Southern Idaho Part I: Spuds and Waterfalls
When we planned our trip to Yellowstone, we thought about continuing on to Yosemite afterward. We were surprised to learn Yosemite is almost 1,000 miles from Yellowstone! We thought all that extra driving might rush our schedule a little since we had decided to slow down our travels. Then there is the high price of gas, which is even higher in the west than the east and higher in California than anywhere, so we decided Yosemite would have to wait for another year.
However, since West Yellowstone is very close to Idaho (in fact, a small part of Yellowstone National Park is in Idaho), we thought we would drive a short way into southern Idaho and spend a week. As we headed toward our destination of Lake Walcott State Park near Rupert, ID, we passed through Blackfoot, ID where the Idaho Potato Museum is located. We normally don't stop at any attractions when we are traveling in the motor home, but we were interested in the museum since Idaho is so well known for its potatoes. The travel distance was too far back from our final destination in Rupert to return in the car (we're trying to save gas) so we decided to make an exception and stop in the motor home.
The Idaho Potato Museum is located in the old Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot. There was a short video and numerous displays explaining how potatoes are grown, harvested, stored, and used.
The Potato Museum also has a collection of antique potato planting, harvesting, and handling equipment like the machine that Margery is checking out. This machine, which was invented in 1958, is called Spudnik's Scooper and was used to gently remove potatoes from the storage cellars.
Not to be outdone, Paul is getting the feel for this potato planter that was used in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was towed behind a horse. Hey, the farmer could plant and fertilize at the same time!
Then Margery moved over to the the sorter/bagger to see how it worked.
Idaho grows about 30% of all the potatoes grown in the U. S. The famous Idaho potato is a variety called the Russet Burbank, which was developed by Luther Burbank in the 1870s. The Russet Burbank is a large, brown-skinned potato that is commonly used for french fries and for baking.
It is along the Snake River, which flows through southern Idaho, that the world famous Idaho potato is grown. The climate in southern Idaho is ideal for growing potatoes, even though they only get about 9" of rain a year. Although most people would consider farming impossible with that little rain, the presence of the Snake River with its abundant water makes irrigation not only possible, but desirable. Irrigation allows the farmers to optimize the moisture content of the soil for maximum potato production.
If you remember our last post on the Grand Tetons, the Snake River runs through Jackson Lake in the Tetons in Wyoming. Jackson Lake was dammed in 1906 so that the lake could act as a reservoir for southern Idaho farmers.
Potatoes are rotated with other crops such as wheat and hay in the irrigated fields. Everywhere we went, we saw the long sprinkler lines spraying water. The photo below shows a side-roll lateral sprinkler system in a potato field.
Potatoes are not grown from seed (except for developing new varieties), but are grown from cut up pieces of potato called seed potatoes. Each piece must have an eye, which is an indentation in the surface of the potato from which the plant will sprout. A certified seed potato means the potato is intended to be cut up for planting, and it is certified to be disease-free. Late blight, which caused the potato famine in Ireland that brought so many Irish immigrants to this country in the mid-1800s, can still be devastating to potato farmers today.
After our tour of the museum, they gave us packages of dehydrated hash browns. Here is Paul showing off our "freebies" next to the museum's sign.
These hash browns, by the way, were delicious and very easy to prepare. They are available online at Buyhashbrowns.com. Each carton makes more than a pound of hash browns. Just hydrate with water, microwave or let stand 20 minutes, then grill. There was no way you could tell they were originally dehydrated potatoes.
After we left the museum, we continued on to Rupert, ID. Lake Walcott State Park has about 25 RV sites with water and 30 amp electricity and a number of tent sites in a separate area. Roads and RV pads are paved, and the space between sites is generous and covered with well-irrigated grass. Be careful, because the sprinklers run for about an hour every weekday (during the day, not at night), and they can come on without notice. The campground is quiet and the only sound after dark is the water from the rapids below the dam.
During the week, there were usually only 2 or 3 rigs in the campground besides ours. The campground wasn't even full on the weekend.
