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Archive for the ‘Idaho’ Category

I scrounged through my glove compartment for my secret stash of coins. The small Tupperware container wasn’t hard to find. I was pleased to see I’d also stashed a couple dollar bills in there. It’s something I always recommend – keeping a small can or tin of change available. It comes in handy at some point, for coffee, or a soda, or a parking meter. This time it would get me into an unusual attraction that I’d spotted along I-15 as I approached Blackfoot, ID. Nestled in the city’s 1912 train depot was my unexpected find – the Idaho Potato Museum.

I admit I was skeptical at first, so much so that I blinked a couple times when I first saw the “Potato Museum” sign. Blasting across Idaho en route to Nevada, I hadn’t planned to make any stops. But my curiosity was too much to bear. What on earth could be in a potato museum? I had to find out.

A kind receptionist greeted me at the desk of the combined museum-gift shop. The entry fee was 3.00, discounted to 2.50 for AAA members. I paid my fee and stepped through the doors into an agricultural world of wonder.

With topics ranging from the history of the potato to harvesting techniques to the development of farming equipment, the multi-room exhibit held more than I could have imagined. One glass display case held the world’s largest potato “crisp,” measuring 25 by 14 inches, recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records. Another boasted a colorful collection of potato head dolls, sporting styles that ranged from a Spiderman outfit to a Philadelphia Phillies batting helmet. Other museum cases displayed potato mashers – hundreds of them, in all shapes and sizes.

On the less whimsical side, a variety of potato-oriented antique farm equipment made it clear that the spuds that grace our American tables don’t arrive there without hard work on the part of the growers. Long, wooden potato sorters and a hefty burlap sack stitching machine were just two of the many pieces of machinery on display.

Side exhibits included buckets, baskets, crates and even special shoes designed for preparing the ground for planting. Murals depicted laborers at work in the fields. Burlap sacks were plentiful, many with unique designs and all proudly labeling the prized contents.

One educational – and amusing – wall presented cutouts of potatoes with tidbits of potato trivia, giving visitors a few facts to tuck away in cranial corners for future knowledge – or to enjoy for the moment. After all, who hasn’t ever wondered how many 4” French Fries it would take to circle the Equator? The answer, per the display at the Idaho Potato Museum, is 393,779,549.

I couldn’t help spotting a large reproduction of a Marilyn Monroe poster, featuring her posed in the middle of a potato field, wearing a remarkably attractive burlap outfit. Spurred on by a comment a reporter had made that the actress would look good even in a potato sack, her publicity agent devised a clever marketing promotion that featured her in a bag-turned-fashion-outfit from Long Produce in Twin Falls, ID.

A video presentation ran continuously in a center room, giving guests a glimpse into the potato industry from a historical perspective. Noted botanist Luther Burbank is credited with developing Idaho’s most popular potato, known as the Russet Burbank, which dates back to a single “seed ball” he discovered in New England in 1872.

Several wall-length layouts of photos and captions offered information on various aspects of potato production. One detailed the grading of potatoes for commercial distribution. Another described optimal climate, soil and irrigation factors.

I took a second walk through the museum before leaving, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Sure enough, I had managed to overlook an early twentieth century rodeo queen’s burlap outfit, as well as a potato autographed by Dan Quayle, complete with its own glass display case.

A bonus for visitors is a complimentary box of hash-browns, handed out in a clever sack-style bag. I tucked this gift away in my car and hit the road, taking with me a little newfound insight into Idaho’s top agricultural industry.

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I entered Idaho from the east, following State Hwy 34 out of Freedom, WY, along the Pioneer Historic Byway and through the scenic Caribou National Forest. From the flat farmland that made up the final stretch, I approached the fairly non-descript town of Soda Springs, ID, passing various industrial properties and scattered residences on the outskirts. Crossing railroad tracks, I made a left turn and found myself on the main drag and right in front of my destination.

