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No More Metes and Bounds

Whenever I drive south from Kuna on Swan Falls Road toward the Snake River, I pass a little sign indicating a turnoff to a place called Initial Point. It’s a butte just one mile to the east on a good dirt road, but for me there always seemed to be some excuse not to run over and check it out. At last, I decided to do what I had often told myself I should do, and took that turn.

A road leads up the butte, but the steep grade is studded with sharp lava rocks, and rather than chewing up my vehicle’s tires, I opted for an easy climb to the summit. I followed the road on foot about halfway across the east side of the butte, impressed with the expanse of open country between myself and the distant mountains of the Boise Front. A rugged shortcut uphill beckoned. After a brief climb, the butte rounded onto a large flat area used for parking and, I’m sure, partying. At the southwest corner of this area, a lava outcropping rose to a point topped by a concrete platform with guardrails of pipe.

This butte may be only a hundred and twenty-five feet above the desert floor, but the flatness of the surrounding countryside makes for stunning vistas. Whether the Boise Front to the north, the Owyhee Mountains to the south, Oregon’s Mahogany Mountains to the west or the endless desert to the east, the land defines the concept of big sky. My whole life, I have explored its canyons and other features, and the grandeur of its open space. Continue reading

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The River in Stone

Last fall I was inspired to check out the petroglyph called Map Rock, which is a fairly famous landmark to folks around Melba in Canyon County just south of Nampa, where I was born.

But I was raised in Boise and, to be honest, I hadn’t heard about the rock until my girlfriend Jen suggested we go for a drive. The directions she had taken from a website were vague, and when she had tried to visit the place a couple months earlier, she couldn’t find it.

Her directions described Map Rock Road as a dirt turnoff from Highway 45, which winds along the north side of the Snake River, but we discovered the road is now paved. A couple of miles along it, we found a rest area with a modern pit toilet, for which we were thankful. Although the area sign had said “Map Rock,” we were unable to find any hint of petroglyphs at first. After a bit of hiking along footpaths near the rest area and some confusion as to exactly where we were supposed to be looking, we both became a bit worried that this trip would also end in failure. I pretended to maintain my confidence, because Jen looked like she was losing faith, but it already was apparent that just to find the location was an adventure. We hopped back into the car and drove along the road, looking for any clue that might present itself, or even anything that looked somehow out of place. But it was difficult in the sameness of the rural landscape. Finally, we spotted a site just off the highway, surprisingly less than a half-mile west of the rest area. Maybe this search should have provided fun in its own right, but as I recall it left us a bit testy! Continue reading

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Riding the Top Twenty-Eight

The last thing I expected after finishing the Seventh Annual Weiser River Trail Bike Ride last June was to be perfectly brined from the experience—a flawless crust, of which I was not even aware.

I had often thought of riding a bike on the trail, which at eighty-four miles is the longest rail trail in Idaho, climbing from desert hills near Weiser through desert canyons, rich farmland valleys, forested canyons and alpine meadows, all on a gentle riverside grade. What I wanted to do was ride the upper twenty-eight miles past Council and heading toward New Meadows, because not only did this section lead mostly under shade trees, but it was the steepest downhill stretch on the route. Continue reading

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King Hill

King Hill was a thriving community when my grandfather bought the last unclaimed property of the King Hill Irrigation District in 1920. Today the place is devoid of businesses. With the coming of diesel engines, the railroad no longer needed the water tower and began keeping its helper engines for the King Hill Grade in nearby Glenns Ferry, where the main yard and roundhouse were located. Nowadays, the trains don’t stop even in Glenns Ferry. But in my grandfather’s day, the pride of King Hill was a substantial two-story brick schoolhouse dominating the town from a knoll just north of the bank, hotel, bar, grocery story, café, and other businesses lining Meridian Street. 

Signs of the First Inhabitants

People lived on this big bend of the Snake River for two thousand years before a wheel ever crossed the land. Mark Plew, a professor in Boise State University’s Department of Anthropology, has excavated five sites along the river at King Hill. Bands were small, just ten to twelve people. The deer and rabbits that comprised most of their diet were plentiful, but scarce fuel for cooking and warmth forced the bands to move on. An interesting oddity of the archeological record around King Hill, including from Three Island Crossing in Glenns Ferry to Hagerman, is that this is the only place on the Snake River where metal points are found in the digs. We know from Captain John C. Fremont’s journals that he brought metal rings for trade. Apparently, native people quickly realized how handy metal is for working into projectile points.

In the valley around King Hill everyone picked up rocks—and they’re still picking them up. Rocks are piled into fences and have been used to build homes, including the one my mother was raised in west of town. About five years ago, when I first introduced myself to Jean Allen, who now owns the property with her husband Roy, Jean’s first words were, “Well, we’re still picking up rocks” (for that story, see “House of Stone,” IDAHO magazine, November 2008). Roy now assures me he has a big tractor with teeth, and he’s going to get those rocks out for good. Jean rolls her eyes.  Continue reading

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A Spirited Teapot

What, an antique shop in Spirit Lake that sells Lionel model trains? Learning this, I soon covered the forty miles north of Coeur d’Alene to Spirit Lake’s Main Street.

Turning left from Idaho Highway 41, I was immediately taken by two blocks of early Idaho stone-and-wood commercial architecture. The buildings, up to three stories tall, were well-maintained and mostly open for business, but they were not gussied up. The kid in me couldn’t wait to get out of the car but had to wait for a parking space in the second block, across the street from the antique shop.

While it was the kid in me who jumped out of the car into this Idaho townscape, it was all of me who had to stop in the middle of Main Street, say out loud, “I love it,” and reach for my camera. “It” was the coolest water tower I’d ever seen—a huge and handsome blue coffee pot.

In the train and antiques shop, owner Helen Campilli told me she bought her husband a toy train set many years ago, “Something we didn’t even know existed. He was raised too poor and I was raised on a farm away from everything.” After that gift of love, they collected Lionel trains for years and finally decided to open a shop to get rid of some of them. That led to buying more, applying to be a franchise, and going at it ever since. These days, Helen admits the shop is a way to keep her out of the rocking chair.

We enjoyed a pleasant chat and as I made a small purchase, I mentioned how much I liked the amazing coffee pot water tower. I was immediately corrected. “That is not a coffee pot, it is a teapot. A lady who lived here loved teapots and when she died, her daughter fixed up the water tower to be a teapot in her memory.”

Wow. Continue reading

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