Tag Archives: Smyrna

Legends of the Ice Cave

Beneath this towering cliff and rubble fallen from it lie the remains of the Saddle Mountain Ice Cave.

There has been a fair amount of mystery concerning the Saddle Mountain Ice Cave. Even today you’ll find inquiries about it on internet chat sites. Over the years, locals disagreed on lots of points concerning this phenomenon. Some said it was a natural cavern, a huge chamber full of glittering perpetual ice. Others said it wasn’t really anything more than a big root cellar where people kept chunks of ice they would cut out of Crab Creek in the wintertime. Some people even doubt its existence. But it’s there.

Virtually all that’s left of the Ice Cave is a pile of old timbers and the remains of the massive wooden doorframe.

The Ice Cave is about four miles west of the end of the paving on the old Corfu Highway after you leave Smyrna, around eight miles from Beverly. It’s difficult to spot the remains from the roadway, so look for a large alkali clearing in front of it and a huge slope of tumbled rock flanking its other three sides. Continue reading

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Another Flood

“The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Ecology have completed an appraisal level study of potential Columbia River mainstem off-channel storage sites…The appraisal study determined that the Crab Creek site represents a potentially viable reservoir location. This site appears to be preferable to the Hawk Creek site based on both cost and technical feasibility criteria.” From Columbia River Basin Storage Options – Columbia River Mainstem, Department of Ecology web page.

A brief stop on a car tour of the Crab Creek Highway in the late 1940s. This is near the location where the Department of Ecology and the Bureau of Reclamation would like to place a dam 250 feet high and a mile and a half wide.

The government is back in the dam building business. This time it looks like they’re going to dam Crab Creek! There are only two sites currently under consideration for a new water storage (and possible power generation) facility off the main channel of the Columbia River in Washington State. The results of the preliminary study favor damming Lower Crab Creek to create a reservoir that inundates the entire valley, from an earth core dam 250 feet high near Beverly to high water shorelines near Taunton. If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you can be sure I have deep reservations about building such a dam and flooding what I consider to be unique historical, cultural and environmental landscapes.

My family is perhaps lucky in this situation. Although the new lake created by the Crab Creek Dam would cover our ancestral homestead and the ranch that succeeded it, the more recent Danielson spread appears to be right about at the shoreline. But when the new lake is created, other infrastructure will have to be altered. It looks as though a massive power line will cut down Danielson Road, looming over the house I grew up in.

This view of the Lower Crab Creek valley, taken in the early 1950s (as my father notes: before irrigation), shows what will be a lake if the dam is built.

Will it happen? I don’t know. In this day of budget crisis funding may be difficult to pry out of the government. But who knows whether a Roosevelt-style public works program might not use the dam project as a solution to the economic slump. It’s the type of program that stands a chance of succeeding: employment of a vast range of professional and working types, new power generation, new irrigation storage, amelioration of a certain habitat (albeit at the cost of destroying other more unique habitat), benefits to local industries and those further afield. It might even help to restore the aquifer depleted by injudicious permission to pump water for irrigation circles. Continue reading

To The Cliffs and Beyond

My grandfather first climbed to the cliffs on Saddle Mountain in the 1920s. He was not the first visitor to a high ledge where soft sandstone is sandwiched between layers of black basalt. Names were carved into the soft rock, dated, gouged deeper on subsequent visits. My father, whose first visit to the cliffs must have been when he was a youngster in the 1920s, introduced the site to his children. Our first visits were made by motor vehicles. Rough trails still exist that can be followed by a truck with high suspension…not that I recommend the method of access. You miss so much when you’re trapped in metal.

My favorite route to the cliffs followed the Milwaukee Road tracks for a mile or so, then veered up the fenceline separating private cultivated land from the BLM sections. After you leave the railroad tracks you start a relentless climb, like going on foot up a mile-long stairway. First you traverse massive slopes of yellow clay, silt that precipitated out of the flood when the waters struck the mountain, slowed and diverted to the east and the west. These banks are composed of countless thin layers. In some places you can find petrified bones, usually blackened vertebrae of fish or small animals. We also found turtle shells and I keep a broken bison bone in my classroom, orange and yellow and imperfectly petrified. Continue reading

The Five Mile Slide

Smyrna Canyon from the old shoreline on Saddle Mountain

Imagine, if you will (to paraphrase Rod Serling), standing on the peak of this range one day nearly twelve thousand years ago. Below, you look out over a grassy plain with a gentle creek flowing between ancient canyon walls. The events that are about to take place have occurred repeatedly dozens of times, but for you, those canyons hold no evidence of the disaster that is about to strike. On this day, the sun feels pleasantly warm. You have left the other members of your band camped on the edge of the creek while you climb the peaks looking for small prey.

You begin to notice a steady rumbling sound, something that began almost imperceptibly, but that persists and even grows. Wondering what it is, you look to the northeast. There is a strange haze in the distance. Perhaps it is something to do with the tremendous fields of ice that rim that edge of your world. But as you watch it seems to grow, to convulse as it consumes the horizon.

Then the earth begins to quiver. A blast of air strikes you, driving dust that blinds you as you struggle to watch. The shuddering intensifies, and you fall to the ground in fear. A rumble fills your ears, growing into a roar as you clap your hands over them to quell the pain of the noise. In a few moments your view of the peaceful waterways to the north are effaced by a cloud of dust kicked up by the sudden ferocious wind. You cover your ears to protect them from the roar, but the sound is nearly unbearable.

It is the sound of disaster: the crash of sudden rivers striking against the mountain you are clinging to. Beneath you, nothing but murk. The sky itself has turned brown with clouds of dust driven by the wind that precedes the flood. It is a flood unlike anything you could ever have imagined. Continue reading