Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 1, 2012. Shoshone Falls In Twin Falls, Idaho.

The Hawthornes drove the winding road into
Snake River Canyon, northeast of Twin Falls, Idaho,
to check out Shoshone Falls.

One can only imagine and marvel at the forces of nature
that created this geological marvel.
Shoshone Falls and the fantastically eroded basalt cliffs
that surround it are relics of the catastrophic torrent
known as the Bonneville Flood
that ripped through the canyon about 15,000 years ago.

About a million years ago, a gigantic lake
about the size of Lake Michigan,
covered roughly 20,000 square miles of northern Utah,
eastern Nevada, and southern Idaho.
Lake Bonneville was formed by a natural rock barrier
in Eastern Idaho, but had no river outlet to the sea.

Rainfall and snowmelt gradually raised the level of the lake
until the natural dam collapsed.
The entire lake came crashing through the Snake River Canyon,
causing the Great Bonneville Flood.

The tremendous amount of water that ravaged the canyon
scoured rock loose from the canyon walls,
created whirlpool-eroded alcoves, and deposited gravel bars
hundreds of feet high along the Snake River Canyon.

The Bonneville Flood lasted about six weeks,
but water continued to flow from the remains of the lake for a year.
A 350-foot-high wall of water raced through the canyon
at 70 miles per hour.
In that time 380 cubic miles of water
flowed down the Snake River.
Today, Utah's Great Salt Lake is all 
that remains of Lake Bonneville.

To get a perspective of the flood,
the canyon at the Twin Falls Perrine Bridge
 is about 480 feet deep.
Before the flood began,
the river bottom was at the thin dirt layer
visible on the north canyon wall
about halfway down, near the bottom bridge support.

The bridge would have been under about 10 feet of water.
Rock and dirt cascading downstream chiseled out 
the lower part of the canyon in just a few weeks.

Damn wires.

There's a lovely park in the area.

This far away from the falls,
and I'm getting wet from the mist.

 Shoshone Falls is also known as the "Niagara of the West."
Actually, Shoshone Falls tumbles 212 feet
to the canyon floor, 
more than 50 feet farther than Niagara.
The waterfall's terraced, 100-foot span
is truly a magnificent sight.

Spring is definitely the best time of year
to visit Shoshone Falls.
In years of heavy precipitation,
the Snake River swells with snowmelt,
creating a fantastic display at the waterfall.
Later in the year,
Shoshone Falls' cliffs may be nearly dry,
as most of the river's flow is diverted
to produced hydroelectric power 
and irrigate Idaho's fertile farmlands.

No one knows who the first non-native person was to set eyes upon Shoshone Falls.  The Wilson Hunt expedition of fur trappers passed through the region in 1811, apparently without having seen them.  Group after group of traders, trappers, missionaries, and settlers trudged across the sagebrush plain without mention of the falls.  Even the Topographical Engineer Lt. John C. Fremont, known as the "Pathfinder," overlooked the falls while leading an expedition in 1843.

The first written evidence of a non-Native American seeing the falls came in 1847 in the journal of Augustine Blanchet, a Canadian priest, traveling west.  He gave it the name "Canadian Falls" because it was known almost solely to the Canadians passing it bound for the fur trading outposts.

"There seems to be but one opinion, that it equaled in grandeur and in proportion to the column of water at Niagara falls.  Having been the first who had ever taken the trouble to examine them carefully and wishing to change the name said to have been given them by a priest many years since, they decided on that of the Great Shoshone Falls, instead of Canadian, as being the most appropriate."
Journal Entry - Major Osborne Cross, 1849
During an 1853-1854 railroad survey, Frederick W. Lander became fascinated with the measurements surrounding the falls.  He recorded:

"At a distance of 12 miles, a white column may be seen in the plain resembling the smoke of a fire.  The sound of falling water is heard at a great distance.  The bed of the river is 620 feet below the surrounding level country.  The water flows in a contracted channel of about four hundred feet.  The sides of the ravine are nearly perpendicular.  The fall is one hundred and eight five feet, and is slightly broken at a point from the upper level."

Since their discovery, the falls have held a special fascination to visitors.  In the summer of 1875, 19-year old Charles Algamott came to the area.  He became enchanted with the falls and surrounding lands and was convinced it would be a tourist attraction.  In his memoirs, her wrote:
"No country in the world could produce a location where beauty, grandeur, and power was so artistically and profusely intermixed."

Walgamott wasted no time finding out how to acquire the falls, ultimately buying up land on both sides of the canyon.  In 1886, he built a hotel on the south side that became a popular tourist destination.  As surrounding cities grew, the number of guests staying at the Shoshone Falls Hotel gradually decreased, although many continued coming to view the mighty falls.

At 212 feet high and 950 feet wide, Shoshone Falls is known as the "Niagara of the West," but unlike Niagara Falls, it is not surrounded by commercial development.  Visitors can see the falls today because of a gift from the past.  A land donation made in 1932 to in 1932 to the City of Twin Falls from F.J. and Martha Adams, ensured that it would be "forever held for park purposes only for the beneficial use and enjoyment of all the people."

Next stop - the other falls of Twin Falls, Idaho.

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