It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about traveling (see archives from 2006-2007), so I’ll give fair warning: you’re not going to read about Trifels Castle in Germany where Richard the Lionhearted was held captive in this post (by the way I’ve been there and it’s fabulous). Today’s post falls in the “kitsch & kin” of American tourism. When I was a kid, my Mom and sister Deanna and I would pile into our 1984 Toyota trecel wagon and head for Kansas to visit grandmas and cousins. Dad never made it on these trips. Somewhere in Wyoming we would start to see signs boasting the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the World’s Largest Spur. My most favorite was the World’s Largest Hairball found in Garden City, Kansas (a basketball sized hairball from a cow, apparently). We would crack up about the nearby attractions. I have some great memories from our road trips.
Now, as an adult I think it might actually be a fun, quirky vacation to hit the road in a certain direction and see what you find in the small-in-between-places. Little did I know, in my own backyard, there is a little gem called the Shoshone Ice Caves. Today Don and I were itching to get out of town and try to beat the heat. I suggested we check out the ice caves, having never been there even though I was born and raised here. Within thirty minutes we were headed to Shoshone, about 1 ½ hours to the southeast.
I’ve seen some impressive caves on other trips to Colorado and Missouri as a kid, so I didn’t really know what to expect. About 20 miles out I started to see signs for the ice caves with a giant picture of an American Indian Chief Wakasiki, leader of the Shoshone people and “friend to the whites,” I found out later. I began to have flash backs to our road trips through the Midwest. “Oh boy, what are we in for?” I wondered, hoping Don would remain a willing participant.
We arrived at the site of the Ice Caves to find Chief Wakasiki standing watch over all those who came to see this ice cave, and a cartoonish Flintstones-like dinosaur with what is supposed to be a cave man sitting on his head. We chuckled at our surroundings as we walked to the gift shop to purchase our tickets for the tour and within 5 minutes we were on our way. Stepping out of the gift shop was like walking into a convection oven. It was very hot, and like most summer days here in southwest Idaho, very windy. I felt a little silly carrying my scarf and fleece jacket at that moment, but the website suggested that you bring warm clothing because the average temperature in the cave is 30° f, even when it’s over 100° f outside.
We made our way down the lava paved trail where our guide, Tonya, explained that the cave is actually a collapsed lava tube that is 1,000 ft. long and varies between 8 and 30 ft. in height. She also explained the geologic, volcanic, and historical background of these large lava ice caves. I was really hot by then and I mumbled to Don under my breath, “This had better be worth it.” Thankfully, I was not disappointed. As we made our way down to the entrance of the cave, I could feel the temperature drop with every step.
Inside the cold, damp cave, we learned that a young boy found this ice cave in the 1800’s when he was looking for a lost sheep. After its discovery, the caves were an ice source for the nearby town of Shoshone, which boasted 23 saloons and restaurants and was the only ice-cold beer for miles around before the invention of refrigeration. Unfortunately as a result they opened up the entry to the cave and allowed more air to flow through which ended up melting all of the ice that occurred naturally with the low flow of air. Later it became the town dump. Finally, in the early 1960’s, a Mr. Robinson purchased the land, and having researched the cave and airflow, closed the entry back off and soon the ice began to reappear.
Driving away an hour later after our journey from the blistering desert heat, deep into the unexpected oasis of the ice cave and back again, we both commented on how really enjoyable our excursion was. On the way home, we noticed a sign for the “Mammoth Caves” and another sign for the “Mammoth Cave Civil Defense Shelter.” We looked at each other and smiled. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back soon.
Some may call it a tourist trap, but I consider the Shoshone Ice Caves a pleasant detour from the ordinary. What’s not to like about a family owned and operated interactive geology and history lesson?
Next time you’re driving through southwest Idaho along Highway 75 and you want to escape the heat, take a worthwhile trip to the Shoshone Ice Caves. Don’t forget to visit the museum!