August 7-9, Day 67-69: Southern Idaho is a desolate and parched land, but it hides 1000 springs offering cool water and a ribbon of green and blue in the Snake River.
A Dry and Dusty Landscape
Jean and I turned east on I-84 at Boise, en route to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Our destination for the night was Twin Falls. We had heard there were beautiful parks in the area, but the landscape we surveyed was dry and dusty, with wildfires burning over the distant hills.
I am a history buff and find fossils fascinating, so we detoured from I-84 to the Hagerman Fossil Beds. The site was excavated in the 1930s by the Smithsonian, and they found troves of fossil horses, camels, bears, sabre tooth cats, sloths, and more. This area used to be near Lake Bonneville, an enormous lake in the Great Basin of the western US. Thirty thousand years ago, it covered most of northwest Utah and parts of Idaho and Nevada. Today, all that remains of Lake Bonneville is the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
At the site, we also found more recent history – the Oregon Trail. You can still see the deep ruts from the wagons. The route follows the Snake River, nearby. As we stood at the overlook, it was difficult to imagine the hardship of the pioneers’ journey. The verdant Willamette Valley (OR) must have seemed like heaven when they finally arrived.
Land of 1000 Springs
Moving on, we headed to Ritter Island, part of the 1000 Springs State Park. They call this area “the magic valley,” and photos tell you why. Crystal clear springs flow from the sides of arid, rocky cliffs, like Moses had struck his staff. In the valley, green trees flourished, and people in kayaks enjoyed the sunshine. Our intention was to picnic, but the park was very crowded despite COVID. So, we headed back to the Jeep and on to Twin Falls.
Niagara of the West
Shoshone Falls is just east of the city. A narrow canyon road descends into a city park that overlooks “the Niagara Falls of the West.” The views were stunning, tumbling over both natural falls and hydroelectric dams. About half of the power for the region comes from falls like these.
Where does the water come from? On research, we found that the scant rainfall in this vast arid region quickly seeps underground through porous rock until it hits impermeable shale. There, it slowly flows until it finds an opening and pours forth. The water in these crystal springs has been underground for 100-200 years, filtering through sandstone atop that shale layer.
Before leaving the area, we headed to Box Canyon, which turned out to be our favorite part of 1000 Springs. At first, it looked like nothing as we followed the dirt track through sparse vegetation to a large gravel lot. There was only a dirt path, which we followed. Suddenly, the edge of a cliff presented itself. We found ourselves staring down at crystal clear water gushing from an underground spring, running down a canyon towards the distant Snake River.
Descending a couple of switchbacks, we clung to a steel cable until we reached a sandy path at the stream’s edge. The path wound through green underbrush and past a few people playing with their dogs at the river’s edge. A couple of miles on, we found a cluster of rocks tumbled down into the water. Scrambling, we peeled off our socks, shoes, and (some of) our clothing. The cold water was a shock when we submerged. Not as cold as Crater Lake, but cold!
After we dressed, we continued down the path past the bridge to a deep pool and sandy beach. There the water was funneled into large pipes, presumably to supply irrigation for the cornfields we passed on our drive. Reaching the end of the trail, we turned and climbed back up to the Jeep.
It was noon, and crowds were gathering; time to be on our way.