Visiting Celebration Park and the Rock Art Petroglyphs in Idaho

Updated on September 28, 2017
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A longtime camper, Dan has experience with tents, pop-up trailers, camp trailers, and motorhomes. He has also done repairs on all of these.

Entering Celebration Park
Entering Celebration Park | Source

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

A markerCelebration Park, Melba Idaho -
Celebration County Park, Melba, ID 83641, USA
get directions

View rock petroglyphs and learn to throw an atlatl at Celebration Park

A markercelebration park melba idaho -
Celebration County Park, Melba, ID 83641, USA
get directions

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 surround 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 conservation area various kinds of these fascinating birds are often visible.

Looking back at the park area from a trail.
Looking back at the park area from a trail. | Source
Although cracked and weathered, the rocks are rounded from being washed and rolled by water.
Although cracked and weathered, the rocks are rounded from being washed and rolled by water. | Source
One side of the canyon, a popular nesting area for raptors.
One side of the canyon, a popular nesting area for raptors. | Source
Again, most of the stones are rounded and smooth, not rough and jagged.
Again, most of the stones are rounded and smooth, not rough and jagged. | Source

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.

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.

Individual petroglyphs

We'll never really know what it all means.
We'll never really know what it all means. | Source

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 part way 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!

Throwing With an Atlatl

The atlatl, in the foreground.
The atlatl, in the foreground. | Source
A "loaded" atlatl, ready to throw.
A "loaded" atlatl, ready to throw. | Source
Ready, Aim...
Ready, Aim... | Source
And Fire!
And Fire! | Source

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... | Source
The old railroad bridge is now a foot bridge.
The old railroad bridge is now a foot bridge. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Dan Harmon


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      • thomdrilling profile image

        Big Dan 3 years ago

        Great article. We visited the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico and many of the images were a mystery. The ranger told us that the petroglyphs will reveal themselves to you. Makes me want to visit Idaho.

      • livewithrichard profile image

        Richard Bivins 5 years ago from Charleston, SC

        I found this hub as I was searching to see if others were experiencing the same search troubles as I am.. so this is pretty much a happy accident. I would love to go visit this park and I may just make it a plan for next summer. It sure looks like the ideal place for some landscape photography as well as some interesting connections to the indigenous tribes that came long before us. Plus, where else am I going to get the chance to throw an atlatl?

      • wilderness profile image

        Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        A kid at heart are you? Me too - it was fun although I never hit the target.

      • GoodLady profile image

        Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

        It's beautiful and would love a go with the atlatl. Would really like to visit Idaho.

      • wilderness profile image

        Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        We had been there before, many years ago. This time was mostly for the grandkids, and they had a great time. Wandering the boulder fields, climbing on rocks (with no petroglyphs!) and running across the bridge. Older ones had fun with the atlatl and were interested in the petroglyphs. A good time for all!

      • twinstimes2 profile image

        Karen Lackey 5 years ago from Ohio

        My kids would absolutely love to visit here! Up and Interesting, wilderness!

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

        Wow! I'd never heard of these, not even in anthro class. Thanks for sharing this cool information! I don't know if I will ever visit Idaho, but I I'll keep this in mind if I do.