Monday, November 3, 2008

Twin Bridges to Uncharted

The video for this one is here. It's the second one. Now you may read the story if you wish.

Aaand an update: Beta testing is now underway at Uncharted, which is exciting stuff. Soon, you'll be able to read these stories on Uncharted, as intended. Can't wait for that to happen.

Twin Bridges -- A Fishing Spot for non-Fisher Folk

We are not fisher folk.

Dad, born in the Netherlands in 1928, did not have to fish. Just about any time he wanted fish – herring, mostly, pickled, raw, with a bit of onion sprinkled on top – his mother went to the market and got it. Fresh. Always fresh fish in the Netherlands, so close to the sea.

So when he moved from the village of Santpoort to the state of Idaho, it was not with fresh fish in mind. Fresh fish could be found in his new hometown – trout, mostly fried, occasionally with a slice of lemon, but most often ungarnished. But he did not fish. Instead, got his fish from local fishermen, including our neighbor of at least 30 years.

Dad never fished, and passed that on to his sons.

I still don’t fish. But because my oldest son is in Cub Scouts, and because they learned how to fish and because he was one of only two Scouts to catch a fish – a tiny, eight-inch trout pulled out of a stocked pond in the city of Rexburg – he caught the fishing bug.

So this summer, we went fishing. Of a sort.

We chose to fish at Twin Bridges, a campground built on an island in the South Fork of the Snake River, fifteen minutes south of Rexburg, about 30 minutes northeast of Idaho Falls. Fishing there, I’d heard people say, was fair. More importantly, it had shallow, placid water where three youngsters and their inexperienced parents could practice the art of fishing without getting in the way of serious fishermen or risking a swim in the Snake’s cold, swift currents.

Our children fished with poles the Scouts made – mere tree branches to which their leaders had attached a bit of fishing line, a bobber, a sinker and a barbless brass fishhook. With that pole and a kernel of corn as bait, our oldest caught his first fish, beaming, with the Scouts.

The campground and fishing grounds at Twin Bridges are old school. The island is covered with a twist of cottonwood forest and brambles of underbrush, ranging from bachelor buttons to dandelions to box elders and foxgloves, all sprouting out of dusty soil washed onto the island when the river is high. The island that splits the river into two threads also divides the waters – the main, swift fork of the river flows to the north, the quieter, shallower and more meandering fork to the south. In the shallows among the reeds, our kids watched entranced as innumerable tiny fish swam, swarms of commas paddling and darting over the muddy bottom that oozed bubbles from decaying vegetable matter beneath the surface. Further out into the water, clear to the bottom, the river scoured away the dirt, leaving rocks. Larks and cranes and one solitary bald eagle looped and twirled above the water, above the forest to the south.

We fished along a graveled bank of the river, getting there by walking along the shore and underneath one of the highway bridges that gives the island its name. The only sound, that of gently trickling water.

Until the rooster crowed.

While there are houses nearby, the rooster’s call was close. Somewhere, in this tangled forest, a rooster lives. We were not the only fishermen who heard it – maybe, the others said, the animal was washed down to the island when the river flooded in 1997, knocking out the bridge we’d walked under to fish.

We saw no fish, but fed the river plenty of pastel marshmallows, which bloated with water and slipped off the barbless hooks as the hapless fisherkids watched. Our youngest boy chased a water snake, wriggling through the water on the shore. The sun, gentle in August, shined on the rocks and the water, turning them to gold. The rooster crowed.

I grew up in a town that straddles the Snake, taming its shores with conifers, green grass, Canadian geese and modest park benches. This was my first visit to the wild Snake, disorganized, brambled, muddy, and altogether twisted and meandering and looped as I imagine the Mississippi to be. Here a person could walk on the shore and have the only sounds be the gravel underfoot and the trickling water. Here a person could sit on the shore, silently, and wait for the animals to emerge – deer, voles, badgers, skunks, perhaps the elusive rooster – just to watch, until the startled animal sees the person sitting on the shore and flees.

Dad would have enjoyed that. Though, like me, he would have hoped not to catch any fish, because neither one of us know how to clean them. You don’t have to clean herring from the market. You just eat it, with onions. So tasty.

Getting there: From Idaho Falls, travel northeast on US Highway 26 to Ririe. Follow the signs in Ririe directing you to Rexburg. Travel north on county roads from Ririe about three miles. Cross the first bridge over the Snake River, and you’ll see the Twin Bridges campground to the left.

From Rexburg, travel south on Old Highway 191 to the Archer Highway, following signs directing you to Archer/Heise Hot Springs. Travel on this curvy farm-to-market road for about 15 minutes until you cross the first bridge over the Snake River. Watch for the Twin Bridges campground on the right.

Things to know: The campground is divided into two areas. The first area, set aside for camping, is maintained by Madison County, and is free. The campsites are very dusty. The second area, at the far end of the island, is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and features a picnic area, restrooms and a boat ramp. This is a fee area.

To walk along the river, drive or walk south on the main (paved) road from the campground to the next turnoff, then follow the gravel road to the shoreline. From there, you’ll see one of the bridges to walk under along the river. From there, enjoy exploring. It’s common to find people camping in tents along the river; just be respectful and quiet as you walk through. Remember you’re on an island, so there’s little chance of wandering too far, but be aware enough of your surroundings to find your way back.

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