Celebration Park is the first thing I think of when contemplating peace, quiet, and some much needed chill time. Not long ago I’d visited with my son, Jared, hiked to Halverson Lakes, and determined I’d be back soon for an extended stay.
The week I’d set aside for all of that didn’t quite go as planned. Monday and Tuesday were spent finishing up a public art project proposal. Wednesday included a meeting. By Thursday morning, I’d had enough of town, of busyness, and everything else that went with being responsible. I loaded up my rig with my dog, Gracie, camping gear, and multiple layers of clothing (because this is Idaho, known for its second or even third winters).
If you live in the Treasure Valley, Celebration Park is remarkably close. From Nampa, it’s a drive up Highway 45, a left turn just before you get to Dan’s Ferry Service near Walter’s Ferry (with the sign that says “Melba”), another right turn at the end of that road, and one more right turn by a large feedlot.
Gracie whined with anticipation the entire way there, anxious to be off-leash and sniffing for critters. My daughter Erika followed along in her truck, up for a hike and the dinner I’d packed.
Whipping wind added to the mystery as we trekked past sagebrush, tall grasses, and thousands of basalt boulders. I tried to act knowledgeable:
“Our friend Ron Krishnek told us that the earth tells the stories of what’s happened to it. He said all we have to do is look. Take that alluvial fan there…”
Admittedly, I couldn’t exactly remember what all Ron had taught us years ago, so I did my best to fudge it.
“I think that’s what he said, anyway…”
“Okay, Mom,” Erika said obligingly, perhaps a little dubious as we walked along the flowing Snake River, accompanied en route by multiple seagulls, hawks, big black crows, a few pesky gnats, and a couple of jackrabbits.
“This is what I’ve been needing,” she said thirty minutes later, spreading her arms out in surrender to the surrounding nature. We’d hiked the mile or so to Halverson Lakes, where just the week before Jared had shown me the thousands of delicate snail and river mussel shells, lying on the dried-out lake bed. We’d stepped over them carefully; it was the only way to get to the other, full lake.
We gazed over the water, transfixed by its gentle motion. The wind receded as cliffs nearby protected the area. Ducks landed on the lake’s surface and bobbed around, perfectly at home there.
“This is exactly what I’ve been needing,” Erika repeated.
The sun was setting over the campsite as we shared dinner and a few dreams by the slowly flowing water. Fish jumped and seagulls screeched, blending with the constant Idaho wind.
When Erika drove away, I built a small fire and sat beside it, watching shadows creep over the hill as Gracie sniffed for varmints. An RV or pickup went by from time to time, waving cordially and understanding what brought us there.
The sun be-glittered the water the next morning, promising an eventful second day.
One terrific thing about Celebration Park is that a functioning bathroom and water fountain are not far off. Some might argue that this is not true camping, but whatever. It’s the best of both worlds. Gracie and I crunched along the gravel road to Celebration Park’s office and facility area, where we overheard people discussing the day’s activities. Petroglyph tours, atlatl throwing, and such. Because beyond being a really cool place to hike and camp, Celebration Park has crazy prehistoric ties. Etchings in rock. Paleolithic Indian stuff. Arrowheads, spearheads, and archeologic digs that usually yield something. Which is why it’s a hot spot charter bus destination for 4th grade field trips and the like.
Celebration Park’s Larry O’Dell showed a group of us the various petroglyphs nearby, and told us there were many others, we just had to look around. We did, and realized we could be searching for weeks. Tumbled basalt boulders, rounded by the Great Bonneville Flood’s massive, ongoing pressure (“like water coming from a hose with your thumb over it”, Larry said), were everywhere. Not only that, the Flood had deposited them in layers 100 feet thick.
“This was a sacred location for the Indians,” Larry told us, “they came here for their ‘vision quests’, where they didn’t eat or drink for days, looking for direction from the Great Spirit. In order to stay ‘grounded’ while vision questing, they drilled holes into the rocks and gripped them with their fingers. They believed that kept them earth-bound.”
Our group asked lots of questions about what the different petroglyphs could have meant. Some looked like sheep, which were native to the area. Some looked like the sun. Some were a bunch of dots, which could have indicated counting.
“The only person that knows the meaning for sure is the author,” Mr. O’Dell told us, “but the fun part is that you can find your own meaning. What do the markings mean to you?”
I liked that.
After the group disbanded, I asked Larry what he personally thought of some of the symbols. He said there were those that really made him wonder.
“There’s the ‘pi’ symbol on one of the rocks. It looks exactly like ‘pi’.”
He added, “…and one of them, one that I call the ‘A-frame’, looks a lot like those transformers up there on the ridge.”
It left a lot to contemplate.
The next two days yielded three more hikes with various visitors. One along the river to several old rock foundations, one back to Halverson Lakes, and one over to Guffey Bridge, which was rich with stories of people like Andrew Carnegie from the Eastern states who’d found a place in Western history. (If you look up, you’ll find his name on the bridge’s steel beams).
Legendary among the Celebration Park area was William “Doc” Hisom, half African American, half Blackhawk Indian, called “The Hermit of the Snake River Desert”. He was an Eastern man, too, hailing from Chicago and settling just south of Melba in 1897 at Halverson Bar near the river. He was a curiosity in many ways, making tools, leatherworking, telling stories, playing musical instruments, and sharing his unique philosophy with the many visitors that happened along. Living to the age of 94, he claimed he had no idea why literal crowds of people stopped by his place in the summertime. There’s a sign with his photo and a tribute to him at the head of the Halverson Lake Trail.
A few days could never do Celebration Park justice. If one wanted a hearty hike, a trail could be taken clear from Celebration to Swan Falls. There are trails on the other side of the river leading to near- vertical paths up steep plateaus. There’s the educational center with people like Larry O’Dell and Sonia Miller, whose job it is to tell stories and inform all day long. Or, there’s the calm of the river calling the world-weary to fish a little, bird watch a little, boat a little, or in warmer months, swim a little.
Rugged, historic, legendary.
That’s my kind of getaway.
Amy Larson is a passionate traveler, blogger, mom and friend. Learn more about here on her Appetite For Idaho Facebook Page