May 4: Teton Vu Drive In, Rexburg ID

Teton Vu Drive-In marquee and screen

Photo from the Teton Vu Facebook page

It’s Day 124 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I doubled back from Idaho Springs, home of the quiet Motor Vu drive-in, because I saw that the Teton Vu Drive In in Rexburg was going to have a special Thursday night premiere. It was just a half-hour drive up the North Yellowstone Highway.

The Teton Vu first opened some time before 1953. The Teton Dam flood in 1976 severely damaged the drive-in like almost everything else in Rexburg, but it got new projection equipment and reopened. Sometime after the mid-1980s, the Teton Vu closed. It reopened in 1999, then closed after the 2006 season, then reopened again in 2009.

While researching the Teton Vu, I ran across several claims that Rexburg, home of BYU-Idaho, has an unusually high concentration of Mormons. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I did notice that the Teton Vu concession stand offers hot chocolate but not coffee. I was probably better off with bottled water to wash down the lava wings they offered, and some huckleberry ice cream quenched the fires for good.

As I implied earlier, I was hugely grateful that the Teton Vu had a Thursday night premiere showing of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. How is it that Marvel can put out enjoyable superhero movies based on such minor characters while DC keeps struggling even with icons? My theory, in a word, is humor. Throwing in a proper sprinkling engages the viewer and makes characters more relatable. Keeping a story grim just makes it feel artificial. But I digress; the Teton Vu was a great place to see a movie, and GotG2 makes a fine drive-in film.

Miles Today / Total:  29 / 13522 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / 56

Nearby Restaurant: I don’t drink alcohol every day, but if I skip coffee, the ensuing caffeine headache reminds that the Mormons might be on to something. As I looked around for my fix, I was disappointed that the R-towne Cafe had closed just a couple of months ago, and a promising-sounding place, The Cocoa Bean, sold wonderful hot chocolate but no coffee. I was just desperate enough to have lunch at the Burger King. There’s nothing especially wrong with Burger King, and the prices are very friendly, but the best part of the meal was the BK Joe coffee.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I chose the SpringHill Suites for a comfortable, large room with a fridge and a coffee maker. Wifi kept me connected to the outside world, and the hot breakfast in the morning included eggs and more coffee. I might bring a thermos just in case as I drive through Idaho.

Only in Rexburg: As briefly mentioned above, the Teton Dam Flood was a pretty big deal, killing 11 and causing over $1 billion in property damage. The Rexburg Historical Society opened the Teton Flood Museum n 1983 in the basement of the Rexburg Tabernacle. That’s not the museum’s name now. As Roadside America put it, “In 2016, after receiving complaints that the Teton Flood Museum didn’t have enough Teton Flood exhibits, the Rexburg city council simply changed the museum’s name to the Museum of Rexburg. But the flood exhibits are still in it.”

Next stop: Terrace Drive-In Theatre, Caldwell ID.

May 3: Motor Vu, Idaho Falls

Motor Vu Drive-In marquee

Photo by I.E. Xam from the Carload Flickr pool

It’s Day 123 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove a bit over an hour from the Spud Drive In Movie Theater in Driggs ID over to Idaho Falls, home of the Motor Vu drive-in.

Discussions about the Motor Vu tend to include the Sky Vu, another drive-in at the other edge of town, because they’ve been owned as a pair for over 20 years. But it wasn’t always that way. According to its GoFundMe page (more about that later), the Motor Vu “was built in 1947 just after World War II ended. The Motor Vu is potentially one of the first drive ins ever built. The Sky Vu drive in was built sometime around 1951 as a best guess.” The 1959 International Motion Picture Almanac showed the Motor Vu being run by Hugo Jorgensen but the Sky Vu by “Cousins & Prestwich”. The Idaho Falls Post Register wrote that the Leonard family had owned both since 1993.

There have been hiccups. In a 2009 book, Idaho Falls Post Register, William Hathaway wrote, “Idaho Falls went through a summer in 2008 without a drive-in movie. … The owner of both screens decided not to reopen them.”

 

Tim Leonard launched that GoFundMe page in July 2015. “We plan to keep the drive ins open, running 35mm film for as long as we can,” it said. “The companies have been wonderful to make special 35mm prints for us. There is something special about the actual tangible film. It’s sad to see in go away.” The Sky Vu closed in 2015. The Motor Vu was still operating in August 2016, then it closed for the season.