I had driven past The Enders Hotel on previous trips, never giving it more than a passing glance. But a recent Internet search had turned up something that made me curious to take a second look. A unique, inside view of the hotel was available through the perspective of Brandon Schrand, who had detailed his life growing up within its walls in his book, The Enders Hotel: A Memoir. The account of the author’s life as a young boy, riding a tide of hotel ups and downs and watching a revolving door of colorful characters, won him the 2007 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. It sounded intriguing and it wasn’t long before I felt the familiar tug inside that I get when I yearn to explore something a little more closely. What better way to get a feeling of the place, I decided, than to book a room, buy a copy of his book and read it while staying there.

I checked in during the late afternoon, choosing a second floor room with a bath down the hall, a typical set-up for old hotels. As often is the case, the smaller rooms in historic hotels are a good bargain and this was no exception. My lodging rate for the night was $65, including a credit for breakfast the following morning. The receptionist opened the hotel’s gift shop so that I could purchase a copy of the book. Though there were other guests on the third floor, I was fortunate to find myself the only one on the second, which allowed me the quiet and isolation to fall into the story I held in my hands. I grabbed a quick sandwich downstairs at the Geyser View Restaurant, lugged my overnight bag up the stairs and settled in for an evening of reading.

From the very first page I found myself drawn into the story. This intriguing memoir sent me sliding through a time machine, landing firmly in the past. I could almost hear the author as a young boy, slipping through the halls. I vividly imagined the shot of a gun that had taken down a man in the bar downstairs. I felt the presence of previous guests and tenants in nearby hotel rooms or in apartments they had inhabited along the side of the hotel. When the wind rattled the door late at night, I could sense their spirits passing by. I had the unique luxury of stepping literally into the story, as I paused at passages and tiptoed down the halls to find the very spots the author described. Sometimes they were identical to what the pages painted. Other times the hotel’s restoration had changed their physical aspects. But in all cases, the sense of the story was almost tangible.

The Enders Hotel is deceiving from the outside, hiding as a typical older building lost amidst a main street that spans only a few blocks. A passing traveler would never guess that the inside holds a beautifully restored lobby boasting smooth, refinished banisters and pristine original lighting fixtures. Care has been taken to restore hallways and rooms with detail and authenticity. Furnished with antiques, it’s not difficult to imagine the hotel as it was when it first opened in 1917.

A museum occupies a good portion of the second floor, free of charge. Carefully arranged rooms present displays of early life in Soda Springs. Visitors can view old photographs of the town and its inhabitants, antique equipment for sewing, cooking and dentistry, with historical information accompanying each category. Sadly, at the time of my visit, a gun that belonged to the Sundance Kid had been recently stolen from the museum. But many other artifacts remain as reminders of the town in its early days.

I slept well, in spite of an eeiry sensation that seemed to hover around me. As it is, the hotel has the reputation of being haunted, even without the additional insight I had gained from Schrand’s recollections. When morning arrived, I ventured downstairs again to the restaurant, this time for breakfast. Having read much of the book the night before, I looked around the eatery with a new familiarity. I could easily imagine the young author sitting at the counter, ordering an after-school snack and chatting with familiar waitresses. Though the cafe was renovated along with the hotel, I now saw it as it appeared decades ago.

I checked out reluctantly. This was a peaceful, economical and inspiring place for me. I could have stayed much longer. Perhaps I could have lived there, as Brandon Schrand did many years before.

Before leaving Soda Springs, I strolled over to the Soda Springs Geyser, a natural geyser that, now regulated by a timer, erupts every hour on the hour. Several others stopped by in time to see the hourly show. Situated right behind the hotel, the geyser’s location held stories from Schrand’s memoir, as well. A small building had served as a clubhouse for the author and a cemetery bordering the back of the geyser’s hill had been regular stomping grounds.

My visit to Soda Springs was a fascinating excursion into the past, The Enders Hotel stands as a testament to the hidden treasures that small towns hold. They say not to judge a book by its cover. I say not to judge a hotel by its façade.

