Outdoor museum preserved for now

  • BLM staffer Steve McRoberts sits in large pothole of Big Wood River

    Rocks & Pothole
  • Mullein grows in a fractured canyon wall

    Rocks & Potholes of the Big Wood River

Two geologists working for the Bureau of Land Management in Boise, Idaho, began documenting a treasure trove four years ago: the carved bedrock of the Big Wood River, some 12 miles north of Shoshone. Terry Maley and Peter Oberlindacher were fascinated by the complex shapes that turbulent water, beginning some 10,000 years ago, had forced on basalt, in some cases seeming to twist the rock. The men produced a 4l-page booklet, Rocks and Potholes of the Big Wood River, for the Idaho Geological Survey, but before the BLM could establish a "protective withdrawal" for the most sculptured 4-mile stretch of river, United Mining Co. filed a notice to remove the boulders. Sold under the trade name of "Holystone," the rocks fetch thousands of dollars when sold as natural decoration for gardens or corporate lobbies. Armed with the findings and opinions of its geologists, the BLM disputed the mining claim, which is authorized by the 1892 Building Stone Placer Act, challenging it on aesthetic, scientific and recreational grounds. The strategy was a first for the agency, Maley says, and it worked. Administrative Law Judge Ramon Child ruled the company's claim invalid last November because unique geological features "would be irretrievably lost if contestee were permitted to mine this national treasure." The challenge continues, however; United Mining Corp., has appealed the agency turndown to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

Rocks and Potholes is available for $8.50 from the Idaho Geological Survey, Morrill Hall, Rm 332, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844; posters are available from the same address for $3 each or two for $5. For more information about the case, or about touring the water-sculpted rocks in south-central Idaho, contact the BLM, Box 2-B, Shoshone, ID 83352 (208/886-7276).

* Betsy Marston

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