Old Idaho State Pen.

On our last road trip in the first week of September, Devon & I decided to do something we’ve never done before… we stayed in hotels the whole trip… sort of our own version of “glamping’. With four hotels booked for our annual trek down to Moab UT, we now had a time line & goals for each leg of our journey. No pressure at all for us since Devon is a champ behind the wheel & we always make good time. I shouldn’t be surprised but seeing her drive for ten hours straight is still impressive.

These stops, chosen randomly, allowed us to see & visit new places. One such place is the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, said to be the most haunted place in all of U.S. The prison, decommissioned in 1973, has been featured on several occult & afterlife programs. This was on our list of places to visit and it’s been on Devon’s radar for at least a year.

Driving down Old Penitentiary Road the area surrounding the prison is Mayberry-esk. It’s shocking to see how close to civilians the prison actually is. We were expecting it to be way out in some field surrounded by nothing. The manicured acreage & well maintained foliage belies the horrors behind the 17 foot walls. There’s a spooky feeling just pulling up to a parking stall. After asking a nice lady in a kiosk about the entrance, she points us in the opposite direction & we walk our way up the end of the road to the front doors. The hand carved stone gutters and sidewalks are a physical reminder of the hard labour the convicts were subjected to. Their punishment left behind a rugged beauty for visitors to enjoy today. Stepping up to & passing through the main entrance, you are greeted by two employees who welcome you to the prison. After visiting a small room on the left with well laid out poster boards & stories about well and lesser known prisoners, you enter the prison theatre where they’re viewing a short movie about the origins of the pen. Stepping back into the room & once again out into the main building you’re then given a map & are left to begin the self guided walking tour.

Devon in cell house 2.
Devon in cell house 2.
This is arguably the coolest & creepiest tour we’ve ever taken. Walking down a long pathway through a tidy green space we enter the first building on our right, cell house 2. Build in 1899, this housed cons in two-man cells. Each containing a “honey bucket” as a toilet. Upon our first look inside we can see that this was run down with obvious signs of a fire. The inmates rioted over living conditions & burned down several buildings in 1973. This was one of the few you were able to enter. The other side of the building was still condemned & boarded up. Devon stepped into the first cell & immediately felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding apprehension. When I stepped inside the cell, I was struck by a sense of unbearable sadness. There was definitely a chill in the air. We walked to the far side of the building & took some pictures of the burnt out upper tier then we made our way back outside & on to the next building.

Devon's prison shower.
Devon’s prison shower.
This was possibly the eeriest building we entered. The only maximum security building on site, this was a place of great sorrow & a permanent place of solitary confinement. There was nothing out of the ordinary on the first level of the building. Considered to be one of the more modern buildings, it had running water. There was a shower built into one of the walls where prisoners were forced to shower out in the open, in full view of other convicts. It was only when we made our way upstairs that Devon & I both felt an incredible sense of intense creepiness. The hair on the back of our necks stood straight up. We both felt a temperature change when we ascended the stairs to the upper tier. To the left was the dreaded death row. Only seven cells, each one outfitted with the sole occupant’s worldly possessions: a pack of cigarettes, some chewing gum, a deck of playing cards, a small radio & a tv. This was all these poor individuals had. The stark contrast between their meager belongings & our seemingly opulent lives arrives like a hard smack to the face. Left of death row was the gallows, every bit as creepy as it sounds. Below that, the drop room. Although this building wasn’t in use very long & closed promptly after it’s first & only casualty of capital punishment met his end, a heavy sense of unending dread clung to the air as though it had stood the test of time ad infinitum.

Death row cell.
Death row cell.
Old Idaho State Penitentiary was in operation for 101 years and is home to more stories with sad endings than you or I could imagine. More lives ended in the famed rose garden (six in all) than in the gallows (just one). Building number one housed the two cruelest spaces on the pens soil, the Cooler & Siberia. These were solitary confinement. The cooler, meant for singular occupancy, had cells which held 4-6 men. Siberia, built in 1926 on the other end of the building, housed twelve 3′ x 8′ cells with one inmate per cell. I stepped inside one of these cells; cramped, damp, with crude drawings etched into the walls & no windows to speak of. These cells were so small I could touch both walls with my arms outstretched. They were pitch black when the doors were closed & offered no comfort. Siberia was the last place you wanted to do your time. An untimely death would have been met with open arms rather than time there. Although the penitentiary had walls just 17 feet high, very few prisoners attempted escape. One inmate made it over the walls & down the length of Old Penitentiary Road where he managed to remove his leg iron. Upon removal of his shackles, he promptly sat down & awaited his capture & return to the pen. His leg iron is now on display in the museum at the prison.

