Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Snake River’

Jackson Hole Beneath the Shadow of the Tetons

Welcome to the majestic Tetons.

Welcome to the majestic Tetons

The majestic, 7000-foot-high Teton Range signals arrival in scenic Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is located on the floor of a valley surrounded by mountains. John Colter was the first white American to view the valley and his reports were viewed with skepticism as people doubted any place could be so beautiful.

Elk Antler Arch

Elk Antler Arch

Town square serves as the main attraction of downtown Jackson Hole, as each corner has an arch composed of hundreds of elk antlers. Each winter, local Boy Scouts gather the antlers from the National Elk Reserve nearby. An auction is held to sell the antlers with proceeds going to the refuge. However, first of importance is maintaining repair work on the arches with any needed antlers.

Downtown hums with the sights and sounds of many gift shops and restaurants. Million Dollar Cowboy Bar featured in many Hollywood movies, Jackson Drug with its old time soda fountain, and the Victorian style Wort Hotel, home of the Silver Dollar Bar,  provided interesting stops during this visit. After an exhausting day, we devoured a delicious Mexican dinner at an old established restaurant, Merry Piglets.

This area abounds with treasures to behold and even a week’s stay would not give one a chance to enjoy them all thoroughly. While the town of Jackson Hole delights many visitors, camping in the foothills of the Tetons gives an entirely different perspective.

Rustic cabin below the Cathedral Group

Rustic cabin below the Cathedral Group

Snake River, which flows from its headwater at Yellowstone River, meanders along the base of the Tetons. The old Cunningham Cabin situated at the foothills of the Tetons seemed like a perfect place to live. Imagine sitting here with your morning cup of coffee or tea and watching the Snake River flow past the towering mountains.

Just outside of town can be found the largest elk preserve in North America – the National Elk Refuge. During the summer months the elk head higher in the mountains, but during the fall and winter, up to 7500 elk can be found here in the basin.

Jackson Hole Ski Resort

Jackson Hole Ski Resort during summer

Jackson Hole Ski Resort contains the longest ski slope in the area, although many slopes exist. The first ski slope, Snow King Ski Area, was developed way back in 1939. Makes you want to return for the winter snows.

At the Menor-Noble Historic District nearby, exploring Menor’s cabin provides a taste of life in the early 1900’s. His white washed cabin was used as a supply store while he ran a ferry across the Snake River. Cost was twenty-five cents for a horse and wagon to cross. In winter when the water was too rough, they crossed on a flat raft-like apparatus using a pulley system.

Museum of Natural History and Art

Museum of Natural History and Art

Tucked away in the foothills of the Tetons, National Museum of Wildlife Art displays spectacular paintings and statues that tell the story of Wyoming wildlife. Frequent spottings of buffalo along the road to the museum, add to the road trip’s delight. The museum also sponsors many musical and informative programs as well. On this particular day a piano duo playing jazz, Keith and Pam Phillips, entertained the crowd.

Camping along the Snake River

Camping along the Snake River

Leaving town, a stop at Jackson National Fish Hatchery provided viewing of trout from 2″ to 12″, ready to place in area lakes and rivers. All National Hatcheries were listed, and included was one from home – Senecaville Fish Hatchery.

Whether you stay in town at one of their many hotels, or camp in the shade of the Tetons, innumerable adventures await in the area of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Just a short drive to the North is the bubbling Yellowstone National Park, which you won’t want to miss.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming can be found on the western border of Wyoming, very near Idaho. This is not a place of major interstate highways, but the drive is beautiful from any direction.

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Hell’s Half Acre Doorway to Nuclear Testing Facility

Nothing here but rocks! Hell’s Half Acre is a lava field several thousand years old where lava just oozed out of the ground over two hundred plus acres.  Early in the 1800’s on the Snake River Plain in southeastern Idaho, fur traders looking for passage through the Rocky Mountains stumbled upon this rugged land and named it Hell’s Half Acre.  That term was commonly used at that time to describe rough land.

