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Not So Fast

Meandering through Soda Springs, Idaho

Not So Fast essays explore fascinating places for readers who enjoy slow and easy travels who like photographing landscapes, wandering gentle trails, strolling through libraries or along ocean beaches, who like to check out historic buildings and locales. Words and Images by Sunny Lockwood

Copyright 2011 by Merikay McLeod All Rights Reserved None of the text or photographs in this Not So Fast essay may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

If you like out-of-the-way places with interesting history but not a lot of candy coating, youll appreciate Soda Springs, Idaho. This small town has real American Pioneer history imprinted in its landscape About two-and-a-half hours north of Salt Lake City and two hours west of Jackson, Wyoming, Soda Springs sits in the Bear River Valley, next to the Alexander Reservoir. At about 5,800-feet elevation, it typically has snow on the ground from early December through early March. Summers are hot. The town is surrounded by beautiful, forested mountains, especially the Bear River Range to the south and the Aspen Mountains to the East. Sweetheart Al and I stumbled upon Soda Springs when we were researching an interesting route from our home in California to Yellowstone National Park. We wanted to escape the stifling miles of salt-flats in northern Utah. And Im always attracted to unique lodging. We found exactly what we wanted in this small Caribou County town of about 3,000.

The Oregon Trail Enders Hotel and Museum Soda Springs Captured Geyser Thomas Corrigan Park The Old Stone House More Lodging in Soda Springs Other Soda Springs Sites of Interest Not So Fast Author Information

The Oregon Trail

If youre a history buff, youll know about the Oregon Trail. Its a 2,000-mile route used first by fur traders and later, beginning in the 1840s, by covered wagon trains. Organized at Independence, Missouri, these trains followed the route from east to west, carrying homesteaders to valleys in Oregon and points in between. The trip on foot took four to six months. It was the oldest of the northern commercial and emigrant trails, running from Missouri, through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and on to Oregon The route flourished until the end of the 1860s, when the first transcontinental railroad was completed, making the cross-country trip quicker and cheaper. In the early Oregon Trail days, Soda Springs was known as the Oasis of Soda Springs, and was considered a major landmark between Fort Laramie and Fort Boise. Soda Springs was named for the thousands of natural springs of carbonated water located in and around the town in the 1800s, the springs bubbled through the calciferous soil, delighting weary trail travelers. Those in the wagon trains would use the hot bubbling springs to do their laundry. For a time, the carbonated water was bottled and sold and was a factor in the development of Americas carbonated drink industry. Today, U.S. Highway 30, which passes through Soda Springs, follows much of the old Oregon Trail route. But the trail itself, cut deep by thousands of wagon wheels, can be seen at the Oregon Trail Golf Course just on the western edge of town. The deepest Oregon Trail ruts can be seen near the 8th hole on the thick green. This is a nine hole, 36-par golf course right on the shores of Alexander Reservoir. We walked the rut between holes 1 and 8 early in the morning before anyone was playing. To see the deep grooves, still so evident after 150 years of heavy winter snowfalls and hot summer sun, gave me a new appreciation of the grit and determination of the wagon train pioneers. Today, Soda Springs is the hub of the Oregon Trail Bear Lake Scenic Byway and the Pioneer Historic Byway in southeastern Idaho.

Enders Hotel and Museum

The historic downtown area (just a couple of blocks or so) is dominated by the Enders Hotel. This beautiful, three-story stone building stands at 76 S. Main, right where it has since it was built in 1917 and lovingly restored to its original beauty in 2000. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Enders received the 2002 Orchid Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation from the Idaho Historic Preservation Council.

Its lobby is lined with golden-oak leather-seated rocking chairs one of the only things left from the original hotel. The restoration included meticulous matching and custom fabricating from the dark wainscoting and heavy beams in the large lobby to the room key box behind the front desk. Theres a stuffed bear in the lobby window, and above it, the head of a white buffalo.

