The drive from Alpine, Wyoming over the mountains to Soda Springs, Idaho, passes through Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is a long, marshy valley that appears to be ripe with migratory birds and elk, although I saw no elk as we skirted along the edge of the valley. The road climbs into higher country before passing some of the shoreline of Blackfoot Reservoir. So many large rivers in America have been dammed up. I only wish I could have seen the country when all the rivers ran wild and free. This reservoir was formed from the Blackfoot River, a tributary of the Snake River. I don’t see boats or people anywhere on or near the reservoir for many miles, and think to myself how so many people are bunched together in tight little spaces, when much of the country is empty of civilization.
We drop off the mountains into Soda Springs, a place well known in the folklore of the early Oregon trail days, when settlers would stop here to rest and enjoy the mineral waters and geysers before continuing their prodigious walk into Oregon, or turn south toward Salt Lake for venture into Spanish California. We drove north from here an into Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, for an afternoon of soaking in the public hot baths in the middle of town. Various pools step down a gradual slope, such that each pool down hill from the next is slightly cooler. We started with the coolest, about twenty feet wide and eighty feet long, and worked our way uphill, with breaks in between, until we were able to slip into the hottest without feeling scalded. These pools are just hot, and not as loaded with minerals and the smell of sulfur as those we had visited in Colorado.
The Portneuf River runs through this picturesque little oasis in the middle of vast mountains. We debated staying a night in a campground on the river, walking distance from the pools, but the day was young, and we knew we could fairly easily drive north to Fort Hall and Pocatello while the sun remained high. We connected with Interstate 84 and followed the course of the Snake River up to American Falls. We had stayed in a marina/RV park here a couple of years ago. The thought of getting off the road early today, washing clothes, unwinding from several intense days of travel by stretching out on a large green lawn overlooking the river, all sounded too good to pass up.
In the late afternoon one of our camping neighbors, a young man from Boise out here doing some government construction work on a brief contract, sat and talked an hour or more, wanting to tell us the story of his encounter with an angel while hanging out in a bar in Boise. The upshot of the story was that the angel told him bar life was no good for him, coaxed him out of the bar to talk, then hopped into a big white truck and completely disappeared from sight. I believe it. Either I’m gullible or spent enough years in Churchianity to learn how to be accepting of tall tales, but the sincerity on our neighbor’s face as he carefully laid out the details of that unusual evening was most convincing. I’ve had some experiences for which there is no earthly explanation as well, so I suppose I’ve drunk from the same pitcher of Kool-Aid.
We stayed up late, had a propane camp fire, and talked over our memories of this road trip. We’d now been traipsing around the country for about sixteen days. I has brought along a tiny voice recorder, so we recorded highlights, and embellished them here and there with a few details. We pulled out of the RV park along the bluffs of the American Falls Reservoir before first sunlight, and headed west, looking for gasoline and our morning ritual, breakfast in a cafe. We found a pretty good cafe in Burley, Idaho. The wind this morning blew stiff and cold out of the west, across the vast terrain of sage that dotted the flat landscape. There was much we wanted to see along this stretch of road because it was a piece of the Oregon trail our pioneer ancestors had gone over in 1842. The interstate has replaced older road that still exists, so we strayed some from the main strip of asphalt and got down closer to the Snake River for a better look at the land. I could see what a tough time it would have been to drag a covered wagon over these rocky gullies and canyons.
We stopped in an old western town called Glenn’s Ferry and drove out for a better look at the river. Three Islands Crossing, located here, was one of the memorable locations among pioneer recollections. The river had at one time been swift but appeared smooth here, because it ran deep and clear, and many pioneers died trying to hop between the islands in the river. A pioneer museum is located here, and we wanted to visit, but after Labor Day, it seems that many places shut down for the season, so we had to settle for taking a few photos and moving on. Perhaps I will return here another day to tour the museum.
Mountain Home was our next destination. We bought more gas, more food, and turned left to follow Highway 51 south. For the first time we saw a sign saying Elko, Nevada, was only 250 miles away. We spent a large part of the remainder of the day wandering through severely remote and sparse country. At one point we may have driven as much as a hundred miles without seeing even a telephone pole. Hills and brush, brush and hills, twists and turns, ups and downs, vistas of distant mountains full of nothing more than brush, oh, and hills between. We just drove hard. I’d been curious to see this part of the country, a road I’d never been on, and will probably never drive again. The Shoshone reservation and the tiny town of Owyhee passed us quickly. We stopped at the general store for more gas, as we would not see another station for another hundred miles.
Just south of Owhee, around the first bend outside of town, we entered an unusual and interestingly beautiful rock wall canyon that followed the course of a briskly-running little river, the Owyhee, a tributary of the Snake. I would return to this canyon just to photograph the many magnificent rocks that appear as if they about to tumble into the river. The canyon twists and turns with an infinite variety of angles, and we were fortunate enough to view it in the late, purple-shadowed afternoon. I am surprised that, like many of the beautiful rivers of America, it has not been dammed up.
As we came out of the canyon land we passed Wild Horse Reservoir. I had heard from fishing enthusiasts that they catch fish as long as their arm out of this reservoir. As we drove by I could see a cluster of RVs parked along the edge in the dirt. Again, such desolate country, with heat, strong wind, and much brush, I don’t imagine that I could camp here for very long without getting sick of looking at it, when there are so many pretty places to go see. Elko is not one of the pretty places, but it is on Interstate 80, that broad, fast section of road that would sweep us on home tomorrow. We pulled into the WalMart parking lot before sunset, the same parking lot we had stayed over night in some sixteen nights prior.