Idaho’s Granitic City of Rocks

July 28, 2022

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Photographer: Ray Boren

Summary Author: Ray Boren

It isn’t difficult to understand the wonder experienced by westbound pioneers and Gold Rush Forty-Niners whose wagon trains rattled through southern Idaho’s Albion Mountains while crossing North America via the 19th century’s California Trail. The same granite monoliths, spires, domes and cliffs — which to some emigrants resembled urban skylines back East — are encountered at today’s City of Rocks National Reserve, a unit of the U.S. National Park Service and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation that was established in 1988. The time-sculpted landscape’s panoramic viewpoints include Window Arch, shown here in a photograph taken on June 22, 2022.


City of Rocks, and nearby Castle Rock State Park, expose the Almo Pluton and the Green Creek Complex. Igneous rock intruded into even more ancient rock, up to 2.5 billion years old, and cooled deep in the Earth. Raised by Basin and Range physiographic dynamics over millions of years, the weathered and often-rounded outcrops might now bring to mind sculpted turtles, armadillos, elephants and trolls as much as cityscapes. In a second image, taken on the same date, summer wildflowers and sage fill a high plain below sawtooth pillars dozens of stories high. The gritty, cracked cliffs and scarps also attract rock climbers, who test their ropes and technical skills on more than 700 acknowledged routes. Note the climber atop the pinnacle in the photo at bottom.


The picturesque setting remains sacred to Native American peoples, including Shoshone and Paiute tribes, some of whom consider City of Rocks to be their place of origin, the Park Service notes. The historic California Trail, followed by over 200,000 emigrants between the 1840s and 1880s, diverges south and west from the nearby Oregon Trail, at “the Parting of the Ways” at the confluence of the Snake and Raft rivers, and slices through City of Rocks toward northwestern Utah and Nevada’s Humboldt River. Some pioneers left names, dates and other inscriptions in axle grease on formations, such as Camp Rock and Register Rock. Freight and stagecoach routes subsequently used the corridor, linking the transcontinental railroad, after its 1869 completion in northern Utah, to Boise, Idaho. Today cattle ranches and alfalfa fields cover vast stretches, as in Almo and the Raft River Valley to the east, while a few in-holdings and homesteads remain within the City of Rocks reserve itself.


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City of Rocks National Reserve Idaho Coordinates: 42.0727, -113.7038

Related Links:

Idaho's Pass of the Standing Rock