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A day in the life of Twin Falls tourism

  • HEATHER KENNISON hkennison@magicvalley.com
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  • 7 min to read

TWIN FALLS — Pausing over a freshly made bed, Ana Vasquez blushed as she remembered an embarrassing moment of her job.

Vasquez, a housekeeper at Fairfield Inn & Suites, is used to cleaning up after visitors of all sorts. As people pour into Twin Falls’ new visitor center on the canyon rim, businesses are seeing more travelers this summer than in years past. On July 30, the Times-News spent a day getting a behind-the-scenes look at Twin Falls tourism.

As she moved almost automatically through her tasks that morning, Vasquez spoke only in Spanish. She recalled the morning that, while working through her room assignments, she approached the door to a honeymoon suite. She announced her presence with the standard knocking procedure. After several moments, no one answered.

She entered, prepared to begin cleaning up the rose petals strewn across the floor. The couple, however, was still in bed.

In humiliation, Vasquez exclaimed “Sorry!” and fled the room.

Fairfield General Manager Curtis Hansen laughed as he translated her tale from Spanish to English.

“If you don’t answer, it’s on you,” Hansen said, adding that a deadbolt on the door will prevent unwanted — or unheard — visitors from entering.

Vasquez didn’t encounter any guests in bed between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. July 30 as she completed two rooms — making beds, cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming floors.

While the parking lot was still largely full, the dining room downstairs was full of guests finishing their breakfasts in preparation for the day ahead.

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Twin Falls Tourism

BASE jumper Sam Barco puts on his parachute in front of the visitor center.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

11:30 a.m., BASE jumping at Perrine Bridge

Sherry Jasnos and Shelly Jones had a lot in common. They worked the same job — parachute rigging at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. — they lived three blocks from each other, and they were essentially identical.

But Jasnos’ twin didn’t share her BASE jumping hobby, though Jones helped prepare her packs for a two-day visit to the Perrine Bridge.

“I’m primarily here ‘cause I’m fairly new to the sport,” said Jasnos, 51.

She sat spread-legged on the visitor center lawn next to a picnic table, where her mother, Kay Jones of Utah, watched. The multi-generation family of skydivers came to Twin Falls to help Jasnos with transportation and “boo-boo patrol” during her BASE jumping venture.

“I would rather she didn’t, but I will support her in her choices,” Kay Jones said.

Despite a few seconds of rain earlier that morning, and clouds intermittently shading the sun, the weather held perfectly for Jasnos as she made her first jump of the day just before noon. In fact, she was surprised — but thankful — at the lack of other jumpers on the bridge. The previous night, she’d waited for several others before her turn came.

Twin Falls, Jasnos said, is welcoming to the BASE jumpers attracted by the Perrine Bridge.

“This, for a town, is quite unique,” she said.

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Twin Falls Tourism

Tourists take pictures from a scenic overlook July 30 at Shoshone Falls.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

1 p.m., Shoshone Falls

It may be a low-water time of year for Shoshone Falls, but that didn’t stop a steady stream of sightseers making their way down to the observation areas. Around noon, several groups were capturing that quintessential family photo in front of the waterfall.

Golden Barlow, 35, was among them, passing through from Orem, Utah, with his family after visiting Boise and Rexburg. Shoshone Falls was on his to-see list.

“When I was a little kid, my parents came up here,” he said.

Barlow didn’t get to go with them but remembered a souvenir they bought: a large pencil with Shoshone Falls and other Idaho icons printed on it. The pencil, eventually lost, was just a memory.

But on his last day in Idaho, Barlow found a similar pencil at the Shoshone Falls concessions stand. He said he didn’t know whether he would buy it but would talk to his wife.

Lucy Murphy, 15, a Twin Falls High School student working the concessions during the summer, said popular memorabilia tend to be shot glasses, globes containing Idaho gold and silver, postcards and magnets.

2 p.m., Rock Creek

RV Park

It was the place they didn’t mean to fall in love with.

For Wyatt Horton, 19, and Whitney Kenner, 20, of Salt Lake City, Twin Falls was meant to be a pit stop on the way to the Shoshone Ice Caves. But a sign on the road and a “little lady at the motel,” Kenner said, changed their plans.

It was midafternoon when the couple sat below the drooping branches of a tree at Rock Creek RV Park. A woven picnic basket held goodies, including two glasses with sparkling apple cider. While other, more boisterous parties, took place nearby at either end of the park, this young couple was enjoying a moment of quiet togetherness before leaving town.

“There’s a lot of cute things here,” Kenner said. “There’s a lot more here than I’d thought there’d be.”

The pair had been to Shoshone Falls, Centennial Waterfront Park and Norm’s Cafe. They had also gone north to the ice caves for a day and purchased the picnic basket in a Shoshone antique shop. They decided to spend most of their planned vacation in Twin Falls after talking to a woman at Park Motel who made them dinner one night and coffee the next morning.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment idea,” Horton said.

While the romantic getaway was about to end that afternoon, both knew they wanted to come back someday.

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Twin Falls Tourism

AWOL Adventure Sports co-owner Paul Melni carries a kayak down to the water for a customer July 30 at Centennial Waterfront Park. The business has 50 boats to rent out.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

3 p.m., Centennial Waterfront Park

Down in the Snake River Canyon, near the pavilion at Centennial Waterfront Park, Shelly Jones waited at lunchtime for her twin to hike up the path from her landing site. While she waited, Jones chatted with a couple of other BASE jumpers.

