Community July 31, 2008

In Our Own Backyard

Should you Pause at One of These Funky Stops?

You’ve seen the signs, you’ve wondered. For those of you who have hesitated to act on that curious streak, let the information here provide you a much encouraged streak, let the information here provide you a much encouraged boost. Whether you have a day, or an hour, if these places are in your rear-view mirror, you might just consider hanging a u-turn.


You never want to miss the opportunity to stop at a place where the motto is “We got gifts galore from ceiling to floor!”

No desert attraction is complete without a trading post where you can stock up on Kachina dolls, Indian beaded moccasins, polished rocks, postcards of areas in Idaho beyond where you are standing, sodas, snacks, beer and good old-fashioned bull sessions. But the Bear Claw Trading Post across the highway from Shoshone Ice Caves is all that and so much more carrying items from points around the globe.

You can find an assortment of collectibles from China, Japan, Brazil, pottery from Mexico, Indonesian wood carvings, Southwestern décor, jewelry, Balinese crystals and beads and even swords. And, says owner Scott Ward, who has been sole proprietor with his wife Nina for the last dozen years, there’s something for every budget with prices ranging from 4 cents to $2,900.  >>>




How many times can you make the Costco run to Twin Falls before you decide it’s time to take a detour at the ginormous billboard out in the lava rocks inviting you to the ice caves?

Whether you are the kitschy type of traveler or a spelunking hobbyist, the Shoshone Indian Ice Caves on Highway 75 south of Bellevue are worth a look.

Each year, 15,000 or more take that turn to see nature’s former beer cooler (Shoshone rowdies stashed their supplies there in the late 1800s) and learn about the prehistoric, pre-brew Indians who lived in and around the lava rocks and the lava-tube formations that collapsed, exposing the giant ice cave estimated to hold 20,000 tons of ice, eight to 20 feet thick.

Geologists across the country have called this formation one of the natural wonders of the earth and it is also the largest known lava ice cave in the world, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Although it was discovered in 1880, it wasn’t put to use until 1900 when the residents of Shoshone used it as a local source for ice. Prehistoric animal fossils were found in the cave and today visitors can see them on display near the cave entrance. Its tunnels, located 90 feet below the surface, were created when lava flowed through them thousands of years ago. The largest cavern in the cave is three blocks long, 30 feet wide, and 40 feet in height. The cave remains at a year-round constant temperature of 18-33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tour guides—often owner Fred Cheslik or family—take you 120 feet below the surface to a walkway over the cave floor. The best time to go is spring when stalagmites and stalactites bloom like wildflowers. As they melt with the approaching summer, excess water has to be pumped out to prevent too much ice from forming.

There’s the obligatory gift shop, and some unusual antique style offerings in the surrounding buildings. Save space on the camera for the kids to pose on the dinosaur out front. >>>





In 1954, Richard Olsen, a senior in high school, and his girlfriend Veneda, were hunting bobcats in the area north of Shoshone when they came onto the entrance of the cave. that, and subsequent, forays below the earth, Olsen would find evidence that animals and Stone Age man used the cave for shelter and to preserve their meat in the cool underground temperatures. The bones of many different bears were found on the floor of the cave. Many broken bones of buffalo, camels, and small horses were found also.

In 1902, some early settlers stumbled onto the cave opening and left their names on a wall of the cave with the charcoal from their torches.

Olsen got the title to the cave under the Small Tract Act and raised mushrooms there. But it was too beautiful not to share, Olsen says on his website (
Mammoth is one of several caves in the world that have a mysterious life form that grows on the walls, giving it the appearance of pure silver.

In the sixties, during the Cold War, the government approached Olsen and asked for the use of the cave for a civil defense shelter so people could escape from radiation if the United States were attacked.

The Mountain Home Air Base was a target because of the big B52’s loaded with hydrogen bombs that it always had ready to fly if we were attacked. Officials said they would gravel a good road to the cave if Olsen would let them put food and supplies in the cave for 8,000 people. They built a large platform and supplied food there for the next 20 years.

It is, at this time, the largest volcanic cave in the world open to the public. There is also the Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History for those who prefer their infotainment above ground. >>>





Whether you miss the good old days of wearing bobby sox and poodle skirts while hanging out at the local soda shop, or, you need a wholesome greasy cheeseburger and thick shake to chase a hangover away, the Shoshone Snack Bar is a curbside favorite.

Lots of Shoshone’s kids have worked its counters, serving up hot ham and cheese sandwiches, crispy fries, and ice cream for those passing through.

It just feels like country with a “k” sitting in one of the booths. You are likely to get the news of the day with your burger and can stave off shopping blahs with some cold or creamy drinks, and still have change in your pocket. >>>




When Demi and Ashton were a new couple, they popped into the Smiley Creek Lodge General Store enroute to their cabin near Stanley for supplies. Day-tripping pilots land across the highway from the store and restaurant that fronts the Smiley Creek Lodge and take a lunch break. There are those in Hailey who hop on their motorcycles on warm summer evenings for the hour ride north of Ketchum to partake of rich and creamy fountain style shakes made by employees hired specifically to make them unbelievable. In winter, snowmobilers abound.

The log-cabin Smiley Creek compound is as its promotions boast, “your summer and winter fun headquarters.” You can get gas for your vehicle, your license for hunting and fishing, or your snowmobiling tags. You can arrange pack trips and outfit your picnic with everything from trail bars to books on Idaho.

There is something for everyone at this routine stop enroute to the Sawtooths.They do close their doors in the off-season, so call ahead, 208.774.3547.


This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.