Nature’s gift

Standing at the brink of Niagara Falls is a wondrous experience with the roar in your ears and mist on your face from the mighty torrent of water rushing over the edge.

At a rate of hundreds of thousands of gallons per second, its sheer power is simply astonishing.

Where does all this water come from? Isn’t it amazing that after it makes its way to the ocean it keeps on coming and never runs out? The same could be asked of any river, and this is precisely what I pondered during my trip to Idaho last month.

Yellowstone National Park, a short drive from my daughter’s residence and near the home of my good friend Connie, was one destination that I didn’t miss as highlighted in the recent columns “Where the buffalo roam” and “Blowing off steam.” Rivers meander through Yellowstone and the surrounding countryside, often with majestic mountains and lofty pines in the background, while at other places on the plains through wild grass or farmland. How and where do these rivers begin?

The arid climate of the west certainly makes rivers a critical natural resource for many needs including the irrigation of crops.

It’s one thing to observe cascading water on the Niagara River in full force as it makes it way to Lake Ontario, but it is entirely another thing to stand at the very place where a river begins from seemingly nothing but a trickle. This is where I found myself last month in a place called Big Springs, the source of water for what becomes a fork and tributary of the Snake River. Located in the same small town of Island Park, Idaho as my friend Connie, this site was a quick drive from her home.

We went at dusk after our trip to Yellowstone, and again in the morning before heading back south to Rexburg so that I could see it better in the light of day and to get some photos.

I didn’t really know what I was looking for when we first arrived. I had never heard of Big Springs before and wondered what the big attraction was all about for what seemed like just a pretty little pond in the middle of nowhere. Of course, I love the great outdoors and the farther away from people the better, where there are just the sights and sounds of nature. Nevertheless, was this place just a little fishing hole?

Making the most of my vacation, I quickly learned that Big Springs is both very important and quite amazing. What looked like the bank of a pond to the unobserving eye, is actually where water comes from underground and bubbles to the surface. What’s even more incredible is that there is already a current of water just a few feet from the banks and at a depth where fish can swim in clear water. In mere yards there is a low bridge for cars and pedestrians to view Big Springs. On one side, you see what appears to be the pond. When you turn around on the same bridge, the view is a wide and robust river. If you didn’t know any better, you would think a flowing river was behind you running for miles and miles!

It turns out that Big Springs is a national landmark. A brochure from my friend Connie states that it produces over 120 million gallons of water each day and that it is one of the 40 largest natural springs in the world. This spring creates the headwaters of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. As cold as it gets in Idaho, the spring itself maintains a constant temperature of 52 degrees. Wildlife is prevalent, and although a common sight, we unfortunately did not see a moose and her baby at the spring that day. That would have been a great photo!

A quaint cabin and water wheel are at the edge of the spring. Again, how amazing it is that there is enough flow of water to make the wheel work and generate electricity. A man named Johnny Sack built both in 1929. An immigrant from Germany who made his way west and an early settler of Island Park, Johnny also crafted unique bark hewn furniture, including a ceiling lamp made with seventy-two individual pieces of wood. Today visitors can tour his old homestead with the original contents. Closed while we were there, I was told that his custom built home reflected his height of only four feet, eleven inches. Johnny never married. He said, “A woman would just put rugs on my varnished floors and draperies over my picture windows.”

Yellowstone, Big Springs, and a night at my good friend Connie’s house was pulled off in a 24-hour lull away from helping care for my first grandchild. There’s nothing like traveling throughout our country and seeing all her beauty. Next week – the famous sand dunes just outside of Rexburg, Idaho.

Make it a good week and maybe take a visitor to our own Niagara Falls. “Fossil” water from the ice age, the river is part of the Great Lakes Basin, together comprising about one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water.

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