Salmon Falls Creek is a gem among the flies and cowpies of south-central Idaho. Tourists driving though this part of the state see mostly massive irrigation projects, and smell massive cattle feedlots. Idaho grew its dairy industry in part by promoting its lack of environmental regulations. Not to mention low wages, no unions, and no problemo in hiring undocumented workers. The industrial scale dairy farms around here do not look anything like the idyllic scenes on grocery story milk cartons.
121 mile long Salmon Falls Creek flows north out of Nevada to join the Snake River in Idaho. The put-in for a canoeable 14-mile canyon reach is just north of Jackpot, NV, right off Highway 93.
Idaho is blessed with a plethora of rivers. Luckily there are guide books of all sorts, including this great one specific to canoeable streams.
Janene, her sister Colleen, and I took awhile to assemble our collapsable Pakboat canoe, aka “Packy”
Packy has a heavy Hypalon skin supported by a frame of aluminum tubes, bungee cords, and heavy rubber bands. Kind of like a backpack tent that floats.
Our Boise pals Gig and Ann were much quicker readying my other canoe. It has been on a conditional/permanent loan to them for several years. The deal is they get to store and use it until the day I might want it back. I have a bit of attachment because I built it nearly 40 years ago.
“Adventures Great and Small” is the motto of Meriwether Cider in Boise. Ann was the mastermind behind the cidery, and Gig is the head cider maker. Janene and I are always up for adventures with them.
As towns go, nearby Jackpot, Nevada is a one trick pony. Casino pony, that is. Jackpot exists solely for fleecing Idaho gamblers. Nevada gamblers have better places to go. Idaho, like Nevada, was founded in the late 1800’s by miners. Miners are known for seeking ways to immediately invest their gold and silver. In Nevada, whoring and gambling became legal state-sanctioned activities. In Idaho, the opposite happened: prostitution went underground early, and then in 1954, the proper and upstanding citizens of the “Famous Potato State” put an end to all forms of casino gambling.
So characters like “Cactus Pete” Piersanti moved their slot machines just across the border into bleak northeast Nevada. Jackpot, the town that grew around the slot machines, had an initial population of 65. Seven decades later, with a population of just over 1,000, Cactus Pete’s city has yet to rival Las Vegas or Reno. There is no Trump tower on the horizon in Jackpot.
Packy had to be portaged around this dam-created falls a couple miles into the float.
Salmon Falls Creek was probably named for Salmon Falls, a large cataract on the Snake River upstream of their confluence. A short distance further upstream is Shoshone Falls, the natural upriver limit of migrating salmon and steelhead on the Snake River. The stretch of the Snake River below Shoshone Falls was once known for its huge runs of spawning salmon, which were an important food source for the local Native Americans, and later for early settlers.
In 1912 Swan Falls Dam was the first dam built on main stem Snake River. It cut off salmonid runs to several rivers upstream, including Salmon Falls Creek.
Swan Falls was the only first blow. Many more dams followed. In Idaho alone, sister tributaries such as the emerald green Payette River, the Bruneau River in its dark desert canyon, the stark and lonely Owyhee River, the pastoral Weiser River, and the mountainous Boise were all dammed. All of these high desert Idaho rivers were once unlikely homes to seagoing creatures: salmon and steelhead and even lamprey eels. Those sea creatures are gone now, cut off from their high country homes in Idaho and Nevada by dams. The last and fatal blow came in the 1960
s when the Hells Canyon complex of three dams blocked fish access to all upstream rivers. Few living people have memories of the salmon and steelhead in southwest Idaho.
Perhaps by the next milenia the dams will be washed out, and the salmonids can return. Nature bats last. So for now, we must enjoy this little stream for what it still has to offer. Salmon Falls Creek is all flat water but has continuous twists and turns, so it is not for novice canoe captains. River Queen Janene ably guided Packy from the stern
Sister Colleen lacks canoeing experience, but she never lacks for enthusiasm for the outdoors. She took the bow, while I sat in the middle on the floor and fished. Tough duty for me, but somebody had to sit in the middle.
At 250 cubic feet per second flow the creek was bankfull up to the willows, a fine level for floating.
Towering above screens of willows were cliffs of volcanic rocks . Some took the form of “hoodoos”, or distinct columns of rock.
Exiting the deep canyon, Salmon Falls Creek is doomed to enter Salmon Falls Reservoir. Muddy flats of sediment have been building up there since it was damned in 1920.
An aptly named sad fate for this wild creek.
At the takeout we were greeted by clouds of chironomid midges coming off the reservoir.
Chironomid larva live the deep mud bottom of lakes and reservoirs.
The adult flies are often mistaken for mosquitoes, which are in the same order of insects. Luckily, chironomids don’t bite.
The free flowing reaches of Salmon Falls Creek rightfully belong in Idaho’s pantheon of floatable streams. Our camp on the dried out reservoir shore shows the “fly and cowpie” scenery that central Idaho is better known for.