Of the drive-ins I’ve visited this year, this is the first one that is not only closed for the season but might be closed indefinitely. (There have been so many examples of drive-ins coming back to life for me to call any drive-in closure permanent.) It was sad to lose the Sky Vu on the south side of Idaho Springs. It would be even sadder to lose them both.

Miles Today / Total:  68 / 13493 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 55

Nearby Restaurant: Snow Eagle Brewing and Grill had me at “brewing”. I started with a glass of honey rye wheat. And then it turned out that they served food, too! I had the Blue Shroom burger with blue cheese and mushrooms. After a while, it didn’t bother me so much that the Motor Vu was closed tonight.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I found a Home2 Suites location last month and was really happy there, so I was glad to see one in Idaho Falls too. I had a little kitchen (as if I’d cook!) as part of my large room. Breakfast had everything I needed. I’ll keep on looking for this brand as I continue my odyssey.

Only in Idaho Falls: In the middle of a traffic circle on Utah Street near the Porter Canal is a fountain based around statuary of a giant eagle rock waterfall. This Giant Eagle Waterfall Nest commemorates the town’s first name of Eagle Rock.

Next stop: Teton Vu Drive In, Rexburg ID.

May 2: Spud Drive In Movie Theater, Driggs ID

It’s Day 122 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It didn’t look like much on a map, but I guess a map of Idaho is different than a map of Alabama or Arkansas. Even though the Spud Drive In Movie Theater in Driggs was just an inch or two away from my starting point in Soda Springs, a had to drive over two and a half hours’ worth of twisty Teton mountain roads to get there.

The Spud opened in July 1953. In 1987, the owners decided to make a novelty postcard come to life by taking an old flatbed truck, adding a giant potato statue, and parking it out front. You can see photos of “the world’s largest potato” here and here and here.

The first 55 years of the Spud’s life couldn’t possibly be as tumultuous as the past 10 years have been. According to a 2013 article in the Jackson Hole (WY) News & Guide, Dawnelle Mangum and her then-husband Richard Wood ran the drive-in from 1987 to 2009. The Teton Valley News wrote that Lenny Zaban bought the theater in 2009. In 2010, Wydaho Group LLC ran the Spud for a year, booking a few concerts on the site in addition to showing movies. According to an article in the Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, the Spud became the “very first” drive-in to go digital in July that year, quoting Keith Zednick, Spud chief operating officer.

Wydaho Group announced in May 2011 that the Spud would close. Mangum and another local, Tyler Hammond, negotiated a lease from Wydaho Group. As of that 2013 article, they were fundraising for a new digital projector, so I guess Zednick’s projector was out of the picture.

A March 2015 article in the Teton Valley News included more changes. Hammond and Mangum had raised some money and had taken out a loan to get a new projector, but Mangum quit her managing job, and according to Hammond, Zaban told Hammond he wouldn’t be managing the place either. So as Hammond left the Spud, he took the projector with him. “I still owe money and here I am with no way to create revenue to pay it,” he said.

Zaban told the Teton Valley News that a new digital projector was on its way, and it appears that the 2015 and 2016 seasons were relatively uneventful. But late in 2016, the Spud was listed for sale with an asking price of $675,000. There’s nothing that suggests it won’t open for the 2017 season, but that’s still unsettling.

What’s certain is that on this first Tuesday night in May, the Spud wasn’t going to be showing anything. I headed back to my hotel room.

Miles Today / Total:  127 / 13425 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 55

Nearby Restaurant: I suppose part of it is the proximity of Jackson Hole just across the Wyoming border, but there are a surprising number of nice restaurants in little Driggs. I settled on Provisions, arriving in time for Juan’s famous fish tacos for lunch. Since this is Idaho, I had to order some fries with that.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Not that there are a lot of bad ones, but I was treated to another particularly nice Super 8 here in Driggs. The room was fairly large and comfortable, had a fridge and microwave, and with the money I saved with the low price I could supplement the typically spartan Super 8 continental breakfast.

Only in Driggs: Really, the drive-in with the giant potato in front is the quirkiest thing in town. Roadside America shows it as the only unusual feature for miles in any direction, and plenty of tourist blogs and travel sites point to it. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and the Idaho State Historic Registry. Sunset magazine included it in its article The Most Outrageous Roadside Attraction. And Mary Chapin Carpenter used a gorgeous twilight photo (right) of the Spud as the cover of her 2014 album Songs From the Movie.

Next stop: Motor Vu, Idaho Springs ID.