The minute I saw the white buffalo, I remembered an old Rin Tin Tin TV show from the 1950s, where Lt. Rip Masters sings about the White Buffalo. (You can still hear it if you Google White Buffalo and Rin Tin Tin). White buffaloes are extremely rare. The National Bison Association estimates that they only occur approximately once out of every 10-million births. Among the Sioux, White Buffaloes were considered spiritual guardians. Although the white buffalo represents spiritual unity in some Native American cultures, the white buffalo commemorated in the Enders Hotel did not behave in a very spiritual manner. The information posted beside the head says that he took part in a Charles Bronson movie. And that he refused to mate with other buffaloes, but continued to knock down fences to a nearby farm, and proceeded to rape the cows there. Other heads adorn the lobby moose and elk and deer. The Enders second floor houses a free museum 10 rooms highlighting early life in Soda Springs. From the beautifully refinished banisters to the pristine original lighting fixtures and elegant antiques, the hotel and its well-cared-for museum are a joy to wander through. Enders is one of several lodging places in town, and gets high marks for cleanliness, friendliness and comfort. The only drawback to spending the night here is the frequent freight trains that run just a few dozen yards from the building.

And also the rumors of ghosts. It is said that Enders hasnt been completely vacated by early guests. But if you spend a night or two there, you can decide for yourself if youve been in the company of folks from the other side. The Enders Hotels third floor, which was added in 1918, boasts beautifully restored rooms, each with a private bath. The Geyser Caf, where we enjoyed both dinner and breakfast, is also in the hotel building. This restaurant, with its friendly and helpful staff, serves good, basic fare at reasonable prices.

Soda Springs Captured Geyser

One of the attractions of Soda Springs is its geyser, located on Pyramid Spring, a travertine mound described by Fremont in his 1840s exploration. Called Geyser Park, the geyser and its mound are right behind the Enders Hotel. The geyser erupts every hour on the hour. You can watch it while you have breakfast in the Geyser View Cafs ballroom. Thats where Sweetheart and I saw it.

I find the story of how Soda Springs geyser came to life quite humorous. Maybe you will too. It seems that on November 30, 1937, while trying to find a hot water source for a local swimming pool, the well-driller set free this natural geyser at a depth of 317-feet. The geyser is now capped and regulated by a timer. The extreme pressure that causes the hourly eruption comes from carbon dioxide gas mixing with water in an underground chamber. Its eruptions can reach heights of 100-feet.

There is a boardwalk around the spring for those who want a closer look at the geyser. However, signs warn that you watch the eruption at your own risk. Soda Springs publicity says the town has the largest captive geyser in the world. It was featured in Ripleys Believe it or Not. We were delighted with the Soda Springs Geyser. It was beautiful. And for us, it was fun watching the stream of white water rise and capture the early morning light in a lovely rainbow.

Thomas Corrigan Park

Corrigan Park, within walking distance of Enders Hotel, contains two locomotives that have a part in the history of the area. The park also features basketball courts, two baseball diamonds, two playgrounds for kids, a covered pavilion and lots of shade trees. Nice place for a picnic lunch on a hot summer day. The Dinkey Engine is a permanent reminder of what it took to build the dam that formed the Alexander Reservoir (built in 1924). This miniature locomotive hauled supplies for the dam. Trapped by rising water as the Reservoir filled, the little locomotive was abandoned, and lay submerged for more than half a century. Then in 1976, the reservoir was drained for repairs, and there was the locomotive rusty and muddy, but still complete. It was rescued, restored by the Union Pacific Railroad and presented to the City of Soda Springs. Today it, along with its story, is enshrined in the park. The Conda Bus is also on display in the park. Between 1922 and 1936, this railroad coach provided the only means of transportation for phosphate mine workers and others between Soda Springs and the town of Conda, eight miles to the north. According to the Soda Springs promotional brochure, it was restored in 1999.

