Summer road trips, just hearing these words elicits memories of hours spent rolling along a bland Interstate, stopping only for bathroom breaks or a meal. These were some of the trips of my childhood when our dad would have set a time for arrival at our hotel (early in the afternoon) so he might be able to squeeze in 9 holes at the local golf course. I don’t want to make it sound like we didn’t see anything of interest to us kids but he did have his priorities.
These days I drive a mix of Interstates and state roads – we aren’t afraid to leave the speed and wide lanes of an interstate to find something that we saw on a sign or a guidebook. Our eldest daughter loves this kind of travel so when we were on our way home from a visit to California last summer and saw a sign for the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway she looked it up on her phone and said it sounded like an interesting (and educational) route.
There are two sets of falls in the area, Upper and Lower Mesa Falls were both created by the flowing water from Henry’s Fork of the Snake River cutting deep into its canyon and hitting some very hard volcanic rock. This caused the softer rock to wash away and some of the harder rock to fall off after being undercut by the water. EJ was fascinated to learn that volcanic rock could be that tough and to see how each of the falls has a different shape, one straight and one a horseshoe (like Niagara Falls only smaller).
There was a special parks day when we visited the Big Falls Inn where rangers had games and displays set up for kids that helped them learn more about the wildlife and geography of the area. They were able to feel the pelts of several creatures, including beavers, who were native to the area and had made it a popular center for trappers. Sadly, the beavers were trapped out much as the buffalo had been.
Big Falls Inn itself had been built in about 1915 and has served various purposes over the years including as a Boy Scout lodge (quite different from when it was a restaurant and dance hall!) This building now serves as the main interpretive center for the area with displays and information available covering prehistoric times to the present.
They even have a Mesa Falls Activity Booklet for the kids to complete that helps them learn about the falls, area birds and wildlife, as well as the plant life in the area. EJ enjoyed completing it as we walked along the wide wooden paths to the falls. For anyone who has done the National Park Junior Rangers booklets, this one is much the same.
Overall, taking this drive along what used to be the main route to Yellowstone National Park was a terrific idea. We learned a lot about the area and had a lot of fun doing it.
*This post was originally published on The Old Schoolhouse magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart blog on November 24, 2018. Click the link below to check it out.