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Twin Falls and the Snake River Canyon

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Great Place To Stay In Twin Falls: Red Lion!

After exploring eastern Idaho, we slowly made our way back west. The eventual goal was Boise, but first we’d be spending a few nights in Twin Falls, to see the city and investigate the surrounding area, which goes by the promising name of Magic Valley.

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To enter Twin Falls from the north, you have to cross the Perrine Bridge across the Snake River Canyon. Dropping down 500 feet and stretching across a quarter mile, the canyon serves as a jaw-dropping front door for the city. From the bridge, the view of the valley takes in the Snake River far below, winding its way west, and a golf course on the canyon floor. You can walk across the bridge or take a pedestrian path leads most of the way along the canyon’s rim.

The Snake River Canyon is well-known as the site for one of Evil Keneival’s bravest, most death-defying stunts. In 1974, the daredevil attempted to jump the canyon on his Skycycle X-2. He didn’t even come close, but it was a spectacular failure.

Unfortunately, apart from the amazing front door provided by the Snake River, Twin Falls itself fails to impress. For a city of over 40,000, the downtown is surprisingly small. There are a couple decent joints, such as O’Dunkens Draught House where we had a delicious lunch, but otherwise you’ll not find much to do. Immediately outside of downtown, it’s all strip malls.

No, the real reason for a stay in Twin Falls is the beauty of the surrounding area. The Shoshone Falls are found here, just a few miles from the city center. These massive waterfalls on the Snake River are called the “Niagara of the West”, and are in fact bigger than their more famous eastern cousin. Unfortunately, during the late-autumn season in which we were visiting, the water had mostly abated, leaving it much less impressive than in the spring, during the winter run-off.

Location of Twin Falls | Shoshone Falls

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Shoshone Falls: A trickle now, but raging in the spring
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December 31, 2012 at 7:22 am Comments (2)

Okay Fine, Here’s a Potato Post

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They’re the first thing most people think of when they think “Idaho”. And usually, they’re the only thing people think of. Potatoes aren’t just the most famous product of Idaho, but practically the only thing the state is known for. Crazy, when you consider the amazing variety of sights and experiences available here. It is, I suppose, a testament to the marketing prowess of Idaho’s potato manufacturers.


The eastern city of Blackfoot is the unofficial capital of Idaho’s potato industry, home to the bulk of production as well as the Idaho Potato Museum, which we visited with high hopes. How could a potato museum in Idaho be anything but amazing? But the tiny rooms and paltry exhibits failed to impress. One of the most feted items is The World’s Biggest Potato Chip. Pfah! The thing isn’t even a potato chip, but a crisp! A crisp, I tell you! It’s not even that big, and it’s cracked. And please don’t get me started on the museum’s heralded “Free Taters for Out-of-Staters” gimmick. Turns out that the free “taters” are just a carton of dehydrated hash browns. And they’re not even “free”, since you have to pay entrance to the museum to get them.

A better potato-centric experience came a couple days later, when we drove past a crew working in a field. They were taking potatoes out of the ground, cleaning them and then then loading them into a truck. These weren’t the perfectly oval-shaped type you can buy at the supermarket, but ugly mutants up to a foot long. Most of Idaho’s potatoes go to industries and fast-food chains like McDonald’s, where beauty isn’t a requirement. The guys found it amusing how interested we were in their work, and let us take a few giant specimens home with us.

So that’s it: our potato post. Out of 91 days in Idaho, we spent a total of about two hours thinking about them. I don’t care that the license plates brag about their “Famous Potatoes”… the state has a lot more to offer.

Location of the Potato Museum

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December 29, 2012 at 6:49 pm Comments (3)

Don Aslett’s Museum of Clean

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Tucked away in the otherwise uninspiring town of Pocatello is one of the most bizarre museums we’ve ever visited. The Museum of Clean is the ambitious venture of Don Aslett: America’s undisputed Cleaning King.


