Idaho Staycations

Diving In

“I’m gonna jump off that high dive,” my reserved, anxiety-ridden, long-legged eleven-year-old Lucy told us on the scenic drive from our Pocatello, Idaho, hotel to Lava Hot Springs.  I gave Eric the side-eye in disbelief.

Located in the mountainous valley of the Portneuf River along the historic Oregon Trail, the site boasts a handful of soothing hot springs pools, several waterslides and a series of high dives, including a dizzying 10 meter diving tower into 17 feet of clear, warm water. It’s the playground of my youth and I was excited to share it with my children. Except maybe not the high dive part.

I tentatively signed the waiver that we wouldn’t sue in the case of death, got the wrist band, heard the instructions. Lucy went right out and climbed the stairs, stood in line, hung her toes over the edge in anticipation, and looked down. The lifeguard held her number up and watched carefully, as did the rest of us. She stalled for what seemed like an eternity, turned and came back down the stairs. She wasn’t ready, she told me. Maybe in an hour.

It was just the time she needed. Lucy thought it through, watched a few others, went on the waterslides, gathered her courage. We talked about maybe plugging your nose, being pencil straight, keeping your arms to your side. She jumped. It wasn’t that bad, she said. It looks so much higher than it feels. She wanted to do it again, but just as it came her turn, a small boy launched off the tallest high dive and attempted a flip which turned into a belly flop that knocked the wind out of him and required emergency assistance from the lifeguards. Lucy turned and came back down the stairs again, this time in tears. The boy’s accident scared her, and knocked her courageous feeling from her heart. She felt like a failure, that her accomplishment was somehow diminished because she couldn’t replicate the jump. She’d lost her bravery, and her pride.

Eric and I spent nearly an hour that afternoon talking her up from her perceived failure. We explained that sometimes being brave means knowing when to stop. It takes courage to know your limits and be true to your heart, follow your gut instinct, take your time.

Bravery can be not taking that risk, it can be saying no.

“I’m gonna buy another bikini, a tinier one,” my 220 pound, brown-skinned, body loving, 39-year-old self said out loud while perusing a plus-sized swimsuit website in my pajamas a few months ago, to no one in particular.

And I did it – first a sky blue retro looking bikini with white polka dots and a high waist. It makes me feel glamourous and flirty, strong and sexy. My youngest daughter, Alice, snapped a photo of me wearing it while lounging in the bright sun one afternoon in our backyard while the baby slung the hose around and the neighborhood kids chomped up popsicles. I hesitantly posted it on Instagram and the photo ended up being selected for a curves in bikinis challenge, promoting the fact that all bodies are beach bodies. My prize was a $100 shop credit from my beloved polka dot swimsuit maker. I didn’t hesitate a second to snatch up two new bikinis- a sleek black two piece with a plunging neckline and a cute red, white and blue number with a fireworks print and underwire and boy shorts.

And they don’t just sit in my closet. I’ve worn them nearly every day this summer, to the river and the public city pools, lounging with cold beers and chasing my baby down wet kiddie slides. It takes courage to push your limits, follow your heart, take a chance.

Bravery can be taking that risk, it can be saying yes.

CULTURE: Silver City

My whole family and I went on a day trip to Silver City.  It is an abandoned ghost town, but not any more its not.  In the summer their family stays there in a building their relatives owned.   It took 3 hours on the drive, on the drive you drive on the freeway and turn on to a dirt road.

There is a cute little store that sells diamonds, crystals,and real live gold. Also they sell  rock candy that tastes so good .  We also played in a creek and we found crystals in the creek.

They also have some awesome pie and sarsparilla I never had sarsparilla but I guess I don't like sarsparilla we got these at a cute little restaurant.                                                                                                                           

ARTSY: Carousels: Art & History in Motion

This spring we took the girls to Idaho Falls to visit their grandparents for a weekend. In addition to taking them to see Ramona Quimby, the play, at the local arts center, we also go to catch this wonderful exhibition on the history of carousels at the Museum of Idaho.

