Mammoth Cave Idaho: a Unique Travel Destination
Mammoth Cave in Idaho is unique. Usually on our site, we like to talk about fun places to visit: France, Hawaii, that kind of thing. Normal stuff. What we don't talk about too much are those oddball, out of the way places that aren't on your travel agent's list of top 10 family destinations, but that nonetheless provide interesting family entertainment. Mammoth Cave in Idaho is one such place, perhaps even unique and amazing enough to add to your bucket list; it's the type of place you need to visit before you die, but one visit is plenty.
Mammoth Cave, technically speaking, is a little tourist trap in southern Idaho, something you find off the side of Highway 75 on your way up to Sun Valley. It's in the middle of nowhere, and is by no means a destination in and of itself. It's one of those place you go to out of curiosity after you've visited the nearby metropolises of Twin Falls or Craters of the Moon National Park. The attraction is named, not surprisingly, for a huge cave that is at least 1/4 of a mile long (the rest has yet to be explored), 50 feet tall at its tallest point, and descends probably 75-100 feet underground. Its temperature stays about 40° year-round, so visitors are given old propane lanterns to provide them with both light and heat while they're in the cave.
But the cave is only part of the attraction. It's the authentic oddness of everything surrounding it that completes its appeal. Above ground, tourists will find a ramshackle assortment of buildings, amongst which random peacocks and emus stroll: mining sheds, an old A-frame house that looks more like an owlery than a place of human habitation, and a museum. There's none other like it, to be sure. It is a cylindrical building bricked with lava rock, topped with aluminum, and capped with the old nose cone of a rocket, so you don't go in expecting much. Once inside, though, you see it's stuffed with thousands of odd and interesting items: siamese lambs, a life-size stuffed giraffe, old Incan headdresses, ancient pottery, and antique stoves, etc. Of the thousand or so items stuffed in this roughly 75' wide room, some are totally creepy and some seem like they should be in "real" museums.
But perhaps even more interesting than all of this are the people who run the place. The whole place is run by two 20-something brothers, who inherited it from their dad, who inherited it from his dad, etc. They are eager to tell people about the cave, though lacking in some of the finer social graces. Their mother, who happened to visit while we were touring the museum, extolled the virtues of the 20 tubes of toothpaste she'd just brought her son, saying that toothpaste would cure any cold if applied to one's gums behind the front lower teeth. It is generally the people at any particular destination we visit that I enjoy interacting with the most, and these were definitely some of the more fascinating people I've met.
Mammoth Cave is definitely not for everyone. But if you enjoy exploring the wonders of nature or of people, this is a must-see.
Welcome sign image courtesy Christopher T. Palmer via Flickr. All additional images courtesy Jamie Moesser.