As you pass over the Snake River Bridge which divides Madison County from Jefferson County, you can see to the west the Menan Buttes, two ancient volcanoes sticking right up in the middle of prime farming country.
As a kid growing up in Menan, I remember my dad telling me stories about the Buttes. One told an outlaw who robbed the Menan bank and hid loot somewhere on one of the Buttes. People came from around the country and tried to find the money, but all they found were jackrabbits, acres and acres of sagebrush full of ticks, and a few rattlesnakes–certainly not the riches they were seeking.
I never found the robbers’s buried riches either, but I discovered a more lasting treasure. A friend and I were tired of taking dates to the movies, so we decided to try something different–a hike up to the north butte in the dark without flashlights. We called a couple of girls (I won’t mention their names, but you know who you are) and told them we had a spectacular date all planned for them. All they had to bring were some hiking shoes and warm coats.
We picked them up, drove down the Substation Road across the Snake River, and headed down the bumpy road to the Menan Buttes. After we dodged “washboards” for about a mile, we four-wheeled it halfway up the north butte and stopped. We made sure the parking brake was one, and I stuffed a huge lava rock in front of each tire. I didn’t want to walk back home and have to tell my dad about a smashed vehicle.
Although the moon beamed down like a searchlight, the girls wanted to know if we had brought flashlights. Of course, we had, but we told them we were going to climb up the north butte using the moon’s rays as our lantern and drink the hot chocolate we had brought in a giant thermos.
It took us about half an hour to reach the top. We walked around the rim to Red Rock and sat down. What a view! Luckily, the wind wasn’t blowing as hard as my dad said it would. The stars sat so low it seemed we could reach out and touch them.
While we talked and laughed about walking though the dark and drinking hot chocolate from half-smashed cups, we surveyed the valley.
Rexburg looked like a giant runway of lights. Menan’s lights twinkled in a dozen spots in the valley. All around us farm lights shimmered in the darkness like tiny fireflies. Even the lights of Rigby and Idaho Falls to south lighted up the sky.
Just across the river, Gunderson’s dogs yipped, and their Holstein cows mooed. A cock pheasant called out from somewhere down by Miller’s slough.
Soon it was quiet. Our laughter and lightness had dissipated somewhere, and we talked about ourselves and the problems we probably would be facing.
I was ironic that on top of Red Rock overlooking our little world and sipping hot chocolate, we matured, while the wind stirred up bits of red dust and carried them down into the crater.
As we climbed down, we felt a new sense of who we were--or at least I did. We had seen our little world, even though it only spread at that time from Rexburg to Idaho Falls. But we were part of it.
Although it had been thousands of years since the Menan Buttes had spewed their last river of smothering lava, that night they came alive for us for about an hour or so. Instead of suffocating ash, they sprinkled us with a new vision, so we could see beyond to the next horizon.
Now, as I pass by the Buttes, I feel that meandering Snake River somehow feeds them through an underground tunnel, keeping their roots alive, so the old volcanoes can sit there, century after century, like giant medicine men, waiting for their followers to gather on their rims and partake of their secrets.