Six Things I Learned From The Rocky Guides on the Middle Fork

Photos by Paul Richer / Richer Images

A branch of the Shoshone Tribe, the Sheepeaters, lived peacefully in the remote Middle Fork Canyon for 10,000 years. Pictographs dot the canyon walls to mark their existence. This tribe was exiled by white settlers in what is known as the Sheepeater Wars. A sad story’s history carries on in rapid names such as Pistol Creek and Artillery. If you go on a trip with Rocky Mountain River Tours, ask a guide at camp about the war; it’s an evening of education and entertainment you won’t find anywhere else.

Pictographs from the Sheepeaters. Not sure what instagram filter to use here...

Pictographs from the Sheepeaters. Not sure what instagram filter to use here… Photo: Nick Como

Lewis & Clark, who avoided starvation by feeding on the salmon of the Middle Fork, had nothing on the Indian tribe’s trading system. The early explorers would trade with local Indian populations and on the Middle Fork, the Sheepeater’s were famous for their expertly tanned hides and hunting bows. What the Sheepeaters, like many isolated tribes, did not have were tools. The tools Lewis & Clark hoped to trade with Indian populations further down the Columbia River system were no longer a commodity. The trading system between tribes was so efficient, the “new” tools beat Lewis & Clark west.

Hot springs can be counted by the dozen on the Middle Fork. My favorite one, Sunflower Flat Hot Spring, is river right on day two, marked by a pipe 10 feet off the river pouring a nice warm shower for passing boaters. Finding a camp with a hot spring is an amazing way to start the next day. Sheepeater Camp at mile 13 is a great one!

If you are from Salt Lake, you’ve rode a bike or hiked on the Bonneville Shoreline trail, which follow the ancient giant shoreline of the enormous Lake Bonneville. I was shocked to learn that entire lake drained in five short days through the Pocatello area and flooding the lower half of Idaho, now home to some of the most fertile farmland in the west. In fact, it’s this event that created the deep canyon on the Snake River in Twin Falls. Insert Idaho is where Utah flushes go joke here.

Floating on a river gives you a literal cross section of geology. You can see where glaciers deposited sediments, how the river cuts through rock and the effects of forest fire. What is harder to grasp is the concept of geologic time. The guidebook the Rocky guides bring explained it this way: “If you squeezed the 4 billion years of the Earth’s geologic history into a 365-day calendar, Jan 1 would represent the formation of the planet and midnight on Dec 31 would represent modern day. In this hypothetical geologic year, the formation of the bedrock on the Middle Fork began around Nov 15 while humans do not enter the scene until the last second of the New Year.” How’s that for scale?

Looking up on the river can reveal a whole new world and a peek into history

Looking up on the river can reveal a whole new world and a peek into history

My new favorite camping, I mean glamping trick. Paco pads make for an incredible sleeping pad. You probably know that, already. The pro tip the Rocky guides had for night one was to slide the pad under the tent. Voila! No more sand in the tent and the pad doesn’t shift at all while you toss and turn. A clean tent is a happy tent.

Other stories from the Middle Fork:

Five Perfect Meals on a River

Glamping on the Middle Fork with Rocky Mountain River Tours.

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