Small potatoes, big hearts in North Central Idaho

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Dennis J. Sullivan and his wife, Frances Conklin specialize in carving popular breeds of dogs from Scotties to beagles, which are on exhibit in their studio. Taking the concept of carved wooden dogs to new heights, they constructed a 30-foot tall beagle, known by locals as Sweet Willy Colton. It can all be seen at the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho. Image courtesy of Tina Rasnow

What does the world’s largest beagle in Cottonwood, the biggest huckleberry ice cream cone and heaps of spiced up chocolates from Moscow have in common?

These are just a few of the offbeat delights and people encountered while driving along the back roads of North Central Idaho.

It all started at the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, offering a doggone good country breakfast with homemade granola and muffins in addition to a comfortable guestroom reached by (and this is true) climbing up a flight up steps located under a beagle’s tail.

The innkeepers and chainsaw artists of the roadside curiosity are Dennis J. Sullivan and his wife, Frances Conklin. They specialize in carving popular breeds of dogs from Scotties to beagles, which are on exhibit in their studio. Taking the concept of carved wooden dogs to new heights, they constructed a rather snazzy looking 30-foot tall beagle, known by locals as Sweet Willy Colton.

Nearby this unique landmark on highway 95 is the peaceful Monastery of St. Gertrude. The Benedictine Sisters oversee the Monastery’s Historical Museum housing more than 70,000 artifacts showcasing the pioneer history of this region. A surprise in this rural community is the museum’s exquisite collection of Asian and European art.

Another great inn with spin on steak is the Cottonwood’s Country Haus Restaurant. We tried bite size breaded and fried steak served with sesame seeds, tater tots, hot mustard fry sauce and a plate filled with fried onion rings as a side. On the way out we bought homemade caramels, warm from the oven, to snack on while driving toward the Kamiah Valley, winter home of the Nez Perce Indians and today popular for hunting and fishing, and which remains the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

This turn-back-the-pages-of time town is where Lewis and Clark camped for a few weeks during the early spring of 1806, calling it Paradise Valley.

The former owners of the Seal Beach Inn in California, Marjorie and Hardy Schmaehl, obviously found this pristine area paradise as they left Seal Beach and built their dream come true, the five-room Hearthstone Lodge on 60 acres, about two miles away from the Hearthstone Bakery and Tea Shop, which they also operate, located in an historic building at the corner of Highway 12 and Main Street. There, we bought freshly baked huckleberry pies, kalamata bread and glazed doughnuts; a mere sampling of all the pastries on display behind the counter. Guests staying at the lodge are invited to have their breakfast at the Hearthstone’s Bakery, where Belgian waffles and authentic French crepes are on the menu.

More historic buildings are found in the Kendrick-Julietta Valley where time stands still. Founded in the early 1890s, small towns in this region survive as reminders of the early days of aspiring merchants and hardy homesteaders. While on a walking tour down Main Street we were intrigued by what we thought was the old corner bank but turned out to be an ice cream and pizza parlor-the First Bank of Pizza. That’s where we ordered a $2 huckleberry ice cream cone that had enough scoops for a party of four.

We then headed toward Moscow as we heard about MaryJanesFarms operated by Mary Jane Butters. Featured on the cover of Horizon Air’s August in-flight magazine, she is one of 198 certified-organic farming operations in Idaho. Author and entrepreneur, her 50-acre farm has a bed-and -breakfast, and she runs the Pay Dirt Farm School, as well.

By the time we reached Moscow, nestled between the rolling hills of the Palouse and Moscow Mountain, we inadvertently found ourselves in the front of the headquarters of Cowgirl Chocolates. We stocked up on spicy jalapeno chocolates and mild-mannered chocolate truffles.

Apparently there are no accidents in this corner of Idaho.

More information:

General Information:

www.northcentralidaho.info

The Hearthstone Lodge: Highway 12, Milepost 64, Kamiah, ID.; 208.935.1492; www.hearthstone-lodge.com

Dog Bark Park Inn: 208.962.3647; www.dogbarkparkinn.com

Cowgirl Chocolates: 888.882.4098; www.cowgirlchocolates.com