Don Aslett has been battling dirt and grime for over fifty years. In 1957, he established a janitorial service called Varsity Contractors to help finance his studies at Idaho State University. The business grew quickly and eventually became one of the country’s biggest cleaning services. Today it boasts over 30 offices around the country.

That might be enough accomplishment for the normal person but, as we would soon discover first-hand, Don Aslett is anything but the normal person! Cleaning is not just his profession, but his obsession. His mission. He’s written over 360 books on the subject, with titles like Clutter’s Last Stand: It’s Time To De-junk Your Life! and Is There Life After Housework?: A Revolutionary Approach to Cutting Your Cleaning Time 75%, and has been on TV hundreds of time, including appearances on QVC and Oprah. He wants to clean up the world. And by creating the Museum of Clean, he’s put his money where his mouth is.

I had been expecting something small-scale, perhaps a collection of old vacuum cleaners. So when we pulled up in front of the massive six-story museum in Pocatello, I was floored. All this, for the history of cleaning products? Well, not quite. This isn’t the Museum of Cleaning but the Museum of Clean — an important distinction. Mr. Aslett is building a shrine to the very concept of “clean”. Clean floors and houses, yes, but also clean living. Clean energy, clean morals and a clean world. And why not? We’ve visited museums dedicated to potatoes, illusions, Evita Perón, and whores. Why not a museum of clean?

We were lucky to find Don Aslett inside, hard at work on yet another exhibition. He’s in his seventies but has the energy of a teenager, and gave us an exhaustive tour of his new museum, constantly cracking jokes and detailing his life philosophy. He’s got one of those larger-than-life personalities, and the time we spent with him was highly entertaining. And surreal.

The museum is truly something else. The first thing you’ll notice is a gigantic playground in the foyer that brings to mind a Motorcycle Death Globe, where kids can sweep up toy coins or squeegee windows (our vacuum-obsessed nephew would love this). Scattered about the museum are old Amish bath tubs, toilets, dental equipment, a library dedicated to “Clean”, artwork, video exhibitions and more. Much, much more. The scary thing is that the museum is only a third complete. Four of the six floors have yet to be filled out… I can’t imagine what the place will be like once finished. You’ll need three days to fully explore it!

The keyword for our time in Idaho has been “unexpected”, and Don Aslett’s Museum of Clean provided yet another absolutely unpredictable surprise. It’s strange, amazing and inspiring all at once … just like Don Aslett himself. Do yourself a favor and check it out. And if Don’s around, as he probably is, make sure and say “hi” from us!

Location on our Idaho Map
Link: Museum Of Clean

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December 28, 2012 at 9:12 am Comments (0)

Preston, Idaho: Home of Napoleon Dynamite

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Everything Napoleon Dynamite

Gosh! Preston is the sweetest freaking town in Idaho! Well… that might be a stretch, but at least it was the setting for one of the past decade’s most popular cult films: Napoleon Dynamite. We took a self-guided driving tour of Preston, and ended up with an appreciation for what life in small-town southeastern Idaho must be like.


First, a quick confession: I didn’t particularly like Napoleon Dynamite. For a comedy, it was strangely unfunny. The kind of film that uses the wackiness of its characters as a substitute for actual humor. I never understood the hype around the film; if I wanted to watch weird people act goofy, I could just turn on Honey Boo Boo.

But we enjoyed our tour of Preston. We drove past the homes of both Napoleon and his buddy Pedro, and the high school they attended. We went inside the thrift store where Napoleon bought his sweet suit. And we got to see the Pop n’ Pin: the bowling alley frequented by Kip and Uncle Rico.

Preston itself is an unassuming town of about 5000, heavily Mormon, without a lot to recommend it besides the undying mythos of Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a safe assumption that any tourism Preston sees is from the movie’s many fan-boys. And every time we stopped to take a picture of a store or house that had appeared in the film, I felt distinctly embarrassed. The last thing in the world I want to be confused with is a Napoleon Dynamite fan-boy!