Devon & I enjoyed our visit to the penitentiary. It was worth the trip there with plenty of stories & sorrows. I can understand why photographers go there as each building offers a different take on prison life. Some colourful, some bleak. If given the opportunity, I would definitely visit the place again. Some sites deserve more time & in a prison, all you have is time.

– Jade


Salt Lake city and the mighty mighty Bison

The vegan buffalo sandwich!
The vegan buffalo sandwich!
Yes, I drove to Salt Lake city for a sandwich, don’t judge me. It wasn’t the only reason, I LOVE SLC. The town, the people, even the religion going on in the city. 🙂 I still didn’t really have a destination for my trip so I decided to spend a few days around the SLC area and go camping up at Antelope Island. It was so peaceful.

I got in around 2pm, got my sandwich(es) and made camp. I set off to explore the island some more and was met by these two very lovely students from BYU. We talked roadtrips. I told them the best places to see the bison on the island and soon we parted ways.

I took off to the other side of the island to catch the sunset. Having been to the island once before, I had a good idea where I was heading. I was told by the park ranger earlier that evening that only four other groups were camping on the island that night… that put the head count at about a dozen people on Antelope Island that night, CRAZY!

Wandering the streets of Antelope Island
Wandering the streets of Antelope Island

I must say watching the sunset from the roof of my car was a highlight of the trip. I pulled over to the side of the road, climbed up onto the roof of my Honda Fit and just laid there taking in everything around me. No phones, no cameras, no distractions.


Watching the sun setting off in the distance and as I lay there taking in the scene, three bison walked over to my car to sniff it. Remember, I am on the roof sans phone or camera, just watching the sunset. I’m laying flat on the roof of the car so as not to startle the bison, when all of a sudden the three of them move towards the trunk of my
car to give it a sniff (I’m sure they are smelling my dog). I flip over to my stomach ever so calmly so now I am laying the entire length of my car (on the roof). I could have reached out and touched the bison but no, instead I just laid there watching in awe as they sniffed around my car, grunted a few times then wandered off. My heart was RACING. A total Jurassic park moment for me… Cue the music 🙂

After the sun set over the hills, I hopped back into my car and took off for camp. When I ran into those same three bison again, I jumped out of the car and grabbed this photo of them, wished them a peaceful night and back to camp I went. I watched a movie in the car and fell asleep being sure to set my alarm for the sunrise that would be anything but lame. 🙂 Utah, you are one of my favourite states!! 🙂

Sunset on Antelope island
Sunset on Antelope island

– Devon

Magical Lakes & Bison Sightings.

The first day of our crazy road trip started off like any other. Everything packed up & off we went. The first day of our trips are always about distance. Putting distance between us & our lives back home. Washington state is beautiful. The lush green backdrop is a constant reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a vibrant environment. The Pacific Northwest is amazing, hands down. However, if we don’t make it out of Washington on the first day of a road trip, it simply feels like we’re cross border shopping. So we moved like bandits on the run from the law. Making it all the way down into Oregon that first night.

The first hiccup of our trip has to be the moment our “new” GPS decided it would be awesome to crap out on us. It was back to reading a map for me & navigating old school. Having searched the map for a worthy camping site close to the Idaho state line, we saw a state park sign for Anthony Lakes in between La Grande & Baker City OR. Enjoying the 20 mile drive up to the park, we came upon fields of cows who were more than willing to pose for photos & seemed to enjoy the attention. Once we were on the drive up the mountain into the park, we both remarked how similar this felt to Yosemite, but on a smaller scale. The mountain tops were blanketed in mist making the whole drive up there both beautiful & mystical.Anthony Lake Oregon After arriving atop the mountain we were surprised to see it was a popular destination. We managed to snag a spot away from the groups of families. We then went for a quick walk around the area & found ourselves surrounded by crisp air & vibrant colours. The peak itself, Mount Ireland, was stunning. After a while, what I thought was a campsite we did not want to intrude upon turned out to be one of the lakes, we hiked down to the water to take in the living postcard before us. Every angle was an amazing photograph. There were a few people quietly enjoying the lake, fishing & taking their own photos. Devon picked up some discarded fishing line so it wouldn’t become a hazard to the wildlife. Then, we heard the distinct sound of a base being tuned up. Apparently, there was a wedding reception starting up. With that, it was back to the camp site.
Lake Anthony

Devon set up the site while I walked down to the camp site host for a bundle of firewood. We enjoyed a quiet dinner with the crackling of the fire pits seemingly in unison. A rather nice lady from the site across ours came over to introduce herself. She saw that we were Canadian and wanted to say hello. A fellow Canadian, we ended up having a lovely chat with her & quickly fell for her beautiful rescue German Shepard. The next morning, I walked over & gave them the remaining firewood we were unable to use up or take with us. Their dog was super sweet & quiet playful. Just seeing her made us miss our Jacke Boy that much more. We said our goodbyes, gave them some advice on travelling back home up to Victoria & started out for the day. A quick stop in historic Baker City OR for coffee & then it was on to Boise ID.Camp Dinner

I’ve never been to an REI but I can tell you this, after stopping at the one in Boise, I really want to go back! The employees are so nice, and the product selection is varied & far more cost effective than the items back home. We also stopped in at Whole Foods for some much needed food supplies for our cooler. From there it was on to Salt Lake City, Utah. The drive through Idaho went faster than it has in prior trips. I wish I could tell you that the scenery on the drive through Idaho is unreal but the reality is far more bland. We spent more time watching the roadside for deer than the landscape itself.