There was a real, working carousel as part of the show, which the girls got to ride indoors. Displays showing how the carousel animals are carved and painted, photos of historic carousels, and unusual lighting and hand-pedaling features were among the highlights. This show is only up through May 27, 2013, so if you're in or near Idaho Falls, I highly recommend it!

ARTSY: Freak Alley

Freak Alley started around ten years ago in an alley in downtown Boise between 8th and 9th Streets and Bannock and Idaho Streets. Local graffiti artists got permission from business owners to decorate and tag the alley with their unique and funky brand of art. Recently, the Boise Mural Project got the right to paint larger murals as a sort of extension of Freak Alley on the sides of two buildings in an adjacent vacant lot. The girls loved having an afternoon downtown, eating our favorite breadsticks and soup from Zeppole Baking Company and checking out art. I admit, I like it, too. Make me feel like I live in a much bigger city than Boise.

KIDDOS: BSU's Vertebrate Museum

We did so many fun things as a family this summer, that I can't wait to share them with you. As you can tell, much of our time was spent away from the computer and out of doors, meaning a severe lack of posting. Anyhow, one of our little day trips included a visit to Boise State University's Vertebrate Museum in the Science Building.

The Science Building is right next to the Morrison Center on campus and houses biology, chemistry and nursing. They recently reinstalled the quirky collection throughout the halls on the second floor of the building, and they are open to the public.
The girls had so much fun exploring taxidermied birds and fish and checking out all kinds of seashells, a thrill as we were headed to the Oregon coast the very next day. Also, we got in a little visit with daddy, a chemistry professor with offices on the third floor of the same building.
It is truly a gem of a place to take the kiddos, and you can even grab lunch at Subway on the first floor of the building or just across the lawn there's a mini Mai Thai in the food court that is too die for. You'll want to pay for parking garage parking, though, as there are just a few metered spots around the building that only last for 30 minutes and the parking ticket folks are ON IT.

SUMMER: 2010 Wrap Up

I think I mentioned this before, but this was seriously the best summer I can remember. We spent most of our time away from home, celebrating Idaho from north to south and the natural beauty of Wyoming's grand national parks. I just went through the hundreds of photos we've taken since June and was overcome with happiness of good times spent together outside, mainly, taking in the pine-scented air and the warm sun. We were in a wedding and swung sparklers, captured frogs and hiked to hot springs, caught up with cousins and started first grade. Our faces look browned and relaxed and the girls look dirty and happy. Now, as I sit on my couch drinking coffee to keep warm, my windows are open and I feel the crisp fall air seeping in. My mind is filled with tasks like cleaning and putting away camping gear and beach toys, harvesting our garden and mini orchard, and getting homework done. While I'm ready to don sweaters and bake bread and pull out the Halloween decorations, the first weeks of September are always a transitional time, filled with excitement for BSU's football season tinged with a longing for those long, hot days of the past. Here's our summer story, in photos:


For Mother's Day Eric planned a little road trip to Idaho City. For those of you who haven't been, it's an old gold and silver mining town that once was home to several thousand residents and something like 41 saloons and hotels. It was a thriving and thrilling Western town, complete with gunfights and burlesque dancers and a Chinese herb shop. Now, it's become a tourist attraction, as it lies about an hour outside of Boise en route to Stanley and Redfish Lake, both popular destination spots. We've been to Idaho City several times, but mainly, like I mentioned, going to or from somewhere else, so we haven't had the time to really explore it.

That Sunday morning we headed out early to get breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants in the area, Hilltop Cafe Kodiak Grill. Unfortunately for us, we didn't make reservations in advance and apparently lots of other fans flocked to the joint before us. So, we headed into Idaho City and found a saloon serving an all you can eat buffet that, um, sucked, to say it nicely.

We didn't let our bad buffet deter us, however, and were excited to find out that lots of the local touristy venues had just reopened for the summer season, including the Boise Basin Museum. Like all other tiny Idaho historical museums that I love so much, this one was filled with local artifacts donated by families and business owners. There were great old maps, stunning glass bottles, the mail slots from the original post office, and an original James Castle drawing (Castle is Idaho's most famous outsider artist and grew up in a town near there). Of course, the place was run by a super sweet volunteer who tried to answer my questions about the architectural preservation efforts of the city and sold the girls 25cent old fashioned stick candy from their gift shop.

