Southeast Idaho Fieldwork Survey Part 6: Bannock County
This short series is a snapshot of a month’s worth of work conducting folklife fieldwork in the far southeastern corner of the state. Unless otherwise noted, photos were taken with Jack Daly’s camera and text was taken from Jack Daly’s field notes.
Like Soda Springs, if you travel to Bannock County heading north on U.S. 91, you will pass through small towns like Downey, Arimo, and Swan Lake. You will also pass by unique historical sites that link to the ancient past, like Red Rock Pass, the northern-most part of ancient Lake Bonneville. Lava Hot Springs comes out of nowhere, like a diamond in the rough. With the Portneuf River running along the town, often full of river-rafters come from afar to this unique destination town, Lava Hot Springs is quite a sight to see. There are many small-town diners, Western antique shops, magnificent bed and breakfasts, museums, art galleries, and the main attraction: the hot springs. In town, you are likely to see license plates from all over; Lava Hot Springs is certainly a place that people go out of their way to visit. The town has a welcoming, hippie vibe to it, and you will often see people in their bathing suits walking along the sidewalk after going to the hot springs or tubing in the river for a fun time in town.
This particular day was dark and a bit stormy – a rarity for my July fieldwork which besides the first couple of days had been full of blistering heat. This was a welcome change, as I often found myself parked in my car, scouring my notes and the internet for another place to go or another contact to reach out to.
As I pulled into Lava Hot Springs for the first time, I was taken completely by surprise by its mere existence. Driving westward from Soda Springs, I approached the eastern entrance, which has a large camping site just off the highway. Tucked amongst hills that are quite different than the surrounding area, this camping site seemed like a sort of hippie commune; a location that had, to me, a welcome and magical tinge to it. That is also how I would describe Lava Hot Springs as a whole: it reminded me of many of the Colorado mountain towns I grew up around, which were not only tourist destinations but also bastions of liberality and self-expression.
I drove out on my last day of fieldwork up U.S. 91, hoping that I would be able to stop at some of the sites that I was not unable to visit due to rain two days prior. I passed a historical marker, and I stopped to see what it was. There was a huge hill that arose from the ground, and there were steps leading up it. The historical marker and accompanying sign clarified that this what is known as Red Rock Pass, which is the northern extremity of the ancient Lake Bonneville that up to 14,500 years ago flowed into that area. I climbed to the top of the hill, where there was a marker erected for Captain Jefferson Hunt, an LDS pioneer.
I proceeded to Lava Hot Springs, knowing that the museum would be open, so that was my first stop. I had a fairly lengthy conversation with the museum manager. I took a tour of the museum, which included a Native American room, a Lava Hot Springs history room, a war room, and a medical room. As I left, the manager’s child approached me and told me about the Dragonfly Art Gallery, suggesting I should go there.
My time as a fieldworker will be one that I remember forever. For me, it was sort of like a month-long historical road trip. I learned so much and gained indispensable skills. I’d like to thank Steven [Hatcher] and Lisa [Duskin-Goede], for giving me the opportunity to work for you and grow as a folklorist.