Weekend Review: A Dam Flood of Memories

Posted June 5, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: cultural, Eastern Idaho, History, Idaho Falls, Snake River, Writing

As a culture, we share in iconic events – happenings make our world stand still and unite us in the moment. “Where were you when…?” JFK was assassinated, or we landed someone on the moon, or we finally defeated the Russians at Olympic hockey, or the morning of September 11th, 2001.

If you lived in Eastern Idaho in 1976, odds are you remember what you were doing when the Teton Dam collapsed. To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of that regional iconic event, author and publisher Jane Freund asked for people’s memories of that moment on June fifth. Her compilation is A Dam Flood of Memories: Recollections of the Teton Dam Collapse.

I lived in Idaho Falls in that day and contributed to the nearly three-dozen stories remembering  where we were when our little world stood still in the face of that relentless wall of water. This is how I recalled that weekend in 1976:


I love history. Even at eleven years of age, I was thoroughly looking forward to experiencing an once-in-a-lifetime historical event: the Bicentennial! Of course, the first weekend in June, 1976 meant that communities just like Idaho Falls were finalizing plans for with just a month to go.

But that Saturday, the 5th of June, wasn’t going according to plan. Sometime in the late afternoon, my parents got a phone call from one of the leaders of my Boy Scout Troop. Although we had known about the dam’s failure earlier that day, the city and Bonneville County were mobilizing the community to fend off as much of the advancing waters as we could.

Dad and I drove over to St Paul’s Lutheran Church to assemble with the others of Troop 382. Each Troop had specific instructions and ours was to go to the sand dunes between Sandcreek golf course and the War Bonnet rodeo grounds. We would meet there with some other troops and Bonneville County employees to fill sandbags.

Knowing that time was of the essence, we set to filling; taking turns to either hold the bag or shovel in the sand. I remember noting that shoveling sand seemed a lot harder than regular dirt. It slipped out of the shovel more readily, and made you feel like you were working twice as hard for half the results. Finally, one of the adults would get the full bag, tie off the top, and toss it into a waiting pickup truck.

We kept at this, for the better part of Saturday evening. I don’t know how many hours we shoveled and bagged sand. But I remember being exhausted when we were finally released. That’s when we were told that we needed to come again early Sunday morning.

As I recall, Sunday went a bit differently. After filling a couple of trucks, we climbed up along with the sandbags and went over to the Snake River to help unload. At that time the floodwaters were already running over the banks in spite of the sandbag barricades. Lines of people were already unloading trucks all along the river. Our assignment was the Porter Canal which paralleled the river just to the west. There we would unload our supply of sandbags continuing the process of raising the canal’s banks in order for additional water to be routed through there and help take some additional stress off the river.

We made several trips like this for much of Sunday, only stopping for some lunch. Of course, no one I knew went to church that morning. Everyone seemed to be helping out along the river.

Speaking of church, our family attended the First Presbyterian Church and we were expecting the arrival of our new minister later in June. On that particular weekend, Dr. Evans was on a group tour in Germany. While there he heard on the news that Idaho Falls was destroyed as a result of the collapse of a near-by dam. After he got to Idaho Falls, he related to the congregation that, while still in Germany, he spent the next two days trying to find out if there was still a church to come to after all. Of course, he found out that Idaho Falls had been largely spared, but he was prepared for the worst.

Fast forward thirty years, and my own eleven year-old son and I made a visit to the Teton Flood Museum in Rexburg. I wanted him to see what his own father was doing that summer in 1976. To be honest, I don’t remember much at all about the Bicentennial celebrations in our area. The rest of the summer was largely spent in the cleanup effort. The Teton Dam Flood became a defining moment as a community.


A Dam Flood of Memories

A Dam Flood of Memories: Recollections of the Teton Dam Collapse by Jane Freund

Jane’s book can be found at her Etsy store.

A good pictorial history of the flood is The Teton Dam Disaster by Dylan McDonald from MyLocalBookstore.com.

The Teton Dam Disaster

The Teton Dam Disaster by Dylan McDonald

Where were you June 5, 1976? Share in the comments your memories of the Teton Flood.

