Bruneau Dunes and the Kangaroo Rats

“Where ya goin’?” asked the young man at the Wendy’s who approached my table. I had my road atlas spread out, planning my route to Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything along the way. I had my hiking boots on, had my backpack with me  from which I pulled out my tablet to check the route, and was so intently focused on the task at hand. I certainly must have appeared as a character on a mission. 

“I’ve been on a National Park road trip,” I replied. “I came from Yellowstone and Craters of the Moon and I’m headed towards Bruneau Dunes State Park.” At the time I wasn’t sure how to pronounce Bruneau. I think I said something more like “Broo nay ah oo”

“Oh, ‘Bruno’ Dunes,” he corrected my pronunciation. “That’s a sick spot. You’ll like it.” His lanky arms accentuated his speech. “Where are you from? From here?”

“No, Kentucky,” I replied.


He bid me safe travels and I was soon on my way. I was pleased to receive the stamp of approval from someone who had been there before. Traveling between National Parks, if there is a large distance, I try to find state parks to visit and stay at to split up the travel. This looked like it would be an interesting one on the way: giant sand dunes in Idaho, who would have thought?” The next National Park stop would be Lassen Volcanic, but I was certainly breaking up this 697 mile drive. 

Before my arrival at Bruneau Dunes State Park, I made a stop at a Walmart to restock the supply, and, as planned, buy a skateboard, skrewdriver and candle? Why? I was going to go sand boarding! I would use the screwdriver to take off the wheels and the candle to wax the board. Then I’d be good to go. I thought it was a genius plan. I’d been sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru in the summer of 2015 when I visited Peru with my older brother Nathan, the chocolatier, and my sister-in-law, Catherine. It was so much fun! I was going to recreate the thrills. At Walmart I found a stylish Kryptonic skateboard, back before plastic degraded their value and style.

When I arrived at Bruneau Dunes, I seemed to be in a deserted place. The park office was closed, and the parking lots and campsites were empty. My arrival was through some pretty rural areas with sparse population and wide-open plains of dry, mostly brown, grass with the occasional patches of green. It was a very hot summer day in the nineties, pushing on a hundred. My guess was that I was visiting this park off season. I pulled from my glove box the printed sheet I had of my reservation. I was going to live it up tonight in a camper cabin! Quite luxurious, given I’d been camping in my tent all thus far. My assigned cabin was called Andromeda. It was a one room log cabin with a green tin roof, very similar in nature to a KOA camper cabin.  It was situated at the end of the campground nestled with a few pine trees. It had a small porch with an overhang and swing facing flat plains and some sand dunes in the distance. Inside a key was on the table. I brought in my things from the car and got prepared for the dunes. I carefully disassembled the wheels and bearings from the skateboard, tied a wet bandana around my forehead to keep me from drying-up out in the sun, and headed out to the dunes. A short pullout from the park road yielded access to an enormous sand dune. I raced up. The sand was hot, soft, and malleable beneath my feet! I would not have expected to find this bonafide desert in Idaho. Astounding! 

When I reached the top, my heart was beating heavily from the swift trudge and the intensity of the heat. Here I feasted my eyes upon the landscape. A small lake sprawled out on the other side where deciduous trees hugged close to the water’s edge. On the other side of the lake more dunes laid across the land, and large plains of grass and shrubs blanketed the landscape. It was a place where the prairie and the desert collided. 

Here we go. I positioned my makeshift sandboard and took off, surfing down the sand dunes with great delight and thrill! Just kidding. My board didn’t go anywhere except dig into the sand. I tried again. Nope. This wasn’t going to work. That’s okay. I got a cool skateboard for $25. I did however pose for a picture with the board, which I must confess falsely portrays that my sandboarding attempt was a success. 

With board in hand, I walked along the spine of the sand dune, and it was quite a fascinating and usually scenic place. After so many days in the cool brisk Yellowstone, and camping in misty near-freezing nights, it felt comforting to be in the embracing heat of the dunes beneath the sun. The sun’s heat is always reassuring to me and I always enjoy intense dry heat. I descended the sand down to the body of water below. I’d later learn that these sand dunes are believed to have formed about 15,000 years ago in a giant flood. I didn’t stay down by the water long, because pestering flies were all up in my face. I followed the footprints of others in the sand back over to the road where I parked by car. 

Time for dinner! I decided to go into town, an eighteen mile drive into Mountain Home, Idaho. My GPS device told me there was a Taco John’s. I’d never been to one before. I’ve seen them here out West. I’d check it out. It was pretty much a straight shot into town on a flat road, but not an open road. It was extremely busy, but not with cars nor with average pedestrians, but rather with rodents. What were they exactly? I wasn’t sure. Mice? Chipmunks? Come to find out they were kangaroo rats. The word “rat” has a rather repulsive connotation, but these little guys were cute. Problem is they were dumb little kamikazes, running out in the road as I approached and then freezing and waiting to be flattened. I tried the best I could to evade their peril, steering in all directions, driving like a drunkard, but there were hundreds of them. I even laid on my horn and slowed down. They had surrounded me. There was no choice but to proceed one way or the other. Sadly a number of them reached their fate that hot evening in June. I wish it wasn’t so, but so it was.

I was fully aware that Napoleon Dynamite was from Idaho. The fictional character from the movie lived in rural idaho. I remember exclaiming “sweet” in my best Napoleon voice as I crossed the Wyoming/Idaho border the day before. When I was driving into Mountain Home, the layout and rural vibes of the area reminded me of the setting of that movie. There is a scene when Napoleon’s Grandma is out four-wheeling on the sand dunes! I had not made the connection until after I had left the area that Bruneau Sand Dunes was where his grandma was! Not far off was Preston, Idaho where the rest of the movie was filmed. If I would have known this, this leg of my trip to Idaho would have been very much Napoleon themed. 

In Mountain Home the Taco John’s was downtown. Inside I ordered my food, and sat down to eat. I noticed another customer, a lady, with tight yoga pants on, in which part of her posterior spilled out above the waistline. Her upper body had a few tacky, stale, and distastefully placed tattoos. Her hair was stained drug-addict black. A few more colorful characters came in. I was just simply making observations. I did not draw any conclusions, but was only observing the wildlife as I always do on my adventures. What I do know, is that once my tacos were devoured, I was ready to get back to the state park. 

It was dark by the time I got back. In my cozy little cabin, my oasis in the dunes, I had brought in my pillows and sleeping bag and had set them up on the bed. I studied my road atlas and reviewed the photos in my camera. Tomorrow I would dip down and travel West, covering a substantial portion of Nevada. I’d been to Nevada before, one of the most underrated states, full of hidden gems. I was ready to visit her again. 

Read the previous entry “A Lion on the Moon” here: A Lion on the Moon – on the verge (

Check out my book Canyonlands: my adventures in the national parks and the beautiful wild here:

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