The Many Uses of the Snake River Canyon

The Snake River Canyon on the morning of March 26 in Twin Falls.

For thousands of years, man and nature transformed the landscape inside the Snake River Canyon, a singular feature of southern Idaho.

No force was more powerful than immense Lake Bonneville, with a surface area of 19,800 square miles. When its natural dam broke 15,000 years ago, the lake discharged an immense volume of water into the Snake River drainage, shaping the canyon and rerouting the river. 

Stroll along the canyon rim to see how the floodwaters carved out the north side of the Snake River Canyon and widened it near the present-day Blue Lakes Country Club grade. 

People have occupied the Twin Falls region for 11,000 years, and they always flocked to the waters of the Snake River.

Today, anglers can fish for white sturgeon and smallmouth bass in the stretch around Centennial Waterfront Park. But at one time, salmon swimming upstream from the Pacific provided the main food source of the Shoshone people. This area was the eastern edge of permanent Shoshone villages because salmon could not leap high enough to migrate upstream of Shoshone Falls. West of the falls, the Shoshone wintered along both sides of the Snake.

In 1869, a prospector discovered gold in the river near Shoshone Falls. The news brought a flood of people — including more than 4,000 Chinese, unemployed after the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Though the canyon had visitors such as early pioneer Wilson Price Hunt and traveling painter George Catlin, none was more influential than I.B. Perrine. In 1883, Perrine claimed the Snake River Canyon as his home. He farmed hundreds of acres on both sides of the river, planted fruit trees and diverted water for his Blue Lakes farm. The father of the Magic Valley, Perrine orchestrated construction of the Milner, Oakley and Salmon Falls dams.

He founded Twin Falls in 1904. 

Still, the waters of the Snake River call to people. They fish, they boat, they kayak. Homes and businesses sprouted along the canyon rim and on the river's banks. Remnants of the past remain — in the rocks of the canyon walls and in empty fields where crumbling foundations are the only traces of people who came before.

Sources include Jim Gentry's book "In the Middle and on the Edge: The Twin Falls Region of Idaho."

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