The week-end was going to be a sunny one. No wind was forecast, which is unusual in this part of Idaho. On Saturday morning, we hurried and got all of the late fall chores completed, (putting up the patio furniture, etc…) Palisades Reservoir which is East of Idaho Falls is down to 6% full. When the reservoir is full it holds 1.2 million acre feet of water. Palisades dam was originally proposed in the late 1930s, and construction was to have started in 1941, but due to World War II, it was not started until 1953 and completed in 1957. The area was originally known as Grand Valley. It had 3 schools and several towns. The Snake River dissected the valley, and it was full of pine trees and Quaking Aspens. With construction of the dam, the state highway would need to be moved to the north hillside above the water level, as well as the town of Alpine. Many of the pine trees were transplanted to Pinecrest golf course in Idaho Falls. The rest were cut down, but the stumps were left behind. The old state highway was left as well. When the water level gets low, you can drive the old highway from Alpine, WY to Indian Creek in Idaho or vice versa. Extremely low water levels don’t happen very often, so we set out in the early afternoon to see what we could find….
We stopped at the Palisades Dam. You can no longer drive over the dam, as they built a new road around the mountain to reach the Calamity Campground and boat launch. The dam was built for flood control, irrigation, and a hydroelectric plant that has 4 turbines. The dam contains 13.5 million cubic yards of back-fill material.
From the dam we continued east on the highway for 10 miles to the Indian Creek turnoff. This is not well-marked, but it is the first turnoff after Blowout boat launch. Indian Creek is a large valley with a road running down the middle. There are restrooms, but no established campground, however, many people do camp on the flat, grassy area.
We continued toward the water. The Indian Creek road ends, and you have to turn left or right. Left is towards Alpine, WY and right is towards the dam, however, this may not be an option depending on the water level. We turned left onto the old highway. At this point, the road is covered with years of silt deposits.
Approximately 1/2 mile from the turn onto the old highway, look to your right near the water, you will see steam. This is a hot springs that was at one time known as Alpine Hot Springs.
Our son Jade wanted to see how deep the pool was….he is 6 feet tall. The water was about 125 degrees as a guess, but that was at the top of the water.
The reservoir was gorgeous. With the water level down, the tree stumps were visible.
We continued on the old highway towards Alpine. The upper road is covered with gravel, but there are some definite obstacles. You would not want to attempt this in a car.
We decided to drive out over the gravel flat. This is about a mile wide and 5 miles long. You will be able to drive right along the slope of the old river bottoms. Near Alpine, you can see the confluences of the McCoy Creek and the Snake River as they used to flow.
We headed back across the gravel flats in search of the old town of Alpine. Due to the water levels of the reservoir, the town had to be re-located to the east end of the valley, near the mouth of Hoback Canyon. There are remnants of the town still visible.
There are parts of the upper road near Alpine that still have the center line visible.
Once you exit the road and enter the housing subdivision in Alpine, you will make a left toward the “new” highway. On the right or the river side, there is a dirt road. This is where the “old” highway went across the river. The bridge sections are still there, visible when the water level is low. Jade and Jim tried to throw a rock across the river…
A few more views of the river and reservoir…
Fall colors where still visible, but winter was definitely noticeable on the mountain tops.
To finish the day, we had a gorgeous sunset.
The Old Alpine highway is a lonely stretch of road, but thinking about the history of the road is an adventure in itself.
** If you are coming from Alpine, the Old Alpine Highway entrance is 1/4 mile past the Hoback Canyon junction. Look for it on your left. If you pass the vehicle weigh station you have gone too far. Once you have turned continue until you pass First Ave. Just past this street, the road ends, turn right and head west.