Catching up… The final stop on the road for the Western Byways editorial team…
For sixty years Fred Robinson’s family has acted as gatekeeper to a hidden underground wonder just north of the town of Shoshone, Idaho. Situated across the highway from a trading post advertising Indian Beads, leathers, kachinas, knives, and (strangely enough) swords, the ice cave attraction is marked by several painted log buildings and oversized papier maché dinosaurs and Indians, nostalgic of 1950s-era roadside kitsch. (I confess I cringed as we pulled in the motor-home and parked it beneath an Indian riding a dinosaur.) Truth is, the caves themselves don’t need any dressing up.
Formed millennia ago as a hollow tube of cooled lava through which a river of molten magma flowed, the snakelike passageway wends 120 feet below the volcanic surface, arching more than thirty feet overhead and slick with a deep layer of ice across its bottom. Visitors enter by a staircase of cobbled-together lava stones, cemented in place and maintained by Fred’s family for decades, descending into the crater formed by a cave-in of a section of the lava tube. Some hundred years ago a rancher found his missing sheep here, foundering in the snow of the cave-in, and stumbled across a small opening in the rubble leading to the intact length of the caves. Ice being a rare commodity, townsfolk returned to dynamite open an access, and mined ice to be hauled by insulated wagons to supply the saloons in town.
Keoni is not quite five weeks out from his knee replacement, and I wouldn’t have guessed he’d be up for 160 steps, but this geology buff couldn’t be kept out of the lava tube! After descending the stone steps, we squeezed through a narrow wooden door into the cave itself, and a wooden boardwalk suspended above the ice floor. In some places pennies, no doubt tossed in for luck, are frozen at different depths and layers, testament to the changing level of the ice with the seasons. Even in full summer, though, the caves remain floored in ice, with icy stalagmites forming as water drips from the warmer surface. And I’m thinking the cold cave would be refreshing on a summer visit, compared to the icy wind we braved on this visit!