August 10, 1841 — Soda Springs

Tuesday, 10th. The day was fine and pleasant; a soft and cheerful breeze and the sky bedimmed by smoke brought to mind the tranquil season of autumn. A distance of 10 miles took us to the Soda Fountain, where we stopped the remainder of the day. This is a noted place place in the mountains and is considered a great curiosity–within the circumference of 3 or 4 miles there are included no less than 100 springs, some bursting out on top of the ground, others along the banks of the river which are very low at this place, and some even in the bottom of the river.

The water is strongly impregnated with soda, and wherever it gushes out of the ground, a sediment is deposited, of a reddish color, which petrifies and forms around the springs large mounds of porous rock; some of which are no less than fifty feet high. Some of these fountains have become entirely dry, in consequence of the column of water which they contained becoming so high as to create sufficient power by its pressure to force the water to the surface in another place.

In several of the springs the water is lukewarm — but none were very cold. The ground was very dry at this time, and made a noise as we passed over it with horses, as though it was hollow underneath. Cedar grows here in abundance, and the scenery of the country is romantic. Father De Smet, with 2 or 3 Flathead Indians, started about dark in the evening to go to Fort Hall, which was 50 miles distant.

It sounds like Yellowstone National Park, or Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Bumpass Hell, July 2020

The Soda Fountain, or Soda Springs, was a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail, and many travelers got out their diaries and recorded their impressions. It’s difficult to find any photos from the 19th century though. Here is one, taken by W.H. Jackson in 1872, of extinct basins at Soda Springs.

Library of Congress

Today the landscape has changed greatly at Soda Springs, Idaho. Most of the naturally carbonated springs are gone, covered by a man-made reservoir. The main attraction is a geyser, the only “captive” geyser in the country, which was created in 1837 when a well drilling operation, which was attempting to build a natural hot springs swimming pool, inadvertently released a tepid geyser that shot 100 feet into the air. The geyser now has a timer on it and is released once an hour.

Mike Price, The geyser John Bidwell didn’t get to see

Let’s hope they all took baths here. I’ll bet they needed them.

Mike Price,

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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