The big spud beckons. Small plants around the base are, of course, potatoes.
The big spud beckons. Small plants around the base are, of course, potatoes.

Big Idaho Potato Hotel

Field review by the editors.

Orchard, Idaho

One of the oddest things about the extremely odd Big Idaho Potato Hotel is that its creator, Kristie Mae Wolfe, conceived of it not as a classic roadside attraction -- such as the Wigwam Motel -- but simply as a snug, quirky place to spend the night.

Big Idaho Potato Hotel.

"I knew that I would like it," said Kristie, who is known for building and living in tiny homes. She attributed her infatuation to her intimate familiarity with the giant potato, having traveled around the country with it for two years as a "Tater Team" ambassador for the Idaho Potato Commission.

Would other people like it? Kristie wasn't sure.

The Potato was built in 2012, not by Kristie, but by fellow idahoans Chris and Sharolyn Schofeld. It was the brainstorm of the Idaho Potato Commission: a traveling billboard -- potatoes are the Idaho state vegetable -- hauled around the Lower 48 on a semi-trailer. The Russet Burbank potato is big -- 28 feet long, 12 feet wide and high -- and the Schofelds built it strong to withstand the rigors of the road, out of six tons of steel, plaster, and cement.

Big Potato 2.0 (on truck) meets Big Potato 1.0. Silo on right is the Potato Hotel bathroom.
Big Potato 2.0 (on truck) meets Big Potato 1.0. Silo on right is the Potato Hotel bathroom.

Tater interior, designed and built by Kristie Mae Wolfe.
Tater interior, designed and built by Kristie Mae Wolfe.

The hollow interior is what intrigued Kristie. "It had more room than my house," she said. "Once I knew how big it was inside, that's when I said, 'Wow, this would make a great place to live in.'"

A replacement Potato was built in 2018 and the Idaho Potato Commission considered retiring the original big spud to the Idaho Potato Museum. But Kristie offered to convert the Potato into a single-room motel, parked on farmland she owned south of Boise. She was handed the keys. Frank Muir, CEO of the Commission, said that seeing a giant potato at a museum would be okay, but that spending the night inside a giant potato would be a better way for travelers to "experience Idaho."

Kristie, doing all the work herself, sealed the interior with eight inches of potato-white spray foam insulation, built a floor and furniture, installed electricity, plumbing, heat and air conditioning, and a beverage cooler. The Potato, despite its size, was still too small for a bathroom, so Kristie built one in an adjacent grain silo. There are no windows in the Potato ("It's pitch black if you don't have the lights on," Kristie said) and once the door is closed its inhabitants are sealed from the outside world. "It doesn't really feel claustrophobic," said Kristie, who lived in the Potato for several weeks to identify and fix any problems. "The ceiling is high and everything is light and bright. It's kinda like a cocoon."

Kristie Mae Wolfe enters the Big Idaho Potato Hotel.
Kristie enters the Big Idaho Potato Hotel.

Kristie had built other exotic getaways: a treehouse in Hawaii, a Hobbit hole in Washington state, a fire lookout in the Iowa panhandle. "But my other places are really beautiful," she said, "and people have typically wanted to stay in a treehouse or a Hobbit house. This is a potato. Nobody has ever had the thought, 'Gee, I wish I could live in a potato.'"

Well, maybe some people had. Kristie opened the Potato as an Airbnb rental in May 2019, and the response surprised her; it was better than for any of her previous projects, even though a night in the Potato isn't cheap ($200 plus around $50 in taxes and fees), and it only sleeps two. "I am shocked by how popular it is," Kristie said.

The Potato is open for overnights year-round, and travelers can stop by and admire it from the outside at any time (It's right next to a rural road). But tourists aren't booking the Big Idaho Potato Hotel to immerse themselves in the rustic aesthetic of Idaho farmland. They want to sleep inside a giant potato.

"I approach all my projects as something for me, then I hope there's a subset of people who'll be into it as well," said Kristie. "But this one has just been nuts."

Big Idaho Potato Hotel

Address:
31581 S. Orchard Access Rd, Orchard, ID
Directions:
I-84 exit 71. Drive southwest on S. Orchard Access Rd for 5.5 miles. The potato will be on the right, just south of the train tracks.
Phone:
Contact via Airbnb
Admission:
Free to look at outside. $200 a night, plus around $50 in taxes and fees.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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November 13, 2019

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