July 22, 2022
Recognizing our interest in waterfalls, the nice young woman at the Idaho Falls Travel Center recommended a stop at Mesa Falls on our way to Yellowstone. We had planned to arrive at the lodge for our visit to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons from Jackson on the south, whereas Mesa Falls is in the opposite direction, leading toward the west entrance of Yellowstone. Consulting a map and learning that Mesa Falls lies just over an hour from Idaho Falls, we planned a day trip.
The drive from IDF led us through spacious flat land, the Grand Tetons in the distance in the east, hazy in the morning, clear in the afternoon. Patches of snow buried in the crevices of the ragged peaks attested to the lack of sun. The wide arms of irrigators battled the heat, assuring the survival of fields of hay. The green gave way to dry grass along the straight highway, with newly constructed houses reminiscent of Monopoly game hotels placed to accommodate population growth even here in Idaho. A glimpse of llamas? Or alpacas? I don’t know the difference. Then bison and goats were visible, residents of Yellowstone Bear World, which we bypassed. Another Mormon temple proclaimed its dominance. Sorry, LDS. In Rexburg.
There was little transition from arid to forest as the road rose and we found ourselves among tall ponderosa pines, everywhere! The pine needles of old trees with orange trunks were deep green with no salient evidence of bark beetles. The drive, more spectacular as the underbrush filled in with bright, lush greens punctuated by the color of wildflowers, was worth the time.
The Big Falls Inn, not an inn at all, houses the Mesa Falls Visitor Center. It was built to accommodate staff and visitors for an electric plant that was never realized and serves as a hub on the paths to the Upper and Lower Falls which run on Henry’s Fork of the S**** River. The paved path to the Upper Falls offers ramps as an alternative to stairs. We walked comfortably down the decline and . . .
Stunning! Although at its fullest level Shoshone Falls may be more impressive, even when somewhat low, Mesa Falls is breathtaking. It is also natural, not yet manipulated by man for the development of energy. Leisurely, we continued to each overlook, the mist cooling us as we stood on the decks staring in awe. The beauty captivated us at each site. Even teenagers were spellbound. We were not alone, but the crowds were sparse.
We accepted the challenge of walking the 1.2-mile nature trail to the Lower Falls, assured by the guide at the Visitors Center that the walk was easier than the path to the Upper Falls. The well-maintained, dirt-packed path’s slow decline among the thick foliage underbrush warned us that the return trip would be uphill. Inspired by the Upper Falls and snubbing our noses at aging, we persevered. The abundant purple clover brought back memories of my childhood summers, sipping the nectar from the whites of the purple blossoms. Several signs were warning of bears. Are we to cower from or impress with strength? Mike had left his bear spray at the house.
We encountered two women and a young girl sporting an Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling t-shirt, sitting on the edge of the cliff of volcanic rock overlooking the falls, basking in the vista. No guard rails here to obstruct our view from hundreds, thousands? of feet over the water. This was what I imagined Idaho to be. It was difficult to leave, but sensing fatigue, we started back up the incline.
Exhaustion was setting in despite hydrating. Rising slowly from the ragdoll to ease the tension in my back, I grabbed onto Mike for balance, feeling lightheaded. Chewing a dated Cliff bar revealed total body exhaustion as even my jaws had trouble masticating the stiff treat. Mike patiently allowed me frequent breaks along the path with no benches. Occasionally we found a log that had fallen in a useful spot. One time Mike made his backpack into a cushion for me to sit directly on the path. I have learned to downward dog to get back to standing. I quietly thanked my yoga teacher, Noreen. It was the 6000 ft elevation. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Just before the end of the trail, Mike offered to run ahead to get the car and meet me at the end of the trail. No way! Not until we are off the trail. He was to protect me from bears and other dangers, such as s*****.
A simple picnic lunch in the shade revived us. As we drove out of the park, we stopped at the Lower Falls overview. Don’t miss this!! The nature trail that we hiked took us to the falls with magnificent views of the river, but the overview above reveals a sight of the falls inaccessible when viewed directly overhead from the path.
Mesa Falls lies in the 3,000,000-acre Targhee National Forest offering hiking, fishing, and caves to explore. Check out their website. If we were younger with more stamina, we would explore it more completely.
Driving home, we crossed the Warm River. Warm compared to what? We didn’t stop to find out.
Reluctantly leaving the forest, we returned home exhausted but spiritually full.