There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who appreciate the magic that is ketchup, and those who are wrong. But that is not what this post is actually about. The real reason for this article is that I am, once again, behind, and I need to catch up on my posts. Get it? “Catch up”?
Yeah, I don’t know why you read this dreck either. But, since you’re here…
When we set out on our travels, the capital of Idaho wasn’t high on our list of must-see destinations, but as we spent time with fellow travelers and read blogs, Boise found its way onto the list of cities we genuinely wanted to visit. Turns out, Boise has a lot going for it. In fact, it is currently the fastest growing city in the U.S.! Home to an impressive urban green space, a large well regarded university, a thriving arts scene, numerous cultural attractions, and some damned fine food, Boise is – on paper at least – our kind of city.
Unfortunately, however, we learned the hard way that visiting Boise in the summer can be a less-than-stellar idea. Behold:
Temperatures, parked in the high 90’s and triple digits throughout our visit, resulted in us spending many days inside, window shades drawn, giving thanks for the wonders of air conditioning.
Our RV park was located right on the famous Greenbelt, a 25 mile bike path that meanders through Boise. Our original plan was to use the trail as a gateway to exploring the city, but the insane temperatures quickly put the kibosh on that idea. In the end, we only headed out on the trail twice, which was a bummer because the path was really beautiful.
When not sticking our heads in the freezer in a futile attempt to avoid melting, we headed downtown to check out the impressive state capitol building…
and otherwise explored the surprisingly diverse food options around the city. Turns out, Boise is more multi-cultural than you might expect.
For starters, Boise is home to the largest Basque population outside of Spain. The city’s Basque Block is full of restaurants, shops, and a cultural center. The neighborhood also hosts a large Basque festival, known as the Jaialdi Festival, which takes place every five years.
More important to us (because we’re obsessed with food) were the eateries… We’d heard from multiple sources that The Basque Market, a tiny restaurant that offers a marketplace full of authentic Basque food items, was the place to go, and we loved it! The restaurant hosts different types of meals throughout the week – tasting menus, cooking classes, “paella on the patio,” and a tapas bar on the weekend. We visited on a Saturday afternoon and sampled several delicious small plates from their tapas bar.
Also to be filed under “interesting and unexpected facts about Boise,” the city has been an official refugee resettlement area for the U.S. government since 1975. Refugees fleeing Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war were settled in the Boise area, followed by eastern European communities fleeing Soviet regimes in the 1980’s. In the 90’s, citizens fleeing ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina resettled there and, more recently, residents of several African countries have made Boise their home. The constant influx of newcomers has led to a surprisingly diverse blend of ethnicities in the city.
Our exploration of interesting and diverse food choices continued as we headed to the hugely popular town of Bend, Oregon.
Bend was the location of several events and, more importantly, several people we wanted to see. Our friends Shannon and Dave, whom we met in San Diego in March, live part time in Bend and suggested we all reunite for the town’s August beer fest.
Simply put, Bend is a great town. Pedestrian and bike friendly, it is a city surrounded by gorgeous natural resources and home to an endless array of things to do, beer to drink, and interesting foods to eat. The town is young, vibrant, and eclectic, though its diversity begins and ends with various versions of white people.
The downtown is beautiful, walkable, and full of unique shops. Every inch is manicured and well cared for, but not in a phony “planned community” kind of way. The town just clearly spends money on keeping everything appealing to those who value outdoor recreation and healthy living.
The houses are gorgeous, and priced accordingly, though we learned the city is very much a “boom and bust” kind of place – subject to incredible price inflation and the emergence of high end businesses when the economy is doing well, and plummeting home values and shuttered store fronts when the economy is doing poorly. In other words, all the people currently plunking down $500,000 for a nine-hundred-square-foot-condo are gonna get their asses handed to them in a couple years when the economy contracts. People never learn….
If you’ve noticed many of my photos for this post seem very dark and gray, it’s because our friendly neighborhood wildfires followed us to town. We got used to white skies and, at times, thick smoke that blanketed the region.
Newberry Volcanic National Monument
Speaking of smoke, there was a ton of it the day we visited Newberry Volcanic National Monument, site of a rather enormous volcano which last erupted 1300 years ago. This monument is just a couple miles south of the town of Bend and well worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. We started with a visit to the Lava Lands Visitor’s Center and then wandered through a section of the lava fields.
The vast, barren landscape extends for miles in each direction. Below, you can see where the lava flow stopped, allowing trees to form a perimeter of life around this scene of epic destruction.
Speaking of destruction, on a clear day, you can see for miles, but when huge swaths of California, Oregon, Washington, and southern Canada are on fire, that is not possible.