Right near the museum grounds, in the heart of the city, also lies the old jail. You can walk through the thick wooden walls and inside the three cells and see the spot where hangings occurred. We took a break in the city park to have some snacks, kick around the ball and watch the birds. The girls ran around, up and over bridged creeks, enjoying the warm spring day.

Of course, since it was Mother's Day after all, I took advantage of it and Eric watched the girls while I perused several of Idaho City's antique shops, which also had just opened for the season. They had some pretty fun things, but, like all tourist cities, I thought they were way over-priced and left with a handful of vintage matchbooks from Waikiki and Scottsdale, AZ.

This, however, might just be the greatest junk/thrift palace I've ever seen. It holds court on a downtown street corner and has, unfortunately, been closed to the public for years. I'd love to know the status of this place and get a chance to go inside.

The highlight of our trip, however, was Pioneer Cemetery. As a death art historian, I worked for Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis in graduate school, one of the most famous cemeteries in the country. I'm a fan of these beautiful landscapes and have converted my family as well. They are so peaceful and lovely and a natural haven in the heart of the city. And the West is home to some fantastic old pioneer cemeteries that are little gems to our communities.

This one was no exception. It spreads for acres across a wooded mountainside, with winding dirt paths leading from one gated resting spot to another. It's been well preserved and is still an active cemetery, with a section dedicated to the burial of the more recently deceased. This is a haven for photographers, as the architecture of this cemetery is stunning to capture and see.

We ended our day at the Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor for homemade huckleberry ice cream cones. Sitting outside on the covered wooden sidewalk of Main Street watching dogs and ATVs cruise up and down the road was the perfect way to end our Idaho City staycation. We're lucky our state boasts a number of these Old West towns, preserved for future generations, and Idaho City is a real treasure.

STAYCATION: Miracle Hot Springs

I wasn't sure whether to qualify this is a staycation or an Idavation, as Miracle Hot Springs is near Hagerman, and it only takes about 1.5 hours to get there from Boise. You can easily go for a day trip, but I highly recommend getting the full experience (not to mention, getting the hell outta town) by staying a night. Or two. I had heard nothing but great things about this private little retreat spot and was thrilled to hear that my dad had booked our Pence Family Reunion there last month.

As you can see, we brought littles galore with us, not to mention just about as many adults. The hot springs site not only boasts some killer hot pools, but 5 domes of various sizes to rent. They are similar to a yurt and run from only $39-$64 a night, which is a fabulous deal. Everyone shares the bathroom/changing room at the hot springs and there are no showers. Our group occupied 3 of the domes over the course of one weekend. They vary in size and sleeping options (ours had a queen bed and some of the others have numerous sleeping pads), but they all have a fan and a space heater to accomodate the seasons.

The largest dome not only acted as an event space for us, with large tables and a fridge, but was also sleeping quarters for about 15 of my relatives.
Miracle Hot Springs has two fabulous hot springs pools that are attached, one hotter than the other. They are open until 11pm, and night swimming was a hoot. There are also around 20 private hot tub rooms that surround the larger pools which you can rent by the hour for around $6. This is a real treat, and my stepmom and I spent a great evening in one chatting over a bottle of red wine.

Being it was a family reunion, we had lots of fun activities planned, which included a lot of watching the alligators that live on site. Yes, I just wrote THE ALLIGATORS THAT LIVE ON SITE. I'm not quite sure what the deal is with how in the world alligators got to this part of Idaho, but there are several private alligator swamps and they even serve alligator bites on the appetizer menu at Hagerman's Snake River Grill. Anyhow, the kids loved them (the live ones, that is) and were very concerned when Lucy's red styrofoam ball accidentally got tossed in the pit.
We played lots of games, including frisbee, softball and a strange strength pulling game with a broom handle. My aunt Dana also brought lots of fun family-friendly activities, including this cute alligator pinata, which was a big hit.

