BURLEY, Idaho Used to be that if you wanted to camp among the beautiful and fascinating rocks at the City of Rocks in southern Idaho, all you had was primitive camping.
That was fine with members of the rock-climbing culture, who would throw down a tarp and sleeping bag and hit the sack after belting down a few beers after a 16-hour cross-country drive to the place.
Today, the area sports a new RV-friendly campground that makes it easier for families to camp in the area.
And guess what? Even some of the climbers who are now in their 50s don't mind the hot showers.
Campers woke up to wind, rain, sleet and snow at City of Rocks National Reserve one morning this June. It showed the diversity of Idaho's mountain weather in late spring and early summer.
For some in the primitive camping area, like Crystal Wright and Brian Mulvihill of Jackson, Wyo., the weather was too much.
They sat out the rest of the soggy morning in their car, watching a movie on their laptop. A backpacking tent gets cramped after a while.
For other climbers in a nearby full-service campground at Castle Rocks State Park, it was pretty cushy.
"We really liked the electric hand-driers in the toilets," said Tom Raudaschl of Golden, British Columbia, as he waited for hard-boiled eggs to cook at the picnic table.
"This is the smarter choice," said Kellie Erwin-Rhoades, a climber who was with the Idaho State University Outdoors Program in the mid-'70s. She now lives in Golden but keeps coming back to the City of Rocks.
With the new Smoky Mountain Campground at Castle Rocks State Park, visitors to the City of Rocks National Reserve have a choice between primitive or plush camping.
The City of Rocks, which is located south of Burley, is on the northern edge of the Great Basin and is known for its unique rock formations.
Some of the granite is 2.5 billion years old, and the rocks are some of the oldest in the Lower 48.
It also is home to Idaho's tallest pinyon pines, and the pinyon pine forests are the largest in the state.
It is a popular recreation destination for hikers, horseback riders, climbers, photographers, mountain bikers and those who just want to smell the wildflowers.
"For me, it's where my heart is," said Erwin-Rhoades. "When you come here, there's a sense of spirituality. There's a sense of history and a sense of time.
Diverse area known for world-renowned rock climbing
• The City of Rocks is a unique 14,407-acre geological area in southern Idaho that is world-renowned for rock climbing. It also has diverse vegetation, from aspens to pinyon pines. It is an area loved by climbers, geologists, photographers, campers, hikers and mountain bikers.
• The City of Rocks National Reserve is in the U.S. Parks Service system, but it and nearby Castle Rocks State Park are administered by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
• Castle Rocks State Park, a former ranch, is Idaho's newest state park. It is composed of 1,440 acres and includes a full-service campground suitable for RVs, outstanding rock formations, early 20th century ranch structures and pastures.
• Headquarters and a visitor center for both areas are located in the town of Almo, near the park and reserve.