Monday, July 15, 2013

Hell's Half Acre

After we parked our home Saturday afternoon we drove to the downtown area for supper.  While we were eating I happened to glance out the window and see a small portion of the falls for which the town is named.  The falls on the Snake River are long and low, they stretch for 1,200 feet. After supper we walked  in the beautiful city park which runs along the river and falls. 

John reads all the tour books when we arrive into a new area, and he happened to find in an Idaho " State Adventure Guide" a small paragraph about Hell's Half Acre.  When he questioned locals as to how to find the place many had to admit that they knew nothing about it.  Understandably so, for it is in a highway rest area just outside of town, who stops at a rest area when they are close to home?  As you can tell by the above picture, we did find the place.  It is a 4,100 -year-old lava flow with paved walkways and signs describing the unique ecosystem.  The interpretive signs stressed that this was not a volcano but a quiet lava flow.  Molten rock forced its way through fissures in the earth's crust and cooled into lava. 
Evidence proving it was a quiet flow have been found in the ropey coils of lava found at this site as well as in the presence of basalt rock.  The surface of basalt shrinks when it is cooling and forms deep cracks as well as columnar joints.  Along the trail we also saw many other interesting features of the fluid flow- from caves, tunnels, deep fissures, as well as large depressions in the earth
One thousand years ago the lava solidified, and wind-blown soil covered the rock areas.  That explains the presence of vegetation now in this lava flow.  Sagebrush and juniper trees offer shade and food to the big game animals who visit this area.  According to information along the trail, sagebrush is a highly nutritious food source containing four times the protein of other range vegetation.  Unfortunately 90% of "sagebrush sea" that once covered the American West has been converted to crop land or urban development.  Sagebrush is pictured in the foreground of the picture below.  Its foliage feels very soft, and we learned that it is very digestible for the animals to eat.  We also discovered that it has a wonderful smell.  It had recently rained and there was a gentle breeze blowing when we were there, all of which probably helped to make the odor quite noticeable.  Despite the nice breeze, however, it was quite warm when we walked the trail, and with the rugged landscape we could understand why it has been called Hell's Half Acre. 

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