OverviewThe Big Holes are located in beautiful southeast Idaho. The Snake River forms a border to the southwest and to a lesser extent, the Teton River to the northeast. This range is really just an extension of the Snake River range. They are one and the same, but locals have divided them in half along the Pine Creek Pass road, Hwy 31.
These mountains gradually rise from the Snake River Plain near the Ririe/Rexburg area where farmland gives way to the forested peaks and ridges. They gain elevation from northwest to southeast. Water is plentiful and canyon bottoms are lush. Big game abounds. There are many streams but few lakes.
The Snake River forms a corridor containing the largest cottonwood forest in North America. This area is prime wildlife habitat. Bald and Golden eagles are common. Osprey build nests along the canyon rim and and feed their young trout caught in the sparkling waters.
These mountains support many mammals, large and small, from squirrels to bear. Mule deer and elk inhabit the slopes and moose are seen along the canyon streams.
Unfortunately cattle grazing is allowed in some areas, and late summer reveals the overuse in some spots.
Geology[img:199419:alignleft:small:Cliffs and Clouds]The Absaroka thrust fault places Devonian over Mesozoic strata in the Big Hole Mountains, which extend southwestward into the complex mountains of the Idaho-Wyoming thrust belt. The Big Hole range is bounded on the west by a normal fault, the northwest extension of the Grand Valley fault, which controls the location of the Snake River and its half-graben valley west of Heise. North of Heise, in the cliffs below Kelly Canyon ski area are spectacular exposures of rhyolite volcanic rocks of the Heise caldera, that erupted between 4 and 6 million years ago.
The sedimentary formations of the thrust belt were folded and broken much like a thin layer of wet cohesive snow ahead of a snow shovel. The results are geologic folds with amplitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet and thrust faults which move layers over one another with up to 50 miles of displacement.
To sum it up.... The Big Hole Range is mainly composed of sediments ranging from the Devonian to Cretaceous mixed with Pliocene Volcanics.
Prehistoric inhabitants were highly mobile. These individuals took advantage of ripening plants and migrating game animals. Prehistoric natives also needed an intimate knowledge of the landscape and the behavioral patterns of game animals. However, anthropologists theorize that wild game, though necessary to the prehistoric diet, was less predictable and, therefore, of secondary importance. By contrast, the great quantity of edible and medicinal plants was vital to the survival of these people.
The areas earliest humans utilized the Snake River Plain to survive winters and moved into the mountains in the early spring, then moved to higher elevations during the summer and early fall to follow ripening plants. Root crops included spring beauty, bitterroot, Indian potato, biscuit root, and fawnlily. All of these plants have fleshy taproots, corms, or bulbs, are available throughout the spring and summer months, and continue to bloom just behind the receding snows at subsequently higher elevations.
A trail used by these people started in the lower elevations of the Snake plains and followed ridges south and east into Wyoming. They migrated back and forth, dictated by the seasonal changes of a year. Arrowheads and teepee rings can be "found" if you know where to look.
A little mining was done around the turn of the last century, but nothing of real interest was ever found here. There is a coal deposit in the northwest portion of this range but no mining is being performed at this time.
Little by way of early settlers is to be found here. Most of them settled in the dry but fertile plains to the west. Once the canal system was completed this area produced acre after acre of wheat. Alfalfa and potatoes came later.
Red TapeNo permits are required to hike and climb here.
There are some restrictions on fishing in the Snake, such as catch and release, barb less hooks, and a couple streams that are used for spawning Kokanee Salmon, that have a limited or no fishing statute. Check Your Regulations...
Camping / Lodging[img:98954:alignleft:small:Camping in Black Canyon] There are a couple of campgrounds in the NW portion of this range, Table Rock Campground and Kelly Island Campground
Take Note.....this area is not far from Idaho Falls and is heavily used on weekends. Most visitors stay on or near roads, however there are a lot of areas that can be (and are allowed) accessed by motorcycles and 4 wheelers. Motorized vehicles are required to stay on designated roads and trails. Best time to visit is during the week.
There are many places to car camp and unlimited spots in the back country.
Other Recreational Activities[img:199412:alignleft:small:Dick Cheney's favorite fishing spot..... ]This region is known for its world class trout fishing (catch and release ). Dick Cheney frequents the Snake River area, and black secret service outfits along with helicopters are sometimes seen along the river.
Kelly Canyon offers day and night skiing for those who love the white stuff. Kelly’s is a local’s hill and the lifts run from 9 am to 9:30 pm.
Heise Hot Springs will sooth your bones after a long day of hiking and climbing. Cabins and camping also available with a nearby Pizza Parlor.
The northwest half of this range has one of the best mountain bike trail system around. Some of these trails are shared with motorcycles and 4-wheelers though....watch out and be careful!
Item of Interest[img:200668:alignleft:small:Big Hole]Most will probably not remember who Vardis Fisher was…he was best known for writing the book Mountain Man. This piece of work was the basis for Sydney Pollack’s film Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford.
Fisher, born 1895 in Idaho, was the son of a (splinter) Mormon bishop. He grew up in virtual isolation, along the Snake River known as Fisher bottoms. Amazingly he was able complete a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. More so than Hemingway, this cranky, otherwise and brutally honest author is the true “Idaho writer”.