Swimming in the Old 23
There’s a stretch of the Bear River west of Grace, Idaho, which flows through what is known as the Black Canyon. I’m assuming the canyon got its name from the fact that in many areas along the river, there are mini fiord-like walls formed from lava rock (basalt) that line the river on both sides.
Swimming in the Old 23. Those were the days. In the particular stretch where the 23 is located, the ancient molten lava also hardened to form flat patio like surfaces along the river bottom. Scattered among these surfaces are large pools of water, some of which, serve as ideal swimming holes. They range from 20 to 60 feet across, and some are 20 or more feet in depth.
Those different pools slowed the river flow not enough make the water stagnant, but to the point that the sun was able to heat the water to a tepid state. The rocks also absorbed enough heat from the sun to aid in the heating as well as provide a perfect venue for laying and soaking up the afternoon summer sun; which we did. (In those days—mid 1940s–it was strictly a “male” haven, so we skinny dipped.)However there was an occasion or two where we thought we caught glimpses of girls hiding behind rocks above trying to sneak a peek. 🙂
Legend has it the 23 got its name many years ago, when someone tied a rock to the end of a rope and dropped it into the pool. When the rock stopped its decent, the rope was marked, hauled up and measured. It was 23 ft. to the mark; hence the pool was dubbed the “23.” It’s nearly seventy years since I was last there, but the 23, as I remember, was about thirty feet across. Of all the pools, in this particular area of the Bear River, the 23 was the favored swimming hole.
The second most favored was a pool just below the 23 we called the “60.” I don’t believe it got its name from being sixty feet deep; but rather because it was probably about sixty feet across. The 60 was our second choice because the water never did quite reach the warmth of the 23. This was due primarily to its larger size. Its advantage, however, was that it was large enough that we could dive into it, so we decided to build ourselves a diving board for such a purpose. We scrounged some planks from town and hauled them down to the river. We rolled large boulders over the cliff-like lava walls down to the river bottom and proceeded to build our diving board.
We wrangled one particularly large almost square rock over near the edge of the pool. We placed a couple planks (doubled up) on top of this rock to give the end some height above the water. On the other end, we piled rocks to provide ballast to hold down the back end of the boards. This wasn’t always successful, however, as there were some boys, who were quite heavy, and when they started their spring out on the end of the diving board, their weight overpowered the rocks on the opposite end. There was also an occasion or two after we overcame the ballast problem, that the planks broke under some over-zealous springing. I’ll not elaborate the details of these situations. I’ll let you paint your own mental pictures as to how they turned out. 🙂
I spent many happy summer days at the 23 swimming hole in my early youth. This is where I learned to swim. I spent weeks that summer mastering the “doggy paddle” but never quite got up the courage on my own to swim clear across. Finally some of the older guys decided I needed help in making that decision. Next thing I knew, I landed out in the middle. To my amazement, I discovered I really was ready to venture beyond a few safe feet from the edge. When I got home that late afternoon my mother asked me how my day went. I told her I was finally able to swim across the 23 today.
However, I decided if I wanted to continue swimming there, prudence would dictate that I not fill her in all the details of how that accomplishment was achieved.
You can read more of this adventure and many more in my book Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, by clicking on the free download button at upper right of this page and receive your free download of the complete book. Happy reading. 🙂