Monday, May 7, 2012

April 30, 2012. Leaving Rexburg, Idaho, For Craters Of The Moon.

The Hawthornes are leaving Rexburg, Idaho,
and heading for Craters of the Moon.

Enjoy the scenery.

Along either side of the highway
are piles of lava rocks.

We passed a lot of constructions like this one -
with thatched or green-growing roofs.

We're approaching the lava fields.

"It was a desolate, dismal scenery.  Up or down the valley as far as the eye could reach or across the mountains and into the dim distance the same unvarying mass of black rock.  Not a shrub, bird, nor insect seemed to live near it.  Great must have been the relief of the volcano, powerful the emetic, that poured such a mass of black vomit."
Julius Caesar Merrill, 
a pioneer traveling Goodale's Cutoff in 1864 

Goodale's Cutoff was a 230 mile long northern alternate
to the main Oregon Trail.
After 1863, most emigrants used Goodale's Cutoff
in an effort to avoid hostilities with the Indians.

The Oregon Trail followed the course of the Snake River. In 1852, John Jeffrey began promoting a spur trail which traced traditional Shoshone migration routes, in an effort to generate business for his ferry at the mouth of the Blackfoot River.  It was not until a decade later that a large percentage of Oregon Trail traffic chose that route.  In 1862, an emigrant party asked trail guide Tim Goodale to lead them west from Fort Hall on the cutoff pioneered by Jeffrey, hoping the alternate trail would allow them to reach the Salmon River gold fields more directly.  Goodale succeeded in leading a group of 1095 people, 338 wagons, and 2900 head of cattle safely from Fort Hall to Boise.  It took this enormous wagon train - the largest to travel any section of the Oregon Trail - over three hours to get into or out of camp.

By 1862, the Northern Shoshone and Bannock tribes were beginning to resist the intrusion of settlers in their homeland.  In August 1862, Shoshone Indians ambushed a wagon train at Massacre Rock, killing 10 people.  The growing Indian hostility along the trail resulted in increased demand for a safe alternative.  In 1863, seven out of every ten wagons en route from Fort Hall to Boise took Goodale's Cutoff instead of the main Oregon Trail.

The 230-mile spur headed north from Fort Hall toward Big Southern Butte, a conspicuous landmark on the Snake River Plain.  From there it passed near the present-day town of Arco, wound through the northern part of Craters of the Moon National Monument, went southwest to Camas Prairie, and ended at Fort Boise.  This journey typically took 2-3 weeks.

Goodale's Cutoff took its toll on the travelers and their wagons.  The rugged lava restricted travel to one lane, so progress was slow.  The path along the lava flows was circuitous.  The emigrants typically passed through in late July, the hottest part of the summer.  Wood dried out in the desert air and shrank, causing wheels and boxes to come apart, littering the landscape.

When emigrants began to take their westbound wagons along an old Indian and trapper's trail past this lava, they had to develop a wild and winding road.  At this spot, like many others, they had hardly enough space to get by.  At times, they could not avoid lava stretches.  But they slowly crept along, leaving their road strewn with parts of broken wagons.  J.C. Merrill noted in 1864 that "at one place we were obliged to drive over a huge rock just a little wider than the wagon.  Had we gone a foot to the right or to the left, the wagon would have rolled over.

Comment from an early traveler:
"The strangest 75 square miles on 
the North American continent."

The landscape here was explosively created by volcanic eruptions.
Cracks in the earth's crust allowed lava to
blast, plop, and flow onto the surface
to form such unusual features as cinder cones,
monoliths, and caves.

From this vantage point,
you gaze across 25 miles of lava to Big Southern Butte.
Early pioneers, following Goodale's Cutoff
from the Oregon Trail,
used this landmark to navigate
around the rugged lavas of the Snake River Plain.
As a traveler today, you may have trouble seeing
Big Southern Butte clearly due to the presence of air pollution.

The ability to see distant objects clearly is affected by 
the quality of the air you're looking through.
Air pollution, in the form of gases and small particles,
can make landmarks like Big Southern Butte
appear to fade into the distant horizon.
The majority of air pollution is the result of human activity. 
 Much of the air pollution affecting
national parks is produced in urban centers
or by industry outside park boundaries,
and then carried by wind to natural areas.
In addition to obstructing scenic views,
air pollution can cause damage to all natural resources.
Gaseous pollutants harm soils, plants, and wildlife,
and acid rain can destroy streams, lakes, and entire ecosystems.
In 1977, the Clean Air Act was amended to
"preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality"
of unique places like Craters of the Moon
and other park areas.
This can only be achieved through cooperation
of private industry and government agencies,
the use of pollution controls,
and the wise use and conservation of energy by everyone.

Stay tuned for Craters of the Moon.

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