Location on our Idaho Map

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December 26, 2012 at 11:23 am Comments (2)

The South Eastern Corner of Idaho

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After driving through Soda Springs and Montpelier, we continued along Highway 30 into the southeastern extreme of Idaho, occupied by Bear Lake and a handful of small towns. It was late October, but winter had come early to the region and a fresh layer of snow was blanketing the ground.


The border between Idaho and Utah cuts through the middle of oval-shaped Bear Lake. Set on top of limestone deposits, Bear Lake has a unique ecosystem which supports several endemic species, such as the Bear Lake Whitefish. And the strange, intensely turquoise color of the lake’s water have led locals to call it the “Caribbean of the Pacific Northwest”.

But Bear Lake is most well-known for the legendary creature which haunts it. The story of the Bear Lake Monster stretches back to the 19th century, and the arrival of the original settlers. The deadly beast hunts in the water, but can run onto land in pursuit of its prey. Like an Alligator-Shark-Bear. And it totally exists! If you don’t trust me, perhaps you’ll believe that shining beacon of journalistic integrity: Animal Planet.

Perhaps some skepticism is warranted. After all, the man responsible for the original reports of the Bear Lake Monster, Mormon missionary Joseph C. Rich, eventually admitted it was all a scam; a ruse to drum up curiosity about the region. Usually, a full confession would be enough to close the case, but nothing can apparently deter the charlatans at Animal Planet from peddling their sensational myths. And, apparently, being a hoaxster doesn’t put off the voters of Idaho: Joseph C. Rich went on to become a state senator!

The sky was overcast when we visited, so we weren’t able to appreciate the famous blue water of Bear Lake, and neither did we encounter any monsters. But it was still a gorgeous drive. We drove along the lake’s northern border, on a narrow strip of land that separates it from the rather less enchanting Mud Lake, then picked up Highway 89 which brought us into Paris.

A tiny town in Bear Lake County, Paris best known for its tabernacle, built in 1889 by Mormon pioneers. A Romanesque structure of red sandstone, the tabernacle is completely out-of-place in the unassuming little village. But the impressive temple is in wonderful condition and still in use today.

We also swung by the Oregon Trail Museum in nearby Montpelier. Although it was closed for the season, we managed to charm our way inside so that we could snap a few photos. More than just a collection of information or dry exhibitions, this museum attempts to recreate the experience of being a settler on the trail; visitors first equip themselves at a general store, then walk along the trail with stops for camp songs and stories.

Location of Bear Lake | Paris, Idaho

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December 24, 2012 at 12:24 am Comments (4)

The Wonders of Soda Springs

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Towns as tiny as Soda Springs should count themselves lucky if they have one special attraction or unique characteristic that brings in tourists. But Soda Springs lays claim to at least three.


The settlement of Soda Springs got its start as an oasis along the Oregon Trail, eagerly anticipated among emigrants for its thousands of fresh mineral water springs. A couple of enterprising pioneers recognized the commercial potential of these springs, and began bottling the water under the name of “Idanha”. This was before the days before water could be artificially carbonated, and the lightly bubbly Idanha was a hit, winning the top prize at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, and again in Paris in 1900.

There are multiple places around town to try out the water, which is still bubbling unabated out of the ground. We took a cup to the Hooper Springs to sample it. Not bad, it tastes like lightly carbonated bottled water, a bit sweeter and more mineralized.

Not far away from Hooper Springs (and in fact, too close for comfort) is the Monsanto Phosphorus Plant. Soda Springs sits on top of one of the largest phosphate deposits in the entire world, and Monsanto’s large-scale mining and purification plant has changed the town’s landscape. Literally. As part of its manufacturing process, Monsanto frequently dumps red-hot slag down the side of a massive, man-made hill. It cools quickly, but as the molten metal is poured out of the truck, it looks just like lava running down a volcano.

