Friday, June 22, 2012

Shoshone Falls

All spring I explored the territory between Washington and Minnesota using a combination of Google Earth, Panoramio, Rand McNally, and AAA, along with John McPhee, Ian Frazier, Don Gayton, and others.  Somewhere along the way I discovered that despite many drives across southern Idaho, mainly on the Interstate, I hadn't seen much of the Snake River.  And in looking for non-driving options, I ran into the idea of kayaking to the base of Shoshone Falls.

I'd done enough homework to know that I might be able to rent a kayak at Centennial Park and that the paddle up to the falls was fairly simple, although it required portaging Pillar Falls.  For $20, I got a bright green boat for 4 hours, which was just enough to paddle four miles upstream and back again.

Paddling under the Perrine Bridge was spectacular, although it was a bit distracting with idiots jumping off it every few minutes, their chutes deploying with a loud sound somewhere between swoosh and a bang. See next post.  I found my way around Pillar Falls - easy because water levels were so low.  The falls isolate the upper reach from any boat not readily portaged - so it was me, two other kayak fishermen, and a family in a canoe. The power boats and the less determined kayakers stay below.

Shoshone Falls is surreal when it first appears in the distance.  I paddled below the canyon rim where Evel Knievel tried to jump his Skycycle X-2 in 1974 (the ramps are still there - although you can't see them from the river).  As you get to the falls, the water gets choppy and the breeze picks up.  These falls are higher than Niagara, so paddling this close is really neat.

My only regret was that there was relatively little water coming over the falls.  Most is diverted far upstream for irrigation, leaving a small fraction of the normal late spring runoff for the river itself.  A year ago this weekend, the flow was at near record levels -- imagine this place with water coming over everywhere!

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