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7

Take a Trip down Idaho’s Pioneer Historic Byway

Here’s our second dispatch for American Guide Week!

Idaho’s oldest town, Native American heritage, the start of the Bonneville Flood, an ice cave, emigrant trails, historic settlements, a captive geyser, a natural spring of soda water, wetlands, and historic mining. These are some of the sites and stories you will encounter on a trip along the Pioneer Historic Byway.

I’m excited to join in American Guide Week and highlight some sites along the Pioneer Historic Byway located in southeast Idaho. The byway begins in Franklin, Idaho, the oldest town in Idaho near the Utah border, and ends at the Idaho and Wyoming border near Freedom, Wyoming.  Here you can step back in time and learn more about history while taking in the high desert, mountains, geologic features and the flora and fauna that can be found throughout.

I would like to highlight three sites along the byway that are located on public lands and are free for the public to visit and enjoy.

Last Chance Canal

Local settlers encountered a problem. They had to figure out how to get water to both sides of the Gem Valley in order to avoid losing their water rights. From this predicament the name Last Chance Canal Company was born. Settlers were successful in 1902, but their wooden flumes caused endless trouble. To solve this problem they built a 1,800 foot tunnel through solid lava rock in 1916. Much of this work was done with hand tools. Standing at the end of this tunnel today it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to engineer something that would continue to be in use 100 years later. I don’t know if I would be up to the task, but I do like the view from here.

Sheep Rock- Oregon California National Historic Trail

Sheep Rock towers 1200 feet above the waters of the Bear River. The Bear River starts its course in the Uinta Mountains of eastern Utah, but at Sheep Rock it makes a sudden U-turn and heads south to the Great Salt Lake. It wasn’t always like this. Basaltic volcanic eruptions blocked the Bear River from draining into the Snake River System and sent the river southward back to Utah.

How did it get its name? Trappers and mountain men in the early 1830’s, told about a sizeable flock of bighorn mountain sheep that occupied Sheep Rock’s forested, rocky ridge throughout the year. Sheep Rock marked the junction of the main route of the Oregon-California Trail and Hudspeth’s Cutoff, a shortcut. It was often mentioned in emigrant journals.

I still see Sheep Rock, also known as Soda Point, as a landmark when I travel these roads today as it marks the junction of two highways- Idaho 34 and U.S. 30. I also enjoy visiting the site to read the many interpretive signs and enjoy the view of the Bear River.

Formation Springs

This preserve was established by the Natural Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management. Formation Springs features crystal pools and a wetland complex at the base of Aspen Mountain. These pools are formed by cold springs that feed into them and deposit high concentrations of travertine (calcium carbonate) which gives the area its unique geology. It is a refuge for waterfowl, deer, and elk. Another interesting feature is Formation Cave. The cave is almost 10 feet tall at the entrance and 200 feet long.

I enjoy exploring this area, the water is clear and beautiful, and it’s a great place for birdwatching. The cave is fun to explore so be sure to bring a flashlight. It can be a little difficult to find the entrance because it just looks like a hole in the ground so that is an adventure all in itself.

Please check out the other sites along the Pioneer Historic Byway at http://www.pioneerhistoricbyway.org/ and enjoy your journey! 

-Amy Lapp, Archaeologist for the Pocatello Field Office

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Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are one of six recognized sub-species of sharp-tailed grouse. During their breeding season males dance on “leks” (dancing grounds) to attract females to the site for mating. To see this dance and learn more about these grouse check out this video from the BLM Pocatello Field Office in Idaho: http://bit.ly/1ek2bSY

-Amy Lapp

Photos taken by Jeff Cundick, Minerals Branch Chief for the Pocatello Field Office

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Public Lands – A lot to be thankful for!

This Thanksgiving holiday season gives me another opportunity to pause and appreciate the vast public lands that are adjacent to the area I live in, near Pocatello, Idaho. The very livelihood of my family is derived from my job as a BLM Minerals Manager regulating phosphate mining on public lands in southeast Idaho.

These lands contain large deposits of valuable minerals that are recovered to produce fertilizer and phosphorus based chemicals. This development, part of BLM’s multiple-use mission, is an important basis of our American standard of living and contributes to healthy economies. Mineral development and processing provides employment and livelihood for hundreds of employees and their families.  

In my free time, I feel fortunate to be able to take frequent trail runs, bicycle rides, camping trips and participate in a multitude of outdoor activities that the mountainous public lands above my home afford. The recreational activities offered by the public lands have been an important part of our family’s time spent together. Now our kids are grown and gone, but I continue to spend time acquainting my grandchildren with public lands and the special activities and experiences that they offer.  

-Jeff Cundick, Minerals Manager in the Pocatello Field Office

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a question most people have been asked at least once but I wanted to share an excerpt from a letter I wrote in 6th grade to my future self.

