Rocky Mountain Region: Idaho: USA
Interesting Places: The Gem State offers recollections of its vigorous past, a wondrous variety of places to visit, and a chance to dig for garnets and opals.
Astronauts who traveled to the moon did some of their training in Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument. At one time hot lava poured all over the area, leaving jagged stone statues, natural bridges, and tree molds. The area looked so much like the moon’s surface, it was the perfect place for the astronauts to train! Idaho farmers are especially proud of their famous Idaho potatoes, one of the state’s most important crops.
Snake River Valley Wine Country: Tour Idaho’s wine country which is the perfect climate for growing wine grapes. In the 1860s French and German immigrants began producing fine wines in the Snake River Valley, making Idaho nationally renowned for its award-winning wines.
Unfortunately, Prohibition caused the wineries to shut down. Today 16 of Idaho’s 32 wineries are located in the Snake River Valley, which provides the perfect climate for growing wine grapes. The cold winters, high elevation, consequent temperature fluctuations, and relative lack of rainfall help produce grapes with the proper sugar and acid balance.
While touring Idaho’s wine country, you’ll discover wineries and vineyards ranging from small by-appointment-only cellars to larger facilities, offering year-round tours, tasting rooms, and restaurants. In their relatively short history Idaho wineries are already winning awards for their excellent Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to their world-class Reisling.
Old Mission State Park: The building was built between 1850 and 1853 by members of the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe under the direction of Father Anthony Ravalli, and its design reflects a pragmatic blend of Old World ideals and the building materials available in the Idaho wilderness.
The walls of the mission are rough-hewn logs covered with a wattle and daub lattice. In 1865, after a sawmill was built on the mission’s grounds, siding and in-terior paneling were added, which made the walls 18 inches thick.
European-style chandeliers were fashioned from tin cans, and wooden altars and crosses were painted to imitate gilt and marble. Many of the wall hangings were made of cloth from the Hudson Bay Trading Post, and others were made by painting newspapers.
A thriving Coeur d’Alene farming village was established at the mission, and many Native Americans lived here until the tribe was forced onto a reservation in 1877. Open year-round. Admission charged.
Wallace: To visit this remarkably preserved town is to step back into the turn of the century. Indeed, the entire downtown district, a virtual compendium of architectural styles, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One can take a self-guiding walking tour of 38 historic buildings constructed between 1890 and 1930, including Victorian commercial, neoclassical, Renaissance revival, and art deco styles. The tour can be done in about 45 minutes, but there is a wealth of finely crafted detail, and many of the interiors are as fascinating as the exteriors.
Visitors should not miss the Wallace District Mining Museum, with its collection of old mining tools, rock samples, and memorabilia, or the Sierra Silver Mine Tour, where visitors can explore the underground world of the area’s prominent silver mines.
The Wallace region is a haven for hikers and bicyclists. It provides access to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha, which run along historic railway lines converted for recreational use, allowing visitors to enjoy the area’s scenic splendor. Museum open daily most of the year. Admission charged.
Nez Perce National Historical Park: Discover the the great water route to the Pacific along the Snake and Columbia rivers of explorers Lewis and Clark. For centuries the Nez Perce Native Americans have lived in the valleys of the Snake and Clearwater rivers.
In 1805 they welcomed the explorers Lewis and Clark and told them of the great water route to the Pacific along the Snake and Columbia rivers.
The tribe lived in relative peace with the influx of American settlers until gold was discovered on tribal lands in the 1860s, and the U.S. government proposed to limit the Native Americans to a reservation one-tenth the size of the territory they had been guaranteed.
The war of 1877 eventually led to the defeat of the Nez Perce people. Chief Joseph is one of the Nez Perce leaders, famous for the lucid eloquence with which he expressed the finality of his people’s tragic surrender: “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
The park comprises 38 separate historically significant sites that are scattered over four states, most of them within the Nez Perce reservation. These sites commemorate not only the Nez Perce people but also explorers, missionaries, traders, and gold miners.
The park headquarters at Spalding has a visitors center that offers films and interpretive talks and includes a museum portraying the Nez Perce culture with beautiful examples of Native American dress, beadwork, and other artifacts.
Within a short drive of Spalding, you can see the various sites of the 1836 mission, a gristmill, the early Indian Agency, and Fort Lapwai. In the surrounding area camping, boating, swimming, hiking, and fishing are available. Visitors center closed major winter holidays.
Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area: Nearly half a million acres along a remote 80-mile section of the Snake River have been declared a protected habitat for one of the densest populations of nesting birds of prey anywhere in the world.
Over 700 pairs of raptors, as birds of prey are called, nest here annually—16 different species in all, including prairie falcons, golden eagles, and even a few turkey vultures and Swainson’s hawks. In addition, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and several other species stop here during migration.
Binoculars are a must for viewing the birds, which can be seen most easily during the courting and nesting period from mid-March through June. After that, high summer temperatures and the scarcity of food drive many birds to other areas. With advance reservations local wilderness outfitters offer canoe and raft trips along the Snake River, providing visitors with a vivid sense of the raptors’ wild domain. Open year-round.
Bruneau Dunes State Park: The two enormous mountains of sand that form this park’s centerpiece are in striking contrast to the high, flat plateaus that dominate the landscape here. Covering some 600 acres of the 4,800-acre park, the picturesque dunes give way at their base to lakes and marshland, creating an ecological anomaly.
Eagle Cove, where the dunes stand, was formed by the meandering Snake River about 15,000 years ago. The sand was blown in from the surrounding plateau and trapped by opposing winds, which still keep the dunes from moving far or dramatically changing their shape. The lakes and marsh began to form in 1950, when a nearby reservoir caused the underground water table to rise.
Climbing the dunes is the park’s chief attraction. At first glimpse the tallest dune, which is 470 feet high, does not seem particularly challenging. But the hike through shifting sand with no firm footholds and no well-trod trail is surprisingly strenuous, but the crest offers rewarding views. Sand skiers will find the dunes especially inviting. In summer the sand can be extremely hot, and it’s best to climb in the early morning or late afternoon. The climb can be predictably gritty, so be sure to pack cameras and food in well-sealed plastic bags.
The park also offers a public observatory, featuring the Obsession telescope, a custom-made 25-inch reflector that allows the viewer to see the rings of Saturn or the Owl Nebula. Open year-round. Observatory presentations given at dusk Fri. and Sat., mid-Mar.– mid-Oct. Admission charged.