The winter sun started slipping behind the basalt rim above the Snake River, turning the canyon and river into a kaleidoscope of golds, blues, browns and everything in between.
The canyon near Celebration Park south of Nampa is an ideal place in winter for everything from hiking and mountain biking to horseback riding and picnicking.
My wife, friends and I usually do a winter hike and picnic in the canyon every year. The canyon is known for its spring bird watching, but winter has a different sort of magic.
Its a great celebration of winter and the high desert and rimrock canyons.
Its also a close-by retreat from the busy Treasure Valley to get rid of cabin fever, especially when other trails are snowbound.
Its fun, too, because I also think of it as like journeying to the center of the earth. Well, sort of. When you look at the walls of the canyon and see all the layers of rock from different periods of time, its like a walk through geologic history.
And although you think nobody else is crazy enough to go on a winter trek in the canyon, dont expect to have the place to yourself. Its busy on weekends.
Its a popular place because it is lower in elevation than the Treasure Valley, and weather can be a lot milder.
Canyon Countys Celebration Park is a good jumping off point for exploring the canyon. Theres parking and a picnic area with tables, fire pits and restrooms. The parking fee at the park is $2 a day.
From the park, its easy to take a trail west and then cross the river on the Guffey Bridge. Kids especially love walking across the old railroad bridge.
You can hike for miles on the south side of the river by heading upstream.
Theres a dirt road thats restricted to nonmotorized users, and a trail that goes upstream on the north side of the river (the same side as Celebration Park). You can hike 6 miles or more one way if you want, or tailor the hike to a few miles out and back.
Theres a side hike to Halverson Lake, which is a must because it gets you close to the 500-foot cliffs of the canyon.
I never get tired of walking through what seems like gardens of basalt rocks that look like giant melons.
Then theres a stroll along the river that will get you glimpses of waterfowl and shorebirds.
The canyon also lures anglers. I recently saw a spin fisherman tossing a small lure in an eddy of the river for bass, I guess. Maybe trout.
OK, heres the hard part. Getting to Celebration Park is always a challenge for the newcomer. In fact, I always take a wrong turn heading to the park after visiting it dozens of times.
Canyon Countys website gives these directions from the Boise area: Heading west on Interstate 84, take the Meridian-Kuna exit. Turn left onto South Meridian Road. Continue onto East Avalon. Turn left onto Swan Falls Road. Turn right onto Victory Lane. Continue onto Warren Spur Road. Turn left onto Sinker Road. Turn left at the historic Guffey Railroad Bridge.
Whew! See what I mean about complicated? For more information, check out canyonco.org and search for Celebration Park.
If you plan an outing in the canyon, do an evening picnic. That way you wont miss the magnificent winter sunset the canyon has to offer.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors