“My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with”
State 18: Idaho - October 6, 2017
We woke up in a Walmart in Butte, MT after a cold crisp night sleep. After taking 3 days off the road to relax, we were off for a long 200-mile drive South to enter the 18th state on our cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home Idaho: Famous Potatoes. Thank you for the news flash captain obvious! Hey Idaho, how about telling us something about your state everyone doesn’t already know? There must be more to Idaho than just potatoes! At the very least, they could have come up with a more creative potato reference such as: Idaho: One potato; Two potato, or Idaho: This spuds for you! Nevertheless, Lori and I have been craving a loaded veggie baked potato for weeks, and clearly we have come to the right state. We look forward to discovering more than just “Famous Potatoes” during our week in Idaho.
Upon arriving at Rexburg, ID, we headed to the Museum of Rexburg to view the Cross Country Couple's “Historic Location” for Idaho “The Teton Dam Failure”. The Teton Dam was an earthen dam located just outside of Newdale, ID, On June 5, 1976, The dam suffered a catastrophic failure sending an 80 billion gallon wall of water over 15 feet high rushing 100 miles downstream destroying everything in thing in its path. The towns Wilford and Sugar City were wiped from the face of the earth, and the towns of Hibbard and Rexburg suffered severe damage to 80 percent of existing structures.
Towns further downstream from the dam such as Idaho Falls, had 24 hours’ notice before the water reached the town. In what would come to become known as Sandbag Sunday, every business and church in Idaho Falls closed, and all of the city's residents spent the entire day filling thousands of sandbags. In the afternoon when they ran out of sandbags, they filled Idaho potato burlap sacks until the early hours of the following morning. Soon thereafter, the wall of water over 5 feet high reached Idaho Falls. The sandbag and potato sack levy's held, and Idaho Falls was spared from destruction. This is the most inspirational story we have ever heard thus far about of a community coming together to save their town!
When the flood waters reached American Falls Dam located downstream, it withheld the flowing water ending the tragedy. The Teton Dam’s collapse resulted in the 11 deaths, and 13,000 heads of cattle perished. Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed, and tens of thousands of acres of farmland were stripped of topsoil. Total property damages were estimated in excess of $2 billion dollars! Within a week after the disaster, President Ford allocated $200 million for initial payments for damages. Although most of the evidence of the dam’s failure washed away, it is believed water leakage through dam’s earthen wall, and not enough sealant used on the porous rock on the canyon walls lead to the catastrophic failure. The dam has not been rebuilt, and there currently no plans to do so.
On the morning of Saturday, June 5,1976, Daryl Grigg, and his friend David Benson were fishing on a small island beneath the Teton Dam, which was a place they had fished many times prior. Suddenly, Grigg looked up, and saw a 30-foot-tall wall of water crashing down the canyon. He jumped into the river to swim toward the shore, but the force of the raging torrent was too powerful! Grigg grabbed a log to stay afloat, and his log smashed into another breaking 5 of his ribs and puncturing a lung. As he floated down river for 3 miles, he saw entire homes drift by, and heard the desperate cries of drowning cattle. In spite of his injuries, Grigg somehow found the strength to climb a tree, and was rescued by friends in a boat after spending four hours in the tree. His friend David Benson wasn’t so lucky, and his body was later found about a quarter-mile away from the dam.
The stories of Daryl Grigg and David Benson were just two of the many heroic and tragic stories Curators Alee and Alicia shared during our visit to the Museum of Rexburg. The Museum of Rexburg opened its doors in 1983 in the basement of the Rexburg Tabernacle. In addition, the museum features the exhibits pertaining to the history of Rexburg, audio visual presentations, and a small gift shop. The museum features a guided tour of an actual 1’ to 1000’ scale display of the completed Teton Dam, listed timeline of events leading to it's failure, a display case containing artifacts from the flood, and 1970’s documentary on the dam's failure. Please see the pictures below.
Below are actual pictures on display at the museum of the Teton Dam failure, the flood, and the recovery.
I found a church basement an unusual location for a museum, but our guide provided a fascinating explanation. Alee explained the church was flooded when the dam failed, and the exact location we were standing in was once underwater. There is a metal plaque on the stairwell of the church to depict the height of the water. The church required $70,000 in repairs, and the community successfully raised $35,000. The remaining $35,000 came from a grant from the US government, with the stipulation a Flood Museum be housed in the basement of the Church. This was the first museum we have visited on our cross country trip, which was actually a part of the event it commemorates! Please see the pictures below!
After departing the museum, we drove 14 miles Northeast to Newdale to view the ruins of the Teton Dam. Viewing the dam’s ruins was a powerful experience, and even though decades have elapsed since the dam failure, you could tell that something catastrophic had occurred. Seeing the height of the remaining part of the dam, really puts into perspective the massive amount of water which ravaged the countryside. Although only the right side of the dam failed, the left side of the dam was removed after the failure to help determine a cause. Today, all that remains if the Teton Dam is the center. Please see the pictures below.
