Cauldron is defined as a large kettle or boiler, or something resembling a boiling cauldron in intensity or degree of agitation. Linn is a Scottish word meaning waterfall, or a pool at the foot of it. How did this spot on the Snake River in Idaho get such a name?
In 1811 the first expedition to attempt to follow Lewis and Clark’s route to the Pacific was the Astor party, a group of Scots and French Canadians hoping to establish a fur trading outpost at the mouth of the Columbia River. While they went overland, a second group set sail by ship, planning to rendezvous at what is now the town of Astoria. To say things did not go well for either group is an understatement.
For a great account of these amazing and disastrous sea and land undertakings, read Astoria by Peter Stark. It is one of my favorite reads in years.
Or for a brief account of these ill-fated expeditions read here.
Rounding the calm and smooth bend in the river shown above, the disaster began here for the Astor party. Well versed in navigating their native rivers, the French Canadians and Scots encountered two big problems as they attempted to float the Snake river west to Astoria. One was that there were no birch trees from which to make their traditional canoes. Instead they made clunky dugouts from dense wet cottonwood trees. Second was that they had no idea how big and powerful the Snake river would become after an easy start in eastern Idaho.
This is what was around the corner. Modern whitewater boaters with the latest equipment consider this rapids unrunnable. Several fur trappers in their dugouts plunged to their deaths here.
By itself, the upper drop of Cauldron Linn would be terrifying for most boaters. Me included.
But the second big drop into the boiling river cauldron would be suicidal. Swirling mists from the falls covered the rocks below me in a sheet of ice on this freezing early March morning, and I considered it suicidal to get down to the edge for better photos.
Janene played it safe and hid behind the rocks while scouting the rapids
Do your own video scouting here.
Janene scouted out the camping situation for future reference. The BLM Cauldron Linn camp is free, and has a toilet. That is all it takes to get in our book of acceptable places to stay.
Traffic was a bit slow in nearby downtown Murtaugh. Many old buildings in this part of Idaho were constructed with local volcanic black basalt rock. Dense and hard, it is a great building material. Dense and hard, basalt bedrock makes for great rapids as rivers cannot easily cut through it. Just below Cauldron Linn is the “Murtaugh Run”, a stretch of the Snake river famous among river runners for averaging more than one major rapids per mile in the dozen mile run.
Spring break may have been coming soon, but the town snow plow was still chained up and ready to go. Murtaugh’s big claim to fame is that the Idaho Farm Bureau was founded here in 1939. Murtaugh’s population is half of what it was back then. This part of Idaho was founded by Mormon settlers, and is in the heart of Idaho ag country. Idaho is a very red state, and in this county Hillary Clinton got a whopping 21% of the vote in the 2016 Presidential election.
Presumably the Confederate flag-flying owners of this farm did not vote for Hillary. Sadly, since the November election there has been a noticeable increase in such flags flying around our state. I don’t consider this trend as helping put us on a path to “Make America Great Again.” It is not the America I want.
The Astor party members who survived Cauldron Linn decided that river travel was too dangerous, so they abandoned their canoes and walked. Twenty miles downriver they came upon a thunderous confirmation of that decision. Near the city of Twin falls, ID, Shoshone Falls drops 212 feet. Called “The Niagara of the West” by early settlers, it is actually about 40 feet higher than Niagara.
Hear Shoshone Falls roar. See it drop. Just don’t run it.