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Visiting Celebration Park and the Rock Art Petroglyphs in Idaho

A longtime camper, Dan has experience with tents, pop-up trailers, camp trailers, and motorhomes.

Entering Celebration Park

Entering Celebration Park

Celebration Park, Melba Idaho

Celebration Park is Idaho's only archaeological park and is a fascinating place to visit for both adults and children. Located near Melba, Idaho in southwestern Idaho it is less than an hour's drive from Boise and makes a great day trip for visitors to the area.

Chief among the attractions at Celebration Park are the rock art petroglyphs left by the indigenous Indians of long ago, but it doesn't stop there. A visitor can learn to use an atlatl (one of man's very first hunting weapons), and as part of the Snake River birds of prey national conservation area, it is a bird watcher's paradise. Walk across the Snake River on a railway bridge from the 1800s and learn some of the history of the Snake River.

How to Get There

From Melba, take S Can Ada south to Victory Lane. Turn right; the end of the road is Celebration Park. There are signs posted to keep you on the right track.

Once there, stop in at the small visitor center as there is a wealth of information about the park and its history. There are a few tent camping sites available, all without amenities. Several picnic tables are perfect if you take a lunch; advisable if you plan on spending the day as there is no other food or drink available.

The area is surrounded by boulders of all sizes, all rounded and smooth. Millennia of freeze/thaw cycles and rain have cracked or broken many, but they almost all share that same rounded smooth surface regardless of size. These "watermelon rocks" were carried by the great Bonneville flood for hundreds of miles in some cases as some 1,200 cubic miles of water from Bonneville lake coursed through the snake river about 15,000 years ago and scoured the topsoil and basalt from the snake river canyon. Probably because of their smooth surface these large boulders seem to have made a perfect "canvas" for the rock art of the petroglyphs.

Small trails wind through the area past the petroglyphs, and tours are available and recommended; the guides are very knowledgeable and helpful.

The park has set up a small atlatl range and visitors are welcome to try their hand at using these unique tools.

Fishing is popular at the park, as is hiking (of course!), horseback riding, boating, and birding. As part of the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, various kinds of these fascinating birds are often visible.

Rock Art Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are images that have been pecked or abraded onto the surface of stone. Although sometimes lumped in with pictographs (painted images) or hieroglyphics (early writing) they are neither.

No one knows for sure what the images mean—it is even possible that they had meaning only to their creator, or to their friends or family. At this time, your guess as to the meaning of most of these enigmatic images is as good as anyone else's.

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The petroglyphs in Celebration Park are open to the elements and have eroded over thousands of years as a result, but humanity has done the most damage. The park asks that we do not climb on, touch, or deface the rock art.

There are around 5,000 petroglyphs in the park; the photos below show only a bare handful.

The Atlatl Range

The atlatl range was fun and interesting for the whole family. Even our four-year-old member tried his hand at using them and got an arrow at least partway to the target.

An atlatl is a short carved piece of wood that is used as an extension of the hunter's arm to throw a longer and heavier "arrow" much further, faster, and harder than he ever could without the tool. About 18" long, it is carved with a hook on one end to hook onto the back of an extra-long arrow (about four feet long) and a handgrip near the other end with a curved end to help hold on to it. The end is placed onto the end of the arrow and the arrow rested in a groove carved into the top of the other end. With a simple throwing motion, the arrow is thrown at the target (a wooly mammoth, perhaps) with great force.

When we visited our entire group tried their hand at it—one four-year-old boy, two boys about 10, grandpa, and even grandma. We must have thrown over 100 arrows all told, and I think one boy hit the target once. It's harder than it looks!

The Old Railroad Bridge

Nearby, on the road into the park, is an old railroad bridge. It was to be built to haul the silver ore from Silver City and the silver mines there. It had to be designed to carry the enormous weight of a trainload of rock and there were only a handful of bidders for the task, but it was completed in 1897. Just as the silver ran out and the silver mines all shut down.

It was used for quite a few years by BN&O trains hauling livestock but was eventually abandoned and left to rust. As a historic landmark, it has been restored as a footbridge across the snake river; a short stroll across results in some beautiful views both up and downstream on the river. The children particularly enjoyed the bridge, and followed a steep path down to the river bank and back up. If nothing else, it wore them out for the drive home!

Built in in 1897...

Built in in 1897...

The old railroad bridge is now a foot bridge.

The old railroad bridge is now a foot bridge.

© 2012 Dan Harmon

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