There’s nothing like hitting the open road and traveling to places you’ve never been — unless it’s slowing down for a deeper look at a place you thought you knew.
In late August, a colleague and I set out on a U.S. 93 road trip from Jackpot, Nev., to the Montana border.
One thing I discovered: People need to explore what’s in their own backyards. Many of the interesting sights in the towns along our route are not often explored by locals. Travelers from across the world are the biggest visitors.
But first, a little highway history.
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Until the mid-1920s, the nation’s main interstate roads carried names such as Lincoln Highway, Meridian Highway, National Old Trails Road, Pacific Highway and Yellowstone Trails. The names were applied by private booster groups, each acting as a “chamber of commerce” for its route.
With traffic increasing in the 1920s, highway officials replaced these names with a new, uniform method; the U.S. numbered highway system was created in October 1925.
North-south routes were given odd numbers, with the main routes ending in 1 and shorter multistate routes ending in 5. Other routes were fit within the resulting grid. The original plan didn’t employ 93, but U.S. 93 was included the next year.
In Idaho, U.S. 93 stretches 340.8 miles from the Nevada line to the Montana border at Lost Trail Pass.
Photographer Drew Nash and I started our road trip in Jackpot, Nev., on Aug. 18, with the goal of stopping at tourist attractions, signs and museums and visiting with fellow travelers. We ended Aug. 20 at Lost Trail Pass.
Mile 0: Broke My Losing Streak
I’ve been to Jackpot a few times to gamble, and I like playing the slot machines. It’s always smoky, crowded and a good place to win or lose some money. I’ve always walked away a little poorer, but that’s the fun of gambling: You never know.
Drew and I pulled into Jackpot at about 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Cactus Petes Resort Casino was empty except for a few elderly gamblers. It was eerie not to hear chatter and the chiming of machines. A woman wearing a tan cap played a machine that looked to be hitting, as glittery green dollar signs rolled to the front. A family of three from California pulled their suitcases out the door toward a small white car.
When Idaho outlawed all forms of casino gaming in 1954, Pete “Cactus Pete” Piersanti and Don French moved their slot machine operations from Idaho to Nevada.
Piersanti first opened a slots place in Contact, Nev., and called it Cactus Petes. Contact, about 15 1/2 miles south of Jackpot on U.S. 93, was one of the closest Nevada cities to Idaho. It preceded Jackpot’s 1954 founding. To get full gaming other than slots, the two men had to have an incorporated city, so Piersanti joined with French’s Horseshu Club to incorporate the town of Jackpot. Piersanti is credited with founding Jackpot and naming it.
Cactus Petes management took over the Horseshu in 1964 to form what would eventually become Ameristar Casinos. Today, the Ameristar holdings, as well as the independent Barton’s Club 93 and the Four Jacks Casino, form the basis of the town’s economy.
On this visit, I did something for the first time: walked away with a $5 win still in my hand. I had more road to travel.
Mile 3: Invasive Species
About three miles north of Jackpot, a trailer sat on the right side of the road. Anyone pulling a motorized or nonmotorized watercraft had to stop.
Drew and I didn’t have a boat, but we pulled over to chat with the two men inside. August is the slowest time, and so far that day they’d inspected only two boats. This check station was to close Sept. 27 — one of the latest fishing season closures in Idaho.
At stations around the state, from late February through the Labor Day weekend, Idaho State Department of Agriculture inspected boats for invasive species and aquatic weeds. Most stations were along roads and highways near state borders, with some at boat ramps. Inspections target boats entering Idaho that may have been in infested waters such as the lower Colorado River, which has heavy infestations of quagga and zebra mussels.
“We do, fortunately, have Internet and a television,” said Jim Olsen, one of two inspectors at the U.S. 93 site. “We do have air conditioning as long as the doors and windows are open.”
Olsen lives in Twin Falls, gets to work at 7 a.m. and leaves at 7 p.m.
This season, more than 60,000 watercraft were inspected statewide and 22 vessels were identified as carrying quagga or zebra mussels. At this station, 1,341 boats were inspected and one carried quagga mussels, said Kali Sherrill, superintendent of Twin Falls County Weed Control.