Intimate Idaho Falls: Three Must-See Museums

Posted May 24, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: Activities, art, cultural, Eastern Idaho, Idaho Falls

While the great outdoors tops most people’s to-do lists in Idaho Falls, there are also some worthwhile indoor attractions. I’ve put together three museums that anyone visiting or living in Idaho Falls should have on their activity list as backup for when the weather turns wet and windy. Or even in good weather, these make for ideal family and group outings. The modest entry fees help to keep the lights on and the displays current but none of them will break the bank.

The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho – 300 S. Capital Ave., Idaho Falls. Open Tuesday – Saturday
There are a surprising number of talented artists in the Idaho Falls area. The city boasts a couple of professional artist associations and they have access to the Art Museum and its four satellite locations. Operated by the Idaho Falls Arts Council (they commissioned the art benches seen along the river and around town), there exists plenty of material for frequently rotating features. They also do regular programs for children and youth which makes the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho a great family activity.

Collector’s Corner Museum – 900 John Adams Parkway, Idaho Falls. Open Tuesday – Saturday
What do you do when you’re one of those people that can’t seem to throw anything away? Jim and Nida Gyorfy turned their clutter into the Collector’s Corner Museum. They moved their various collections out of storage and into an old store front for everyone to enjoy. Today the museum boasts over 100 different collections. Some of the more interesting include one of the largest Barbie doll displays comprising about 400 dolls. Another display features 65 different vintage water hose nozzles. You’ll also find plush bears, stamps, toy trains, antiques, and over a hundred other categories. Be prepared to spend several hours marveling and reminiscing among these slices of Americana.

The Museum of Idaho – Corner of Elm St. & Eastern Ave. Open Monday – Saturday
Whereas the other mentioned museums have unassuming exteriors, The Museum of Idaho makes a grand statement. Commanding the eastern entrance to downtown, a multistory curved glass and steel facade becomes fused with the quaint 30’s-era stonework of the old Carnegie Library signaling the melding of the past with the future. Check out the photo at the top of the Museum’s website and you’ll see just what I mean.

Inside, the museum manages to bring in national – and international – traveling exhibits that one might otherwise only see in major cities. Such displays have included treasures of the Pharaohs, the Dead Sea Scrolls, space travel, and bio-phosphorescence (living light), just to name a few. And these types of feature exhibits come three times each year. The Museum of Idaho is yet another excellent outing for the the whole family.

Weekend Review: River of Beaver, Stream of Gold

Posted May 21, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: books, cultural, History, Idaho, Northwest, Snake River

I love history; especially the big picture with over-arching themes. The rise, clash, and decay of cultures fascinate me. The depth of the sense of history was my favorite aspect of living a couple of years in a Washington DC suburb and spending a couple of summers in eastern Europe.

But here in the American West, early history can mean the early 1800’s. Thus the discovery of River of Beaver, Stream of Gold by Ellen Carney filled me with delight. A French-Canadian  trapper journals his cross-country trek occurring about 1790. That’s some fifteen years before the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Of course, Lewis & Clark weren’t the first Europeans to traverse the western mountains but very few explorers and trappers prior to them wrote anything about their travels. Or those writings simply haven’t survived the ravages of time.

Carney forthrightly states in her prologue that she can’t vouch for the authenticity of the journal entries. She happened upon them via an acquaintance who had gotten them from a friend, who had obtained them from a business partner, who received the copies from a researcher in Montreal… She clearly states that the entries serve as points of contact for this bit historical fiction.

Carney’s other works, though, reveal her as a thorough historical scholar. She wrote an award-winning work on the Oregon Trail – Ruts, Rouges, & Reminiscences; the only authorized biography of regional explorer, John Gray; and the best-selling Best Damn Doctor in the West which chronicles the growth of Soda Springs, Idaho through the eyes of a frontier physician. She has another half-dozen titles to her name, all with solid historical foundations.