I received this letter in the mail when I graduated from high school. In it I state that my goals are to go through college and become an archaeologist or a paleontologist. Archaeologists look at artifacts and sites to investigate how people lived in the past while paleontologists look at animals, including dinosaurs, and plant fossils to study life in the geologic past. My interest in becoming a paleontologist was just a phase, but my interest in becoming an archaeologist stuck with me throughout the years.

I am happy to say I achieved my 6th grade goals when I received my master’s degree and became a BLM Field Office Archaeologist here in Pocatello, Idaho. My spelling might not have been great, but at least I knew what I wanted in life even from a young age. I’m thankful my teacher had us do this assignment because it is fun to look back!

Wishing everyone a fun school year!

-Amy Lapp

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No Fooling…. It’s GOLD

Learn how to pan for gold from BLM-Oregon’s Medford District!

Because gold is heavier than most sediments and gravel in a stream, it can be collected in a gold pan when the right panning techniques are used. First, get a gold pan from a hardware store or a store that specializes in mining equipment. They are typically under $10.00. 

When you get to one of the recreational gold panning sites, all of which are located in known gold-bearing areas, look for a gold trap – a place along the stream where the current slows down enough for the gold to settle out. Good possibilities are the inside curves of streams and on the downstream sides of boulders or other obstructions in the water. 

Always find a place that is safe and don’t leave children unattended near the water. Once you find a good place, follow these steps: 

  1. Fill the pan about half to two-thirds full of gravel, small rocks and sand from under the water of the stream channel. 

  2. Put the pan under water, break up lumps of clay, and remove the stones. 

  3. Still holding the pan level under water with your hands on opposite sides of it, rotate it halfway back and forth rapidly to wash out the clay and concentrate the heavy material at the bottom of the pan. 

  4. Still holding the pan under water, tilt the pan forward, away from your body, and down slightly. Rotate and shake it to let the light gravel and sand dribble out the front. It is OK to use your hand to push out the rocks. 

  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 several times until most of the material is out of the pan and you have less than one cup of material left. There should be a deposit of fine-grained dark material overlain by a thin layer of light material at the bottom of the pan (if not start over). 

  6. Rotate the pan in a circular motion, and watch carefully what is happening. The water is separating lighter material from the heavier material – and gold, if it is present. 

  7. Stop the rotation. If you are lucky, you will see a few flecks of gold in the dark material. 

All the shiny gold-colored material in your gold pan may not be gold. Gold is always gold colored, soft, and malleable (or bendable). Pyrite, known as “fool’s gold,” is a brassy color and is sometimes tarnished. Another mineral that looks a little like gold is mica. If you see gold-colored flecks that either float on the water or are so light in weight that they easily wash out of the pan, you probably have small pieces of mica. 

If you are lucky enough to find gold in your pan, it can come in many shapes: small lumps or nuggets, wires, feather-shaped crystals, or flat flecks. Pieces can range in size from almost microscopic “colors” (very small pieces) up to fist-sized nuggets, but your chances of finding the latter are pretty remote. However, gold panners are optimistic and you never know what you’ll find. And the best part is, you can keep all the gold you find! 

Photo: U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library, USGS Denver and BLM-Oregon Historic Abandoned Mine Lands Flickr Set

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In honor of Women’s History Month, an annual celebration of the contributions of women throughout history, we are kicking off our #WomeninSTEM Wednesdays campaign. 

Today we begin with one of our favorite stories about “Women in Archaeology” from our blogger Amy Lapp, an Archaeologist for the BLM-Idaho Pocatello Field Office.

In Idaho there are 15 full-time BLM archaeologists and over half of them are women.  Together, the nine of us have over 200 years combined experience in the field of archaeology. It’s always great when we get an opportunity to work in the field together, meet up at a conference, and learn from one another.

“Being a female archaeologist is actually an advantage because women are typically so detail oriented. They can also bring a different perspective to the study of archaeology that gives us a fuller, richer picture of the past.” -Lisa Cresswell, Shoshone Field Office 

“For me, the coolest thing about being an archaeologist is that I still get to do what I did as a kid….explore the deserts and mountains of Idaho.” -Suzann Henrikson, Burley Field Office

“It is great to see more women with careers in archaeology today than when the discipline started and was male-dominated. I take great joy in encouraging girls and young women to pursue their interests within science and math because we need fresh and innovative ways to look at the archaeological record.” -Marissa Guenther, Upper Snake Field Office

I’ve wanted to be an archaeologist ever since I was a little kid. -Amy

Please join us every Wednesday for more great stories about our BLM #WomeninSTEM! You will be surprised to learn about the many careers and work BLM does related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

You can also read more about Amy’s story here: http://bit.ly/1d0QWV6 

What’s Out There…..

It’s always important to be aware of your surroundings when out on public lands so you don’t run into any trouble.  While you won’t run into x-men or Freddy Krueger on your public lands, you may run across creatures like cougars and bears, so it’s critical you prepare yourself and watch your surroundings.

-Amy Lapp, Photo taken by Heather Schlenker near Victor, Idaho