There was some plant growth in this desolate region, and it was pretty amazing to walk over an old lava field. Caution had to be used as there were deep fissures to avoid, as well as frequent rattlesnakes. This uninhabited plain looks barren except for a few wild horses, and is the perfect place for the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. Since 1949, more nuclear reactors, over fifty of them, have been built on this plain than anywhere else in the world. The first nuclear power plant was located here just south of Arco, Idaho.

Arco was the first city in the world to be lit by atomic energy way back in 1955. The power was generated by the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 to a reactor close by, known as the Borax III, located on the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. This was only a temporary solution to their power situation, however, as the reactor suffered a partial meltdown – another world’s first!

Be sure to visit the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 – Atomic Museum on US 20/26. Here in this block building, EBR-1 became the first power plant to generate electricity from atomic energy. They actually made plutonium-239 in the block building where the museum is now located. Inside you could see four nuclear reactors, remote handling devices for radioactive material, and lots more.

Outside you could view the Heat Transfer Reactor Equipment, which was the engine used to transfer nuclear power to a conventional program. Plans were being considered in 1947 for nuclear power to be used as fuel for planes. Since the runway for take-off needed to be about 15,000 feet, the empty plains nearby seemed the perfect place to locate this facility.  But due to advances in conventional aircraft engine design plus public concerns about nuclear reactors flying over their homeland, this project was shelved in 1960.

If interested in the history of nuclear energy, this is an educational stop. The museum is open each Summer and you can either take a self-guided tour or have one of the tour guides fill you in on the importance of EBR-1.   Experiments here paved the path for nuclear energy for the entire world and consequently, it is now a National Historic Landmark. See how it all began!

To reach Hell’s Half Acre in Idaho take I-15 to the Blackfoot Rest Area exit 93, which is southwest of Idaho Falls and just five miles east of Blackfoot.  Here there is a parking area on both sides of the interstate where you have easy access to two walking trails. You can choose a 1 1/2 mile loop or a longer 4 1/2 mile loop. Both are a little on the rough side though partially paved. The Atomic Museum is located west of here on the south side of U S Highway 26. Arco is just a few miles northwest on U S 20/26. Have an explosive experience!

Go To Hells Canyon

Come discover a place where time stands still as you descend into Hells Canyon carved by the great Snake River. As you drive down into the canyon, quiet and beauty surround you. Here is the deepest river gorge in North America with heights of up to 9000 feet surrounding you. It can be approached from either the Idaho or Oregon side, but this day the approach was from Idaho Highway 86.  You will eventually find yourself driving on the famous Canyon Scenic Byway, “Devil’s Tail”, also known as National Forest Road #454, leading to Hells Canyon Dam at the end of the road.

Scenery was awesome and it seemed impossible to capture the towering feeling that surrounded you as you drove along the Snake River in the bottom of the canyon. This canyon separates Idaho from Oregon in a most spectacular way.

The forest road along the top of Hells Canyon was a one-lane dirt road, which was rugged and steep and took several hours to ascend.  Towards the top, the road was covered with a light coat of snow. The last 350 yards had to be traveled on foot in order to arrive at Heavens Gate where the altitude was 8,690 feet and the scent of pine hung thick in the mountain air. The foot path was rough, but the view from the top was breathtaking, my favorite view of the canyon.

From this point, you could see the snow covered Seven Devils Range and the Snake River. There are actually twenty peaks in this range with He Devil and She Devil being the highest, both at about 9400′. At one angle you could see four states: Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming.

Back in 1955. Idaho Power Company began construction of a three dam project in Hells Canyon. First a road had to be constructed and even then couldn’t bring in all the needed supplies. Helicopters were used to bring in tools and equipment as well as help with erecting the transmission towers that carry the power out of the canyon to the Oregon side. Finally, we reach the end of the 22 mile road and cross over the dam to the Oregon side where the Visitors Center is located.

