Sunday, July 15, 2012

How I Spent My Summer, 2012 Part II--Travelogue: Sheep Falls

The Hot Chick and my two youngest sons at the trailhead to Sheep Falls
On July 7th, we only had a few hours for an excursion so we decided to visit Sheep Falls, Idaho.  My youngest son, Garrett was just a baby when we visited here last.  This time we brought the camera.  The falls aren't very large, more of a cascade really.  But the canyon and gorge are impressive.  Kayakers can navigate the falls with little problem.  I imagine there is a certain degree of difficulty but I wouldn't know about that.

To get to the falls from Rexburg, head north on Highway 20.  Go past Ashton and up the Ashton Hill, which is really just the rim of an ancient caldera.  Once over the rim of the caldera, watch for milepost 369 as the northbound sign for Sheep Falls is currently missing.  After the milepost, take the first right.  The road will pass two small roadcuts before the turn.  Once on this road, head east for a few miles.  I'm sorry that I didn't take better note of the mileage.  There are a couple of turnoffs, but don't take them.  Only turn north on the road marked "Sheep Falls".  The road goes down about a hundred yards to a turnaround where you can park.  It's been noted in some literature I read not to take a car down this road, that it's little better than a jeep trail.  My Chrysler Town & Country navigated it just fine.  When we got to the parking area, one of the first things I saw was a Sego Lily.

Parking area

Sego Lily

The trail to the canyon bottom follows a gentle slope with a couple of switchbacks to make it a very easy hike.  I think the trail is only .7 miles from the parking area to the brink of the falls.  Along the trail we saw several varieties of wildflowers, some of which I can identify, some of which I cannot.

Wild Rose

Paintbrush, formerly called "Indian Paintbrush"

Unknown white wildflower

Wild Geranium

As we approached the bottom of the canyon, we began to see evidence of ancient river channels, and in fact most of the trail at the bottom of the canyon wound it's way through and around the ancient stream bed and long dry waterfalls.  The lava rock was scoured smooth in these areas and I learned by watching just how the falls had come to be.  The lava in this canyon follows a columnar jointing pattern, much like the Giant's Causeway in Ireland.  As the water eroded the softer rhyolite, it coursed over the jointed basalt and peeled off the leading edge of it one stone at a time, one layer at a time.  It was very interesting to me, but then again, I'm a geology groupie.

First vantage point of the falls from the trail

Upstream from the same vantage point

Wall of ancient river channel

Ancient river channel

On top of the ancient falls, now at the brink of the current falls.  Note the columnar jointing habit of the lava rock

Sheep Falls on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River

View downstream from the same vantage point as the photo above

Water scour over basalt in ancient streambed

We followed the river downstream for another two hundred yards or so to get to the end of the rapids through the gorge.  The last time we came down this canyon we only ventured to the falls.  This time we went further and were not disappointed.  Once again the trail followed the ancient riverbeds through the ancient gorge.  We headed back up the trail once we reached the end of the rapids and I found a place where we could rock climb down to the river.  The boys were all over that.  Chimene complained that I was only taking pictures of things and not people, so I took some pictures of her and the kids.  Once I did that, she took the camera away from me.

Ancient streambed showing columnar jointing habit

Rapids from the trail

Cliff face of columnar jointed basalt

The Hot Chick and the boys

She took the camera away from me after this shot

The boys and I walking back through the ancient gorge and riverbed

The boys standing at the brink of an ancient, extinct waterfall

Chimene took this of me at the falls on the way out of the canyon

This was not a difficult hike, more of a walk really, but the scenery was magnificent.  The trail was shaded almost all the way down until we got to the river, then the water insulated against the heat of the day.  The geology was very interesting to me and of course we all enjoyed the rock climbing.  We were warned of bears, and this is grizzly country, but we didn't see any and we didn't see any bear sign (that's the polite way to say bear poop).  We all enjoyed this hike and we will do it again.

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