Updated: Jul 12, 2020
Long before there was an official Ridge to Rivers Trail System, I spent much of my leisure time hiking, running, and biking in the Boise Foothills. In those days, it was not unusual to be the only user. Today, it’s a very different story. Unless you head out very early in the morning or late evening (even then there is no longer any guarantee of solitude), you can expect the parking areas to be packed with cars and the trails to be crowded with people and their dogs.
We can thank the Treasure Valley mayors, county commissioners, parasitic developers, and other boosters for the region's explosive growth. We can also include a note of thanks for the disappearing farmland, traffic congestion, poor air quality, rising property taxes and crowded schools. There’s more we can add to our thank-you list, including an influx of residents who have no appreciation for our area’s natural beauty. A recent experience gave testament to this and left me gobsmacked in a major way.
It started the morning after days of unusually heavy rain. Waking up to clear skies, I decided to celebrate by going for a mountain bike ride. After all the rain, I knew it was too soon to ride the foothills trails without causing significant damage. As an alternative, I decided head up Rocky Canyon
Rocky Canyon is located in the foothills north of Boise. It is bisected by a gravel road that winds its way to the top of Aldope Summit (some refer to this as Rocky Canyon Road while most maps identify it as Shaw Mountain Road). The road is paved for a short distance but quickly turns to gravel as it begins the climb to the summit. It is bordered by canyon walls and steep hillsides covered with sage, rabbit, and bitterbrush at the lower elevations and aspens higher up. Wildflowers are abundant in the spring. Cottonwood Creek flows along the east side of the road. The riparian zone along the creek is lined with willows, wild roses, and syringa. The area is a haven for wildlife. Deer, elk, and coyotes (along with all types of smaller mammals) are common in the area. Mountain lions and an occasional wolf have been seen in the area. Birdsong and the smell of sage fill the air.
Shortly after I began my ride up Rocky Canyon, I noticed that some of the Second Amendment supporters had been busy practicing their shooting skills near the area where the pavement ends. This didn’t surprise me; it’s sadly pretty common in the West. It gives real hunters a bad name.
Once the pavement ends, the gravel road begins to climb and snake its way between the steep walls of basalt cliffs that give the canyon its name. Entering the canyon, there’s immediately a noticeable drop in temperature. The canyon walls amplify the sound of water cascading over the rocks in the steep streambed and the trill of canyon wrens nesting along the cliff sides and the call of red tailed hawks riding the thermals above the canyon.
As I pedaled around a left turn, I was horrified to see that the basalt walls on the left side of the road had been tagged extensively with graffiti. The damage done to the basalt outcroppings was irreversible. Prior to the vandalism, the surface of the rock had been covered with lichens (a plant-like organism stemming from the symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae; under the right conditions, lichens commonly grow on rocks and other surfaces). It is the lichens that typically give basalt its unique appearance and character. Lichens are incredibly slow growing, often taking decades or longer to cover the surface of a rock. So, even if the paint could be removed from the surface of the rock (very unlikely), the underlying lichens, for all practical purposes, would be irreparably damaged.
As I rode further up the canyon, I saw much more graffiti wherever a blank rock surface presented itself. At some point I decided I’d seen enough; I turned my bike back toward town.
I’m not sure what motivates people to conduct this type of vandalism. Clearly, those responsible have no appreciation for the natural beauty of the area. In recent days it was announced that the road to the top of Table Rock, the sandstone formation that towers 900 feet above the valley floor, has been closed because of vandalism and other illegal activities. Vandalism, in the form of graffiti, is not new to the area but recent arrivals have taken it to an entirely new level.