On close observation, the rugged rock walls of the canyon are like a museum with pictographs and petroglyphs left over from the time when Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce Indians lived there.  Some say part of the petroglyphs date back possibly 15,000 years. Nez Perce Indians  enjoyed the mild winters here as well as the lush foliage and plentiful wildlife. The Snake River provided abundant fish as well as goods they would be able to trade.

Later, in 1895,a cargo ship captain, named Haller, met with rapids more dangerous than expected. Either because of people discussing his adventure in Haller’s Canyon, or perhaps what the captain said when he got in this dangerous situation, the name Hells Canyon stuck. The precipitous mountain sides and the wild rapids seem to reinforce the idea that the name chosen was very fitting.

There is only one way back out of the canyon from the dam, and that is back the same 22 mile road that was originally used to enter. But now it is dusk and the drive out will be a careful one, driving slowly because of the sharp curves and always being aware of dodging fallen rocks either in the air or on the rugged highway. Be sure to keep your eyes on the road and stop when you want to really enjoy the scenery.

Today this magical place is great for whitewater rafting, jet boating as well as fishing excursions. Just being here makes you look at the world with a different perspective. Great spot to relax and leave your worries behind. See you in Hell’s Canyon!

Hells Canyon can be reached from I 84 in Idaho at Exit 304 Hells Canyon/Weiser Road. Follow the signs for the Canyon Scenic Byway and enjoy the adventure.

Craters of the Moon Displays Unique Lava Fields

“A weird and scenic landscape peculiar  unto itself,” is the way President Calvin Coolidge described Craters of the Moon. Definitely feel like you are no longer in Idaho, when you reach the Craters of the Moon National Monument in the southern part of the state. This geological extravaganza of rugged lava flow covers 750,000 acres, roughly the size of Rhode Island, and it is the largest lava field in the lower 48 states.

The Great Rift, located along the border of the Snake River Plain, is a showcase of volcanic activity.  Lava flows, fissures, and cinder cones were created by a break in the earth’s crust about fifty miles long. Twisted rivers of lava coil around and through caves and tunnels.

But the eruptions here are not like those you would expect.  When we think of volcanoes, we picture a high cone shaped mountain with steep sides and a crater at the top.  However, Craters of the Moon eruptions are called “fissure eruptions” – outbreaks which occur along the cracks in the earth’s crust.

The Shoshone Indian legend tells the story of the volcano’s first eruption where the Snake River runs today. Many moons ago, flashes of lightning frightened the serpent so dreadfully that he squeezed the mountain until liquid rock came out of it, cracks had fire coming from them, and the mountain finally exploded. While there is evidence Indians hunted and sometimes camped here, no permanent settlements would have occurred. Perhaps they did use the basalt for their arrowheads.

Estimates date the first eruptions here about 15,000 years ago. The black lava flows were from the most recent eruptions, which occurred approximately 2,000 years ago. This desolate landscape has been described as a “garden fit for the devil,” and was later named Devil’s Orchard. Today scientists, hikers and curious visitors journey over many trails to explore the area. Need your walking shoes on, as the paths are sometimes steep and often quite long.

Isolated spots of vegetation called “kipukas” give clues to the type of plants growing in the past. High up on the hillsides you might find a 700 year old juniper tree, old sagebrush, or native bunchgrass. Down on ground level, collapsed tubes and caves demand that you use caution as openings can be hazardous. Many tunnels require special entry permits to ensure safety as well as protect sensitive geological features.

As you might guess, Craters of the Moon was used by NASA astronauts in training for the moon exploration back in 1969. They explored the unusual environment and studied the volcanic geology in preparation for their space journey.

Today Craters of the Moon is neither active nor extinct.  Just sleeping! Scientists actually expect some activity to take place in the area within the next thousand years.  Enjoy exploring where you can let your imagination run wild! It’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

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