The hot springs offers these carts to guests to load in and out their bbqs, tents, luggage, etc. and our kids, of course, used them as go carts to race down hills and loved being pulled around the campground by the adults. You can also see the fire pit in this photo, which is shared by all the domes on site and was great in the cool mornings at breakfast time and was great for smore-making in the evenings.

We stopped back at Miracle Hot Springs to go swimming on a more recent camping trip. I has just sprained my elbow in a silly bicycle accident and I tell you, it's no wonder those are called miracle waters. They are warm and soothing and not only a terrific and inexpensive place for families, but also an ideal spot for a romantic getaway for two. In fact, I'm already scheming a night there sans babies as I write.

IDAVATION: Southeast Special pt. 2 (Blackfoot + Idaho Falls)

We actually spent the majority of our vacation time in Idaho Falls, where Eric grew up. It's always fun for us to show our kids places we hung out at as kids, so we stopped over for a morning in Blackfoot, a small town about twenty minutes or so from Idaho Falls. Eric's grandparents both came to Idaho from Greece around 1914 and started a homemade candy and soda shoppe downtown Blackfoot called the Bon-Ton. In the 1920s they opened a booth selling candy, ice cream and cigarettes at the Eastern Idaho State Fair held yearly at the fairgrounds downtown Blackfoot. Eric spent many, many years working at that fair, helping his grandpa at the shoppe, and generally hanging out with his extended family of Greeks in Blackfoot. He showed us his grandpa's old house and we visited the cemetery. One place he'd never been before, though, was this:

Of course we had to go in. The Idaho Potato Museum is housed in the old railroad depot downtown Blackfoot, the proclaimed potato capitol of Idaho. It is also the headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce and has a sweet little gift shop, with stuff like potato lotion and postcards of Marilyn Monroe wearing the Idaho potato sack. Much to our surprise, we all got a package of freeze dried hashbrowns with our admission fee.

There was a large amount of potato paraphernalia in that place, including machinery, the world's largest potato chip, an outrageous collection of antique potato mashers. The kids had a great time, and I highly suggest stopping in if ever you're in that part of the state.

We all love Papa and Yaya's (our kids' names for Eric's parents) country home in Idaho Falls, and the first thing we did was check out the new baby chickens and rummaged their enormous garden for strawberries and sweet peas to munch on.

We did save these yummies (steamed artichokes) for dinner that night. What a treat!

The next day we hit the Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, which was free with our Zoo Boise family pass. The girls loved the petting zoo and I truly believe this little treasure is the best zoo in the state of Idaho. It is extremely well cared for and the environments are lush and lovely.

Eric and I hit the town one night on a much needed date. For dinner, we took in the Brownstone Brewhouse downtown on the Falls and had a delicious dinner of fried calamari and pizza outside. Of course we washed it all down with their Summerfest Ale. Mmmmm. (Later that night we took in The Hangover at a local theatre and found it outrageously baudy and hysterical, by the way. It was the perfect WOO HOO! WE'VE GOT NO KIDS! HERE WE COME RATED R! movie to see.)

The next morning we hit the Psychedelicatessen, a 1970s school bus turned bagel bistro, downtown Idaho Falls. I'm a super critical judge of bagels because I love them so much and let me tell you, these were fantastic. And their homemade cream cheeses are too die for. Seriously, ladies, if you ever take that thing on the road, PLEASE COME TO BOISE.

The hippy bagel bus was parked right near the Farmers Market, which is getting bigger and better each time I visit Idaho Falls. Their artisans market was great, and my mother in law bought me some killer handcrafted silver star earrings. We enjoyed checking out the local produce and fresh baked goods (but those bagels, I'm telling you....). Anyhow, Idaho Falls is a bustling little city with lots to offer and these are just a few highlights from our trip; there are many other yummy places we ate and things we did. I'm always up for new suggestions, so feel free to leave me your "Idavation" tips on Idaho Falls or other locales in the state in the comments!

