Rock On, Kerouacs!

I have two lists I use when packing for TourAlongs:
  1. The Drumming TourAlongs List.
  2. The Vacation TourAlongs List.
TourAlong lists make packing easy.

Imagine my flummoxification as I prepared for a Climbing TourAlong. I hadn't packed for a trip like this in years!

What do we need?
  • Tent? Yes
  • Sleeping bags? Of course
  • Foam pads? Clearly
  • Blankets too? Well Duh!
  • Fluffy pillows? HEY! WE'RE NOT CAVE PEOPLE!
  • Suit cases, climbing gear tote, road trip tote, towels, pots, cups, camp stove, dish soap, kitchen sink, and two coolers?

Holy Household, Batman!
 That's one crammed Subaru!

But there Natalie and I were: Thursday morning, 10:00 a.m., Jackie and Jack Kerouac hittin' the road and not stoppin' for anything.

Until it was time to eat...

Are you Hungry?

Join me at the TourAlong's picnic table for bite-sized picture-caption morsels!

Let's begin... Shall we?

Anticipation of camp cooking "as the sun sets slowly in the west" is a romantic thought, but as we passed through Burley, Idaho, civilization's last outpost before the City of Rocks, our stomachs gnawed for road trip food.

Shunning Subway and Burger King, we found authenticity at Taco Bandido! The Bandido's parking lot was full; a sure sign of quality any experienced traveler knows to look for. And, as we entered the Bandido, we noted the senorita running the show was authentic as well.

Two thumbs up! This was going to be mucho awesome…

And WOW did the Bandido deliver the goods! Look at this culinary wonder. Finely ground beef, delicately shredded iceberg lettuce, a hint of cheese, all wrapped in a shimmering tortilla. And not a molecule of spice to needlessly distract from the bland flavors for which our neighbors to the south are known! 

Bravo! Or should I say, "Bien Hecho!"

We were SO glad we each ordered TWO of the Bandido's taco logs.

I kid you not: The bathroom sign at Taco Bandido. Something tells me this is the universal sign for, "Stand back amigos, something's about to blow!" 

At 10,399 ft., Cache Peak dominates the skyline. In winter, the Cache Peak massif generates its own weather. In fact, the Pomerelle Mountain Resort on its north slope boasts 500 inches of annual snowfall.

On Cache Peak's southern slope, at 6,000 ft., the City of Rocks rests in classic Idaho high mountain desert composed of sage brush, aspen, juniper, pinyon pine, and cactus. Drive two miles south of the City and you hit the Book of Mormon Belt, aka Utah, where drinking a beer on a Sunday is met with a frown. Hike 50 miles west and you hit the jackpot in Jackpot, Nevada, where you can gamble, drink, and—as of this July—smoke pot.

I'm going to incorporate a new town, named Toddleton, smack dab on the trifecta border of Idaho, Utah, and Nevada just to see what happens.

Gun shootin' Mormon bookin' Pot smokin'  YEHAW! That's Toddleton!

While much of the City's granite is part of the 28 million year old Almo Pluton, there are portions comprised of the Green Creek Complex's 2.5 billion year old granite.

Fast forward 2.5 billion years and the City was home to the Shoshone and Bannock tribes, whose lifestyle was disrupted by European immigrants in the 16th century, and was eventually decimated by throngs heading west during the California gold rush. In 1852, an estimated 52,000 gold seekers passed through the City via the California Trail. Today, the City is frequented by smelly climbers... and campers (not quite as smelly).

Why it's a REUNION! Ray Brooks (two thumbs up) has organized a climbing gathering at the City for years. At this year's event (my first) a notable number of former Moscow, Idaho, residents were in attendance. From left to right: Scott Spiker, MOI, Ray, Gary Clark, Mark Jonas, Dave Savage, and Chris Savage.

Here are two fun facts:

1. Gary Clark was my 8th grade math teacher and climbing mentor. One way or another, Gary's positive nature and love of the outdoors and adventure influenced everyone pictured; he's still climbing and adventuring at a high level.

2. Ray Brooks gave me my first real job, working first as a janitor, and then as a sales person at the shop he owned in Moscow—Northwestern Mountain Sports.

Wait a minute! My FIRST real job was delivering newspapers! And here's a photo to prove it!

Yep! The Daily Idahonian's Junior Dealer for 1971 shaking hands with Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus! This handshake catapulted Andrus to become a two-term governor for the State of Idaho and serve as Secretary of the Interior in the Carter Administration. You're welcome, Mr. Secretary.

Mark Jonas in the awkward and difficult crack, Bloody Fingers. If you're new to this, climbing routes have fun names, kind of like rock bands. Some you can say on the radio; others maybe not.

The fog around Mark's waist is gymnastic chalk dust from the bag in which his right hand is reaching. Chalk's used to keep fingers and hands dry.