Mile 11.2: Irrigation and Irony
It might be tempting to put the pedal to the floor, but there is a lot of history along U.S. 93 north of Jackpot. The “Salmon Dam” sign is a good example.
The cracked and weathered sign says dam construction started in 1910. Salmon Falls Dam, about eight miles west of the sign, was an early irrigation structure. It stands 220 feet high and blocks a narrow lava gorge of Salmon Falls Creek.
The dam was intended to create a large reservoir to irrigate desert lands north of here — but it didn’t do a good job of keeping the water. The lava canyon walls let water escape around it. Also slowed by the lack of rainfall in Nevada’s desert, Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir didn’t fill until 1984.
Today, the reservoir is a popular all-year recreation area where anglers catch brown trout, yellow perch, black crappie, channel catfish, smallmouth bass and walleye.
The interpretive sign was surrounded by trash when we stopped Aug. 18: plastic lids from fountain drinks, beer bottles, a blown tire, a balled-up diaper and a Burger King wrapper. Ironically, it’s less than 10 miles from an “Idaho is too great to litter” sign.
Mile 18: Water and Walleye
If you feel parched on your U.S. 93 drive, you’re in luck. Rogerson’s only gas station, built in 1967, is owned by siblings Robert Noh and Anita Young. The town is also home to the best-tasting water in the state.
In 2014, Rogerson — which has a population of 75 people and 33 water connections — won the annual award at the Idaho Rural Water Association’s state conference. The winning sample was taken from a tap at the gas station and hauled in plastic jugs to the Boise conference.
Noh, who grew up in Filer and Hollister, said a majority of visitors are snowbirds heading south. That day, the nearby RV park had 23 visitors and permanent residents.
“I have nothing to compare it to. It’s a good place. All my family lives here,” he said.
Noh handed us paper cups of water to test. He was right: It was some good-tasting water. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was from a bottle.
The Walleye Hall of Fame is inside the convenience store, where you can buy tackle, pick up a loaf of bread or eat at the attached restaurant, Helen’s Place. Record holders include Randy “Willie Walleye” Williamson of Filer, whose walleye weighed in at 12 pounds 4 ounces on July 13, 1987, and David Forsyth of Chubbuck, with his catch of 13 pounds 5 ounces on July 17, 1987.
Mile 24: Mystery Solved
On my few trips to Jackpot, I never stopped at Jerry Lee Young’s Idaho Heritage Museum in Hollister — but always wondered what was inside. Drew and I were blown away by what we found. The museum is home to one of the largest private collections of Native American artifacts and wildlife, owned by Magic Valley resident Jerry Lee Young.
A massive display includes more than 300 mounted game animals, birds and fish. There are more than 12,000 artifacts and a Winchester rifle collection. The 7,000-square-feet building was opened in 1987.
I first met Young during a youth duck hunting trip in 2012 held by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Young, originally from Miami, Okla., is a member of the Cherokee and Delaware tribes. Sent to live with his grandparents in Shoshone, he was only 4 when he rode the train to Idaho. Now 66, Young began collecting artifacts and relics when his uncle took him arrowhead hunting when he was 7.
“My parents didn’t want me to be a coal miner,” he said.
Instead, Young grew up to be a collector of artifacts and an international hunting guide.
Celebrities on their way to perform in Jackpot often stop in. Famous visitors have included William Lee of the Oak Ridge Boys, Bobby Vee, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Herman’s Hermits. Other visitors include tourists on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Since March, visitors from 40 states and 19 countries have signed the museum’s guestbook. Because I’m a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe from Wyoming, Young let me sign a “special” guestbook for his Native American visitors.
Be sure to check out a display of wallets and knife holders made from beaver tails. Young said all the beadwork inside the building is from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
Mile 41: Twin Falls Alternate Route
The primary route of U.S. 93 through Twin Falls shifted in 2011 following construction of the Twin Falls Alternate Route. Prior to this, U.S. 93 came north from Nevada, hit the junction with U.S. 30 between Filer and Twin Falls, went east into Twin Falls along Addison Avenue, and turned north on Blue Lakes Boulevard to leave town.
Though it’s not part of today’s U.S. 93, you might want to take this small detour.
