photograph from a platform at Shoshone Falls.
FALLS, Idaho ó Winding down the steep, narrow road
alongside dark rock cliffs required a driverís full
attention. But then distraction appeared in the form of a
and full, it arched over the Snake River not far from
where Evel Knievel attempted to clear the canyon on a
daredevil jump more than 40 years ago.
wipers were advised in the parking lot. It wasnít
raining. But rising from below was a heavy mist that kept
trails, stairs and observation decks wet for months.
there was the sound, deep and thunderous. It is felt more
Falls ó 900 feet wide, 212 feet high and dubbed
"the Niagara of the West" ó was putting on a
show unlike it has in years. Water tumbled over its edge
at a furious rate after an excessively wet winter. People
came in droves to watch.
impressive," said Henry Roberts, who grew up in Twin
Falls and had come back from Albuquerque, N.M., to take
photographs, shielding his camera from the wet air.
"Iíve never seen it like this before."
Davis, Twin Falls parks and recreation director, said word
had spread in late February that Shoshone was shaping up
to be a spectacular spring sight. People began driving
from Boise, Salt Lake City and eastern Oregon to catch it.
the winter stretching into spring and the roads still
icing up, one visitor crashed trying to get down to see
Shoshone Falls. Emergency crews had a hard time reaching
the road needed to be cleared anyway, the city decided to
open the gate to the parking lot in in mid-March, two
weeks earlier than usual.
"hit like a tidal wave," Davis said. "It
than 3,300 vehicles showed up that first weekend. The
parking lots filled. Because the park bathrooms remained
closed ó it was still cold enough to freeze the pipes
ó everybody had to compete for the use of two portable
next weekend, the crowd was even larger ó 4,800 vehicles
ó worsening the bathroom crisis to the point that the
police got involved.
ordered more portable toilets and got crews to run heating
devices along the pipes in order to open the restrooms.
police were threatening to shut it down," Davis said.
"For those first three weeks, porta-potties were the
bane of my existence."
1998 and last year, park officials have deemed only three
years "great water flows": 2006, 2009 and 2011.
Eight years were determined to be "low flow" and
eight were considered average. In some years, the flow has
been so low that rock has been visible.
spring was off the chart.
Barry, executive director for Southern Idaho Tourism, a
marketing group, said the water has been at the highest
levels seen in two decades ó cascading at a peak rate of
more than 21,300 cubic feet per second.
more than 70 times the minimum flow the park requires
during the tourist season.
its website, Southern Idaho Tourism began touting the
fallsí impressive display so early in the season and
featured a picture ó complete with the rainbow glowing
in the morning sun.
falls are part of the 1,078-mile Snake River, which
originates in Wyoming near Yellowstone National Park, cuts
west through canyons and wide swaths of agricultural land
and feeds into the Columbia River.
said the winter was so wet that all of the agricultural
needs had been met above the falls, leading to more water
being released by dams into the Snake River.
the excessive flow also wreaked havoc with other outdoor
activities in the area. Paddle-boarding, swimming and
fishing were delayed because of the swift currents created
by the high water volume. Once fishing season starts,
Barry said, it should be excellent, as high water flows
revenue from admission into Shoshone Falls and nearby
Dierkes Lake ó $3 per vehicle ó is already giving
Davis an opportunity to consider fixing the roads and
parking lots in the area as well as shore up some loose
soil around the park.
many big natural attractions that are the domain of state
or federal parks, Shoshone Falls is run by the city of
Twin Falls. At 47,000 people, itís a small city in rural
Idaho that finds itself managing a regional, national and
maintenance budget is solely determined by vehicle
admissions, and in good years Davis manages to squirrel
away money for future improvement projects.
current maintenance budget is about $100,000 ó slightly
less than 10 percent of the total for the entire park.
a small city and a small staff, keeping Shoshone Falls an
international draw while maintaining it on a local budget
is a challenge.
our mindset, weíre handling swing sets, managing ball
fields and keeping city parks used for picnics maintained
while also managing one of the largest tourist attractions
in the state," Davis said. "This isnít your
to Shoshone Falls, March and April brought the park a
record $133,919 in revenue.