For your first authentic slice-of-history Pocatello experience, try this: Drive into the city. Take a leisurely spin among the tidy shops and faded brick buildings of Old Town. When you hit Benton Street, turn east and cross the thick ribbon of railroad tracks. At Fourth Avenue, turn south. Go past the Rite Aid and Ross Park until you see the highway. Now hop on it and leave the city behind. After all, getting in and out of the area quickly is essentially what pioneers, gold seekers, and others have done for most of the last 200 years.
So do it, drive in and then out of town. Then head back and take a good look around. All that coming and going over the years has turned Pocatello into a gritty but lovable time capsule of the American West that's ripe for exploration.
Nestled in a narrow, sparsely vegetated valley between two low mountain ranges, the Pocatello area was first inhabited by the Shoshone and the Bannock. In fact, the town gets its name from Pocataro, a Shoshone chief. Then, however, came Manifest Destiny. Pocatello became an important trade stop along the Oregon Trail and, during the rise of the railroad a few years later, a minor transportation hub. Some travelers stayed around to work the rails or tend the potato and grain crops. But most followed their cargo and their dreams to points beyond. The Shoshone and Bannock didn't hang around, either. They were, of course, forced onto a reservation a few miles north.
Start your up-close-with-history tour at Idaho State University's Museum of Natural History, which features extensive exhibitions on Shoshone-Bannock history as well as on dinosaurs and the herds of camels that once roamed the area. The Fort Hall Replica, a detailed adobe reconstruction of the original local Oregon Trail trading post, offers up some ersatz living history. If you want the real architectural deal, however, head downtown to Trinity Episcopal Church, a tiny 19th-century architectural gem on North Arthur Avenue, and the Standrod Mansion. The latter, on North Garfield Avenue, is actually a restored sandstone castle with an oak and French marble interior, and it's the most beautiful structure in town. A few years back some investors bought it and turned it into a furniture store known as the Backroom.
The season being spring, however, you probably shouldn't devote too many hours to browsing couches and coffee tables. Pocatello overflows with options now: In mid-March, there's the Dodge National Circuit Rodeo Finals. The top two cowboys and cowgirls from the nation's 12 professional rodeo circuits, plus thousands of noisy, rabid fans, descend on ISU's Holt Arena for four days of roping, riding, and steer wrestling. Some contenders take a break from the action, however, for the Coors Cowboy Classic, a half-athletic, half-daredevil event that, among other things, requires competitors to race down the powdery slopes at nearby Pebble Creek astride strangely decorated barrels. In April, Pebble Creek hosts a snowmobile hill climb race, which pits souped-up machines and their macho drivers against a mountain with a 75 percent grade.
If you're willing to put your own bones on the line, there's excellent mountain biking, rock climbing, and hiking (you can even sample parts of the Oregon Trail) throughout the area, as well as spring skiing. With just three lifts, 2,000 vertical feet, and no on-mountain lodging, Pebble Creek may not have the same cachet as Sun Valley or Park City, but skiers in the know relish the crowd-free environment, and many rank it as one of their favorite "undiscovered" spots.
If the yurt system, a much-loved series of backcountry shelters that links the outskirts of town to the outskirts of Pebble Creek, remains available for cross-country skiers this late in the season, you can either join a guided excursion or trek alone. You'll need reservations. Call the ISU Rental Center for details.
For a more controlled test of your physical skills, visit the throwback Tough Guy Lanes bowling alley, even if it's just to lounge in one of the retro synthetic pink booths, or the Green Triangle, a spacious bar on the edge of town with a mechanical bull that takes all comers. The Green T—that's the locals' shorthand—also makes a mean burger. Tip: Ride the bull before you eat the meat.
Beyond the ubiquitous fast food chains and generic family style diners along the main drags, several restaurants stand out. For a little international flavor there's Remo's, a traditional Italian establishment with a wide selection of local and Italian wines, or you can pop into Eduardo's, where everyone's an amigo and the carnes favoritas de Eduardo are so big they barely fit on the plate.