About three miles west of Twin Falls, where the railroad tracks cross U.S. 30, is an intersection known as Curry Crossing. Years ago the town of Curry flourished here, but now all that remains of the original town is the 1914 Union School building, housing the Twin Falls County Historical Museum.
Mile 43: Marilyn Monroe and the Potato Sack Dress
Inside the Twin Falls County Historical Museum you can find photographs and items from the town’s early days. One image that caught my attention was a photo illustration of Marilyn Monroe wearing a potato sack dress in front of Shoshone Falls.
I never saw this image before our road trip. But by the end of the first day I had seen it three times: at Young’s museum in Hollister, at the historical museum and at the Twin Falls Visitor Center on the edge of the Snake River Canyon, where Drew and I stopped to say hello to Shawn Barigar, president of the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. In his office, Barigar had a framed copy of the illustration and the following write-up.
The story goes that a columnist in 1951 said Monroe had such a stunning figure that she would look good wearing a potato sack. Her publicity agent had a dress made from a burlap sack obtained at a local produce market. The bag had been packed at Long Produce in Twin Falls and displayed the Idaho identification and Long’s Sawtooth brand. The Longs thanked Monroe for the publicity, and she sent them a signed photograph.
Long Produce Co. ceased business in the 1950s, and the photograph disappeared. A print of the original was found at a garage sale in Minneapolis and purchased by a Union Pacific Railroad executive who presented the Idaho Grower Shippers Association with two copies for its use. The Idaho Potato Commission created a poster using the famous photograph.
Mile 50: Just Awesome
The Perrine Bridge is named after Twin Falls founder I.B. Perrine. It is 486 feet above the Snake River, about 1,500 feet long and known worldwide as the only man-made structure in the U.S. where BASE jumping is allowed year-round without a permit.
Jonathan Dionne of Montreal was in Twin Falls on Aug. 18 to jump off the Perrine Bridge. It was too windy for Dionne, but he stood at the lava rock wall watching others leap over the side.
“Two people were more sure than us,” he said.
Dionne, who flew into Boise and drove straight to Twin Falls, hadn’t seen much of the town besides the bridge. He planned to stay for a week.
“It’s all about the bridge,” he said. “It’s the perfect place to learn.”
He didn’t tell his mother why he traveled to Idaho. He’d tell her when he returned.
Donna Mole, from Miami, drove across the Perrine Bridge in her Mercedes convertible. She stood at the rim taking photos with her phone and, with Drew’s help, learned how to take a panoramic photo.
After a horseback vacation in Montana, Mole was in Jerome visiting friends. They told her to go to Twin Falls because it’s a big town, but they failed to tell her about the Snake River Canyon. Mole was awestruck as she stood at an overlook watching BASE jumpers leap from the bridge and float to the bottom of the canyon.
“I am just fascinated by this place,” she said.
Mile 51.5: Emigrant Road
A few miles outside of Twin Falls, a sign marks Emigrant Road. With my mind on our next destination, I didn’t think of stopping so soon after the Perrine Bridge. But Drew pulled over.
The reward was an interesting tale: More than a century ago, fur trappers and emigrants followed a trail used by Native Americans that crossed here on its way to Oregon. Hudson’s Bay Co. traders preferred this route between Fort Hall and Fort Boise, but early emigrant wagons had to travel a road south of the Snake River until ferries and road improvements let wagons come this way.
Shoshone Falls, known as Canadian Falls to British and French trappers until 1849, was an attraction on the Emigrant Road.
Unnerved by semis whizzing by, I was glad to get back in the car.
Mile 73: Train Town
As we pulled into Shoshone, I bragged to Drew that I once traveled by train from Shoshone to Gooding. This was in 2012 when Shoshone was inducted as one of three Idaho cities on Union Pacific’s “Train Town USA” registry. Shoshone joined Boise and Pocatello on the registry, marking Union Pacific’s 150th anniversary. I wrote a story about the induction and rode the train as part of the celebration.
Drew and I stopped by the old train depot that once announced to new arrivals they were in Shoshone, elevation 3,969.
