Ice Caves, Cows, Camas, and Cinder Cones – Southern Idaho

Ice Cave

During our six years of travels we’ve never been inside an Ice Cave, and we certainly didn’t expect to find one in the Idaho desert.  So when we discovered that Shoshone Ice Cave was right on the way to our next stop, we weren’t going to miss it.  The place has a huge parking lot, even big enough for Betsy with the car attached!  She was well watched as we went inside for our guided tour.

A caveman riding a dinosaur?  This was an interesting place!

With time to kill before our guided tour began, we perused the small museum to learn a few interesting tidbits about the cave.  The photo below especially caught my attention – ice skating inside an ice cave!

Vintage photo of ice skating inside the cave in the 40’s

During the tour, Garret, our young tour guide told us that this natural ice chest had been used to advantage by early settlers, and it was the only place within hundreds of miles folks could get a cold beer at the time.  Years later it became well known, and like many things it was abused by man as all of the ice was removed and shipped throughout the area for refrigeration purposes.  As this was done, the front of the cave was opened up and the critical airflow needed to produce ice was destroyed.

Coming to the rescue was Russel Robinson, who bought the land in the 1950’s.  He researched air flow patterns through the cave and re-sealed the entrance to restore the natural environment inside. After several years the ice was restored, and the cave was opened for guided tours.

Heading down to the cave entrance

We were advised to bring a light jacket, as the temperature inside the lava cave remains constant at 28º.  It was a fairly short tour, and macho Garret sported a T-shirt as he pointed out various features and facts about the amazing place.

The ice here is formed as super-cold air flows through as water trickles in.  Some water is pumped out to keep the cave from completely filling with ice

Russel Robinson’s legacy was patience and hard work, as he restored this unique spot in the Idaho desert – pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  It was not a grandiose cave like others we’ve visited, but it was definitely unique and worth the stop.  If you’re ever driving on I-75 between Twin Falls and Sun Valley you may want to check it out – especially if it’s a hot day!

Cows and Camas Lilies

A spring attraction that caught my interest was seeing the Camas Lilies in full bloom. Whenever we’re close to wildlife sanctuaries, prairies or flower fields, I’m all over it (usually without Steve, as he happily hands over the car keys).  So with my camera in tow, I drove to the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh located in Fairfield, Idaho.  On the way there I found my answer to the question, “Where’s the beef?”

The cowboy signaled me to go ahead, but these guys weren’t cooperating!
Driving slowly and trying to scare them out of the way, it took me 15 minutes to reach the main road

A festival is held in Fairfield to celebrate the annual “Big Bloom” of the Camas Lilies, which occurs throughout the month of May.  The Camas Prairie here runs along both sides of Highway 20 and is about 15 miles long, but for the best viewing I continued further to the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh.  For thousands of years, these same plants sustained Native Americans living in the area.

I love being greeted by my feathered friends whenever I visit one of their habitats

Well, my doubts were confirmed – I was a bit late and past the peak bloom.  I missed the blanket of blue in the valley that I was hoping for, but was happy that I’d brought my telephoto zoom lens.  Most of the remaining blooming lilies were a long way from the road, but I enjoyed my photography session as the songbirds and ducks kept me company.  It was quiet and peaceful as the breeze rustled through the prairie grass.

Camas roots were collected by Native American women and used to make bread
Camas Lily
Native Americans also used Camas Lilies extensively for medicinal purposes
Camas Centennial Marsh
A glimmer of blues in the Marsh
A lone Pronghorn had more food than it knew what to do with

Cinder Cones and Craters

To complete my “C” themed post, we spent a half day visiting Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  What we saw there brought to mind the volcanic havoc underway in Hawaii.  Many of the plaques along the walkways referred to the Kilauea volcano while describing what we were looking at.

Steve surveying an ocean of rock

Geologists have found that although the craters here are volcanic in nature, it was not a volcano that created this moonscape.  Rather, it resulted from several eruptions originating from a series of deep fissures known collectively as the Great Rift that crosses the Snake River Plain.  Eruptions from deep cracks in the earth forced lava up to create cinder cones, spatter cones and lava tube caves.  The most recent eruption was only 2,000 years ago.

Climbing up the short but steep Inferno Cone
From the top of Inferno Cone we could see cinder cones lined up along the Great Rift.  In the foreground are blooming Purple Phacelia

We followed the 7-mile loop road that took us around various volcanic features:

We were amazed that while seemingly barren, the lava fields have become islands of vegetation, and we’d arrived during the annual wildflower blooms.  These plants have adapted to the harsh environment and we noticed they grow close to the ground to resist losing moisture from the heat and wind.

