ALMO — Idaho’s largest pinyon forest is nestled below the 10,339-foot Cache Peak, the state’s highest mountain south of the Snake River.

Archaeologists say man has been gathering pine nuts for nearly 10,000 years in what is now Castle Rocks State Park, in Big Cove on the east slope of 7,500-foot Smoky Mountain.

Early man likely appreciated the view as much as modern man; We know the pioneers who traveled through here did.

The park sits a mile northeast of City of Rocks National Reserve, near where the California Trail skirts the Albion Mountains in Cassia County. Emigrants since the Gold Rush days left the Old Oregon Trail at the “Parting of the Ways” just east of these mountains as they made their way into Utah, Nevada and then on to California.

Thousands of emigrants passed through the City of Rocks between 1843 and 1882, but few ventured into the Castle Rocks area, a mile northeast of the city.

Ranching in the Castle Rocks area began as early as 1869. The 1912 Castle Rock Ranch house still stands. The 2.6 square miles of granite boulder-studded rangeland was privately owned throughout the 20th century.

The National Park Service purchased the ranch in 2001 and exchanged the property for state-owned land within Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Today, some 100,000 visitors take this road less traveled each year to enjoy the state park’s amenities and remote destinations reachable only by foot, bicycle or horseback.

Pinenuts are gathered from Labor Day through mid-September.

In addition to 174 bird species including sage grouse, the park is home to mule deer, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, moose, elk, big-horn sheep, and the state’s first ringtail cat (Bassariscus astutus).

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