Twin Falls: A Magic Valley Built by Mother Nature
The eighth-largest city in Idaho is home to the “Niagara of the West” and one of the world’s most desirable BASE jumping locations.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2005 issue of Community magazine. Content has been edited for accuracy.
Nestled in the heart of Idaho’s Magic Valley rests the city of Twin Falls. The town sits atop rich volcanic soil making it one of the best spots on earth to grow onions. The fertile soil of Magic Valley is also steeped in the history of its founding pioneers interested in harnessing the power of the mighty Snake River to irrigate lands and develop Southern Idaho.
Twin Falls and surrounding towns were created largely as a result of a huge effort to divert water from the Snake River to irrigate the naturally rich volcanic soil in the area. While Twin Falls is perhaps most famous for playing host to legendary daredevil Evel Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle in 1974, the town’s history begins a bit earlier.
Thousands of years ago, violent forces beneath the earth’s crust forced internal magma flows to surface. The resulting area, called the Great Rift, contains lava tubes, spatter cones, open fissures and lava fields, creating a fascinating terrain later made even more interesting by the erosion caused by the Snake River slicing through the volcanic rock.
The Snake River Canyon is more than 400 feet deep in places and sometimes up to 1,500 feet across. The views in the canyon are remarkable. Water from the Lost River to the north of Twin Falls disappears into lava tubes miles away, flowing underground to then reappear out of the canyon walls in the form of giant natural springs. One such area, called Thousand Springs, is a series of magical waterfalls with no visible source, pouring out water midway up the canyon wall to join the waters of the Snake River below.
The area also features an array of conventional waterfalls, including the Twin Falls, after which the town was named. The most amazing waterfall in the area is Shoshone Falls, called the Niagara of the West, which cascades 212 feet (50 feet higher than Niagara Falls) into the Snake River Canyon.
Officially named a city in 1907, Twin Falls was actually a work in progress beginning in 1904. The town’s early settlers used the river to generate power and irrigate crops. The town of Twin Falls and much of the surrounding area was the brainchild of Ira Burton Perrine, whose dream was to develop a large irrigation system for the region. With help from several financial backers, Perrine oversaw the building of dams along the Snake and helped in the formation of The Twin Falls Land and Water Co., which built an irrigation network. Soon, water flowed to over 250,000 acres of land.
Even now, local farmers reap the benefits of the irrigation network. Local volcanic soil combined with Southern Idaho’s abundant sunshine, warm days and cool nights, form the ideal conditions to grow onions. The Magic Valley is world famous for its wide variety of onions.
Today, Twin Falls is the eighth-largest city in Idaho and a thriving town of 44,000. Most of the region’s major employers are involved in the farming industry, but the area is also emerging as a player in health care, transportation and education. The city is home to the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) which was founded in 1965 and is rapidly acquiring a reputation as one of the best community colleges in the United States.
Tourists to Twin Falls will find much to do both within the city limits and surrounding region. If you find yourself en route to Boise from Salt Lake City, plan to spend some time in the Twin Falls area. Shoshone Falls alone is worth going out of your way to see. However, it isn’t much of a detour — only about a 10-minute drive from I-84’s first Twin Falls exit going north. The falls are at their peak in the spring or autumn since the volume of water is reduced during the summer months due to irrigation demands.
The town also offers an array of movie theaters and golf courses. The Herrett Center for Arts and Science, located on the CSI campus, features Native American artifacts including Hopi Kachina dolls and other Native American relics thought to be over 12,000 years old.
Stop by the Twin Falls Public Library and experience the town’s history through the eyes of local photographer Clarence E. Bisbee. Nearly 2,400 photographs taken by Bisbee from 1906 through 1940, document the life and times of the young city, its culture and people.
Make sure to walk the Centennial Park Trail, which begins near the center of the city at the Perrine Bridge and descends into the splendor of the Snake River Canyon.
More adventurous types may forgo the trail and opt for a faster decent to the river below by bungee jumping off of the bridge. For those select few that yawn at a bungee cord plunge, Perrine Bridge is one of the most desirable locations on the planet for the dangerous sport of B.A.S.E jumping, in which people jump from natural and manmade structures with parachutes. It differs from parachuting in that the height from which the jumper leaps is much shorter, allowing little time for error.
Mother Nature may have laid the foundation for Twin Falls, but the sprit and hard work of its founders and residents have turned the area into a real highlight. Next time you’re passing through, be sure to stay a while and experience the people and vistas Twin Falls has to offer.