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Compass American Guide Idaho (Compass American Guide Idaho)by Fodors
When I was a schoolboy in neighboring Oregon, the state of Idaho was an enigma to me. It didn't have a Disneyland, like California to the south, nor a Space Needle, like Seattle to the north. Yet there it was, propped like a bookend against our eastern border, a transition between the rain-soaked sophistication of the Pacific Northwest and the laid-back cowboy country of the northern Rocky Mountains.
I visited Idaho several times in high school and college, sometimes to ski at Sun Valley, a couple of times en route to Wyoming's Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, once (in 1964) as a delegate to the World Scout Jamboree on Lake Pend Oreille, in the northern Panhandle.
Yet it wasn't until I moved from Los Angeles to Boise in the spring of 1994 — a return to my beloved Northwest after having lived and worked in seven other states and six foreign countries — that I truly began to appreciate this great state.
I recall my first drive north through Idaho from Boise to Coeur d'Alene, a 400-mile excursion via two-lane state and U.S. highways. I was astounded by the variety of terrain, from the high meadows of McCall to the rugged Salmon River country around Riggins, from the rolling sweep of the Palouse farmlands to the evergreen forests near the Canadian border. Culturally, it was equally diverse, from historic mountain mining and logging towns to Native American communities to modern lakeshore resorts.
And this was just one portion of the state! In subsequent months I found a broad volcanic plain into which mountain rivers disappear only to burst from sheer canyon walls a hundred miles distant; sand dunes taller than those of Death Valley; a broad waterfall higher than Niagara Falls; a chasm half again as deep as the Grand Canyon. I discovered the greatest nesting population of raptors on the continent, walked in the footsteps of pioneers who crossed the state on the Oregon Trail 150 years ago, and savored the unique culture of Basque immigrants who have made Idaho their "home away from homeland" in the Pyrenees of Spain and France. I even ran my fingers through the dirt of the vast potato fields that have given Idaho its greatest fame. Most of all, I discovered Idaho's rivers.
Flowing westward from the crest of the Rockies, they gouge the wilderness canyons, support the vast forests, irrigate millions of acres of rich farmland, provide hydroelectric power to cities and industry, and offer habitat for myriad species of fish and wildlife.
Explorers Lewis and Clark followed the Clearwater and Snake river drainages through the northern part of modern Idaho after they crossed the Continental Divide in 1804. Decades later, the Oregon Trail pioneers traced hundreds of miles of the Snake River in their arduous journey west. Rivers like the Salmon (the largest stream to drain a single state outside of Alaska) and the Payette today offer endless recreational opportunities to rafters, fishermen, and other lovers of the outdoors. And the component mountains of the Rockies — Idaho has been identified with 81 distinct ranges — make this a winter and summer paradise for skiers and hikers alike.
The Snake River dominates, cutting a swath across Idaho from east to west, through mountains and deserts and fertile plains. As it turns north along the Oregon border and heads for its confluence with the Columbia, it carves Hells Canyon, nearly a mile and a half deep. All but one of Idaho's 15 largest towns lie within 25 miles of the Snake, which is the lifeblood for the otherwise arid farmlands of the south.
Barely one million people make their homes in Idaho, and that may be why the state's haughty individualism is so exalted. A politically paradoxical people, Idahoans run the gamut from Mormon conservatives to university liberals, from right-wing survivalists to environmental activists. Farmers, miners, and timber workers prize their small-town privacy; urbanites decry building booms and traffic woes but enjoy fine restaurants and cultural events.
By its very nature, this is a subjective book. It doesn't pretend to peer into every nook and cranny of this fascinating corner of America. Instead, it is an introduction to the state and its people. The text reflects my personal enthusiasm for Idaho in two years of crisscrossing the state from south to north, west to east. The photographs are the heartfelt work of native-son Bill Mullins, who has spent a lifetime exploring Idaho's rivers, mountains, and deserts. We only hope our work will pique the curiosity of other adventurers to find their own private Idahos.
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