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The sleepy hamlet of Lava Hot Springs rests alongside Hwy 30 in Idaho, west of the even sleepier town of Soda Springs and southeast of the busier city of Pocatello. Had I not been clued in about its existence by a former employer who raved about the town’s inexpensive massages and outstanding Thai food – unrelated to each other – I probably wouldn’t have found it.

Deeded to the state of Idaho in 1902, along with the Portneuf River, Lava Hot Springs was originally part of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. It later entered a treaty agreement between the United States government and local Shoshone Indians.

As with many mineral spring areas, use of the hot springs as healing waters long preceded the treaty, going back centuries. Trappers and traders called the area home, including a locally well-known trapper by the name of Bob Dempsey, who married a local Lehmi Tribe chief’s daughter. For a period of time, the town was called Dempsey.

Aura Soma Lava is one of several lodging establishments in town and offers a variety of options, from street front motel rooms at their Oregon Trail Lodge to private suites, a chalet and a cottage. In my perpetual quest for seclusion while traveling, I chose the latter and was glad I did.

The cottage was ideal, just the type that makes me want to move right in and make it my own. Set alongside an expansive lawn, it had a bedroom with king bed, cozy side room with daybed and trundle, full kitchen and private bath and a back deck with private hot tub. The rooms were decorated in soothing colors and I felt myself relaxing the moment I stepped inside.

Small towns are convenient for walking. Though back far enough from the main street to be quiet, the cottage was an easy stroll from most everything in town. I left the car parked and did my exploring on foot, including my trek to the mineral pools.

Lava’s Hot Mineral Springs are filled with natural mineral water that flows into the pools at temperatures between 102 and 112 degrees. More than two million gallons of water pump through the multiple pools daily, emptying out into the Portneuf River. Minimal landscaping adds both foliage and flowers to the property and the city’s park-like Sunken Gardens overlook the property, adding even more of a natural touch to the scene.

In case the hot mineral pool soaking itself isn’t enough to turn muscles to putty, a massage studio is conveniently situated on the grounds, I took advantage of both and somehow managed to slither back to my cottage without having to be carried, though I was so relaxed, I’m not sure how.

Visitors have flocked to Lava Hot Springs since the railroad first came to the town in 1905, yet there is a remarkable absence of tourist development. A small handful of commercial businesses can be found along the main street, but they are scattered and varied.

Aura Soma Lava has a semi-trendy, yet down to earth coffee shop located on Main Street, just up the block from the cottage. Wifi is available to customers and I purchased a miniature coffee cup from a shelf of gift items.

There are quite a few choices for lodging, yet dining options are few. But yes, there is excellent Thai food to be found at the east end of town at the Riverwalk Thai Restaurant. I made sure to fit that into my visit.

One exception to the area’s lack of commercialism is the Olympic Swimming Complex, situated at the west end of the town. Waterslides with a 60’ vertical drop provide faster paced activity for those seeking more than a peaceful soak in mineral waters. In addition to the outdoor pool, which closes during winter months, an indoor aquatic center is open year-round.

A developer might look at the area as having untapped potential, yet part of the charm of the area is the lack thereof. I weighed this as I took a walk through town before leaving, taking in a few final views of the surrounding scenes.

The historic hot springs pools held small clusters of guests relaxing and the Sunken Gardens were quiet and peaceful. The tube rental shacks appeared non-pretentious and the sight of the tubes bouncing along the river came across like a simple scene of natural, outdoor fun. I came to the conclusion that Lava Hot Springs is perfect just the way it is. I hope when I return someday that I find it unchanged.

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From the outside, the building looked like any other downtown structure, nothing that would draw a second glance from anyone driving by. I stood by my car and glanced around. Had I made a mistake? Could this actually be my lodging for the night? I was puzzled. But the address was correct and a small sign indicated I was at the right place. I was fairly certain there was a different story within the building’s walls, so I threw my overnight bag on my shoulder and headed inside.

As deceiving as it was from the outside, stepping into Destinations Inn was like stepping into another realm, one of luxury and imagination. It took no more than five seconds inside the elegant lobby to completely forget I had just been standing on a nondescript Idaho Falls sidewalk.