The Old Rock House

Although I rarely feature special lodging places, I cannot help but write about the unique and beautiful Old Rock House of Soda Springs where Sweetheart Al and I spent a wonderful afternoon, evening and night. I found this 358-square foot dollhouse on the web. Built in 1896, this architectural gem is on the Register of National Historical Places and for good reason. Built with black basalt lava rock and limestone from the area, it has brick segmental (fanlike) arches above all four windows and the front door. The walls are about 20-inches thick, and form beautiful window seats where you can sit and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. The ceiling in the main room is 10-feet, 3-inches high. A 49-inch plaster rosette medallion highlights this main room ceiling. The flooring is 5-inch tongue and groove pine. The bathroom features a 54-inch clawfoot tub/shower.

There are two oval sinks (one in the bathroom, one in the kitchenette) with painted bouquets of purple violets connected with purple ribbons. They came from Michigan. It took five years to restore the beautiful little house and fill it with art and antiques that take you back to grandmothers world. Outside there are hollyhocks and lilacs and sage. Inside theres cable TV, high speed Internet, a coffee maker, luxurious towels and washcloths. French milled soap and lavender scented bubble bath in the bathroom. Thick rugs invite bare feet. A love seat and large wing chair add a sense of comfort and relaxation to the place. There are pictures and lace and etched glass and pressed tin, beautiful lamps and fascinating books and magazines. The back door opens to an extensive yard with a gas grill, and a fire pit, a picnic table and enough thick green grass to please any feet (human or animal).

William Hopkins built this charming house in 1896 He and his wife lived there until 1919. Thats the year Iona Mikesell moved in. She lived in the one-bedroom little house with her 10 children until 1971.

When Sweetheart Al and I were wandering the Oregon Trail Golf Course, looking for the wagon wheel ruts, we met a local gentleman who had grown up just three doors down from the Rock House. He said that Iona Mikesell took in ironing to help support her family. His grandmother was one of her customers. When we walked into the Old Rock House after a long days drive, beautiful music was playing on an old-fashioned radio/CD player, and there were snacks on the counter. Sweetheart Als initial comment: This is undoubtedly the most unusual place Ive ever stayed in. I thumbed through the guest book and saw messages left by folks from Arizona, Montana, Texas, California, Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia, and even Mexico. One of the dearest messages read: Iona Mikesell was my great grandmother and I spent time here with her as a child. I loved feeling close to her again. Thank you for working so hard to preserve this treasure. Lori & Gwen Dalrymple Other comments included: What a work of love! We enjoyed this wee, enchanted cottage. And my favorite, comment, from a man: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Both Sweetheart Al and I found the house filled with quality, beauty and peace. It is totally inviting. The Old Rock House 351 E. Hooper Ave. (208) 241-8884

More Lodging in Soda Springs

Caribou Lodge & Motel 110 N. 2nd East (208) 547-3377 JR Inn 179 W. 2nd (208) 547-3366 Brigham Young Lodge & Trailer Park 120 E 2ndh (208) 547-3009 Trail Motel & Restaurant 213 W. 2nd St. (208) 547-0240 Lakeview Motel & Trailer Park 241 W. 2nd (208) 547-4351 Geyser Inn 129 W. 2nd S. 801-644-0432 Bar H Ranch 1501 Eight Mile Creek Road (208) 547-3082 This is a 10,000-acre working ranch on the Bear River Sheep Creek Guest Ranch 877-787-0301 This is a 2,000-acre ranch. It has a lodge and Six cabins, plus camping and RV sites. It is surrounded by the Caribou National Forest.

