In January 2014 we hiked from the Swan Falls Dam to the Petroglyphs and we just repeated the hike on Saturday. Although Anthony had been on this hike several times with the Meet Up - Milestone Hiking Club (doing a key exchange at the Petroglyphs) this was my first time back. Swan Falls Dam is 19 miles south of Kuna on Swan Falls Road. The hike to and from the Petroglyphs is 11.4 miles round trip (from the dam) with approximately 500 feet of gain. One reason we picked this relatively flat hike was to save my toes from additional abuse while my right one heals. My right toenail is currently a lovely shade of purple from last weekends hiking exploits. Too much downhill hiking caused me to have some serious big toe issues and we were trying to lessen the stress on my toes this weekend. My left large toe is doing great again but the right one is still not so good. Anthony said that my purple toenail is a sign that I am a real hiker now.
It was interesting visiting this area in April vs. January as wild flowers are now in bloom, temperatures were much warmer (upper 30 degrees when we hit the trail vs. 11 degrees in 2014), the abandoned orchard had green leaves sprouting on the trees and we saw our first snake of the year (fortunately not a rattlesnake). We also saw quite a few rabbits, lots of lizards, beetles and of course birds galore. The desert environment seemed to be much more active and alive than during my first visit. Also with the warmer weather the east side of the river was very populated with families camping and fishing. Fortunately on our hike we only encountered a couple of folks on the return hike towards the beginning of the trail and we also talked to some campers (the only ones camping on the west side of the river who used a boat to cross the river and set up camp).
I find it fascinating that you can see new things and learn a little more during each visit to this area. The Swan Falls Dam Museum was open when we returned to the truck and we had a few minutes to visit. Swan Falls Dam was built in 1901 to supply electricity to nearby mining towns. The dam is the oldest hydroelectric project on the Snake River. Swan Falls is one of the first hydroelectric plants to generate three phase power, the same electricity standard used today. During the mid 1990's a new power plant was built. The old plant was decommissioned, and now serves as a museum. Idaho Power maintains the museum at the dam.
The area with the petroglyphs has many boulders covered in symbols that vary from bird and animal shapes to complex geometric forms. It has been widely believed that animal depictions serve as sign markers of game trails and/or presence of particular resources. However, it is believed that many of the more complex geometric designs are simply artistic. There is also speculation that some of the images are associated with shamanistic activity or rituals. Anyway you sum it up they are wonderful to visit in person without knowing their exact purpose or reason. I hope to make it back to Celebration Park eventually to learn more from the self guided tour at the Visitor Center.
We also found some rock cabin remnants across from the petroglyphs that we had not seen before. It is said that the cabins were originally built by miners in the late 1890's to early 1900's as they searched for the very fine "flour gold" of the Snake River Canyon. We have also heard that they were built by Chinese laborers. Either way it was pretty neat to stumble upon during our visit. Again I need to stop by the Visitors Center to see about getting my facts straight. We did have a funny moment while visiting the petroglyphs. We sat and ate lunch on a large, mostly flat boulder. Anthony laid back and it looked so comfortable that I joined him. Before long we both fell asleep in the sun. I am not sure how long we snoozed but it was so nice out that we just could not resist.