The trail system in Snake River Canyons Park is easily missed when flying at speeds over 60 mph along Interstate 84, but the jewels it holds are remarkable. They revealed themselves to me via a 40-mile all-terrain-vehicle adventure with the Magic Valley Trail Riders on a sunny day in March.
Straddling a Can-am Outlander Max and fully donned in black wind-gear, I set off on the dusty, rutted trails on what I thought would simply be a wild ride. Little did I know at the outset, that I would be spelunking, hiking, studying petroglyphs and chasing waterfalls along the way.
Seemingly endless ravines and embankments led me through the maze of trails that make up the vast network just off Shoshone Falls Road in the park. Desert sand and lava rock beneath my wheels, I raced through the wide-open prairie, splashing through puddles and enjoying the wet feel of fresh mud slapping against my outer layers while I stayed clean and dry inside.
Billowing dust clouds fanned out like tails behind each four-wheeler, and their orange flags flapped like fins in the wind, marking turns for the riders behind them. At a technical descent, I downshifted and pulled my weight back, surprised by the thrill of cresting the tips of stubborn rock outcroppings.
By noon, it was time for lunch. Extracting my tangled hair and dust mask from the full-face helmet and plastic shield that had sculpted to my head was no small task. I snorted plenty of dust removing that part of my motorsports suit, all the while carefully watching my footing to avoid the plentiful rattlesnakes that inhabit the arid landscape.
The horizon line stretched out of sight as I shook the clumps of dust and caked mud from my outer layers and settled in for a high desert snack. No wind and bright sun made the day seem surreal as we admired the succulents glistening in the bright rays.
On the north side of the Bureau of Land Management boundary line, we dipped into Clay Cave, spelunking about a half-mile deep into pure blackness. A layer of silvery dew clung to the rock walls like shimmering cobwebs as we wove our way deeper into the abysmal cavern. The rocky hallway opened up into a spacious underground room, where we imagined outlaws hiding out in a long-lost western world.
Subterranean lakes and American Indian petroglyphs
Winding along the north rim, mountain ranges surrounded us on several sides, and the snow-capped South Hills sparkled in the distance.
“We have some of the most pristine riding right here in our area," Kent Oliver, our guide and president of the Magic Valley ATV Riders said, beaming with pride.
Another half-hour of snorting dust and sipping sunshine led us to the top of a canyon wall where we admired a subterranean aquifer, Vinyard Lake, from overhead. The glittering body of green juxtaposed against the mighty Snake River from an aerial perspective was stunning. The reflection off the two bodies of water glinted up through the backs of the riders, clad in jackets with the club’s insignia.
But our adventure was far from over. By mid-day, I was caked in mud and dust, and the weight of the debris felt like a second skin. The sun glared down while I removed a few layers, baring my skin for some rejuvenating rays. Oliver and I, along with one other rider, trekked down into Devils Corral in search of historic petroglyphs believed to have been left by the Shoshone tribe.
We stepped through dense sagebrush as we meandered along the mile-long winding path, age-old lava rock shaped by floods and erosion surrounding us. We searched the rock faces for the famed markings and finally found them — a handful of unique petroglyphs comprised of handprints, Xs and arrows marked with red dye on the rock.
Hawks and ravens swooped overhead while Oliver spoke of buffalo and Native Americans who once inhabited the open land. The dynamic lava rock was hot to the touch, protecting the serene valley that holds the history of nomadic Indian tribes and the legend of passing outlaws.
Climbing back up to the canyon rim proved exhausting in the dusty heat, and most of the layers I had with me were now wrapped around my waist and neck. Back on the machines, we set off toward the end of our mission, teeth grinding dust.
We arrived at the north side of the canyon rim, high above the expansive chasm. Pillar Falls shimmered in the light upstream, and Shoshone Falls reverberated loudly through the rock walls downstream. Hundreds of years of history echoed through the gorge, and the site of Evil Knievel’s 1974 failed jump stood out against the endless horizon.
The crevasse gleamed in the light as the sun lowered in the sky, a full-day tour under my belt. I had gone underground, over land and back in time, and sealed the 40-mile ride with a return along an old stagecoach trail that once served as a travel route to Shoshone Falls.
Idling in the end of day’s light, fat bikers whizzed past our trailhead, along with shooters looking for a place to aim. Heavy sagebrush inundated the breeze, and Oliver, an advocate for public lands, smiled as we loaded up the machines.
“We want to make sure we keep our lands open,” he said. “Whether you are motorized or not, the trails are open to everyone.”