In Shoshone, known as south-central Idaho’s rail center since 1882, branch rail lines to the Wood River Valley and Camas Prairie served distant farmers and miners, while a stage line to Shoshone Falls accommodated wealthy tourists who visited Idaho. Vast sheep-grazing lands made this a major early center for Basque herders.
By the turn of the 20th century, Shoshone was a major railhead for sheepherders and for bootlegging in the 1920s and ’30s. In the 1940s the trains brought celebrities here to vacation and hunt, sent off soldiers to war and brought in visiting relatives from the East Coast. These days, the trains through Shoshone carry only freight, not passengers.
Shoshone is one of the few Idaho towns where lava rock buildings can be found. Lava rock cannot be cut and must be assembled in irregular shapes.
At the Lincoln County Historical Museum — 112 W. B St., across from the county courthouse — you can learn more about this train town.
Mile 73.6: A Shifted Route Begins
U.S. 93’s Twin Falls route wasn’t the only one to change over the years. The highway from Shoshone to Challis was redesignated in February 1997. The primary route of U.S. 93 followed the original Sawtooth Park Highway north from Twin Falls through Shoshone and the Wood River Valley, over Galena Summit, to Stanley and to Challis — the current route of Idaho 75.
Why did U.S. 93 shift from that route to the current one? Nathan Jerke, an Idaho Transportation Department public information specialist, named three reasons.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established in 1972 with U.S. 93 as the primary route into the area. However, with the designation came some restrictions for alterations to the natural, scenic values for which the SNRA was created. This would have increased the difficulty to complete major alterations to the highway.
There was also a push at the time to begin major realignment and reconstruction of the highway through the Wood River Valley. This effort was meeting substantial resistance from community members.
And third: A large portion of truck and through traffic had begun using the U.S. 93 Alternate route through Arco as it was generally more flat and straight.
Mile 165.9: Funny Numbers
Why do the mileposts along U.S. show an abrupt jump here? That 1970s rerouting is to blame.
For convenience, the new Idaho 75 retained the mileposts of the old U.S. 93, so Idaho 75 starts in Shoshone with milepost 73.659 at the intersection with U.S. 93/26 just north of the railroad tracks.
“There was no significant reason to start at 1 since mileposts are generally used only as a location-referencing tool,” Jerke said.
The rerouted U.S. 93, which overlapped U.S. 26 between Shoshone and Carey and overlapped U.S. 20/26 between Carey and Arco, retained the mileposts on those highways. So U.S. 93 at Shoshone shifts from milepost 73.659 to 165.95.
There is another shift in mileposts in the middle of Arco as U.S. 20/26 turns southeast toward Idaho National Labratory and U.S. 93 turns north. The milepost there is 82.6 — perhaps because Arco is about 82 miles from Pocatello.
“It must be from the original mileposting of the Idaho/Montana highway between those locations in the 1920s, but I don’t have any reference for that,” Jerke said.
The route between Arco and Challis has been referred to as U.S. 93 Alternate since at least the 1950s. The mileposts then return to the original numbering at the Idaho 75 junction south of Challis from 160.382 to 244.325. The mileposts continue without alteration until the Montana border at 350.819.
Mile 201: An Important Stopover
There aren’t many rest areas along U.S. 93. When we stopped at the Carey Lake Wildlife Management Area outside Carey, I was surprised to find a bathroom here. It’s also a nice place to stretch your legs.
Carey Lake WMA is a shallow 400-acre lake and marsh. Besides providing an important stopover for people, it is also one for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, a place for breeding and rearing their young. Mallard, northern pintail, green-winged teal and cinnamon teal are a few of the species you can find here.
A wooden box near the small lake’s shores holds a visitor sign-in book. The last who signed before us was a party of two from Boise, who came five days earlier to fish. Other visitors from Carey and Texas were fishing and “just observing.”
Leaving the waterfowl paradise, we were about to embark on an unfamiliar stretch of road.
One of the next big stops would be Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. We knew we were getting close because gnarled black rocks started to appear on both sides of the road. The last time I visited that otherworldly landscape was two years ago; Drew was only a child at his last visit, so he didn’t remember much. And neither of us had really explored the places north of that popular tourist attraction.
As the tires gripped asphalt, we were about to rediscover — and discover for the first time — what lay north.