July 18, 2008

Nature By Way of the Byway: Making the Most of a Lazy Country Drive

By Andrew Weeks, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho

Jul. 18--If you're like me, you're fairly new to south-central Idaho. And that means, if you're like me, you've been itching to get out and explore the area's great outdoors.

A recent journey took me along the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, a leisurely drive from about Buhl to Bliss, where rolling hills and farmlands, corn fields and cow pastures come into view.

Boring? Depends on your frame of mind. I was trying to get to know the area better, and surprisingly I kept myself busy at a few stops along the way.

Thousand Springs

You likely won't see thousands of springs at the Thousand Springs site, an area that still offers an abundance of waterfalls along the Snake River Canyon, but it's an impressive sight nonetheless -- impressive because it is Mother Nature's own handiwork.

Water from the springs comes from the Snake River Plains Aquifer, one of the largest groundwater systems in the world. Water travels thousand of miles under southern Idaho's porous volcanic rock and emerges from the springs into the cliffs, where it then cascades to the river below.

You can see waterfalls from U.S. Highway 30 near Hagerman, but RV and tent camping is available at certain area sites, as are boat tours. For more information: Thousand Springs Park District, 837-4505 or http://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/thousandsprings.aspx

Fossil beds

Know what a zebra looks like?

The Hagerman Horse, a prehistoric animal that today would likely resemble a zebra, was first discovered near the Snake River in Hagerman, thus the ancient horse's name. It is believed the horse lived during the Pliocene epoch, about 3.5 million years ago. Today, a number of fossils are still embedded in the banks of the Snake River and give a glimpse to life before the Ice Age.

Museums, exhibits, guided tours, fishing and hunting within designated boundaries, bird watching, canoeing and other activities are available at the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, depending on the time of year. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday-Thursday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For more information: 837-4793 or http://www.nps.gov/hafo/

Fish hatchery

Nestled in the backcountry near the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area on State Fish Hatchery Road off U.S. Highway 30 in Hagerman is the Hagerman State Fish Hatchery, where 1.4 million steelhead trout and 150,000 to 300,000 rainbow trout are raised.

The steelheads, which hatch in about May, are raised in 40 large tubs that contain up to 35,000 fish each. Once they grow to six to eight inches long they are transferred -- in about August -- to the hatchery's "raceways" to grow further, said Anna Ray, the hatchery's fisheries program assistant. Come springtime -- from about March to May -- the fish are released into the wild, mostly into the Upper Salmon River, Ray said. Eggs are gathered and the process starts over again, she said.

If you visit the hatchery, be sure to ask about the sturgeon that also is raised at the site. Also, keep an eye out for various species of butterfly, birds, deer and other wildlife.

For more information: 208-837-4896 or http://www.fws.gov/hagerman.

Wildlife preserve

Not far from the fish hatchery is the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area, also located on State Fishery Hatchery Road off Highway 30, where a number of wildlife can be viewed.

The small waterfront is home to golden and rainbow trout, sturgeon, pelicans, muskrats, birds, bees and a variety of butterflies.

Fish are stocked frequently during the summertime, and the small lake is a favorite place to catch trout 8 inches long or longer.

For more information: 837-4892.

Andrew Weeks may be reached at 208-735-3233 or [email protected]


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