Behind the Business: Idaho’s Mammoth Cave - the man who started it all

“He was like Indiana Jones - just waiting to find treasure at every corner,” said Olsen.
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 10:32 AM MDT
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SHOSHONE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — The original idea of a roadside attraction was to give weary travelers an opportunity to rest and experience something unique or wired or even mind blowing.

Back in 1952 – well before Interstate-84 cut though southern Idaho – Highway 93 was a main artery in Idaho’s first highway system and it was the perfect stage for something special.

That’s when a man from Jerome saw a unique opportunity in his land north of Shoshone.

“He was like Indiana Jones - just waiting to find treasure at every corner.”

That man was Richard Olsen. And what he found, and created, was Idaho’s Mammoth Cave.

“He loved being outdoors and so when he actually found Idaho Mammoth Cave, he was hunting for bobcats out here with his girlfriend at the time. And they stumbled upon the cave, and he wanted to explore it, but he didn’t have a flashlight – It was all the way back at the highway, so he hiked all the way back to the highway and all the way back,” said Katie Ann Olsen – Managing Owner of Idaho’s Mammoth Cave.

In the early 1950s, after finding the cave, Richard homesteaded the land and actually grew mushrooms in the naturally damp and temperature-controlled environment.

But after World War 2, Americans were hitting the road. And Richard saw one of those great American entrepreneurial opportunities and doubled down on his investment.

“Eventually he decided to turn it into a tourist attraction, and he always has an idea of building a Museum of Natural History and so that is what he did. He just slowly started building out here,” said Olsen.

As an avid traveler, hunter, collector, curator, and taxidermist, in his time, Richard would amass a collection that would make even Mr. Ripley stand in awe.

“I like to say that we was a self-trained archeologist and he just had an impeccable love for history and nature,” said Olsen.

Beyond the Cave and the Natural History Museum, he also opened the Shoshone Bird Museum.

Which includes not just stuffed exotic birds but living – semi-free ranging large birds.

“He just had a passion for them. That’s what he grew up doing when he first started doing taxidermy as a child, it was with birds,” said Olsen.

Sadly, Richard passed away in an automobile accident in 2019. But though his daughter – Katie Olsen –Richard’s vision continues. And their newest addition pays homage to the man who started it all.

“This is the Richard Arthur Olsen Museum of Natural History. My dad was planning on opening it before he passed away. It’s filled with everything you can imagine from all over the world, and we were proud to open it last year,” said Olsen.

In part two of this story, we’ll take a deeper look into this massive collection and go beneath the Idaho landscape and explore the subterranean world of Idaho’s Mammoth Cave.