And the star of the moonscape was the Dwarf Monkeyflowers that painted the lava fields in a sea of pink:

Dwarf Monkeyflowers added color to the otherwise black cinder beds
Dwarf Monkeyflowers and Dwarf Buckwheats appear to be planted with equal spacing due to competition for water

Being here during the wildflower bloom enhanced our appreciation of the barren landscape.  But according to biologist Richard J. Vogl, “What you see depends mainly on what you look for.”

We climbed out of the Indian Lava Tube unscathed




  1. You visited Craters of the Moon NM at the perfect time while the wildflowers were blooming. They make the landscape much more interesting.

  2. Craters of the Moon is such a unique place. Out in the middle of no where are these strange formations, they are very interesting and cool. Never heard of the ice cave before, love the fact that it was restored and now has ice again.

    • This part of Idaho is so desert-like but then there are hidden gems on the beaten path to be explored. Our timing was perfect at Crater’s and see the Monkeyflowers painting the cinders pink!

  3. What a beautiful contrast to see the stark landscape of Craters of the Moon softened by the wildflowers. Interesting photo of you hiking up the cinder cone, too. I’m making a note to visit in the spring!

  4. I always wear my Craters of the Moon shirt when there is a full moon. You are lucky to be there when the flowers are in bloom. Enjoy your adventures!

  5. You are doing such a great job planning for our Idaho trip. We appreciate your finding such cool places:) Love the ice cave. We have never visited an ice cave. Even though the Camas Lilies weren’t at their prime, I’m glad you did see a few and could share them with us. We have been to Craters of the Moon on a motorcycle trip. But you hit the jackpot with the carpets of wildflowers. They are just beautiful. That photo of you and Steve is a keeper:)

    • We are discovering that Idaho is such a beautiful state and lesser crowd to deal with. So far we had been at areas where wildflowers are going wild with their super bloom.

  6. I have to do no planning when we decide to explore Idaho. I have loved each place you have showed us MonaLiza. Beautiful country!

    • You would love my next post-LuAnn. Idaho has its own natural wonders and beautiful sceneries. In a way it’s a good thing that it is a lesser known state to visit, so we don’t have to deal with crowds.

  7. Another very interesting blog. I have been to ice caves in Tulelake, (far northern) California at the Lava Beds. The Lava Beds National Monument is also a great place to explore.

  8. What a great story about saving the ice caves. Not sure I’d ever heard there were ice caves in the desert. Thanks for such an interesting report. I’d be happy to go with you to see the Camas Prairie Marsh. So sorry you missed the peak but your pictures still look wonderful. Craters of the Moon another different and unusual spot and with those beautiful Monkeyflowers. Wow! It looks like fields of flowers. You obviously picked the perfect time to go there. Your timing is amazing. Love that last picture of you two having such a wonderful time. Keep it up!

    • Gladly I would love to have your company to admire the Camas. Plus there was a wildlife refuge there too. We came at the right time with explosion of the dwarf monkey flowers, it was a sight to see them coloring the cinders pink!

  9. Your C-themed post was a delight to read. Idaho is one of those states that somehow never made it onto our sightseeing horizon when we were living in Utah although we went to see friends there a few times … looking forward to exploring it.

  10. Oh, I’m so glad you remembered to post this one MonaLiza! We visited Crater’s of the Moon a few years ago and found we really enjoyed our time there. The little Monkey flowers are so perky and persistent….growing with abandon in that stark environment. I love the shot of you laboring up the cinder cone! We missed the ice cave, it looked very civilized and safe. We went down into one somewhere else and the footing was very uneven as were the walls. Dark dark dark. A young woman just entering didn’t slow down and she flopped down and slid in on her butt!

    • We lucked out on our visit at Crater’s, it seemed the dwarf flowers were in every nook and cranny of the barren land. The ice cave was actually interesting for it was a testament of Russells patience and determination,

  11. The Dwarf Monkeyflowers are so showy against the lava…quite a beautiful sight! What an interesting story about the Ice Cave being restored. Great post MonaLiza…I’m loving Idaho through your lens!

    • We thought so too about the ice cave,and his patients paid off. I wonder if we were there on a different season, the monument would probably a boring place but fascinating.

Comments are closed.