Idaho has such a vast range of things to do and what I have found is that those who live here know almost nothing about them while people travel from all over the world to come and see them! Others take the natural beauty we are surrounded by for granted.
The Shoshone Ice Cave is one of the natural wonders of the world. A lava tube is created when the surface of a lava flow cools and hardens into a crust while the inside is still molten, and continues to flow downhill. Once it leaves, the crust remains, and you have a lava tube. They can be really short or very long. This area is covered with them, with some as close as ‘out on the desert’ beyond Pleasant Valley. They are not always safe, over the years water gets into the porous lava rock and freezes causing cracks which then makes the ‘roof’ unsafe.
The Shoshone Ice Cave is 1,000 feet long and is constantly below freezing. You might want to dig out your coat for this trip! The ice is caused by air currents flowing through the tubes, which causes the subterranean water to freeze.
Experienced tour guides will take you along the tube and point out the features, seven days a week including holidays until Labor Day weekend. Tours leave every hour on the hour with the last tour ending at 6 p.m. This isn’t somewhere that requires helmets and scrambling through tiny places, so it’s suitable for all ages as long as you dress warmly. Unfortunately it isn’t suitable for strollers or wheelchairs due to the natural nature of the place.
A museum which advertises ‘Indian artifacts’, gems and minerals of local and world interest is free to enter; the cave does have a fee.
I thought I would take this opportunity to tell people about a cave that was even better; Crystal Ice Cave. It had a continuous ice floor and was 370 feet long. The clearness of many of the ice speleothems was breath-taking. In some areas, ice crystals grew on the cave walls at certain levels. Another cave south of Crystal Ice Cave and north of the King’s Bowl contained a room 500 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 70 feet high.
Cold air entering the Crystal Ice Caves through natural openings in the winter chills the air and rock, even in the deepest chambers. The ice and water in the caves is a great stabilizing factor in keeping the temperature near 32°F all year around. They absorb heat all summer, and give off heat all winter. Although King’s Bowl and the nearby area were explored by many, the interior of the Great Rift had not been penetrated and no one really knew what lay beneath.
It would not be until 1956 that Perry Fenstermaker, an Aberdeen school teacher, and David Fortsch, a student at Idaho State University in Pocatello, began to probe the rift systematically, descending to the bottom of every hole they could find. In September, on one of their many expeditions to the area, they descended to an ice floor in a particularly deep abyss a thousand feet north of the King’s Bowl. The tiny hole in the ice floor did not look promising, and thinking they had reached an apparent dead end, the two men turned back. David Fortsch started toward the surface and dropped his flashlight. It slid toward the tiny ice hole, then disappeared into it. He decided to go after it. Much to his surprise, the ice hole became spacious after he had gone about ten feet. The Crystal Ice Cave had been discovered! The cavers chose the name of Liar’s Cave for their amazing discovery, because no one seemed to believe them.
James L. Papadakis embarked on creating public access to the ice cave by a tunnel from the King’s Bowl, and it was world-famous. The creation of another entrance to get more tourists through at a time caused too much warm air to go through the tunnel, melting this beautiful wonder. It was soon closed on safety grounds.
Geologists believe the ice has probably re-formed in the time since the tunnel was blocked, but the melted ice stayed in the cracks of the lava and when it re-froze made it very unsafe. The parking lot is still there, and the area is very interesting from a geological standpoint. But even experienced cavers do not advise entry because it is so unsafe. It is possible to go a very short way to the tunnel before an impenetrable gate with warning signs blocks your way.
It is such a shame that human greed ruined one of the most fascinating attractions in our area. If you speak to some of the older generation in our area you will find those who slid down into the cave before it opened to the public and those who can describe the wonder of what was inside. Even google has a few photographs if your imagination is lacking.
Perhaps if you’re an experienced caver you can go through the many lava fields of this area, going down each hole, and see if you discover another of these! I’ll be your first customer.
Thanks for reading!
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