IDAVATION: Southeast Special pt. 1 (Pocatello)

Since our family is on a very tight budget this year, our summer vacation consisted of a 10-day trip to southeast Idaho to accompany Eric to a chemistry conference at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Also, since his parents live in Idaho Falls, we decided to make a vacation of it. Typically I'm more of a researcher and planner before vacations, but decided to fly by the seat of my pants on this one. The only thing I knew was that lots of swimming would be involved. Part One of this "Southeast Special" (I know this sounds more like a dish you might order at a Chinese restaurant) Idavation is dedicated to fun we had in the Pocatello area.

Lucky for us, Eric's conference hotel was paid for at a lovely new Hilton Hotel on a hill overlooking the city. It had a great pool and a stellar complimentary breakfast buffet that we not only ate at each morning, but also snagged some snacks like apples and bagels for treats later in the day. It also came with this beautiful view of foothills that truly rival the ones in Boise, especially at sunset.

Earlier in the summer we purchased a family zoo pass at Zoo Boise, which comes with complimentary admission to other zoos around the intermountain west, including the Pocatello Zoo. The tiny zoo features native Idaho wildlife and this lifesize replica of a teepee, which the girls loved.

We happened to make it there just in time for the Tuesday morning Zoo Tales storytime. The children's librarian from Portneuf District Library comes to read animal stories to the kids under this rustic little canvas structure. At the end they get to do a craft and this morning they made cute little lion hand puppets.

The next day we headed to Lava Hot Springs, a quaint little town about 30 minutes outside of Pocatello. Once land occupied by the Shoshone-Bannock people, the hot springs were "purchased" by the US government in a treaty agreement in the late 1800s and began being operated as a state park in 1902. We bought passes for the whole family to explore the various pools throughout the town all day long for a little over $30.

The hot pools are further into the city on the Portneuf River and are really well kept. The numerous pools have pebble bottoms and holy hell are THEY HOT. We had to take several breaks and were thrilled to find out that they sold all sorts of ice cream bars at the admissions desk to cool us down.
As we wandered downtown to grab a bite to eat, we saw slews of people making their way with bright colored tubes and rafts to float the rapids of the Portneuf River. It looked like loads of fun, and we are excited to go back when the girls are older to give it a try.

We spent the majority of our time at the olympic sized pool, where a bridge to two really long, steep waterslides acts as a welcoming archway into the city proper. The pool is also noted for their three levels of high platforms to dive off of, but, again, with tiny girls we spent our time on the smaller waterslides (of which there are four) and playing on the gigantic plastic water snake toy that bobs in the center of the pool.

It is always important to us to not only expose our girls in a fun way to history, but also cultural diversity when we travel. Especially, since at this point in her short life, Lucy's main knowledge of Native Americans comes from Disney's Pocahontas. We were thrilled to find out that we were going to be in the area on the weekend of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes annual Sho-Ban Festival at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

The festival site features several permanent structures, including a large covered arena, rodeo stadium and wooden booths for selling food and wares. The morning we went featured the princess contest and the Miss Sho-Ban dancing events. We were all impressed with the pride and beauty with which these young women wore their amazingly handcrafted costumes and expressed their native cultural traditions.

Of course, we ordered some warm fry bread with honey butter and wandered over to watch the native music being performed live for the dancers. It was both mesmerizing and memorable and something I hope our young ones remember for a long time to come. Stay tuned for Part Two of our Southeast Special Idavation - Blackfoot and Idaho Falls!

IDAVATION: Johnson Creek Guard Station

Several months ago I began researching a cheap overnight Idaho destination - an "Ida"vation - for Eric and I to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. The Boise Weekly had run this little story about renting this 1920s ranger cabin near Yellow Pine for just $50 a night and I knew it would be perfect.

I got on this website to find out more details and the spot looked perfect for us - a rustic getaway in the middle of nowhere with fishing nearby. I called and booked our night for July and got my mom to agree to stay with the girls - it was our first night ever away from Alice and I was a bit nervous, as there is no telephone service for miles. Also, it was FOUR HOURS AWAY. When I called the Cascade Ranger Station to ask about emergency contact info, they informed me my mom would have to call the Sheriff at home and he'd drive to the cabin and find us in the event something should happen.