As bad as our timing was with the smoke, it was good for seeing the colorful plants that only springs to life for a few weeks each year.
These are known as Xeric plants and are just about the only thing that lives in the lava fields. We happened to show up just as they were in bloom.
Next, we headed to the Lava River Cave, the largest uncollapsed lava tube in Oregon. A one mile long cave that visitors can walk through (and then come back the same way), it is a chilly 42 degrees at all times. In addition to dressing warmly and wearing decent boots or sneakers, visitors should bring a powerful flashlight (a cell phone light won’t cut it). Alternatively, you can rent a lantern from the Forest Service.
Most of the cave is very large and comfortable to walk through (assuming you’re not claustrophobic), but there are parts where the ceiling is much lower and you’ll have to crouch down a bit to avoid hitting your head.
Bend is a HUGE beer town. There are craft breweries everywhere you turn and beer is serious business. Dave and Shannon suggested our San Diego reunion coincide with the huge annual brewfest that happens each August.
We went on Thursday, the quieter “locals day,” and it was still incredibly busy. I can only imagine what it was like over the weekend.
We spent several other nights hanging out with this crew (including new (to us) folks Brian and Nancy) and, as you can see, we had no fun at all.
Additionally, along with Becky and John, we went hiking at the impressive Tumalo Falls, a 97 foot waterfall located within the gorgeous Deschutes National Forest
and then hiked the nearby trail that takes visitors by a series of smaller waterfalls.
We barely scratched the surface of all that Bend has to offer, but we loved what we saw. We could easily spend a month or two here and, hopefully, we’ll have that opportunity some time in the future.
Escapees is a 40 year old membership organization for RVers. They offer all kinds of educational seminars, RV related products and services, and legal advocacy (ensuring RVers can get insurance, register to vote, park in various urban areas without getting ticketed, etc). They have also always provided social opportunities for their members – regional clubs, large get togethers for specific events, guided caravan trips, and smaller clubs for specific interests and hobbies. About three years ago, the huge Escapees organization took note of the growing number of younger folks moving into RVs and created a sub-organization called Xscapers, aimed at “working age” RVers. Xscapers is mostly a social and networking group, though they do offer educational programming as well. While we’ve been aware of its existence for years, we’d never joined because we were happy with our social lives. However, when Dave, Shannon, John, and Becky invited us to join them at an Xscapers event taking place in Oregon right after the Bend Brewfest, we figured it was a good reason to check it out.
These events, called convergences, are held all over the country and are usually about a week long. They are pretty informal, but always feature a daily activity (a hike, a volunteering opportunity, a trip to a local point of interest) and social events in the evenings (potlucks, brewery trips, game nights, etc). Shockingly, a significant amount of booze is usually consumed.
We went out on a couple hikes, went to several of the social events in the evenings, and went tubing with the group on the Deschutes River.
Overall, the convergence was a good time, however, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t think these events are the best fit for us – not because the people who go aren’t great (they are), but rather, it’s just not the type of socializing that appeals to us. Back when Xscapers started all those many (3) years ago, the convergences were like 30 people. Nowadays, like everything else in the RV world, there are just too many people. Our event included 85 attendees. And the upcoming “Annual Bash” – a big get-together in Arizona in January – is slated to include over THREE HUNDRED RVs…. Do you want to walk into an event with 600 people you don’t know and try to make friends? Yeah, me neither.
Actually, for a lot of people, it’s great. Some folks thrive in larger group settings, meeting as many people as they can and quickly finding their friends. That’s just not our thing. While we like to socialize, we tend to be pretty shy around large groups and much prefer to meet people through other people or in low key settings. For two years now, we’ve been slowly building a network of friends through social media and blogs and it has worked really well. And the fact is, most of the people at the Xscapers event are also on Instagram, so it’s not like this was a different group of people. Given enough time, we would have met many of them the same way we’ve been meeting people for the last two years.
I don’t mean to sound negative. Xscapers really is an awesome concept and a great way for younger RVers to find friends their own age to hang out with. It just wasn’t a great fit for us at this point in our lives. It probably didn’t help that we were already with a group of friends we like hanging out with and we’ve had a lot of our own personal stuff going on recently, so we were distracted much of the time. Whatever the case may be, our first convergence was not the life changing experience that it is for a lot of people. But that’s just us. If you’re new to life on the road and you’re trying to figure out how to meet people, Xscapers is definitely worth taking a look at. Just realize, if you’re naturally shy or introverted, you may be in for a very tiring week.
And with that… I am still behind! But, we’re making progress!
Up next: Portland, Oregon!
Where we stayed:
Boise Riverside Campground, Boise, Idaho
Scandia RV Park, Bend, Oregon