Antelope Island After high fiving having crossed into Utah, a state of calm washed over us. It truly feels like a vacation when we hit Utah. The drive through this section is breathtaking as you see the land change colours before your eyes. After consulting the map again for the exit to Antelope Island, Devon saw a sign for it & we started in on our next adventure. Making our way through the small town of Syracuse we found ourselves at the entrance for the Great Salt Lake State Park on Antelope Island. Paying for our entry & campsite, Devon almost drove off in a mad rush to just relax after having driven for 10 hours straight. The park ranger handed us our booklet & our campsite pass then we drove into the park. Devon remarked that the drive in seemed eerily reminiscent of Tsawassen and the drive to the ferries. The first thing we read about Antelope Island is, of course, the antelope that inhabit it, as well as the bison. There are roughly 500-700 head of bison that call the island home. The road ahead forked and we picked the left hand road because Devon read that the bison like to hang out near the water. Not 5 minutes into the drive down this road were we met with 5 bison chilling by the roadside, grazing. The biggest smile took over Devon’s face & it looked like she would cry. These creatures are so massive & gentle. They meander with not a care in the world. We stopped the car, put on the hazards & took as many photos as the bison would let us. There were three to the left of the road on the lakeside & two more to the right of the road. A giant bison lumbered slowly across the street not 5 feet from our car. Both of us slack jawed & awestruck while furiously clicking away on our cameras, the bison had no worries about our presence and took his time crossing the road. I looked over & I felt as though Devon would burst into tears, her eyes reddening, her voice shaky with excitement. We waved at these beautiful creatures, said our thank you’s & made our way down the road a bit more before turning around and heading back down toward the turn off for the campsite. We were assigned campsite #18 and as we drove up into the Bridger Bay campground Devon saw a bison in the distance and quipped, “I’ll bet you he’s at our spot.” Truer words never spoken. As we circled around the site, looking for #18, we slowly pulled up & there he was, sitting there, like an official welcomer to Antelope Island. There he was, this gorgeous animal enjoying a dust bath not 15 feet from our site. We stopped the car, grabbed our cameras and took a handful of pictures of him as he lay there, enjoying the weather. We took a few shots of the sun setting as it tangoed with the low hanging clouds creating this crazy halo above us. Looking back at the bison, he would stay there all night, as if to say, “I get it, we’re cool.” These mammals made peace with mankind long ago & now they live in harmony with the land while we get to share in their beauty. I think that he hung around all night because he knew that we needed him to be there. We appreciated his presence and will continue to be grateful that we got to share his energy all night long.Bison

We set up camp, made a fire & ate beans as our meal while quietly enjoying the bison laying within 20 feet of us. Laying down for the evening, I could not wipe the grin off of my face & I wondered why I was so happy. The moment we set foot on the ground there a calm energy washed over me & stayed the whole time we were on Antelope Island. I kept sitting up, looking for the bison as darkness fell all around. Though hot all night it was a peaceful sleep. We arose the next morning, our new bison friend had moved on. Devon was awoken by a magpie sitting on the post next to our car. He cheerily chirped & sang her awake. Once up for the day, we made a BioLite breakfast of coffee & peanut butter & banana sandwiches. There were several pheasants visiting the surrounding sites. Curious little birds, they walked about looking for food. After packing up, we decided on exploring the island a bit before leaving. We ventured down the roadway & back down the road that first took us to the bison. Sure enough, they were there again. We waited as they marched on past us. This time they galloped past, then settled down & calmly walked across the road. We grabbed a few more photos then carried on our way down the island to the Fielding Garr Ranch.Antelope island ranch A working ranch for over 100 years before stopping operation in 1981, in modern times, the ranch house is still the oldest building on its original foundation in Utah. We took the self guided tour around the ranch. I enjoyed the simplicity of the 100 year old blacksmithing equipment, while Devon wasn’t much impressed with it having being raised on a farm. Her grandfather had a dairy farm & understood the inner workings of it all while I had to stop & read about everything. She humoured me & let me read each display while she tried to say hello to the horses in the corral. Once we were finished with the tour, it was back into the car & back on the road into Salt Lake City for the most amazing vegan buffalo sandwich I have ever tasted.

– Jade