We packed up our supplies, which included essential items like beer, playing cards, Reeces Pieces, fly fishing rods, this lovely, amazing book on CD from the Library! for our long hours on the road, and our binoculars. It has been years since we had just tossed some things in a bag and hit the road. This little luxury was monumental for us. No diapers! No coolers filled with formula and sippy cups and Goldfish crackers! No Polly Pockets! No Dora movies!

We were, however, thrilled to pack up the wine and sushi for dinner. Eric joked that it was probably the first time sushi had ever entered that cabin before. I think he's probably right.

The cabin has one bedroom with two twin beds and two cots, not the most ideal sleeping arrangement for a lovers getaway, but we made due. The cabin could really accomodate quite a few others if you brought an air mattress or tent for the backyard.

We shared the grounds with these sweet boys and they loved hanging out with us, watching the amazing sunset over the mountains and the deer coming down to the creek to get a cool drink.

Eric and I spent the afternoon fishing along the creek, playing rummy, and exploring Yellow Pine, which I had never been to before. It's a little village, known mainly for their annual harmonica festival and had a couple of saloons, a mercantile, and about two restaurants. My favorite part was the little pioneer cemetery and makeshift pet cemetery the local residents have added. We also spent some time hiking around the Forest Service property, following the deer trails into the mountains and even found the original cookstove from the saloon and hotel for miners that used to grace the site back in the 1800s, it's intricate detailing wasting away in the wilderness.
All in all, it was a lovely mountain respite from the city and the accommodations were charming. It is really far to drive for just one night, though, and you must have a tough rig that can withstand the narrow and steep gravel and dirt mountain roads. Also, there is a little prairie landing strip that is popular with Idaho aviators, so we were surprised by the amount of air traffic, which kind of took away from the still quietness of the mountain setting. Next time, we plan on bringing our girls and some other friends and staying a few more nights. And this time I'll happily load up the Pack-n-Play travel crib, water noodles, juice boxes, Barbies and coloring books.

STAYCATION: Festival Season

One of my favorite things about summer is the plethora of special events and festivals to pick from. They are usually free (or really cheap) and family-friendly ways to really get to know a community or local tradition. Of course, they almost always fall on the weekends, and we all know that summer weekends are packed with travel or other extracurricular activities, so it's impossible to take them all in. I highly recommend, however, trying to get to a few and am dedicating this staycation post to some festivals we've recently attended.

We hit Boise's Greek Food Festival at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church every year, and it keeps getting better and better. It's usually held the first weekend in June and is filled with yummy eats and Greek dancers. The lovely little church is open for tours, and the real highlight is the delicious trays of Greek cookies and baklava that you can buy in the church basement. They sell out fast, though, so it's imperative to go on Friday rather than Saturday.

Eagle Fun Days is also held in mid-June, and this was the first time we attended. While we didn't go to all the events offered (the Wet and Wild Parade does sound like a lot of fun), we did take advantage of the free family night at the rodeo. It was the preparatory "slack" event, sort of a practice run for the cowboys' and cowgirls' timed events. It was the first time Lucy had ever been to a rodeo, and while it wasn't as exciting or organized as a real rodeo performance, it was a fun, laid-back way to introduce her to the quintessential Idaho sport. The beer and sno-cones were cheap, and the girls got to hang on the fencing and see the animals up close and personal.

The highlight of our festival-going thus far this summer, however, was the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest in Weiser last weekend. I'm proud to say that I was born in Weiser, and it's always worth a staycation day, as it is less than 1.5 hours away from Boise. However, I highly recommend you go during Fiddle Week, which is always the third week in June. The history of the Fiddle Festival, which began in 1953, is a bit ambiguous and mythical, but I found a really compelling and nicely written little article about it's history here. The whole town gets a-hoppin', as there are carnival rides, bluegrass bands, local food booths, a parade, garage sales a-plenty, and a bike rodeo as well. The real magic, however, can be found as you wander around "the Institute" behind the high school, where the fiddlers make their camp and stage impromptu jam sessions all day and night. The official competitive rounds, featuring world-class fiddlers from around the world, are held at Weiser High School throughout the week. They culminate in the final round to award the Grand National Champion on Saturday night.

