After spending weeks crossing the desolate Great Basin in Wyoming, the pioneers must have welcomed a break and a more scenic less harsh terrain. As they left Wyoming, they had to cross over some rugged hilly terrain to get to the Bear River in Idaho. But once there, they would be rewarded with good water, more greenery, and less scrub desert.
When I crossed into Idaho, I also needed a break. Once I got to the Bear River, it was time to check out the small tourist town of Lava Hot Springs.
Lava Hot Springs
The name says it all. It’s a town with a natural hot springs. I never was much of a “soaker”. But, once I began trying some hot springs in Colorado, I got hooked and now jump at a chance to soak in some naturally hot mineral water. There’s maybe 400 people who call this town home. But it’s a nice destination to chill out and do some soaking or tubing down the Portneuf River.
The hot springs are right in the middle of town. The small facility is run by the State of Idaho and it costs $5.50 for an all day geezer pass. It’s a very nice place. There are 5 pools of varying temperatures. I could only handle the 102-103 degree pool. I spent about an hour in and out of the water relaxing and soaking up the surrounding vistas.
There are four options for camping in the town. All are RV park type places and all are pricey because it’s a touristy place. I decided to splurge and stay at the KOA right on the river and a 10 min walk to the hot springs. It was a good choice. Everything was within an easy walk. I got some writing done, did some video editing, and got some uploaded. I also got to eat out for only the second time since being on the Trail. It was a nice short break. After two days of R&R, it was time to hitch up the wagon and head out.
More Ruts and Register Rock
From Lava Hot Springs, I had to make my way over to the Bear River Valley. After a short ascent over some hills, my first historical stop was a highway pullover to see The Big Hill. The pioneers went over a series of hills to get to the Bear River. The hill which they descended, called The Big Hill, is pretty much the same as they left it in the 1800’s. There’s a series of ruts which show the route they took to get down the hill. Journals from the pioneers say that coming down was a harrowing experience.
My next stop was Register Rock. It’s just a little day use park run the State, but it’s cool to see the names of pioneers chiseled in the stone.
I wonder. If we could talk to those folks today, what would their reaction be to knowing their names are still there and being viewed by tourists 150 years later. Perhaps the conversation would go something like this:
ME: “Hey Mr. Chestnut, I happened to be traveling along the Oregon Trail and I saw your name chiseled into a big rock along the Snake River. They call the place Register Rock. It’s pretty cool.”
H. CHESTNUT: “By Gory! The Oregon Trail huh?. Now that was a wicked long time ago. And you saw my name on a rock? My name’s still there after all these years? I remember stoppin by a big rock. It was while that big war was goin on back east. Maybe some called it Register Rock back in the day, I don’t know. Can’t remember but I know it was by the Snake. We made camp there. Unhitched and watered the oxen, and ate a couple dried biscuits. My feet hurt bad and I was bored so I sat down and took to chiselin my name on that rock. Wife said I was nuts and to keep the noise down. But it kinda gave me somethin to do while I was keepin an eye out for the Natives. Glad to hear it’s cool. When I was there in the summer of 62′ the heat was bad.”
ME: “Yes, there’s a whole bunch of names still on the rock. The State of Idaho had made this place into a small park. They charge people $5 to see the names on the rock.”
H. CHESTNUT: “What’s Idaho? We was on the Snake in the Indian Territory for days and days. I never heard of no Idaho. So that rock’s still there huh and my name’s still on it? And someone charges money to look at a rock and my name? By Gory! Pay money to look at a rock! Some kinda foolish. How’s your oxen holdin up?”
ME: “Oh, I’m not using any oxen or a wagon. I’ve got a motorhome and it’s running fine. I’m doing about 150 miles a day following the same trail you did.”
H. CHESTNUT: ” A what? M o t o r h o m e? And it runs? We did mostly walkin when I did the trail in 62′. Me, the wife, and the young-uns walked for days on end. Can’t image anyone runnin on the trail. 150 miles per day? Sounds like you been pullin on a jug or had too much sun. Anyway, you got a long haul ahead of ya there fella. Best you pray to God to help you find good water, keep an eye out for rattlers, and get ready for them hills in Oregon. The worst is ahead of ya and it makes my bones ache just thinkin about it. ”
Like the pioneers, I had to stop and marvel at Shoshone Falls. With all the dams, it’s now a trickle of its former self. But it’s still impressive. Higher than Niagara Falls, it’s called the Niagara of the West.
And the Snake River Gorge is jaw dropping.
After Shoshone Falls, I made a brief stop in Twins Falls to get some food. It was very hot that day. In the high 90’s type of hot. I needed to find a cool place to camp with electricity so I could run the A/C. I found the perfect spot at Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenns Ferry. This was a major stopping point on the Oregon rail. And I would end up spending two days camped there by the Snake River learning about what took place at this river crossing.