Seeing smoke curling off riverside grills when Michael and I stopped here on a warm, late afternoon a month ago¹ put it on my list for a family picnic. The kids are sniping at each other after the hour drive but hot dogs and petroglyphs are sure to mollify moods.
The subjectivity of beauty in my own head is obvious when I compare remarks I’ve made in photo captions over the years. I had few favorable observations of the Owyhees when I trekked through nineteen years ago.¹ I’ve learned to look more closely, more carefully.
I regret declining family trips when I was his age, in the throes of teen angst. We sometimes have to be a surrogate brain while his own is undergoing upgrades, to steer him, hopefully, from regrettable choices. I think he’s finding the picnic less terrible than he imagined.
Like the latest movie adaptation of H.G. Wells Time Machine, I see in my mind’s eye a blur of people across eons. Structures appear to dismantle themselves while these boulders remain still, century after century, until finally the boy and his sister are dressed in deer skin and beads. They laugh, as kids do, while tapping out shapes on the rocks, oblivious to all that will come after them.
“Look at this troll!” I call to the kids. “See its wrinkly skin?”
Instead of the unfriendly sort like we encounter in Hulls Gulch,¹ these are friendly rock trolls like those featured in Disney’s Frozen movie (which I’ve seen once and heard from the next room fifty times).
The kids continue to call out their discoveries of troll rocks. “Here’s one layered in chocolate!” I yell. Brenna runs over and is disappointed to discover this too was make-believe.
We return from the loop among melon gravel, a short walk among millennia, and decide to round out the night with a visit to the 1897 Guffey railroad bridge at the Celebration Park entrance.
“Take my picture, dad” Brenna demands while striking a pose on a picnic table along the riverside dirt path.
“The Guffey Bridge is Idaho’s largest historic artifact and was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The bridge is the only Parker-Through-Truss Railroad Bridge in Idaho. It was designed to facilitate the hauling of gold and silver ore from Silver City mines at the turn of the century. The 450-ton steel structure is 70 feet tall and spans 500 feet over the Snake River.”¹
Some associate Guffey Bridge with a dramatic 1912 train wreck that happened about a mile away on what was known as Murphy’s Hill. An Idaho Northern twelve car stock train derailed on July 29 killing one man and 1,800 sheep.
The multitude of sheep, some with broken backs, others with legs torn off, and some with part of their bodies severed, were a bleeding, struggling mass of flesh and blood, trying to dislodge themselves from the wreckage. Their pitiable bleats and groans made a horrible picture of suffering which will long remain in the minds of the rescuers.¹
Idaho Statesman, “Idaho Northern Stock Train is Ditched. Fourteen Cars Piled up, One Man Dead and Seven Injured” (July 30, 1912); also Idaho Statesman, “Lake Tells of Experience. Well Known Man Narrowly Escaped Death in Railway Wreck” (July 30, 1912)
“I wonder what they’re doing?” we muse of three teen boys atop the dusty hill ahead, milling around, shouting now and then.
“They’re rolling rocks down the hill,” Hunter believes.
“I don’t see any rocks up there,” I answer.
As we get midway up the hill we see, sure enough, there are rocks to roll. I think of describing my own childhood rock rolling off big mountains above Clarkia¹ and into Potlatch Creek Canyon near my dad’s childhood home. But that might seem to belittle this experience so I simply join in the hunt for rollable rocks. Hunter and Brenna love it.