Today was all about the Snake River.
The overland trails all followed rivers across the continent. They provided a natural roadbed along the banks that was often free from obstructions and, more importantly, a regular source of water. In Idaho, the route jumped up to the Snake River after following the Sweetwater out of Wyoming and used it to cut through the sagebrush valleys into Oregon.
The Snake River was a frustrating lifeline for the emigrants. While it did contain plenty of water, it was often difficult or impossible acquire: the river runs through a canyon with steep rock walls that draft animals could not climb. This meant that water, if it could be reached at all, had to be hauled up from the river by hand.
We left our… interesting lodging in Pocatello and drove down I-86 along the Snake River gorge. The freeway closely follows the trail route during this stretch, sometimes overlying it. We stopped and took a short walk to a scenic overlook and an original section of preserved wagon swales. I, of course, stood in them again. Standing in wagon ruts is becoming kind of a theme on this trip. Even though the evidence of the trail is faint, it’s still more satisfying to plant your boots in the dirt than to snap a photo from the roadside.
Next, we headed a little further down the interstate and paid a brief visit to Massacre Rocks State Park. Interesting geology in the area, much of it volcanic. Saw the remnants of a massive waterfall that drained a large lake about 14,000 years ago. Also part of the Massacre Rocks area is a small satellite park that houses Register Rock. The basalt boulder sits in a former trail campground and, like Register Cliff, still hold inscriptions made by pioneers camped nearby.
We visited the Raft River crossing site which contains a preserved trail segment over seven miles long! Unfortunately, someone has sealed the gate with barbed wire, so we had to be content with a few photos taken from the car window.
In order to support the massive amount of agriculture in the Snake River valley, the river is diverted into irrigation ditches for part of the year at Milner Dam. This structure is actually quite old, dating back to the end of the trail era. We stopped by and, again, viewed from a distance.
Downriver from the dam, pioneers noted a swirling bowl of rapids they named “Cauldron Linn” or the Devil’s Cauldron. To get to these rapids involved some of the most precarious driving on the trip so far. We took several county roads from state route 30 to the river gorge. To get to the other side, the road snakes down several abrupt switch backs, across a small bridge about halfway down, then back up the other side. Once across the river, we took a few dirt roads following (occasionally hidden) road signs. The road descended into the gorge again, but much steeper, passing a sign that warned of hazardous areas ahead. Finally, we got to the bottom and crossed some bone-like river rocks to the rapids. Climbing back out pushed our little Prius pretty hard but, engine roaring, we eventually made it back to the top of the cliff.
The day concluded with a scenic overlook of Shoshone Falls and the river canyon. After a bit of a hiccup with our hotel reservation, we ended up spending the night close by in Twin Falls.