Mary Goetsch of Wisconsin agreed the Perrine Bridge is an excellent training aid for jumpers.

“It’s a bridge, and you can throw inexperienced people off it without killing them,” she said.

Goetsch and her friend Nick Harner planned to call a boat for transportation after their jumps instead of hiking to the park. Meanwhile, another type of watercraft was already making its way smoothly upstream: kayaks.

By 3 p.m. that afternoon, A Way of Life Adventure Sports co-owner Krysta Melni had sent several families on their way. July 30 was the completion of a week full of bookings that included parties celebrating family reunions and a quinceanera.

The business won its first annual contract with Twin Falls County and may renew the contract for the next four years. Already, Melni said, she would love to discuss the possibility of increasing her watercraft limit in future years.

While AWOL may have only 50 kayaks, paddleboards and canoes out on the water at a time, co-owner Paul Melni said, it was doing close to 200 rentals a day on weekends this summer, as each craft went out multiple times.

“It was a leap of faith to jump into this thing with both feet, and have enough to pay the bills in the winter,” he said.

County Parks and Waterways Director Rick Novacek said AWOL’s contract for next year will be under discussion as early as December. He did not foresee AWOL requesting an increase to the watercraft limit, but said it wasn’t out of the question. The 50-craft limit was set by an advisory board, based on heavy use of private boat launching in that part of the Snake River.

On this hot afternoon, all of AWOL’s kayaks and most of its paddleboards were rented out, as the public boat ramp was abuzz with comings and goings. But then, so was much of Twin Falls.

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Twin Falls Tourism

Don Harr, a volunteer at Twin Falls’ visitor center, sells vials of gold dust to tourists July 30.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

4:30 p.m., visitor center

Around 4:30 p.m., three buses waited outside the Twin Falls Visitor Center. Inside, people waited in a queue before the cash register.

“We’re the gateway to Yellowstone, and we’re their potty stop,” visitor center coordinator Judy Harr said.

In June alone, 84 buses stopped at the visitor center carrying passengers from mainland China, Poland, Switzerland and San Francisco.

“Our season started 30 days early,” Harr said.

While many of the young visitors speak English, most in the older crowd do not, she said. The visitor center has recruited the assistance of tour bus drivers to post signs in their own languages.

Harr installed Mandarin signs in bathrooms asking visitors to flush toilet paper. Bus visitors were throwing away used toilet paper, a cultural norm in China due to plumbing, and that created problems for visitor center staff doing bathroom cleanup.

A local woman complained that the signs are not in English as well, Harr said; she suggested the woman may be responsible for the signs’ repeated disappearance from the women’s bathroom.

Most tour groups are on a tight schedule, but the buses typically stay for 20 to 30 minutes — longer if there are BASE jumpers outside.

“They just ooh and ah over this canyon,” Harr said.

Just to the side of the main doors, a strategically placed merchandise table staffed by volunteer Don Harr displayed globes containing flakes of gold and silver from northern Idaho. These, Judy Harr said, are the most popular souvenirs for Chinese tourists.

On July 30, about 100 people from the buses meandered through the visitor center in search of bathrooms or small treasures to bring home.

“The place is very beautiful,” said Jiachen Guo of China, just before she hurried off to get on the bus. Guo, who was going to Yellowstone National Park the next day, said this was her first time in America.

The tour buses are a major source of revenue for the visitor center and contribute to the purchase of locally made products.

“We’ve had as many as four or five buses at a time,” Judy Harr said. “This is gonna be our biggest year ever.”

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Twin Falls Tourism

Tourists can add pins to this map at Twin Falls’ visitor center to show where they’re from.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

6 p.m., Garden

Grille & Bar

The evening started quietly in the softly lit restaurant at Hilton Garden Inn. Guests were seated at several tables around the room, but against one wall a solitary man sat at the bar, playing FreeCell on a tablet. Most of a glass of Idaho-brewed beer remained on the bar to his left.

Tom Onstot of Cascade was settling down for the night, licking his wounds from a harsh sporting clays tournament in Burley.

“It was a great course,” he said. “It owned me.”

Meanwhile, at a nearby table a group of old friends socialized over dinner. Patrick Penninckx of France sat across from his wife, Winny, who talked about her recent shopping trip. Linn and Ila Capps sat next to them, with Karrie Hornbacher at the end.

Patrick Penninckx, who now heads the Department of Information Society of the Council of Europe, met the Cappses 38 years ago, when he was an exchange student from Belgium in Utah for six months. His host parents returned to their Idaho roots to retire.

Penninckx and his wife have visited the couple several times, but this trip to the U.S. was a bit longer and included visits to see the Hansen Bridge, the Twin Falls power plant, Pillar Falls, Balanced Rock and Centennial Waterfront Park. The French couple planned to go to the Methodist church on Sunday with “Mom and Dad” for the experience.

While the Penninckxes weren’t staying at the Hilton, they came there for dinner to try out the hamburgers in a less busy, laid-back atmosphere.

“We get a lot of vacationers, or people who are BASE jumping off the bridge,” said Michael Rutten, front desk guest service agent.

Dave Hornbacher, the general manager, said his business is working to incorporate more of a local flavor into the bar and restaurant, featuring local wines and regional draft beers and hiring College of Southern Idaho graduates.

“People want to see what is special about Twin Falls,” he said. “The entire Twin Falls industry is up this year.”

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