The subject of this riveting read is Jules DeFoe. Having just been laid-off from the Hudson’s Bay Company, he turns to the North West Fur Company in Montreal at which his father holds a management position. However, Jules has a problem in that he and his father had broken off relations with each other several years ago. As a result of the falling out, he took to trapping for HBC partly in spite. Now that move results in his termination – “as a spy” – once the Bay Company discovers that Jules has a relative working for their competitor.

Of course, the journey south to Montreal, with his close friend Able, sets up a good deal of tension as Jules wrestles with the fear and worry of reuniting with his father. Even after they reach the city, Jules spends three days drinking in an effort to gin up his courage for the expected encounter. Eventually, Able coaxes him out of his stupor and drags Jules to the North West Company to meet their fate.

Unfortunately, Jules’ father is less than impressed but eventually gives the two a position with the company. The elder DeFoe has a special task for them; one that should rid him of his troublesome son. Jules, though, seizes on the opportunity to prove himself to his father – and to himself.

The impossible task: to find the mythical “River of Beaver.” Jules’ father has heard reports of this river beyond the western mountains teeming with more beaver than one could possibly trap. Jules and Able are to take a team, all misfits, to find the river, document its location, and return having claimed it for the North West Company.

Anyone reasonably familiar with the geography of North America will immediately recognize the father’s hope for his son’s disappearance. The sheer distance between Montreal and the edge of the Rocky Mountains was mind-boggling in that day. Add in the weather, wild animals, and hostile natives and the deck is fairly well stacked against the young man’s success.

It does turn out to be an epic journey. One by one the party disintegrates; even Able breaks off with Jules over the latter’s drinking. Eventually, Jules arrives at the western mountains and crosses at what is now known as South Pass in Wyoming.

At this point, author Ellen Carney helps identify local geography. For instance, Jules follows the Portneuf, Snake, and Boise Rivers; spends time at Soda Springs; and hides out in the foothills near present day Boise.

According to the tale, the River of Beaver turns out to be the Boise River. However, Jules also encounters Spaniards working a placer gold operation in the same vicinity. Initially they welcome Jules to their community. He’s informed by the Governor that if he were to marry into their number, they would have a position of influence for him. Now Jules has to wrestle with accepting this new opportunity or returning to Montreal in the hopes of restoring the relationship with his father.

Jules is about to accept the Spanish offer thinking that he could eventually fulfill both desires. That is until he stumbles upon the secret end the Governor really has in store for Jules. Fueled by the horror of his discovery, our protagonist orchestrates the clash of cultures: Spanish vs Native American vs French in the wilderness of Idaho.

In River of Beaver, Stream of Gold, it’s not hard for one to lose track of a couple of hours while immersed in the pages of this book.


River of Beaver, Stream of Gold by Ellen Carney

Other books by Ellen Carney include Best Damn Doctor in the West, Most Spirited of Mountain Men, Ruts, Rouges, & Reminiscences, and The Mountain Cariboo. Ellen was born and raised in Soda Springs, Idaho. These and other books by her can be found at MyLocalBookstore.com.

Five Sweet Rock Climbing Spots Near Idaho Falls

Posted April 28, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: Idaho Falls

Living in the region near the Yellowstone super-volcano provides for some great recreational climbing. Several areas feature basalt, granite, and limestone cliffs that suddenly jut above the valley floor. And many of these locations have both established, bolted routes and free climbing routes.

The season for outdoor climbing in the area runs from late spring to early fall. And shaded routes, especially early or late in the day can be chilly. Bringing some some warmer clothes along, just in case, is never a bad idea.

Idaho Falls

YMCA Climbing Gym – 751 S. Capital. In an old machine-shop overlooking the Snake River, the gym includes 14 roped walls with the tallest reaching 40 feet. The YMCA provides regular clinics and on-site instruction, if needed. The industrial-retro vibe makes for a cool atmosphere for groups.

Edge Climbing Gym – 2844 E 14th N. Scheduled to open in June of 2016, this should be the largest climbing gym in the state. They plan on over 15,000 square feet of space including a bouldering area, a caving room, a chimney, and several technical routes. The highest climb will go up 55 feet.

Heise Hot Springs – On US 26 travel 16 miles east of Idaho Falls. Turn left at the signs for Heise and Kelly Canyon. Follow the road to the Snake River and turn right after the crossing. About five miles down the gravel road lies a developed area with a swimming pool, golf course, restaurant, and campground.

The Rock – Just past the golf course stands a huge basalt column that, long ago, used to be a part of the canyon wall standing hundreds of feet above the river. This location features over a dozen routes all of which can be done with a 50 foot rope. This popular area can be a bit crowded in the summer, so plan on getting there early in the morning.

Paramount – To get away from the crowds, head up the river further and turn left at the intersection of the Kelly Canyon Road. About 200 yards after the turn is a parking area below the cliffs on the left. A second pull out can be found just a short distance further up just before the cattle guard. This cliff has fourteen established routes with a range of abilities. All but three can be done with a 50 foot rope. For the others you’ll need at least a length of 60 feet.

Ririe Reservoir – After driving 14 miles east from Idaho Falls on US26, turn right at the sign indicating the reservoir. A short three miles brings you to the boat ramp and parking lot. The cliffs are accessed with a brief trail starting at the south end of the parking area.

These thirteen established routes tend to be on the easier end of the skill range. Its a sweet spot for a family or group outing that combines climbing, boating, fishing, swimming, and just generally having fun.

There are several more excellent locations in the region further out from Idaho Falls. We’ll cover them in another post. More info on specific routes and difficulties can be found at SEIClimbing.com.

Weekend Review: Viku and the Elephant

Posted April 25, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: books, Children, cultural, elephant, Idaho Falls, India, jungle, wildlife

For this Weekend Review we now return to Idaho Falls in the jungles of India. Of course, there are no jungles in the upper Snake River plain, but local author Debu Majumdar…

Local author?

Absolutely! Debu has lived in Idaho Falls for over 30 years. He came to the United States to attend college and then moved to Idaho as a research engineer at the Idaho National Laboratory. Since his retirement about six years ago, Debu tried his hand at writing a series of children’s books about his native India.

Viku and the Elephant starts the series.

The tale takes place entirely in the jungle along the banks of the Ganges river. His parents are poor subsistence farmers. But now that Viku is old enough, they can go into the city to look for work while Viku tends the garden.

At this point, one can almost hear the father say to young Viku, “Don’t go into the jungle. It is too dangerous.” And, predictably, Viku does. Urged on by a growling stomach, he takes his small Ghurka knife in hopes of finding a few ripe mangoes and going back home.

But the mangoes are still green. Instead, Viku finds an elephant. The huge animal thrashes about trying to escape a large snake wrapped around a hind leg. After staying hidden for a few minutes, Viku decides that he must do something to help. As the elephant tires and leans against a tree, the boy pulls his Ghurka knife and throws it at the snake…

Academics studying the nature of stories claim that there are only so many basic tales and have distilled them down from between thirty-six to even just seven. Viku and the Elephant, as one may have already surmised, fits nicely into the form of Aesop’s “The Mouse and the Lion.” Fortunately, Majumdar doesn’t allow the story to get predictable. He’s broken it up into three stories with Viku and Haatee (the elephant) taking turns at being the hero.

Debu, intending the books to be used in elementary classrooms, also infuses the story with many interesting cultural elements. Viku names the elephant Haatee, which in Hindu means, elephant. Other ethnic words sprinkled throughout the text include the aforementioned Ghurka (being from Nepal), Mahut (an elephant trainer), and Bodhi (a type of native tree). The practice continues through the series along with full glossaries. Debu also includes suggested followup and review questions.

But back to Viku. The greatful elephant senses the boy’s hunger. Lifting Viku onto the Haatee’s broad back, it takes him to a banana grove in the jungle. Elephants love bananas, it turns out. Viku becomes known locally as the boy who understands elephants. At the end, their trust is tested as the pair must work together to outwit some ivory thieves.

Viku and Haatee continue their adventures in Viku to the Rescue, Viku and the Ivory Thieves, and concludes(?) with Viku Goes to School. These are great read-alouds to children in first through third grades. Fourth to sixth graders will enjoy them as increasingly complex chapter books. Even adults will find the stories charming and educational.

Oh, did you know that a tiger won’t attack you if it thinks you’re looking at it? Thus its common practice in the jungles of India to wear a mask on the back of one’s head. I learned that reviewing Viku and the Elelphant.


In addition to the Viku series, Debu Majumdar also wrote about the many personal and cultural changes he faced in moving from metropolitan Calcutta, India to rural Idaho Falls, Idaho in From the Ganges to the Snake River.



Essential Yellowstone: What to See if You Only Have a Day

Posted April 19, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: Grand Teton National Park, Idaho Falls, Jackson, WY, Old Faithful, wildlife, Yellowstone

Superlatives best describe Yellowstone National Park. As America’s largest national park, it’s home to the greatest diversity of mammals in North America, in addition to the highest concentration of geysers and hot springs in the world. Every American’s bucket list should include spending time in Yellowstone; even if only for a brief visit.

We’ll help you see the iconic elements of Yellowstone, including a couple lesser known spots that are well worth the stop.

Let’s start at the popular North Entrance, just south of Gardiner, MT. If you happen to come from the south via Jackson, WY, simply do the route in reverse. If you’re entering the park from east or west, you can still catch all the sights with slight changes to the itinerary.

The entire trip involves 150 miles of driving within the park; however, the official speed limit is only 45 mph and sometimes traffic moves slower due to animal sightings, so we’re estimating driving time of four or five hours. Even with that, there’s still plenty to see and do. For the major stops – Mammoth, Canyon, and Old Faithful – budget about an hour to an hour-and-a-half.

Gardiner to Mammoth – 6 miles
Mammoth, the historical administrative office of Yellowstone, has always been the most easily accessible location within the park. The hot spring terraces along with the historical buildings and displays are worth the time.

Mammoth to Tower Junction – 30 miles
Head east on the Grand Loop Road towards Tower Junction. You’ll climb up Blacktail Plateau passing several waterfalls along the way. About half way, a one-way road going to the south will take you further into and up the plateau. This adds a couple of miles and several minutes, but affords spectacular views and the possibility of seeing wildlife. Just after the Plateau Drive returns to the main highway, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at the Petrified Tree, a fenced area right off the parking lot with specimens of petrified wood only takes a few minutes (make a note to take the longer hike to the Petrified Forest the next time you visit).

Tower Junction to Canyon – 32 miles
From Roosevelt Junction, the road heads roughly south starting in the Lamar Valley. This area is excellent for wildlife, especially early in the morning. Watch for bison, elk, deer, and even bear. Tower Falls is worth a brief stop, as are the viewpoints for Mount Washburn. After going over Dunraven Pass, you’ll enter the ancient Yellowstone caldera.

The main stop here is the Yellowstone River Canyon. Take the main road south of the junction about one and a quarter miles to the entrance of the Artist Point overlook. Uncle Tom’s Trail is approximately two miles round-trip along the canyon rim. It’s an easy stroll and provides spectacular views of the falls and the surprisingly colorful canyon walls. Watch for osprey and bald eagles flying along the canyon.

If you think you still have time, take the North Rim Road to Inspiration Point before returning to the junction.

Canyon to Norris – 12 miles
From Canyon, travel west towards Norris. The road will soon drop down into the gorge of the Gibbon River. Again, watch for animals in the grassy, open areas. You’ll also see evidence of the 1988 fire that burned about 40% of the park. There are signs pointing out the new growth. As you pass by the intersection, add the Norris Geyser Basin to your list for your next trip to Yellowstone.

Norris to Madison – 14 miles
The road to Madison continues in the winding canyon of the Gibbon River and has additional excellent sights. Hot water percolating up through layers of clay produce the bubbling mud of Artist Paintpots. Beryl Spring appears as a mild-mannered and colorful hot pool, except during one of its infrequent eruptions. Maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to see it in action. Finally, stop at Gibbon Falls and watch the river cascading down 85 feet.

Madison to Old Faithful – 16 miles
Though a short drive, this section contains the heart of Yellowstone’s action. Shortly after turning south at Madison Junction, turn west onto the one-way road descending to the Firehole River. Personally, this is one of my favorite drives in the park. Numerous springs and geysers line the river and you might see them erupt as you drive along.

There are lots of fascinating geothermal features along this road, but you’ll need to resist the temptation to try and see everything. Do make a short stop at the Midway Geyser Basin for Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot pool in the park. Then add a note on your list to see the rest of this basin next time.

Finally, you’ve arrived at the Upper Geyser Basin, and the star of Yellowstone, Old Faithful. Not the largest or most impressive geyser in the park, but consistency makes it a crowd favorite. Roughly every 90 minutes, the geyser sends a plume of steam and water 120-150 feet in the air. Feel free to ask a Park Ranger for the approximate time of the next eruption. Based on that information, you can decide whether to stick around the viewing platform, or hike out to see the rest of the geysers and springs in the basin. Spend some time and enjoy this unique place.

Old Faithful to South Entrance – 39 miles
For the final portion of your journey in Yellowstone, you’ll drive through pine forests and along several lakes; including three crossings of the Continental Divide before finally settling into the Pacific drainage. At West Thumb follow the road south towards the South Entrance and Grand Teton National Park.

That’s a lot to pack into one day, and it didn’t include Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley, or any of the Native American sites along the Gardner River. Of course, a park larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined takes several days to appreciate. So, keep that list handy because you’ll be back.

Here are more Yellowstone maps and info from MapQuest and the National Park Service.

Weekend Review: Antiques & Antiquities

Posted April 16, 2016 by AceODale
Categories: art, books, History, Idaho, Life

One of the most endearing moments in Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast had to be the sequence in the enchanted mansion in which all the furniture could talk. I’m sure all of us would be more circumspect in our speech and behavior if we knew the chairs and dressers were watching and listening. Fortunately, they’re not able to eavesdrop, …at least I don’t think they can.

And yet, there are stories to be told, especially in those old antiques. When first looking at an old item, I find myself trying to place it in an historical context: what was going on in the world and the nation and the region. Which can be very interesting to an extent, but the real stories these antiques can tell involve the events that took place in the everyday lives of the people that lived around them.

That’s the take in Antiques & Antiquities by Idaho author, Danney Clark.

Small-town antique dealer, Sylvester Brown, goes about his shop imagining the stories these items could tell, “If only they could talk.” Sly, as his friends call him, makes it a point of getting those stories from each person that brings items to the store (…a building which looks much like an old barn. The outside is weathered and has been added onto many times by its various owners, who were not very discerning in the design.) And so every item has its unique story. Except the wheeled-chair from the early 1900s: it gets three stories!

And each one of those tales are as exquisitely told as the items themselves.

Antiques & Antiquities really reads as a collection of short stories with an orver-arching theme – a device found in several of Clark’s works. I find it makes for a pleasant reading experience. It allows for one to read as much or as little as there is time for and still have a sense of closure. And yet, there remains a sense of longing to return to the book to find out just what unusual story an old ice chest might present.

Just like the old antiques themselves, the author’s folksy, easy-going style helps draw in the reader. Reading Antiques & Antiquities is something like spending a summer afternoon along a secluded stream. Time passes unnoticed as the world takes on a refreshing optimism. You’ll put the book down and look around at familiar surroundings with a new, or perhaps renewed, sense of wonder.

As an added bonus, you’ll learn about some of these interesting items that aren’t really used anymore. I’d never heard of a mangle iron until I’d read its account in the book. I can see why its not readily available today…

What stories will my belongings be telling fifty years from now? If only they could talk…

Antiques & Antiquities by Danney Clark

Antiques & Antiquities by Danney Clark

Danney Clark has authored several books, including others with the short-story format. He also has a mystery series featuring the time-traveling detective, Cady Miller. You can find more of his books at MyLocalBookstore.com.