Eric and I were gifted stellar seats three rows from the stage (thanks, Aunt Terri!), and had a great view. In addition to the competitive round events, there were other wonderful musicians that entertained the sold-out audience that night, including these two, Mexican guitarist Miguel De Hoyos and fiddler Alex DePue, which absolutely knocked our socks off. I am not kidding you, people, these are amazing musicians. And, of course, watching the intensity and improvisation of the fiddling finalists, like this young fella from Corvallis, Oregon, was exciting. While the final competition lasted a little over four hours, we were completely enraptured by the live musical talent before us. (Plus, it was a real date! With no kids! And included a sushi dinner beforehand!)

It's been so fun experiencing the local flavor and history of these Idaho communities as a family and we have plans to continue throughout the summer. So, grab your kids or load up some friends and head to Emmett to pick some cherries, to the local synagogue to gnash on some kugel, to Blackfoot to hit the horse races at the fair, or to Fort Hall to celebrate the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. I guarantee it is a unique way to learn something new and have a helluva a good time in the process.

STAYCATION: Albertson Park + Ben's Crow Inn

While sometimes we have an entire day or weekend to devote to our staycations, often we only have a half day or so in between mowing the yard and doing laundry to relax and fool around. It's always nice to spend at least part of our weekend not tending to regular life duties and exploring what our local scene has to offer. I thought I'd share our little Sunday morning adventure as another alternative to a doable staycation on a budget. We also had my inlaws in town, so it is a nice way to share some local Boise haunts with visitors, too.

We started out getting iced coffees to go (a rare treat for Eric and I) and loaded the kids and the stroller in our Jeep. We headed to Kathryn Albertson Park near downtown Boise off of Americana Blvd. The weather was cool and perfect and there were very few people in the park. Albertson Park is known as a beautiful outdoor wedding venue (in fact, I married my father and his wife at the Eyrie shelter a few years back), but it is often overlooked as a lovely place to walk.

There are two miles of paved paths that weave you through a nature trail. The fresh smell and chirping birds are therapeutic, and truly make you feel like you are miles from the city. Wildlife abounds, as there are often deer in the park in early mornings or evenings and tons of geese. Just a few weeks ago there were baby ducks waddling all around. This time, we were thrilled to catch a family of turtles basking in the sun on rocks and got to see their tiny babies up close. Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures (the scenic shots I stole from here), but I did get this one of Alice taking in the gorgeous spread of pink water lilies.

Lucy really enjoyed collecting twigs, feathers, and pine cones for the fairy houses she builds in our backyard, and we enjoyed the leisurely walk with our family. Since there are no play structure and no bikes, rollerblades, or skateboards allowed in the park, the environment is more calm and natural than many of the other city parks.

After about 1.5 leisurely hours strolling the park, we were all hungry for some lunch. Since we'd never been there, we decided to make the journey out to Ben's Crow Inn.

Since it's WAY down Warm Springs Blvd. on your way to Lucky Peak, it makes for a great scenic drive for out of towners. You can either wind through downtown or around Boise State University and then lead them down the historic district of the biggest, loveliest homes in the city. You'll also pass the Old State Penitentiary, as well as the site of the Shakespeare Festival. Ben's Crow Inn is a great little dive bar to stop at after boating at Lucky Peak Reservoir, floating the Boise River at Barber Park, or biking along the Greenbelt (here's the entrance for bikers off the trail).

I'm sure the wood paneling, red retro Budweiser light fixtures, and jukebox may seem intimidating to parents, but rest assured this place is kid friendly, and they even have high chairs and a kids menu. The picnic tables out back and rolls of paper towels on the table also signified my kind of family dining. The place is known for their buckets of clams, so of course, we ordered the biggest one we could.