The only negative thing about Lake Walcott was the midges. Midges are insects that emerge from the water in great numbers; and, although most varieties don't bite, they are really very unpleasant because of the fact they swarm everywhere. Last year we wrote about our experience at Perry Lake in Kansas when the midges were so thick you could hardly see, and there were even dozens and dozens of them inside the motor home. The only good thing was they were almost all gone the next day. Kansas must have had ALL the midges emerge at the same time. The ones at Lake Walcott weren't as numerous and at least they stayed outside for the most part, but they were present the whole time we were there flying around our faces and into our hair every time we went outside. Idaho must have had smaller numbers emerge every day instead of all at once like they did in Kansas. In spite of the midges, Lake Walcott is still a nice campground.
The town of Rupert near Lake Walcott isn't very big. (Translation: they don't have a Wal-Mart.) But, like so many small, rural towns, they have a nice park right in the middle of downtown.
Lake Walcott State Park is only about an hour from Twin Falls, ID. Twin Falls is named for a waterfall by the name of Twin Falls on the Snake River. Although Twin Falls seems to be a pretty big waterfall in its own right and although the town is named after it, this waterfall isn't publicized much. We didn't even find out about Twin Falls waterfall until after our visit. It's Shoshone Falls that gets all the promotion, and for good reason. Shoshone falls are called the Niagara of the West.
At over 200 feet high, Shoshone Falls are more than 30 feet higher than Niagara and flows over a rim that is 900 feet wide.
Overlooking the falls is a nice park operated by the city of Twin Falls. There are several vantage points from which you can observe the falls.
As we have mentioned, the Snake River is widely used for irrigation, and the diversion of water for irrigation can significantly reduce the flow over Shoshone Falls during the summer and fall. While researching Shoshone Falls, Margery came across the Northwest Waterfall Survey website, so she e-mailed the founder, Bryan Snow, trying to ascertain what kind of flow would be there during our visit. We didn't want to make the trip if it had run dry. After checking out his sources, Bryan e-mailed us back that if we got there within a couple of weeks, there should still be a moderate flow.
Fortunately for us, even though we were there in mid-July, the flow was pretty high. They had some photographs on some descriptive plaques at the park with the flow essentially covering the entire width of the rock; but during the height of the growing season, we were happy to be able to see as much water as we did. The flow was high enough to kick up a nice rainbow.
Below is a panoramic view of Shoshone Falls.
Another interesting fact we learned was that the Snake River Canyon where Shoshone Falls is located was shaped by the cataclysmic flooding of Lake Bonneville in the distant past. Lake Bonneville covered much of what now is Utah and had no outlet to the sea. When the lake overflowed and washed away a natural dam, the water flowed into the Snake River. This flow of water from Lake Bonneville may have continued for as much as a year and shaped the Snake River Canyon. The draining and subsequent drying of the remainder of Lake Bonneville left behind the Bonneville Salt Flats, which is west of Great Salt Lake. Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, and a few smaller lakes are remnants of the larger Bonneville Lake.
Snake River Canyon down river of Shoshone Falls is also the site of an unsuccessful attempt in 1974 by daredevil Evil Knievel to jump the canyon on a rocket-powered cycle. Although the cycle actually flew far enough to clear the canyon, the drogue 'chute accidentally deployed during the jump due to bolts on the housing being stripped by the force of the rocket blast. The deployed 'chute not only slowed the flight of the cycle, it caused the cycle to drift back into the canyon and crash at the bottom. Knievel escaped with only minor injuries.
On our way back to the motor home, we stopped at the rapids below the dam at Lake Walcott to look at the white pelicans, which are the white dots that can barely be seen up near the rapids in the photo below.
It was hard to get a good photo of the pelicans because, not only were they far away, they always seemed to be facing upstream so all we could see was their butts. After several tries, Paul finally caught one with its head turned so you could at least see it was a pelican.
We extended our stay at Lake Walcott two extra days for a total of seven, partly in keeping with our slow-down plan, but mostly because we liked the campground in spite of the midges. Besides, we still had another nearby area to explore before we started to meander back east.