A huge hill of man-made lava, naturally carbonated springs of drinkable mineral water, and we haven’t even arrived at Soda Springs’s top highlight. In 1937, during an attempt to find hot water for a pool, a drill accidentally unleashed a geyser in the middle of town. It roared for months, nearly flooding the little village, before engineers were finally able to get a handle on the situation. They capped the geyser with a timed valve, making Soda Springs the proud owner of the “the world’s only captive geyser“. It erupts every hour, on the hour; more reliable than Old Faithful.
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December 17, 2012 at 9:39 pm Comments (2)

Taking a Break in Lava Hot Springs

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Hot springs play an important role in the leisure scene of Idaho, but nowhere are they as celebrated as in Lava Hot Springs. Since its inception, the town has been a place of relaxation for weary travelers and anyone looking for a place to soak their bones. We spent three blissful days here; allowing our bodies to recuperate after a few long weeks on the road.

Foot Bath

Lava Hot Springs has been attracting tourists since the days of the Oregon Trail, when it was famous as an oasis for settlers headed west. Nowadays, entrance to the pools will set you back $6. The main baths range in temperature from “pleasantly warm” to “crazy hot”, and are as popular with locals as with tourists. But don’t let the crowds put you off: the park is so large that you can always find a quiet corner to soak.

We used Lava Hot Springs as a base for excursions to Soda Springs and Bear Lake. While in town, we stayed in Greystone Manor: an old Mormon church which has been converted into a lodge. There are only a few rooms available, and they’ve been outfitted luxuriously, with giant beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi baths, lounge chairs, and elegant decoration. After roughing it through Idaho, Greystone Manor provided just the sort of ultra-comfort we desperately needed.

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December 13, 2012 at 11:12 am Comment (1)

Table Mountain… and Crime in the Tetons

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While we were visiting Driggs, we couldn’t resist sneaking over into Wyoming for a hike in the Grand Tetons. Sure, we’re supposed to be concentrating on Idaho’s sights, and yes, there’s plenty to see without ever leaving the state. But look at them! How could we resist?!


We had chosen to embark on an eight-mile hike to Table Mountain. While parking our car at the Teton Campground trailhead, just over the state line, we should have sensed the sinister shift in the air. We had left the safe haven of Idaho for Wyoming, a lawless land of thievery and malice, and it was a decision we’d regret. But we’ll get to that later, because the hike was amazing, and it’s better to concentrate on the positives.

The trail to Table Mountain was exhausting, sharply uphill for the first six miles, with a gain of over 4000 feet in elevation. But it was a glorious day; autumn was in full swing and the Tetons provided such a dramatic backdrop that it was easy to ignore our burning thighs. As we neared the flat cylinder-shaped summit of Table Mountain, the unmistakable profile of the Grand Teton came into view. After cresting the top, we took a long break to appreciate the landscape below us. Fresh air, unforgettable views, pure nature, exhausted muscles and the satisfying feeling of accomplishment, there’s nothing that makes me happier than hikes like this, and I was in tremendous spirits during the walk back to the car.

My mood changed immediately, though, once we arrived. Thieves had broken into our car and stolen my laptop and tablet. Unbelievable. Here, we travel around the world, Sri Lanka, Buenos Aires, Bolivia, and the first place we’re the victims of crime is Wyoming. The cops told us later that, although they have suspects, it was unlikely we’d ever see our stuff again. There’s a gang which targets cars parked at trailheads. Pretty clever; it’s a remote location where people are guaranteed to be gone for hours.

The theft was a setback, but we got off pretty lightly. Everything we own was in that car. I can deal with a lost laptop, especially since it meant that I’d be getting a new one. But it was a rough end to what had been a wonderful day. Sorry, Wyoming; you have some amazing nature, but the chances we’ll someday be spending 91 days with you have dropped significantly.

Location of the Trailhead

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December 13, 2012 at 8:59 am Comments (0)

Yellowstone Bear World

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After two months hiking in the woods of central and northern Idaho, we still hadn’t seen a bear. A major disappointment; and now, we were heading into the bear-free country of eastern Idaho. But there was one last option on the table. As dejected as a family who’d been hoping for a European vacation but settles for Epcot, we pulled up to the gates of Yellowstone Bear World.


