Fish Creek Summit
For those readers who are not familiar with U.S. highway 30 in Southeast Idaho, there is a stretch that crosses over a rather large mountain known in the area as Fish Creek Summit. Until about thirty years ago, before its present route over the summit, U.S. highway 30 used to run farther to the north around a point of this mountain range and circled back between it and another mountain range into Lava Hot Springs. It was a flat terrain and pretty much followed the path of the Old Oregon Trail. This route added about twenty miles to the trip from Grace and Soda Springs, to Lava Hot Springs, or Pocatello.
During my youth, my mother had a sister who lived in Lava Hot Springs, and other sisters who lived in the Gem Valley around Grace. These girls liked to organize family get-togethers on a fairly a regular basis. Since these gatherings took place at different sisters’ houses at different times, it meant an occasional trip to Lava Hot Springs was in order. The Lava gatherings, more often than not, were scheduled in the summer time so we kids could partake of the swimming facilities offered by the state of Idaho and the village.
There was also an alternate route into Lava Hot Springs from Grace; a shortcut, if you will. Whenever we made the trip to Lava for one of these outings, Dad would always take the old “shortcut” route over Fish Creek. The old route was unpaved and followed a different course from the newer present route. The old road required negotiating a number of near-switchback curves before reaching the top, and there were places that to the imagination of a six or seven year old kid, meant we could slide off the side of the road and plunge down the mountain side. I did not like taking this shortcut at all.
In addition to these so-called scary curves, there was the last little pitch near the top. It was probably a hundred yards or so, and quite steep. In those days, unpaved country roads weren’t visited by the road grader quite as often as they are today, and they had a tendency to develop washboards. Our family didn’t own an automobile at that time. Dad’s choice of transportation was a 1941 Ford pickup, and it was a squirrely little rascal on washboard roads. Four wheel drive pickups were a rarity in the 1940s. If you wanted one, it had to be special ordered, and they were so high off the ground, a step latter was almost a necessity for boarding one of the things.
This little Ford pickup being a two wheel drive was like all pickups of that day. It was very light on the rear end, which caused it spin out quite easily. More often than not, when we would reach the spot near the top of Fish Creek during our journey, the washboards in the road would cause the rear end of the pickup to start jumping and swerving, causing it to spin out. (I don’t know why Dad didn’t think of throwing a couple hundred pounds of sand in the back over the rear wheels whenever we went over this mountain, but he didn’t.) This scared the daylights out of my two twin sisters who were about two or three years old. They just knew we were going to slide off the mountain backwards.
Whenever this happened, Dad would calmly back down the hill a ways, put the pickup in compound. (that’s what 1st gear was called; don’t ask me why) and slowly idle up to the top and over, where we continued the rest of the way to Lava, the trauma soon pushed out of mind by the thoughts of all the fun things we were going to do when we reached our destination. (This route can still be traveled, by the way, if any newcomers to the area would like to take it sometime.) The new route cuts into the side of the mountain and follows a much straighter course.
Lava Hot Springs derives its name for the hot water springs in the area. They are unique, because unlike most hot springs, these springs are free of sulfur, and are crystal clear. There were actually two swimming facilities at Lava in those days; the old State Natatorium and the Spa Plunge. One was owned by the state of Idaho, the other was privately owned. The 1962 flood destroyed both those facilities. A new state facility later replaced the two old ones.
It’s probably a good thing we weren’t plagued with the same “politically correct” silliness, then, as we are today, or Dad might have been charged with child endangerment for subjecting us kids to the “trauma” of Fish Creek Summit, which brings up memories of an earlier post when he hauled me and a bunch of my cousins in the back of his pickup to fish the Blackfoot river for Chubs north of Soda Springs.
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