The Continental Bistro, with its European-style garden for outdoor dining and a warm, homey wood interior, rates as the finest dining experience in town. Locals rave about dishes such as the pecan-crusted Atlantic salmon fillet and the veal scallops with wild mushroom pesto, and a few are even more passionate about "Inexpensive Beer Night." Every Wednesday in the Bistro's pub, all ales, bocks, pilsners, and lagers are $1.50 a glass. For a similar proletariat vibe, head for the wonderfully named Elmer's Pancake and Steak House. You'll find solid heartland chain food delivered by an aggressively caring wait staff.
After a long day out, you'll surely be ready for another native tradition: the hot soak. Geologists estimate that the Lava Hot Springs, located about 30 minutes south of town, have been bubbling at temperatures of more than 100 degrees for tens of thousands of years. Oregon Trail travelers often detoured for a relaxing dip—so, of course, you can too.
Or, back in town at the Black Swan Inn, you can enjoy a hot tub while brewing up a cup of cocoa and watching Elmo in Grouchland on a 46-inch big screen telly. All of the inn's suites are so luxuriously equipped. The rooms are also themed so that, depending on your choice, you can shower with tropical fish (the Atlantis suite has three uniquely placed aquariums) or sleep on a lofty faux balcony (the Romeo and Juliet suite).
More traditional lodging can be found at the Z Bed & Breakfast, where hosts Greg and Naoni Zervas will welcome you with coffee and cookies. Their 1915 colonial revival features maple floors, a fireplace, private baths, and a cozy yard. Each morning you'll wake to a sizable homemade breakfast. Be warned: It just might make you hesitant about leaving town again.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
All phone numbers are 208 area code unless noted. Pick up AAA's Idaho/Montana/Wyoming TourBook for a little background. For maps and further information about lodging, events, dining, and things to do in the surrounding area, visit the Greater Pocatello Convention and Visitors Bureau, 343 Center St. Phone: 233-7333 or (887) 922-7659. Web site: www.pocatelloidaho.com 
WHERE TO STAY
The Black Swan Inn, 746 E. Center St., 233-3051. Nine themed suites: Caveman, Wild West, Pirates, Ali Baba, Garden, Rocky Mountain Cabin, Jungle Falls, Romeo & Juliet, and Atlantis Under the Sea. Rates: $99 to $219.
Z Bed & Breakfast, 620 S. 8th Ave., 235-1095 or (888) 235-1095, three rooms with private baths. Rates: $65 to $75
EATING AND DRINKING
The Green Triangle, 4010 Yellowstone Ave., 237-0354.
Eduardo's, 612 Yellowstone Ave., 233-9440.
The Continental Bistro, 140 S. Main St., 233-4433.
Remo's, 160 W. Cedar St., 233-1710.
Elmer's Pancake and Steak House, 851 S. 5th Ave., 232-9114.
WHAT TO DO
Idaho Museum of Natural History, S. 5th Ave. at E. Dillon St. on the ISU campus, 236-3168.
Fort Hall Replica, off S. 5th Ave. in Ross Park, 234-6233.
Pebble Creek Ski Area, 10 miles south in Inkom, 775-4452.
Yurt reservations and information, 236-2945 or 236-3912.
Lava Hot Springs, 430 E. Main St. in the town of Lava Hot Springs, 30 miles south of Pocatello, 776-5221 or (800) 423-8597.
Dodge National Circuit Rodeo Finals, March 15-18 at Holt Arena on the ISU campus, 236-2831 for tickets; probullstats.com/2001xtras/21DNCFRtop8.htm  for more information online.
Coors Cowboy Classic, March 16 at Pebble Creek Ski Area, 775-4452.
Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association event, April 8 and 9 at Pebble Creek Ski Area, 775-4452.
Illustration by Kirk Caldwell
This article was first published in March 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.