to get acquainted with the park,” said Juanita Jones, City of Rocks visitor services ranger. “It’s just a fun, educational activity.”
The program has two versions, one for kids 5 to 9, and one for those 10 and up. As they go through the booklet, kids will learn to match different animals to their tracks, they’ll learn about the forest habitat and they’ll fill out a checklist of animals observed — maybe the great horned owl, a coyote or a pinyon jay.
Another must-see at the park — and an activity included in the Junior Ranger program — is to check out the immigrant inscriptions on rocks there. Camp Rock alone bears hundreds of inscriptions, spelled out in axle grease from people headed West.
Those messages always include last names and dates. And while some are well preserved, “most of them are just fading away with time,” Jones said.
Once your child finishes the activities, he or she will be sworn in as a true Junior Ranger, and will be given a pin to take home.
But before heading for the car, stop by the interpretive geology trail, where families can learn more about different types of rock and how they were formed. For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/ciro/contacts.htm.
>> Ghost towns. One cool — and maybe slightly spooky — thing to do is to visit a ghost town. And Idaho’s got a few. For an interactive list of ghost towns searchable by county, check out www.ghosttowns.com/states/id/id.html.
One of Idaho’s well-preserved ghost towns is the mining town called Silver City in Owyhee County at the southwest corner of the state. According to the Historic Silver City website, 75 structures dating to as far back as the 1860s are still standing. During that time, more than 250 mines were operating nearby, and hundreds more were developed later. Today just four businesses are open in town. That includes the electricity-free Idaho Hotel, which is still in operation during summer months, and will give visitors a back-in-time experience. For more information visit historicsilvercityidaho.com.