Hiking ‘R’ Mountain and social distancing in the wilderness

Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

“Had to get the kids out of the house to give my wife some peace,” said a hiker trailing three energetic kids as the four headed up the “R” Mountain trail.

The kids followed Dad’s instructions and gave other hikers a wide berth, respecting the six-foot social distancing with each hiker they passed.

Last week Gov. Brad Little issued the “stay home” directive, but encouraged us to also get out of the house to exercise. My wife and I took that seriously and have hiked the North Menan Butte, also known as the “R” Mountain for three days. The hikes gave us the exercise and the escapes that we needed – an added benefit was all the smiles that we encountered as we kept a safe distance from others.

Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

“I have been attending BYU-I for two years and this is my first time up here,” one girl said as she hiked with two friends. “Boy, have I missed out. With the gym closed I was talked into coming out and this is a beautiful and a wonderful activity.”

Time of the day shows different activities for different folks. Runners and serious hikers that are not strangers to the mountain are usually there early in the morning as has been part of their life. Mid-morning hikers are usually strolling couples or college roommates as they are trying to beat the “rush” of families after “home-schooling” or digital school learning.

Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

I like to finish my hiking as the families have started their hikes as I like to hear the comments from them.

“Are we almost there?” is often heard from a small child as their family walks past about a quarter of a mile up the trail.

“We are out here getting in shape for volleyball next fall,” said a father as he and his wife strolled along with their two girls running up the mountain.

The parking lot on the west side of the mountain is very small and was over-flowing with vehicles last Saturday but on the way up we only passed four families or couples. From the top I could only locate a total of 12 people hiking around the Rim Trail and only one, my wife, through the crater.

The North and South Menan Buttes appear as two pimples on the flat Snake River plain west of Rexburg and just north of the small town of Menan. Formed about 10,000 years ago when lava was forced up through the cold Snake River water, they are two of the world’s largest tuff cones. They are also the only tuff cones in the United State formed by freshwater.

The South Butte is mostly private land while the larger North Butte is public land now controlled by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. As one of eleven national Natural Landmarks in Idaho, the North Butte is closed to all motorized recreational vehicles. It is being preserved for enjoyment of hikers, bikers and horseback riders and for the study of the unique plants and geology of this ancient volcano.

Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

With two trail heads built and maintained by the BLM, visitors can enjoy the natural wonders of this landmark. One trailhead is on the west side with an improved parking lot and toilet facilities while the one on the south is a rough parking lot with room for only a few vehicles.

Trails around the rim of the cone can be a beautiful early morning and late evening activity for groups or individuals. A trail through the middle of the cone is popular for runners enjoying a hard workout. Visitors are asked to stay on the trails to protect the unique vegetation and to prevent erosion.

A variety of wildlife can be viewed while hiking this national landmark. Both mule and white-tailed deer, elk, moose, lizards, songbirds and snakes are all commonly seen. Care should be taken while hiking during the summer as the butte is home of the Western rattlesnake.

Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Information posted by the BLM cautions about taking water with you when you hike, to watch your footing as it is rocky and can be slippery when it rains and not to disturb wildlife.

In this uncertain time when our home’s walls sometimes seem to be closing in on us, getting out may be the answer to our mental health, places where we can see and visit with people from a distance is important to us. The “R” Mountain has been one of those places that my wife and I have found is a life-exciter for us.