Other interesting Soda Springs sites

1. Fairview Cemetery If you are into cemeteries, youll probably enjoy visiting Soda Springs Fairview Cemetery. Established in the late 1800s, it is the largest cemetery in Caribou County. Many early settlers and founders of Soda Springs are buried here. But the best known graves are the Wagon Box Grave and Cariboo Jacks grave. The wagon box grave is the oldest grave in the cemetery. In 1861, a family of seven on their way to Oregon were killed by Indians. The wagon train found the family in the morning, and placed the parents and their five children in their wagon box. They covered the box with willows from Soda Creek, spread quilts over the willows and covered the entire thing with dirt. They set four formation rocks, one at each corner. Jesse Cariboo Jack Fairchild, along with two other miners, discovered gold on what was then called Mt. Pisgah, 40 miles northeast of Soda Springs. He was a colorful personality, something of a braggart. One fall afternoon in 1881, while he was enjoying himself in a Soda Springs Saloon, a local man came in and asked for help in finishing off a grizzly bear he had wounded down by the Bear River. Having bragged at length about his grizzly-killing ability, and having a few drinks under his belt, Cariboo Jack hurried down to where the bear was. Foolishly, he rushed alone into the willows, and was severely mauled. The other men finished off the bear, then hurriedly carried Cariboo Jack back to town. He died a few days later from blood poisoning. 2. Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum In 1983, the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers built this museum at 148 S. Main. It features antiques, photographs and books depicting local history. 208-547-3706. 3. Hooper Springs Park Free, clear sparkling soda water is still available in this beautiful Soda Springs park, located two miles north from the center of town. Soda water from these springs was marketed nationally after rail service reached this resort area in 1882. Hooper Springs Park also features a lovely picnic area, playground, pavilion and basketball courts. 4. Kelly Park Five minutes from downtown Soda Springs, Kelly Park includes spring-fed creeks, lava reefs, lakes, rolling hills, stands of juniper, birch and aspen and beautiful vistas of the valley in which Soda Springs sits. It also offers about four miles of cross-country ski trails in the winter.

5. Monsanto Slag Pour The major employer of the area Monsanto produces elemental phosphorus at the Soda Springs plant. About one million tons per year of phosphate ore, from nearby open pit mines, is mixed with quartzite rock, coke, and large quantities of electricity. The process yields elemental phosphorus for such things as soft drinks, toothpaste, baking and leavening agents, water treatment chemicals, insecticides and herbicides. One of the byproducts of the production process is slag, or calcium silicate. Slag is what forms the large gray pile you see on the south and west sides of the plant. It comes out of the electrical furnaces at temperatures of 1,400 degrees centigrade, and is hauled to the edge of the slag pile and dumped. Its fiery fall looks like molten rock. It is poured on the average of five times per hour, 24 hours a day and those who watch say its like lava pouring down the side of a volcano. 6. Brigham Young Memorial This memorial stands at the site of a summer home cabin built in 1870 for Mormon Church President Brigham Young. The cabin was used for many years as a stopping off place for President Young and other church leaders as they traveled through the area. The home was destroyed in 1944 as it was being moved to make room for a tourist motel.

Author Information
Since Sunny Lockwood was a child growing up on the shores of Crooked Lake, not far from Kalamazoo, Michigan, shes been a curious traveler, tempted to investigate whats around the next corner or on the other side of the hill or just upstream. Her parents encouraged the travel bug. During the winter, Mom would read us books or stories about the pioneers or the westward expansion, she says. Then in the summer, wed often take family vacations to go see the places wed read about. She remembers trips to Yellowstone National Park, the Black Hills, Blue Ridge Mountains, to Mammoth Cave, to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home and museum in Mansfield, Missouri, and many other places. On her own, shes traveled to Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Greece, England and Scotland, as well as throughout the United States and parts of Canada. Travel is freeing, its educational and its fun, she says. Shes particularly drawn to locales with colorful history and lively culture, small towns and other places off the well-beaten path. In her Not So Fast series, she shares some of her favorite finds. Sunny has been writing and publishing for years. Some of her stories and articles have won state and national awards. She lives with her husband on 22 wild and weedy acres in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Read her other Not So Fast essays for 99-cents each at or Not So Fast, meandering through Angels Camp, California. Not So Fast, meandering through Capitola, California. Read her Living the Velvet Revolution, a first-hand account of the Czechoslovakian people toppling their communist government, on, for 99-cents. Read her short story collection, Shades of Love, stories from the heart for $1.99 here at Read her blog, Onword: Check out her website: Befriend her on Facebook: Follow her on Twitter: