Desert archaeology in Idaho
I have a long-lost camp alum on Facebook who lives in Tel Aviv and keeps taunting us about how he’s at the beach enjoying the sunshine. But, I love snow. And now that we’ve miraculously got a few precious inches of snow here in the Snake River valley, it’s possible ski season can be revived and the aquifers will fill so we can water things and play on boats this summer. We will happily accept any snow shipped in from the Mid-Atlantic.
I was 17 when I went on my Israel tour, too young to fully appreciate the natural and historic landscape where it’s fun-in-the-sun all year long. I was psyched about the trips to the Shuq, and the nights on Ben Yehudah street. I do remember wading through rivers and ancient aqueducts, but it’s only been in the last decade or so that I’ve really developed a sense of and appreciation for “place.”
I’ve often compared my local and regional summer landscape to that of Israel—hot and dry, with crags, mountains, rivers, and lots and lots of nothingness. Deserts, come to find out, are different from each other—and here the vast, desolate open spaces are comprised of sagebrush, Juniper trees, and basalt rock. And new-moon nights on the Arco Desert reveal stars as bright as I saw them so many years ago somewhere in the Negev.
I am even inspired to make my home landscape similar to that of Israel, and am actively seeking information about the Kalanit flower (Anemone coronaria), a protected flower in Israel. While I know picking this flower is illegal, I wonder if there are seeds/rhizomes/bulbs/dry-roots available anywhere. I would appreciate any information so I can start Kalanit flowers indoors and plant it as an annual!
Besides my attempts to create a xeric landscape of Biblical proportions, one of the many things I enjoy about my Idaho desert experience is being a lay-archaeologist. While no Western Wall or Mount Olive, The city of Pocatello has it’s own unique background and mythology. For example, there has been a common legend that tunnels leading to opium dens snaked underneath Old Town. This story was mostly debunked when renovation of Main Street revealed massive underground boulders stretched beneath the road’s surface, delaying finished construction so long that many Old Town businesses nearly went under.
Another colorful bit of Pocatello history is the presence of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the (first) Depression era. Evidence of the CCC and other New Deal projects are laced through such places as Yellowstone National Park, the Oregon coast, and the hillsides surrounding Pocatello, Idaho. Now-faint ridges dug into the hills by the CCC were cut to help slow water run-off into the Portneuf River, which before the city stretch was encased in cement and chain-link fencing, had the tendency to flood.
My home property abuts such ridged hillsides, and I find evidence of the CCC and friends everywhere. A garden rototiller dug up (my best guess) government-issue tin cans, and a metal detector revealed a metal box-top stamped with the image of a Chinese palace. Further back is a small set of concrete steps and masoned rock walls, overgrown with sagebrush and tall grasses.
Mother Earth absorbs all of us and our history sooner or later, and while I may never climb Masada again, I am happy to explore what lies beneath the rocks in my backyard. I am as spiritually attached to this place as I am anywhere; and when I catch the alpen glow off Scout Mountain, it is a sacred feeling indeed.