Island Park…A Winter Wonderland

At this time last year, we had over 3 feet of snow in Idaho Falls.  This year, we have only a few remnant piles of snow from December.  We called our friend who has a cabin in Island Park and asked if it was available and could we use it. After we figured out a date, he said that there were 5 snowmobiles for us as well. We called another friend who has an exchange student from Brazil and another from the country of Georgia, to see if they might like to come on a winter adventure, there was a resounding YES!!  So we prayed for more snow in Island Park.  Two days before we left, it started to snow. We went a day early to open the cabin, get the heat and water on, and maybe ride in the fresh snow.

When we arrived, there was 16 inches of new snow.  It took about an hour, to “blow” out a path to the cabin.

The next morning, Jerie tried to clear the deck, but there was a layer of ice.  The snowblower got stuck, and Jim had to come to the rescue.

With our cabin chores done, we decided to ride the loop around the Island Park Reservoir.  It had been quite warm the week before, so we didn’t trust the ice layer on the lake to ride the machines.  We grabbed some snacks for lunch, threw some drinks in the snow machine compartments and headed for Green Canyon road.

We stopped for gas at Pond’s Lodge and then drove over the Buffalo River Bridge.  The Island Park area is part of an ancient volcano.  500,000 years ago, a large volcano exploded.  The aftermath of the explosion left a U-shaped volcanic caldera, which is the area under the volcano that formerly held the molten lava.  With the collaspe of the volcano a 18 mile wide by 23 mile long caldera was left.  Kind of cool to think we are in an extinct volcano!!

Just past Last Chance, we stopped to look at the Trumpeter Swans.  Wow, there was a bunch of them, with ducks and geese mixed among them.

We crossed the highway and rode to the old Osborne Bridge and saw more waterfowl.

After the Osborne Bridge, you cross back over the highway to Green Canyon Road and we were the only tracks on the new snow.

You follow Green Canyon Road along side Harriman State Park.  This is an 11,000 acre wildlife refuge.  Motorized vehicles are not allowed, but you can hike in the summers, fly-fish on the Henry’s Fork, or cross-country ski in the winter.  Two-thirds of Trumpeter Swans that winter in the lower 48 of the US, do so in Harriman State Park.  The park is the former ranch of the Harriman family, who gained their wealth from owning various railroads.  In 1908, the ranch was purchased and known as the Island Park Land and Cattle Company. It was used as a working cattle ranch but was also developed as a stop-over for family and friends as they visited nearby Yellowstone Park.  The nearby railroad has been long abandoned, but the rail bed is now used as a  riding trail for ATVs and snowmobiles.  In 1977, the Harriman family gave the ranch to the state of Idaho with the understanding that the state of Idaho had to create a professional park to preserve the buildings and surrounding area.

We stopped for lunch on the top of Green Canyon Pass.  We thought we had taken a fairly smooth ride, but our soda/pop cans showed otherwise…it was a beautiful day, the silence was golden.

Island Park Reservoir was created in 1938 as an irrigation storage facility.  Many CCC workers helped build the earthen dam.  It contains 7000 water acres.  The west-end of the reservoir opens up to the range land of Trude’s Ranch.  This was once a place that the rich and famous visited, including Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower as well as many movie stars of the 1940s and 50s.  There is a long held rumor, that part of the property was used by a plastic surgeon who changed the looks of mobsters…hmmm.  What we do know that the Trude’s side of the reservoir has excellent fishing in the early summer.

The trails in Island Park are well marked, with plenty of signs and trail indicators. (Some of these pictures are blurry as the phone was dropped in the snow-hazard of having fun)

We continued on the north side of the lake, where the snow was deep. and we lost the trail several times. We stopped to help an area resident who had gotten his SUV stuck in his driveway.  Cindy also got her snowmobile stuck and after much effort both were freed.  However, we then realized, we hadn’t taken one picture of the entire fiasco!!

Back at the cabin, our 5 additional guests would arrive soon.  It was Clark Hunter’s birthday, so we had planned a surprise party with a Mardi Gras theme.  There is a high balcony in the cabin so we even threw beads.

After an evening of games, pizza, and marshmallow popcorn we were all snuggled in our beds.  The cabin was nice and cozy.  The next morning, we made lunch and bundled up our two exchange students Vitor and Kosta.  This was a new experience for them.  we took the same route as the day before – to Pond’s Lodge, Last Chance, and the Osborne Bridge.

Everyone made it safely across the highway.

At the Osborne Bridge, we stopped for a picture.

We turned around and rode south towards Mesa Falls.

We stopped to make sure everyone was good to go since we were on the road and could increase our speed.  A snowball fight ensued.

Mesa Falls  The Visitor Center was once known as the Big Falls Inn. It was built in 1909 and was the place to go for area dances.  It was abandoned from the 1940s – the 90s, when the Idaho Parks and Recreation and the Forest Service renovated it into a visitors center.  We left the snowmobiles in the parking lot, and walked the snowed covered trail to the stairs.  In the summer, the stairs are steep but in the winter, the best way to descending is to slide on your bum.  The falls were gorgeous with the new snow.  The upper falls is 114 feet high and 200 wide.

Lunch was a welcome break…

After lunch, we decided we wanted to see Warm River Springs.  It is about a 5 mile ride.  The springs boil out of the ground near the old fish hatchery.

The fish hatchery residence was preserved and is now used as a rental cabin through the Forest Service.

Now this is where the trip got interesting.  The trails were becoming bumpy and washboardy.  Our friend Brenda Hill was riding on a machine with Clark and she lost her grip and was bumped off.  No injuries but Jim decided to try and find a smoother path.  We had some great scenery, but ended up going in a big circle.  LOL

We got a different view of the Henry’s Fork near Last Chance.  Last Chance considers itself one of the longest Main Streets in the US, 33 miles.  It was incorporated in 1947 because Idaho liquor laws required a city for the purpose of licensing.  Therefore the city boundaries were drawn around the various lodges, restaurants and bars, creating an interesting city boundary.

We stopped back at Pond’s Lodge to fill up the snowmobiles for the next visitor to the cabin. Vitor and Kosta were just itching to drive, but exchange rules do not allow that, so we let them sit on the machines, while we filled up with gas. On the way back to the cabin, Brenda fell off of Clark’s machine for a second time.  Never in all the time we have snowmobiled, have we ever had someone fall off once, let alone twice!!!

We enjoyed a vicious game of Spoons and Vitor was feeling a bit picked on…he still insists that he won.  The next morning, we went down to the shore and boys being boys, they couldn’t resist walking on the snow-covered frozen water.

Of course, they ended the trip with one final snowball fight.

It was a fun week-end and a wonderful winter adventure.  It was fun to show Kosta and Vitor, Island Park and the thrill of riding a snowmobile.