The year’s first stretch of sunshine invites us to spend a day exploring terrain popular a century ago and millennia ago in an unassuming desert canyon.
Record setting snow is finally giving way to sunshine and birdsong.
“I think that’ll last until May,” I mused a month ago of the snow mountain the neighbors and I had piled between our driveways. A few weeks over 40°F, though, and the mountain has become a mole hill.
Idaho Transportation Department highway cameras show a persistent blanket of snow to the north so we decide we’ll enjoy sunshine on trails we left unexplored in Jump Creek Canyon. I confirm through the Highway 95 camera south of Marsing that the hills there are snow free.
Few signs mark the way to Jump Creek. We all laugh at a hand painted one that shouts “I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR GPS SAYS” at the head of a driveway not far from the recreation area.
The canyon harbors a bit of snow and ice not visible from highway cameras but not enough to deter us.
Before we left, I pulled up pictures from our last visit¹ to find they were from the very same week of February, three years ago. Today isn’t so warm and dry, though. Crossing Jump Creek without wet shoes is tricky.
“Should I wear these?” Alexis asked as we prepared to head out, holding up hiking boots.
“I think tennis shoes will be fine,” I answer. “But those are fine too, if you prefer.” My advice on footwear is rarely correct.
I get across with one wet foot then re-arrange some rocks as stepping stones for others.
Ancient tools and processed animals bones were found in the shallow caves here along Jump Creek (identified as 10-OE-3686). The findings are held at the College of Idaho’s Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History.¹
We deviate as before from the main path into water-birch and dogwood brambles to experience the cavernous space below massive overhangs. It’s easy to imagine ancient people finding shelter here, sitting around an evening fire that casts its warm glow on grey walls beneath the sliver of stars above.
“Do you have any photography assignments?” I asked Alexis before we left, thinking the walk might be a good chance to get some done for his class at Timberline High.
A couple up creek seem excited to see two cameras on tripods pointed their way.
I wonder if this brambled deviation was once the main path. Visitors a century ago wrote of the “huge boulder, caught in its fall and lodged against one side”¹ above the trail.
Idaho Statesman, “For a Sunday Motor Trip — Somewhere to Go” (Apr 15, 1923)
Within these tight and twisted spaces, the same feature may look wholly different from above or below, left or right. We can feel outraged with the assumption that different perspectives must be lies or lunacy or we can step off our usual path for a chance to see a world more amazing than we imagined.
Tumbleweeds collect like old habits along the hidden, inflexible channel.
Carrying a tripod and serious looking camera seems to have us in the majority of today’s Jump Creek visitors.
“I climbed up and then across,” Jessica explains when we see her standing dry beyond a span of water. It was that or an amazing leap.
There is beauty in contrasts.
Alexis is learning that by “hike” we really mean “scramble.”
If you’re willing to wade then the way is easy. But with plans to walk a few more hours, we’d rather avoid wet feet.
We feel air swirling around us as we round the final bend into the rhyolite bowl carved over millennia beneath Jump Creek’s sixty foot fall.
A house-sized boulder sits in the center of the bowl, divided at base by a traversable fissure. We walk through to emerge in range of droplets exploding off the crashing water.
“They wanted to know if they got in the picture,” Jessica relays after meeting the couple in our upstream photo. “They seemed pretty happy with themselves.”
Jump Creek Falls has long been a destination popular within the limits of local knowledge — well visited but little marked or marketed.
“It’s not the kids we have to worry about climbing rocks,” I alert Alexis. “It’s Jessica.”
“It’s true,” she concedes. Twenty-seven years ago, long before Brenna, it was her gymnastics classes I would sit and watch. She’s still got it.
We retreat from the falls to the parking lot to follow the upward path.
We decided last time with Brenna and Hunter¹ not to climb the rocks beyond the falls overlook. I’m not sure why. It seems pretty simple today.
Jessica scouts for a descent to the waterfall while Alexis and I bravely hang back awaiting her signal.
The snow packed trail describes a white border aside red osier branches growing around Jump Creek below. From here we can appreciate the mass of leaning boulders we stood beneath earlier.
Unlike smooth basalt to the north, the stone here tells the story of its rending.
I am a bit distrustful of her notion of “safe” but Alexis and I follow nonetheless when Jessica signals the all-clear.
Photo by Alexis
Descending from the trail above is much easier than the so-called “Devil’s Ladder” climb right beside the falls. We’ve gone part way up that a time or two before deciding it wasn’t safe in sandals.
Jessica immediately finds her way to the edge of danger, as always.
The drop is apparently survivable. The Idaho Statesman reported in 1925 on “Lowell McKeeth, a high school student who fell 60 feet Wednesday to a pool below the Jump creek waterfall … [but] escaped without injury by falling into several feet of water.”¹