They served them in an old Jackpot, Nevada casino slot machine coin bucket (since I'm a fan, Barton's Club 93 to be exact), which made me even more excited. It was 3 1/2 lbs. of bliss. I've seriously never tasted clams so delicious before. $29.95 got us the clams, a side salad, and some french fries. In addition, we ordered some of their halibut fish and chips (also crispy and lovely) and, of course, a pitcher of beer. While the bill was a bit pricey for lunch, it was truly worth it. We're always up for exploring local hidden gems, so stay tuned for more mini staycation posts in the future.

STAYCATION pt. 3: Cleo's Ferry Museum + Nature Trail

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).
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.
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.

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.

STAYCATION pt. 2: Givens Hot Springs

After lunch at The Orchard House, we headed south on Highway 55 through the darling little town of Marsing, where we got onto Highway 78 for an afternoon of leisurely swimming at Givens Hot Springs. Founded 127 years ago, the site was settled by the Givens family, who were Oregon Trail pioneers. They created some private pools that became so popular, especially with miners who looked for the miracle waters to soothe their ailments, that the Givens' built a hotel in 1903. Unfortunately, the hotel burned down in 1939, but there is still a campground and the current poolhouse was built on the site in 1952.

We got to the pool around 1pm and paid the $19 for admission ($7 per adult, $5 per child, and babies swim free). The caretaker, who is a descendant of the Givens family, was very kind, and gave Lucy a quarter from the register and kept calling her "Two Bit." The poolhouse seems to be pretty much in its original 1950s condition (with a working telephone booth still out front, which was a pleasant surprise for me). The dressing rooms (complete with showers) and the pool were both clean and spacious. The pool water was warm and lovely, and there is a separate wading pool for little ones (you can see Eric, Lucy and Alice in it above). Fun floaty devices can be rented for minimal fees (we brought our own). There were only a few families with young children, so the atmosphere was pretty calm. After about 2 hours we decided to move on to our next adventure, and finished up our stay at Givens Hot Springs with 25cent Popsicles that we ate outside in their picnic area. A great time was had by all, and we felt like we were celebrating summer early!

STAYCATION pt. 1: The Orchard House

I thought it would be fun to post a series on this blog called "staycations," which is like a vacation, but without traveling too far away. For my purposes, I'm using the term staycation to represent short trips we take around Idaho, either for the day or the weekend. It's become a popular promotional tool for the tourist industry in these difficult economic times, trying to get people to explore leisure in their own backyard, so to speak. Staycations are always something my family has enjoyed - finding the quirky, unusual, and cheap adventures locally. This has become more imperative to us given our new financial situation. I really needed a change of scenery last week, so did some research. We had a great day trip staycation over the weekend, all within about an hour of our home, and I'll be posting about it in three parts this week.

We loaded up the Jeep Saturday morning around 11am and headed towards Nampa, where we got off on Hwy 55. It was a beautiful, sunny but chilly day, and we enjoyed driving through beautiful orchards and wine country. Soon after we passed Chicken Dinner Road (which Lucy thought was HILARIOUS), we ended up on Sunnyslope Road, in what is technically still Caldwell, Idaho, to have lunch at The Orchard House.

My dad had sent me an email about The Orchard House's cooking classes, and we'd heard they had recently been filmed for an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on The Food Network. Known best for their handmade finger steaks and onion rings, we were excited about having lunch there. Not only did they both live up to their reputation (the rings were gargantuan and yummy), but they were also inexpensive. The fingers and rings dinner was only $8.25. I had the BLT, which was also delicious, and was only $6.50.
The kids menu, however, was a highlight for us. They offered several kid friendly options, all which came with a fancy drink. Kids can choose from Jurassic Juice or the Teddy Bear Pool Party, which Lucy can't stop talking about. It consists of strawberry and vanilla soda, complete with gummi bears "swimming" around and basking on the lid. Overall, the location was lovely (we have to go back to sit outside on their bucolic patio once the weather warms up), the service friendly and quick, and the food excellent. If you're looking for an nice, locally-owned place to have lunch or dinner that's a bit off the beaten track, I recommend taking a drive to The Orchard House.