Mark makes climbs look easy; I fell twice on this one.

Gary Clark (lower left) on Built for Comfort at the Upper Bread Loaves. The climber to the upper right is on Love Handles. Climbs at the City are often in close proximity to one another. Believe it or not, there are five established climbs in this photo.

Lynn Clark mastering a granite slab at Castle Rocks, a sister climbing area of the City proper and every bit as good. Slab climbing never looks steep... until you're the one looking down.

Meet Suzie!

Suzie and her daughter, Bradi, run Rock City Mercantile in Almo.

Almo is filled with juxtapositions. It's down-home rural Idaho and Mormon; it's often overrun with rock climbers and campers; and it manages to maintain a sleepy feel. There's not much in Almo, yet it has exactly what you need.

Suzie and Bradi run a tight ship at Rock City—in their unique way. Every table, inside or out, starts with a "Reserved" sign. That's because you have to check-in with Suzie and order your pizza. THEN you can sit down at a "reserved" table.

What do you want to drink? Go to the cooler and grab your beer, wine, water, or pop. Drink it! Just keep the empties on your table so they can be tallied up when you check out. It's a super easy, efficient system.

And then there's the pizza. Four small, modern ovens crank out the best thin crust pizza I've had this side of Corsica. They are really, really good.

Suzie, Bradi, and everyone at Rock City are cool.

You should eat pizza and shop there.

Gary past the crux of Zinger at Castle Rocks.

Here's a fun fact: When I was a kid, I watched the University of Idaho's marching band practice; they practiced every afternoon on a grass field between our house and campus. The drum line was inspiring. And the drum major was exceptional. Wearing a white uniform, a crazy-tall hat, and wielding a baton, this guy could fly down the field with commitment and style.

Many year's later, I learned that drum major was Gary.

Natalie studied our climbing while simultaneously snapping a few photos and keeping squirrels and lizards at bay and away from our rucksacks. She thinks she caught the climbing bug. We'll see... There might be new magic shoes in her stocking next Christmas.

Side view of Zinger with Gary profiled at the lower right. Lynn and I are at the second belay point at the upper left. There was no true ledge at the any of the three belay points on the climb, just tiny footholds to squirm around on while hanging on the anchors. Photo courtesy of Natalie.

Getting up early and climbing in the shade and away from the heat paid off. We beat the other climbers and were on having lunch in Almo by noon.

And THAT'S how it's done!

Mark Jonas and I have known each other since 7th grade.

Believe it or not, we spent a month the summer of 1974 driving and climbing in Grand Teton National Park. We had a great time. We climbed a bunch, ate lots of mac-n-cheese, and survived.

Today, parents would be charged with child neglect. And that's a problem.

At the northern foot of Cache Peak rests Albion, Idaho. Did you know "Albion" is the archaic name for Great Britain? It IS! And, from 1893 to 1951, the Albion Normal School awarded 6,460 teaching degrees, including one to Terrance Bell, who served as Secretary of Education in President Reagan's original cabinet. And get this: The school's athletic teams were known as the "Teachers" until 1935.

The haunted mansion was not open the Sunday we passed through on our way home, but come on!... Haunted Mansions of Albion, a SCHOOL of CHAOS... how cool is that! Complete with crowned skulls no less!

Packing list or not, we had exactly what we needed at the City and, thanks to Suzie and Bradi at Rock City Mercantile, we never had to warm up the cans of beef stew as the sun set slowly in the west. Nope! We had pizza, salad, and beer.

For a weekend, all was well in the world. 

From Jack and Jackie Kerouac, Rock On!

Stay tuned... More from TourAlongWithTodd is coming soon...

Until then... Ciao!

On the path to Castle Rocks. Some of the best Idaho has to offer. 


  1. Very Nice Todd. Especially cool to finally see the retro group pix. I may borrow and repost as I never got a copy. Wow is Gary talented, drum major?!?! Never knew.....

  2. Perhaps your best blog yet, Todd. Of course, one must consider the competition :-) <- (little sideways smiley face to show that I'm not really serious). The highlight of the trip might just have been the reunion with all the Moscow ex-pats. I'm glad to see that they all grew up to be hugely successful adults, due ENTIRELY to their instruction in mathematics when they were 14.

    1. I had no idea the reunion would include such a cast of characters!

      And you're correct about the correlation between life success and mathematic instruction at age 14. For instance, consider the Bacon Principle formula:

      Bacon + bacon + bacon + fire = :O = :)

      OR, as you taught us, and is etched in our hearts:


      ~ Todd

  3. It is also interesting that you included a photo and a note about Albion Normal School. Among the dignitaries who earned their teaching certificates there was my father. According to Chaos Theory, it is highly likely that I would have never existed had this school not been founded. There are those who think that wouldn't have necessarily been a bad thing. :-(

    1. OK, that's too weird and super cool at the same time!