After departing the ruins of the Teton Dam, I received a disturbing voice message on our phone. For our “Made in the USA” factory tour in Idaho, we were going to tour a potato farm in Black Foot, ID. However, the farm we were going to visit cancelled on us. To make matters worse, we could not find another potato farm to tour on such short notice. We were in Idaho, and no matter what, we were going to see a potato farm DAMMIT! (Sorry, no offense to the flood victims) However, we did have one thing going for us. We were in Idaho in October, which happens to be potato harvest time. We decided to do some freestyle exploration, and drive around until we found a potato farmer willing to show us around. After all we are in Idaho, so how hard can it be? Would you know, as soon as those words came out of my mouth, we saw a potato farmer and his equipment set up right along the roadway. I told Nate to pull over, and I jumped out of Rosie to talk to the farmer. With a grunt and a nod, I understood that the farmer meant that he had no time to give us a tour, but we had permission take pictures of his operations and his crew working. Please see the pictures below.
We still felt as if we had an incomplete understanding of potato farming. A quick google search revealed there was an Idaho Potato Museum located in Blackfoot, which was the exact town of the cancelled potato farm tour. We plugged in the address into Michelle, our GPS, and drove 67 miles Southwest. The Idaho Potato Museum is currently housed in the building, which once held Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot. Some of the local residents initially questioned "Why would tourists travel to Idaho to visit a potato museum?" Well, they were wrong! Since the museum's opening in 1988, tens of thousands of people have come to Idaho from all over the world to visit the Idaho Potato Museum including the Cross Country Couple! Upon our arrival at the Idaho Potato Museum, we paid our admission of $4.00 per person. From marketing, to cultivation, to history of the potato, the museum featured everything you could ever want or need to know about the potato! I am going to highlight a few of the displays we found of particular interest.
What could be a more appropriate home for the world’s largest potato chip than the Idaho Potato Museum. Made by Pringles in 1991, measuring 25 inches long, 14 inches wide, weighing in at 1/3 of a pound and with a circumference larger than a typical pizza, the world’s largest potato chip will certainly clog your arteries. The potato chip to end all potato chips is housed in its own prestigious display case, and is centerpiece of the museum collection. Please see the pictures below of this culinary achievement, and testament to Idaho’s number one crop!
Also on display were 2 tributes to our country’s 44th Vice President; Dan Quayle. As many may remember, on June 15, 1992 at a Muñoz Rivera Elementary School spelling bee, Quayle misspelled the word potato as “potatoe” and was corrected by 12-year-old student William Figueroa's. Quayle received widespread criticism for his error, and even dedicated an entire chapter in his autobiography to the misspelling. Even the Idaho Governor; Cecil Andrus got in on the action. Andrus sent Quayle a letter playfully poking fun of his misspelling of potato, which is on display in the museum. My favorite excerpt from the letter is “You can spell potato anyway you wish, so long as it is an Idaho potato you are eating”. The Idahoan Governor ended the letter with the following. “P.S. Idaho does not end in “e” either. A few years later, the host of a California Radio Show attended a book signing for Dan Quayle’s autobiography. The Radio Host waited in a very long line for Quayle’s autograph. When it was finally his turn, instead of handing Quayle a copy of his book to sign, he instead pulled a potato out of his pocket and handed it to the former VP. Apparently, Quayle was a good sport and signed the potato with a chuckle. Today that very potato was on display in the Idaho Potato museum. Please see the pictures below.
The museum displays also included a Mr. Potato Head tribute, a massive collection of potato mashers, and a collection of agricultural equipment related to the harvest and cultivation of the potatoes. The most memorable display was a walk-in potato cellar where potato puppets sang opera songs about the potato. LOL! This was the funniest thing I had seen on our cross country trip! Please see the pictures below.
At the far end of the museum, is a snack bar which features potato fudge, potato ice cream, potato cookies, and a fully stocked potato bar. After spending 2 hours at the museum, I had a hankering for a potato like you would not believe, but unfortunately the snack bar was closed during our visit. In addition to being home to the world’s largest potato chip, the Idaho Potato Museum is home to the World’s Largest Man Made Potato! In celebration of the Idaho Potato Commission's 75th anniversary, a 12,000 pound, 12 feet wide, potato was constructed, which is the equivalent to 32,346 medium-sized potatoes! If that feat was not impressive enough, the supersized spud, was loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck and driven all across the US in what has been hailed as the Famous Idaho Potato Tour. The truck hauled the 6-ton potato across the US for 7 months to raise money and awareness for Meals on Wheels. The Famous Idaho Potato tour may be the greatest thing to happen to the potato since the hash brown! After the potato’s cross country tour was completed in 2012, the supersized potato, was placed directly in front of the Idaho Potato Museum. We found it funny this massive potato was more well-traveled than the Cross Country Couple. Please see the pictures below of world’s largest man-made potato!
No sooner than we pulled out of the potato museum parking lot, we found ourselves stuck at a very long train crossing. We have seen plenty of trains hauling coal, and gravel on our cross country trip. To our surprise, the train in front of us was hauling 47 cars of loose potatoes. It was quite the sight to be seen!
After departing the Idaho Potato Museum, we drove 204 miles West to Mountain Home, ID to spend the next 4 days visiting my Cousin Stephen, and his family. I haven’t seen them in over 25 years, because they live so far away from my home state of Connecticut. I am very excited to reconnect with them! Family and travel are both very important to me, and I have the privilege of enjoying both simultaneously over the coming days.