It’s just over the border after all. Once you’ve run out of breweries to explore, there is still plenty to do in Southeastern Idaho, from small town zoos to delightfully strange museums to the minor-est of minor league baseball.
The Experimental Breeder Reactor-I is the world’s first nuclear reactor. In its operational day, it provided power to the first nuclear-powered town, nearby Arco, Idaho. Now a fully-curated museum, the facility gives tourists a good look at the guts of the place, with visitors allowed a fascinating chance to climb and duck and wander their way through a good-sized building that provides info on a very particular slice of US history. The facility’s located on Route 20, about an hour outside of Idaho Falls; though remote, highway signage is sufficient to get you to the location.
EBR-1, Arco, Idaho
Now here’s a real corker. In li’l Rigby, you’ll find a museum dedicated to the life and work of television’s pioneering visionary, Philo T. Farnsworth. But the actual space given over to the building’s namesake is minimal, with displays and exhibitions given over to him, but also to taxidermy, skiing, local horsemen, antique agriculture equipment and special exhibitions, like a quilt show that was literally being broken down as we arrived. Its other name, The Jefferson County Historical Museum, does better justice to this sprawling place, as a host of weird odds/ends of the region’s past are housed here. Special mention has to be given to many mannequins found throughout the space, each looking quirkier than the last. Did we mention the taxidermy? All these curiosities for the mere admission price of $4.
118 W 1st S, Rigby, Idaho
Gotta be honest: this one sounded like it could have some real snooze factor happenin’, but the reality is that the Idaho Potato Museum is loaded with fairly-interesting, well-curated and even entertaining micro-exhibits about the history and impact of the potato on agriculture. There’s a bit of whimsy (à la the well-represented Mr. Potato Head), but it’s mostly-straightforward in approach, not the least bit dull in making that choice. Best of all, you can get some fries or a stellar baked potato at the in-house cafe. This place was surely a bit of a surprise, found in the heart of tiny Blackfoot halfway between Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
130 NW Main St., Blackfoot, Idaho
A gentleman by the name of Don Aslett had a mission in life. And it wasn’t only to create a nationwide janitorial company, which he did, before turning his attention to the very-specific goal of curating a museum of cleaning products. Over several floors, Aslett’s sprawling collection includes a bit of everything, with an in-house cinema showing highlights from his dozens of appearances on network TV, where he preached his gospel of cleanliness. It’s weird and charming and well worth the modest admission. On a given day, you’ll also find Aslett, wandering through his collections, holding court with visitors. To say it again: charming; weird.
711 S. 2nd Ave., Pocatello, Idaho
On a day-to-day basis, the Museum of Idaho contains several exhibitions of hyper-regional interest, with natural history at the core of its standing, curated collections. Currently, the space also holds what’s clearly a touring exhibit, “Genghis Khan: Conquest & Culture.” It’s a big ol’ show and will take most of your attention as you wander through two floors of interpretive displays of Mongolian culture. While seeming to be a bit of a conceptual stretch for a small-town museum, a drive in any direction from Idaho Falls will take you through lands that may not differ all that much from Mongolia. So, yeah. Good job, curators!
200 N. Eastern Ave., Idaho Falls, Idaho
In full disclosure: on the day that we passed through Atomic City, the raceway was closed. And it’s in that state most days, save for about a dozen nights a summer when weekends are loud in this li’l town that once served as home to many of the workers at the EBR-1 facility. In fact, you can still find some of those workers (now handling tours, rather than radiation) at the Atomic City Bar, which is located directly across the street from the track. The bar is open and it’s a decent place to enjoy a cold, cheap beer, while getting the lowdown on this town’s history and the 40-odd residents who still call it home. Catching a race here would undoubtedly be a treat.
1769 N. 2650 West, Atomic City, Idaho
A member of the western states’ Pioneer League, the Chukars are an independent baseball team that’s served as something of a feeder for the Kansas City Royals’ system. The team’s 3,400 seat, single deck stadium is Melaleuca Field, located a few minutes from Idaho Falls’ lively downtown. As you’d expect, games here are typical of unaffiliated minor league action. There’s a lovable, shaggy mascot (Charlie Chukar). There’re sound effects and advertisements for a local autoglass company, heard with every foul ball leaving the park. Concessions are affordable and offense is the rule, with most of the team’s 2022 hitters batting over .300 and ERAs routinely 5.00 and above. America’s pastime in this environment is both pretty cheap and pretty fun. Just be careful that you don’t collide with a kid; they’re everywhere.
568 West Elva, Idaho Falls, Idaho
The self-titled “Best Little Zoo in the West” affects the displays and exhibitions of a larger zoo, with monkeys, tigers, kangaroos, penguins and other popular, plushie-ready animals. We’ll definitely say that the place smartly uses a literal river that runs through the zoo, while the place is generally well-shaded. Though we showed up with less than an hour of operation to spare, we were able to take in the whole facility. Some of the exhibitions have clearly been updated in recent years, while others could, quite frankly, be shuttered until later expansion (including the primate house which features a sad gibbon, one deserving of a better life). The overall feel here is family-friendly and the location, in a public park, gives it a relaxed feel.
2925 Rollandet St., Idaho Falls, Idaho
To its credit, this 1932 facility is under major construction, part of a long-term plan to revitalize the space. Already, some exhibits showcase an updated feel, with larger enclosures and a more-contemporary. A few, though… well, they look as if not much about them has changed in the 90-years since open, with large mammals like mountain lions and black bears found in spaces small enough to cause obvious agitation for the animals within. That said, the 25-acre park is seamlessly blended into a hillside and surrounding meadows, giving it a unique look-and-feel. And a shout-out to the zoo’s many, many marmots, local smarties who’ve figured out that they can eat and drink to their heart’s content, while milling in with official zoo residents like elk and bison. Clever li’l mammals!
2900 S. 2nd Ave., Pocatello, Idaho