Follow our St. Clair family summer road trip of 4 weeks, 5 states, and 3,851 miles: All posts
From the steep Rocky Mountain passes along Colorado’s interstates, to the wide, high roads of northern Utah, maybe we should have expected some car trouble. Especially while hauling a camper.
By now, we were on our way to logging over 3,000 miles for our summer family road trip. Just outside of Salt Lake City, we met up with one of Jodie’s cousins and were now following his pickup. As we drove down a long, steep, sloping expanse of highway, the Outback’s warning light said to check the oil pressure. Jodie texted her cousin, and soon we found ourselves in a 7-11 parking lot, pouring a quart of oil through a paper funnel into the Subaru.
“Subarus used to be pretty notorious for burning oil,” said Jodie’s cousin. “It’s gotten a lot better, but you guys have been doing a lot of driving and towing.”
Well, we’d already been figuring Salt Lake City would be a good place to have the car checked over and do an oil change. Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Canyon area just outside gave us a few days to relax with family, see a moose in a driveway, lunch at delicious Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade, and tour the top-notch Natural History Museum of Utah.
Scones, thunderstorms, and the slow road of returning home
After drooling over honey-butter-slathered fried scones at Sill’s Café, just north of Salt Lake City, we headed not only north, but into what finally began to feel like the last leg of our 5-state road trip. For the first time, we’d be crossing back into Idaho, the state where our road trip adventures began.
As we played light-hearted music and drove north on I-15, the sense that we were starting to head home began to build in all four of us. It gathered like thunderclouds. In fact, it gathered like the massive, horizon-to-horizon, hail-dumping, lightning-flashing, can-barely-see-in-front-of-you thunderstorm that we drove through as we crossed the Utah border back into Idaho.
Just to the west of the interstate, wildfire smoke billowed up the far side of a mountain, a gray and brown staircase heading into darkening thick gray clouds. The clouds stretched like a mountain too, covering the entire area over the mountain, and then to the east beyond our sight. As we drove on, the air went black. Lightning forked golden in the distance. Dust devils twirled through the silent, small space between the low clouds and the dark highway. Eventually, the hard, driving patter of intense rain shattered the silence. We ran the wipers full speed, turned on the hazard lights, and turned off the music.
Gradually, the rain lessened. Light came back into the dark. We could see the road again—and we turned the music back on, relieved the rain was over. As we finally left the storm behind, we were all the more grateful, a couple of hours later, to turn into Miracle Hot Springs, just outside of Twin Falls, ready for a good, hot soak, and our last couple of nights camping in Idaho.
…Driving into a thick, dark thunderstorm is scary…
…The fried scones at Sill’s Café are a must when visiting Salt Lake City…
…A hot spring soak soothes many concerns…
…Knowing you’re on the home stretch of a big trip is a mix of sadness, longing for home, and a determination to appreciate every remaining moment of the adventure…
…Distant friends with a moose in a driveway…
…A new addition to children’s Junior Ranger badges…
…Wrinkly skin from long soaks…
…New plans for returning to Oregon…
Family travel video: A MIRACLE SOAK before the home stretch
Junior Ranger adventures on the Oregon Trail and at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
We could check out another National Monument.
The Hagerman area is home to the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (or, in National Park-speak, HAFO). It’s known for the Hagerman Horse, excavated in the 1930s, and determined to be a precursor to the modern horse.
As of our July 2021 visit, the HAFO was in the process of relocating to a new Visitor’s Center in nearby Thousand Springs State Park. We didn’t get to see the fossil collection, but we could still stop by the old visitor’s center in downtown Hagerman. A helpful, enthusiastic park worker was welcoming and engaging with the kids, and she helped us get everything we needed for Aster and Connor to complete their Hagerman Junior Ranger badges.
The Hagerman area is also known for being part of where the Oregon Trail ran. Making our way back south out of Hagerman, we turned onto a hilly, paved road, driving up along high ridges full of tall, dry, golden grasses. At overlooks with walking paths, we stared down at the Hagerman Valley. We talked about what it would have been like to be settlers, walking and driving wagons here, in this high, hard place. In some spots, we could even look down and see where the wheel ruts from those long-ago wagons were still cut into the ground.
Junior Ranger booklets completed, the kids added their new wooden Hagerman badges—and shiny metal Junior Ranger pins—to the vests they got at Rocky Mountain National Park. Flipping through the booklet, we found a page that outlined other fossil-focused National Monuments. Turns out, we’ve been to all of them but one.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado, we’ve got our eyes on you.
But first, a dip.
The wonderful waters of Idaho’s Miracle Hot Springs
Relaxing streams by the Miracle Hot Springs campground
Next to our campsite ran some of the warmest waters in the Gem State.
Natural hot springs warm and fill the four pools at Miracle Hot Springs. Downhill from the main pools, past a slim stretch of woods, a warm-water creek runs down into the main stream. While Jodie tended to some matters back home, Anthony and the kids took a late afternoon wade in the stream.
Where the small feeder stream ran, the warm water felt almost like a bath, soothing for feet ready to be out of sandals and boots for a while. In the main stream, the cool, refreshing green waters flowed not too deep and not too fast, giving both Aster and Connor ample spots to wade and splash.
“Aster,” said Connor as he lay on his back in the stream, “maybe we should just float to the Pacific.”
“That might take a couple of months,” said Anthony.
“And we’ll get nibbled on by fish,” added Aster.
Miracle Hot Springs: Choose your temperature adventure from 4 hot spring-fed pools
In a separate, fenced-in deck area, the pools of Miracle Hot Springs come complete with paved patios, deck chairs, and treats available for purchase. The pools themselves give families plenty ofoptions—and with good sightlines for kiddo safety.
Four tiled pools vary in depth, size, and temperature. A small hot tub pool is perfect for sitting and chatting. An adjacent long, warm rectangular pool is a good fit for smaller children who can’t swim yet and want to wade and romp. Across a tiled walkway, you can swim in a similarly sized deeper pool, the coolest of the four. Underneath a roof, the hottest pool—which the kids nicknamed “the lobster pot”—can hold you at a gentle simmer while the heat works down through your muscles and bones and massages your very soul.
Aster and Connor leaped into the big pool, and Aster splashed around to work more on her swimming. Connor and Anthony water wrestled, sending big laughs up into the hazy air. Jodie shuttled Aster around on her back, and Aster giggled as she rode her “mama motorboat.”
We soaked away the afternoon, going from pool to pool, playing and relaxing. In addition to the campground, Miracle Hot Springs has other accommodation options, including domes, cabins, and a private rental house, with a few dining and grocery options available in nearby Buhl and Hagerman.
Our soak did more than relax us. As we sat in the hot tub and chatted, we could tell that we were ready for our home stretch.
More or less.
Bound for Oregon… but not yet for home
Were we ready to make our way back? Sure. But we had no interest, no need, to hurry home. Tomorrow we’d return to Oregon. We’d make our way back to Eugene. But we’d take the slow way. The scenic route. The fun road.
We’d also change plans. Originally, we had planned to head into Northeast Oregon’s “Oregon Alps,” the Wallowa Mountains. Sadly, wildfires kept the air quality too variable for it to work out this time. The Wallowas, and nearby Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in the country, were calling, but they would have to be the focus of a future trip.
We packed up the camper and headed west, not toward somewhere new, but to somewhere we’d been longing to revisit.