No, I don’t mean the “bear-rich world of Yellowstone”, but Yellowstone Bear World: an theme-park/zoo hybrid outside Rexburg that has nothing to do with the national park. And which, for two people, actually costs more than the real Yellowstone charges for a week. But by this point we didn’t care. We were determined to see bears, whether they were enclosed or not.

Yellowstone Bear World may not offer an authentic experience, but it certainly delivers the goods. I eventually lost count of the number of bears we sighted, but there must be a hundred running around the park. We stayed in our car the whole time, driving at five miles-per-hour, occasionally having to stop for a bear on the road. It was low-risk but still exciting, and the bears were so used to cars filled with gape-mouthed gawkers that they paid us absolutely no mind.

Bear World offers more than just bears; we also saw bison, antelope, deer and moose. But the highlight was the small enclosure holding the bear cubs. Six little guys wresting with each other, climbing rocks and feeding from bottles. Additionally, there was a small petting zoo with barnyard animals like pigs and goats. Why anyone would want to waste their time petting a goat, when there are wrestling bear cubs right next door is beyond me. (But then, petting farm animals is a thrill I’ve never understood. Even as a child, I would contemplate my peers with disgust as they touched a pig and squealed with delight. How did you think it would feel?)

Almost despite ourselves, we had a good time in Bear World. We had come to see bears, and that mission was definitely accomplished. The entrance ticket allows you to drive through the park as many times as you’d like, so it’s not hard to get your money’s worth. Seeing a bear in the wilderness would have been a lot better, but this was an acceptable consolation.

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Link: Yellowstone Bear World

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December 12, 2012 at 10:20 am Comments (2)

The Spencer Opal Mines

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The sun was hot on the back of my neck as I crouched down over another pile of rocks, wielding my hammer and garden fork. My legs were getting sore, and I kept forgetting to drink water, but the growing exhaustion didn’t matter. Every time I had almost convinced myself to quit, a shiny glint appeared underfoot. Yes, my precious, another opal!


Spencer, Idaho, is a small town near the Montana border which owes its existence to the opal. The mines here are the best in America, producing stones renowned for their fine layers and exquisite color. Discovered in 1948 by a couple deer hunters, the Spencer Opal Mines have been owned and operated by the same family for the past 48 years. In 1968, after realizing they were producing more rock than they could work themselves, they opened a mini-mine for amateur gem hunters. For $10, you can scour the stones as long as you want, and keep up to a pound of opal-laden rock for yourself.

When we first read about the Spencer Opal Mines, I was more than a little suspicious. “Sure”, I thought, “like they really dump it into a public mine, without first removing all the good opals”. But as soon I saw the pit, I realized that this is exactly what they do. It’s big, with tons of rocks, and there’s no way they screen them all in advance. And my skepticism was completely dispelled when I found my first opal, a yellow-colored gem, after about five minutes of hunting.

The chances of discovering a truly valuable opal in the Spencer Opal Mines aren’t that bad. While demonstrating how to water the stones down and bring out their full color, the mine’s owner told us about a 10-year-old kid who had recently found a huge pink opal in the public mine. He estimated that the gem could probably pay for the kid’s first year of college.

After about an hour, we left the mine with two full bags of rock, our one-pound quotas easily met. In fact, I had to choose some opals to leave behind, although I could have paid a bit extra to take them all. Most of the gems we found were fairly common, the shiny white color of quartz, but we ended up with a few colorful opals were suitable to be polished and set into jewelry. Not a bad haul.

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December 8, 2012 at 5:41 pm Comments (2)

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Twin Falls and the Snake River Canyon After exploring eastern Idaho, we slowly made our way back west. The eventual goal was Boise, but first we'd be spending a few nights in Twin Falls, to see the city and investigate the surrounding area, which goes by the promising name of Magic Valley.
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