Friday, January 29, 2010

From Thai to trout: Idaho's Magic Valley

I took a road trip this week to the Magic Valley, where I lived my first 15 years in Idaho, from 1989 to 2004. The occasion (and highlight) was a Let's Talk About It program on Edward Abbey's classic book Desert Solitaire at the Kimberly Public Library, but I managed a few other stops.

Twin Falls is a commercial destination for a wide region, since it's the biggest city by far between Boise and Pocatello. Most people beat the path of least resistance to the retail center of Blue Lakes Boulevard and Pole Line Road, but downtown Twin Falls is a charming, walkable area where you can visit such locally owned businesses as Rudy's - A Cook's Paradise; see a first-run movie at the historic Orpheum Theater; browse at the Magic Valley Arts Council's Full Moon Gallery; and have some of the Northwest's best Thai food at Prasai's. The latter's original location at 428 2nd Ave. E. (a few blocks from the downtown core) is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Twin. Check out #52 - spinach, chicken, and peanut curry - on its wide menu for one of our state's best meals.

Driving into Kimberly on Thursday evening, I noticed that the lights were still on at The Quilt Barn on the small town's main drag. It turns out that tiny Kimberly has become something of a destination for quilters. (There was even a quilt show at the library.)

I stayed overnight at the Best Western Twin Falls, which used to be an Ameritel. I was most impressed here by the recliner in my room; by the half-dozen or so varieties of cookies set out in the evenings (I reluctantly chose just one); and by perhaps the best breakfast buffet I've seen at any chain motel, complete not just with hearty starters including waffles and biscuits and gravy but healthier fare such as peaches and cottage cheese. The scrambled eggs were good, too, especially with salsa.

I skipped I-84 for the first leg of my trip home on Friday morning, instead sticking to US Highway 30. After a stop at Filer Elementary School (where I accompanied the students on their 50-mile walk in May 2003 for an article for Parade magazine), I drove on into Buhl, also known as Trout Capital of America. Buhl's highlights include the Cosmic Jolt Cafe, Cloverleaf Creramery (in the former Smith's dairy store), and this fantastic piece of public art by Cindy Darnell installed in 2006 on the main corner downtown.

Twin Falls and the Magic Valley are a worthy overnight or weekend destination anytime of year, and they'll be even more so come spring and summer, when the roar of Shoshone Falls and festivals like the Snake River Canyon Jam give travelers extra incentives to visit.

Julie Fanselow is the author of several books including Idaho Off the Beaten Path, the most frequently updated guidebook to the Gem State.

Story and photos copyright 2010 by Julie Fanselow

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