Built in 1905, the building that is now home to Destinations Inn has housed many businesses, including a grocery store, clothing shop, office building and an Eagles Lodge. Run down over time, it was purchased in 2004 by Rob and Teresa Bishop, who took eighteen months to not only restore the building, but to turn it into luxury lodging. Outside this building: everyday city life. Inside: another planet altogether.

Clever in concept, the inn offers not rooms, but “destinations.” A visit to the accommodations page on their website leads not to a list of room descriptions, but to a map of the world. With a click of the mouse, guests can transport themselves to fourteen enticing locations around the world.

The hardest part is choosing between all the tempting options. If magnificent bouquets of rich-hued flowers and a French sidewalk cafe table sound appealing, go to Paris. For east-coasters nostalgic for the Big Apple, they’ll find the Times Square skyline, Statue of Liberty and a red-curtained bed on Broadway awaiting them in New York. Would-be archaeologists might opt for a sphinx mural and hieroglyphics, accompanied by a full-sized sarcophagus, in Egypt – don’t worry, there will be shelves inside, not a mummy. And anyone with dreams of sleeping on a canal bridge under blue skies and bathing in a Venetian gondola can find what they’re looking for in Venice.

I was fortunate to be able to see almost all of the “destinations,” as I had arrived early and the inn allows tours during afternoon hours. Walking room to room, each seemed more amazing than the last. To say the interior design was done with attention to detail would be a monumental understatement. Furniture and linens were unique to each theme and were matched in details right down to sconces, faucets and light switches. Wall murals picked up regional colors and geographic scenery. Color, lighting and music were carefully chosen. Sounds of “Guantanamera” floated across bright orange yellow and green bedding and pillows in Rio de Janeiro. Hearing “Wipe Out” upon walking into Hawaii was enough to make a traveler want to hop up on the room’s surfboard and ride a wave.

Additional features vary between “destinations.” Visitors to Thailand will find an aromatherapy steam shower, while those vacationing in Athens will have both a massage table and fireplace. Arabia offers a cedar sauna and guests in New York might have a personal message displayed digitally in Times Square.

I’m a log cabin sort of gal, so I chose Alaska and it didn’t disappoint. I stepped inside to find a whimsical moose welcoming me with an upbeat musical tune. Log walls and earth-toned bedding set the Northern Exposure tone. Luxury surrounded me in every direction, from the jetted jacuzzi tub with chromatherapy mood lighting to the projection television screen set to drop from the ceiling by remote command. Chilled sparkling cider and decadent cheesecake awaited my arrival – standard procedure for all guests. A gas fireplace stood ready to provide evening warmth.

I took advantage of the inn’s video library and stocked up on movies for the evening. With the projection screen, jetted tub, fireplace, sparkling cider and cheesecake all waiting, I wasn’t about to go anywhere in Idaho Falls that night. Luxury, relaxation and escape were all waiting for me in Alaska.

A knock on my door the following morning at 8:30 – times are chosen by guests at check-in – signaled the arrival of a continental breakfast, which is included with lodging. I found coffee, fresh juice, a cinnamon roll and a granola/yogurt parfait all beautifully presented on a tray outside my door. I enjoyed breakfast while curling up on the bed, sketched out my plans for the day and milked every last second of my Alaskan vacation before check-out time.

Unique to the experience this inn offers is not only the fact that returning guests can “visit” different destinations on subsequent visits, but that Idaho Falls locals can “travel” to exotic lands without really going anywhere at all. So complete is the sense of being transported to faraway lands that a guest could live only five miles away and still have a world-travel adventure. Without needing a passport or having to pay baggage fees, why not?

I’ve made a mental bookmark to keep Thailand in mind for a future visit, as the soothing pale green, taupe and rose colors seemed as relaxing as the lily pond that surrounded the sitting area. Then again, crossing the drawbridge to enter England looked appealing, too, as did the lush foliage and rainforest sounds of the Congo. I’m not worried about it, as there’s a destination at this inn for just about any mood or desire. I’ll just have to see where my next flight takes me.

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