Take a Trip down Idaho’s Pioneer Historic Byway
Here’s our second dispatch for American Guide Week!
Idaho’s oldest town, Native American heritage, the start of the Bonneville Flood, an ice cave, emigrant trails, historic settlements, a captive geyser, a natural spring of soda water, wetlands, and historic mining. These are some of the sites and stories you will encounter on a trip along the Pioneer Historic Byway.
I’m excited to join in American Guide Week and highlight some sites along the Pioneer Historic Byway located in southeast Idaho. The byway begins in Franklin, Idaho, the oldest town in Idaho near the Utah border, and ends at the Idaho and Wyoming border near Freedom, Wyoming. Here you can step back in time and learn more about history while taking in the high desert, mountains, geologic features and the flora and fauna that can be found throughout.
I would like to highlight three sites along the byway that are located on public lands and are free for the public to visit and enjoy.
Local settlers encountered a problem. They had to figure out how to get water to both sides of the Gem Valley in order to avoid losing their water rights. From this predicament the name Last Chance Canal Company was born. Settlers were successful in 1902, but their wooden flumes caused endless trouble. To solve this problem they built a 1,800 foot tunnel through solid lava rock in 1916. Much of this work was done with hand tools. Standing at the end of this tunnel today it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to engineer something that would continue to be in use 100 years later. I don’t know if I would be up to the task, but I do like the view from here.
Sheep Rock towers 1200 feet above the waters of the Bear River. The Bear River starts its course in the Uinta Mountains of eastern Utah, but at Sheep Rock it makes a sudden U-turn and heads south to the Great Salt Lake. It wasn’t always like this. Basaltic volcanic eruptions blocked the Bear River from draining into the Snake River System and sent the river southward back to Utah.
How did it get its name? Trappers and mountain men in the early 1830’s, told about a sizeable flock of bighorn mountain sheep that occupied Sheep Rock’s forested, rocky ridge throughout the year. Sheep Rock marked the junction of the main route of the Oregon-California Trail and Hudspeth’s Cutoff, a shortcut. It was often mentioned in emigrant journals.
I still see Sheep Rock, also known as Soda Point, as a landmark when I travel these roads today as it marks the junction of two highways- Idaho 34 and U.S. 30. I also enjoy visiting the site to read the many interpretive signs and enjoy the view of the Bear River.
This preserve was established by the Natural Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management. Formation Springs features crystal pools and a wetland complex at the base of Aspen Mountain. These pools are formed by cold springs that feed into them and deposit high concentrations of travertine (calcium carbonate) which gives the area its unique geology. It is a refuge for waterfowl, deer, and elk. Another interesting feature is Formation Cave. The cave is almost 10 feet tall at the entrance and 200 feet long.
I enjoy exploring this area, the water is clear and beautiful, and it’s a great place for birdwatching. The cave is fun to explore so be sure to bring a flashlight. It can be a little difficult to find the entrance because it just looks like a hole in the ground so that is an adventure all in itself.
Please check out the other sites along the Pioneer Historic Byway at http://www.pioneerhistoricbyway.org/ and enjoy your journey!
-Amy Lapp, Archaeologist for the Pocatello Field Office
Center City scaffolding.