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Gem County is home to the Idaho ground squirrel. Located thirty miles northwest of Boise on Highway 16, the "Gem of the Payette" is 48 miles long and averages 22 miles wide. The town of Emmett, sitting at 2373 feet above sea level, is the County seat.
Attempts to enter the Emmett Valley from the southeast end were very limited due to the steep terrain. The early routes went up to Montour and then on to the Boise Basin or the Overland Stage Route west of Emmett. Freezeout Hill was so named because old-timers had to lock or "freeze" their wagon wheels and slide down the hill. Sometimes it took as many as twelve teams of horses and more than a day to pull a freight wagon up the hill. The story is told of early freighters attempting to come down during a winter nearly freezing to death on top before they could get down the next day. The tough old hill has been known as Freezeout ever since.
Picket's Corral, located at the head of the valley east of Emmett, is a natural lava rock corral. It became the rendezvous headquarters for horse thieves, bandits, murders, and bogus-gold dust operators that were notorious throughout the northwest. Worth a look.
The 183-foot high dam was built on a natural dam site, created by the huge black basalt rocks that blocked travel up the canyon, and for which the canyon was named. The water level behind the dam must remain at a certain level to divert water into the canals that take the water as far as Middleton. Today the backwaters are excellent for water spots and recreation.
Ten miles north of Emmett lies the natural hot springs called Roystone Hot Springs. It is available for public use with reservations.