As summer heats the Idaho landscape to a blistering 100-plus degrees, you can be thankful you don't live in Death Valley or Las Vegas, which is experiencing record temperatures this summer. It's still too hot for us northern folk, so it's time for a summer trip to one of the most scorched landscapes in Idaho so you can chill out.
Just two hours from Boise, the Shoshone Ice Caves-rated by Sunset Magazine as one of the Northwest's best point of interest-is a hybrid between a kitsch roadside attraction and a historical location. Yes, there's a big dinosaur with a caveman and a 30-foot-tall Native American, totem poles and a gift shop, but the cave itself is, pardon the pun, the coolest thing there.
During the 1880s, 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 refgrigeration. The caves were also a favorite spot for robbers hitting stagecoaches filled with gold heading to and from Idaho mining towns to the north. It was easy for bandits to escape across the surrounding trackless lava fields (which are the largest unbroken lava fields on the North American continent, covering approximately one-third of the state).
Accessed through a sinkhole, the 1,000 foot cave (in some areas 40 feet high) is the remnants of lava activity stretching back 30 million years. They are not as pretty as Carlsbad or Mammoth, but the feature isn't stalactites or stalagmites, it is the ice. Hovering between 24 and 32 degrees, water at the back of the cave freezes year round. During the 1940s, however, a cave entrance was opened and new airflow patterns melted all the ice. New owners in the 1950s restored the old airflow patterns and ice returned to the caves in 1962, but during the summer, the doors are kept shut to prevent melting. Bring a coat. It's cold down there.
Shoshone Indian Ice Caves: 1561 N. Hwy. 75, 17 mi. N. of Shoshone. May 1 to September 30, Daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tours 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., 208-886-2058.