For the final part of our staycation, we headed south on Highway 78 and turned off onto Highway 45 as they met at the Snake River, just between Murphy and Melba. We turned into Dan's Ferry Service gas station and headed down the hill, with old metal equipment, toys, tricycles and planters leading the way. A hand painted billboard announces the entry into Cleo's Ferry Museum and Nature Trail. It was our first time there and although the weather had turned a sunny and warm 60 degrees, we were the only visitors. From what I understand of the history, Cleo Swaye and her husband, Dr. Swayne, built the eclectic vernacular art environment on this idyllic section of the Snake River in the 1970s. Dr. Swayne's medical office was there, as well as their home. The couple built a variety of other rock structures to house their eccentric collections of oddities, including unusual medical supplies, clocks, religious artifacts and other antiquities. Dr. Swayne died in the late 1970s and his wife, Cleo, operated the facilities until she died last spring. There are caretakers who live on the site and manage the Nature Trail portion but sadly, the museum buildings have not been open to the public since Cleo's death (the board of trustees, which consists of family members, is trying to decide what is best for the property and collections).
The trail wanders around in a circle, leading you back to the cluster of museum buildings and the home. The caretakers, a lovely couple, greeted us, told us a little about the history of the place, and even let the girls feed the peacocks on the property.
We got out the stroller and headed up the paved Nature Trail, signing in at the kiosk and dropping a donation in the box (entry is free, but donations are welcome). Handcrafted birdhouses line the trail, as well as a plethora of religious signage, asking you to "believe in Jesus" and "tame your troubles." The trail offers sweet little respites, like the pond and meditative area Lucy discovered (above) as well as a replica tomb of Jesus. The God is Love Chapel has hosted over 140 weddings and a charming little family cemetery is also on the site.
There are an insane amount of bronze sculptures along the trail, depicting the Virgin Mary, children at play, and even a life size tribute to Albert Einstein. Our favorite part of the Nature Trail, however, was the Enchanted Forest.It included all the things fairytales are made of: twisted trees, gnomes, fairies, mushrooms, frogs, and children. The girls loved it.
Cleo's Ferry Museum + Nature Trail is truly a hidden Idaho gem. We spent about 1.5 hours out there, and it was time well spent. We plan to head back out there in December, if not sooner, for their annual holiday lights display. I couldn't recommend this place more. There is a lovely picnic spot, so bring your lunch and make an afternoon of it. Or at least grab some CornNuts and sodas like we did up at the gas station. And don't forget to check out the handcrafted public outhouse while you're at it. It's worth it.