The Snake River in Idaho is a huge torrent of a river that carves a deep gorge in the landscape. Much of the gorge cuts across the southern part of Idaho and then along the Oregon border. I’ll give you a mental image. If you grew up in the 1970’s, then you probably remember Evel Knievel tried to jump a rocket-propelled motorcycle across the Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls. Well, that’s the same river the pioneers had to cross but they had no bridges and no rocket-propelled motorcycles.
The River Ford
The gorge and surrounding terrain were a big challenge for the pioneers because they needed to cross the river at some point to make their way to Oregon. With the Native people’s help, they found a good place to cross at Three Island Crossing. This fording place is about 2/3 the way across Idaho and 40 miles past Twin Falls. At this point, the gorge walls widened and allowed for a gradual descent to the river.
In the river channel there are three elongated parallel islands. So the instead of crossing one wide river, the islands made it like crossing three smaller rivers.
Today, this site is preserved as a nice state park. There are two large campgrounds, a day use area, and a Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. I camped here for two nights on my journey. It’s a lovely peaceful setting. The camping areas are shaded, well spaced, and all have water and electric hook ups.
Here’s a video that I made of the state park.
Before you get to Three Island Crossing, there’s a small National Monument along the Snake River in the town of Hagerman. The Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is a place where many fossilized skeletons of prehistoric animals were found. The most famous is the Hagerman Horse. This creature was grazing around the Snake River area about 3-4 million years ago. In the 1920’s, a rancher started finding fossilized bones and got paleontologist from the Smithsonian involved. They found over 200 species at over 100 dig sites.
There currently are no active digs going on at Hagerman. But the small Visitor Center has a nice display of the types of things they did find. Seeing things that were in the area 3-4 million years ago made my trek back to the 1840’s seem a but tiny from a historical perspective.
But, there’s another thing at the Hagerman Fossils Beds that is noteworthy for this journal. There’s a great set of Oregon Trail wagon ruts in the protected National Monument land. The Oregon Trail went right across the south bank of the river and since that area is all protected, the wagon ruts are very visible and well-preserved. I took a drive over and was impressed with the terrain and what I saw.
I left Three Island Crossing and continued my westward trek on I-84. Just before Boise, there is an out-of-the-way and small historical site that I visited. Bonneville Point is about 4 miles north of the highway. It’s a gradual climb to get up this hill and there’s a dirt road for part of the way. But it’s a very rewarding place to visit.
In 1833, an expedition of trappers with wagons headed by french speaking Captain Bonneville climbed up to this vantage point to see what lay ahead. The Snake River valley is very wide and broad at this point. But the valley is also a dry treeless plain.
Once they got up to the point, they looked west and saw a lush wooded valley in the distance. “Les Bois, Les Bois!. Voyez Les Boise!” said Captain Bonneville. He was saying “The woods, the woods. Look at the woods. Les Bois later became Fort Boise and after that it was just Boise, the capital of Idaho.
Today that wooded valley can still be seen from Bonneville Point. The valley now has many tall buildings and structures that were not there in 1834.
For the same reason as Captain Bonneville, the Oregon Trail went over the hill. The pioneers left a good set of wagon ruts there.
Here’s a short video of my visit to Bonneville Point.
From Bonneville Point, I drove past Boise and proceeded onto Oregon. There is a replica of Fort Boise in Boise (it’s been moved to a different spot), but I decided to skip that stop. I was purposely avoiding cities on my trek following the Trail.
I made my way just over the border to the small town of Vale, OR. This small town was a stop on the Oregon Trail and I made it my stop for a night. I stayed at a nice little RV park of Vale Trails RV Park in downtown Vale.
Vales’ claim to fame these day is murals. Murals painted on the sides of buildings depicting the history of the local area. There’s 23 murals. It’s an easy walking tour to see all the murals. I saw about half of them.
Now in Oregon, the pioneers made their way north west along several short river valleys. The terrain here was the most challenging along the Trail. They needed to work their way over hills and through deep canyons to get to each new river valley.
I followed the Trail up to Baker City and then to my final destination of Pendleton.