One of my favorite places is Celebration Park. This is why you should visit.
Ten thousand years ago in the Paleo Period, someone with too much time on their hands chipped and tapped away at the Bonneville Flood Melon Gravel scattered along the Snake River. Whether the resulting petroglyphs are a form of ancient tagging done on more than a single boring Saturday night, or the nomadic equivalent of notes in a bottle, is unknown. There’s even some difference of opinion as to meaning of the individual symbols. But regardless of meaning, the allure of ancient symbols on rock is universal, and one reason for Celebration Park’s mystic.
Magnetism twines throughout south-western Idaho in the curves of the Snake River, which carved itself into the basalt eons before any striving artist ever set quartzite to boulder to make pictures of stars and sheep. The river lured three pre-historic ages of nomadic people to its banks to fish and hunt, to pass through and to camp long enough for rock-impressionism that outlasted their visits almost ten-thousand years. A haunt for cougars and coyotes, an aerie preference for raptors, the banks of the Snake support a multitude of life forms—human, animal, reptile, insect and microscopic. The patina layered onto the boulders is what allows dating of the petroglyphs, since the darkened exterior formed from microscopic life that flourished after the Paleo Era. Then along came the tourists and the collectors, the curious and the diggers.
The diggers were the gold-hungry who depleted the ore deposits in the Owyhee Mountains even before the railroad bridge to carry the ore could be finished. Guffey Bridge, completed in 1897, was the tallest railroad bridge in America at the time and was built to support heavily laden gold and silver ore cars; it never carried a single ore car across the water, although it did bring sheep and cattle as part of the BN&O Line. The Guffey Bridge has been rebuilt to accommodate foot traffic and horse travelers crossing the Snake to an other-wise inaccessible land of trails and canyonlands on the river’s south shores. The tall, meshed sides of the bridge make it safe for travel by children, dogs and horseback riders.
A hunter parks by the bridge and lets his bird dogs nose around while he gears up.
“The chukkar hunting is great in the hills across the river,” he says. “It’ll wear out the dogs. And me.”
For decades, the camping grounds at Celebration Park were frequented mostly by fishermen and partiers. Trestles and ties still went across the bridge.
“I remember picking up five dump trucks of trash,” says MJ Byrne, public affairs specialist at the BLM.
In 1989, the area was designated a State Park and the improvements began. Picking up trash was only the beginning.
“We noticed that as soon as we began to clean it up and improve the site, people began to respect it,” says Kathy Kershner, deputy director of Celebration Park.
In the winter, Kershner hangs out at the visitor center, updating the data base, writing grants, and researching the history and archeology of the area. Funded by grants and a trifecta of State and Federal agencies, Celebration Park now has parking areas, multi-use trails, a visitor center, marked and protected archeological sites, hunting and fishing, and numerous programs for visitors and school-children. The Archeology and Wildland Fire Field trips are conducted regularly beginning in April.
Last year two rows of solar panels went in above the maintenance building, providing 1.3 kilowatts of power on a typical day. The solar panels, eight new light poles, and four security cameras were funded through the U.S. Dept of Energy’s “Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant.” The buildings at the Park are now net-metered, and the solar panels generate enough power in the spring, summer and fall that the power bill is zero.
“But we have big, on-going plans,” Kershner says.
The Canyon Crossroads Transportation Museum is a plan soon to materialize. This new building will offer more classrooms for student activities, and give Boise State University and the Desert Studies Institute a higher profile in the park. The museum should increase the draw to a wider range of visitors.
The Snake River Water Trail Council is developing a 206-mile water trail along the Snake River from Glens Ferry, Idaho, to Farewell Bend in Oregon. The already-existing twelve-mile trail from Swan Falls Dam to Celebration Park will be one of the first finished sections of the trail. The main focus will be the water trail for motorized and non-motorized boats. Eventually the plans include a connected multi-use land trail or trails along the shore.
How does eight-thousand year-old writing on rocks look anyway? The one nearest the visitor center is a popular one—a curved line sprinkled on the cupped side with dots.
“Like an antelope or sheep,” Kershner says.
“It looks more like a bowlful of stars to me,” Jon Aasa, another visitor chimes in. “A bowl with legs, like a mortar, or molcajete. Never noticed the petroglyphs back in the days we came down here to hang out on Saturday night.”
Maybe it’s a bowlful of seeds. It doesn’t look much like a sheep.
But it’s certain, if this was some kind of note, the idea of being written in stone takes on a whole new meaning. After all, when was the last time you sent a note that lasted ten millennium?