Our paths cross every time I go home from Rexburg, Idaho, to Klamath Falls, Oregon. I-84 connects us both, but I never knew she accompanied me as I combed my hair in my 2007 Honda Civic while driving 80 mph. In the morning, we begin our trip together with the sunrise to my left and empty fields covered with morning dew to my right. While I listen to the lyrical genius, Sade, sing about love and Key Largo on my Spotify, my traveling companion prefers the twist and turns provided by H2O.
The lady I travel with is Snake, and she travels with me until we part ways in Ontario, Oregon. This river I never noticed became the focus of my next journey.
This 1,078-mile-long river begins in Wyoming near Yellowstone and then crosses through Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Snake travels through mountains, dispersing herself amongst other bodies of water and is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. While Snake proves she has much to explore, her history needs to be understood to have a greater appreciation on my journey.
According to Yellowstone National Park website, the river got her name from the Snake Indians, a tribe of Native Americans also known as the Shoshone. The name was given as early as 1812. The river also provides a plant called Yampa: a form of parsley the tribe used in their meals.
Dark moments also overcloud the history of Snake River. When the Teton Dam collapsed in 1976, this caused massive floods, especially in the Upper Snake River Valley, which took homes, cattle, the lives of 11 individuals and millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
“Early that Saturday morning, bulldozer operators tried in vain to plug seepage holes on the downstream face of the dam,” according to a United States Bureau of Reclamation press release. “By 11 a.m., a torrent of water ripped through the dam, releasing more than one million cubic feet per second. The communities of Sugar City, Rexburg and Wilford were battered…”
This historic tragedy created turmoil for Snake and the people around her. Forty years later, I decided the Teton Dam would start my travel.
Rocks, ice and snow surrounded my Honda Civic as my foot hovered cautiously over the gas pedal. Winter in East Idaho provided lots of snow perfect for snowboarding, skiing and forming snowball to throw at others. However, the winter weather made driving on ID-33 in my Honda difficult to explore the Teton Dam. I finally made it to a stop where I could look at Snake and the Teton Dam. As I stood in the middle of a paved circle, surrounded by five cement barricades covered in snow, I admired the scenery. Parts of the river froze, but the other half of Snake remained flowing to other destinations.
“The Teton Dam and Snake River made me wonder,” said Alejandro Lopez, a friend of mine who accompanied me to the dam. “I wondered how water could create so much destruction and then leave a small stream behind.”
With a place in history, Snake also has a close relationship with several cities in Eastern Idaho.
Idaho Falls, American Falls, Twin Falls and Blackfoot are several cities that are close to Snake River. I drove to Idaho Falls next, a city divided by Snake.
Downtown Idaho Falls highlights how the essence of H2O creates beauty with the help of nature and architecture. I explored Idaho Falls on a Saturday night; the town was alive. The downtown area featured a combination of bars and restaurants which created an atmosphere of booze, dancing and a good time. I camped out at Buffalo Wild Wings with guys who cheered or slandered the basketball team on T.V.
However, 200 feet away from me was Snake River, and I walked around for 15 minutes to admire her presence. Snake was calm with the
parties around her, but she combined with the night lights to give a reflection of the city. Sure, I practically froze with the winter air, but at that moment I realized that I shouldn’t overlook what nature can provide in terms of scenery and memorable images.
While I appreciated the combination of a city divided by a river, I decided to take my trip down to Massacre Rock State Park. I pass this park every time I go home to Oregon, but I never realized it existed until I made this trip.
Massacre Rock State Park is south of Idaho Falls, about 50 miles away from the Utah border. My time was limited at the park since I needed to get home at a specific time, but, after paying the $5 entrance fee, I got to see Snake accompanied with nothing but mountains, dirt and a few dry bushes. The scene reminded me of spaghetti westerns featuring Clint Eastwood that I used to watch as a child.
I left Massacre Rock State Park with the desire to come back and explore the things I left behind.
Ontario, Oregon, marks the end of my trip with Snake, so I decided to go to a Snake River View-Eastbound rest area before we left each other.
The rest area had the necessities with two bathrooms, a vending machine and map. Spectators at the rest area looked at Snake River and admired her in silence. As one spectator left she told me, “What a site. I just needed to go to the bathroom. I didn’t expect for a pit stop to be so memorable.”
I took pictures in front of the river, and then we parted ways as I left Ontario for Klamath Falls.
I understand now how I never noticed Snake. I drove from point A to point B and looked at the road ahead of me. Much like the woman at the rest area, I only had one thing on my mind, and it limited my view. This limitation made me miss out on something I want to explore more of.
Snake is beautiful, and she changed my mind by showing me how a river is more than H2O. The river provided history, fun and a chance to recognize my unknown traveling companion.