Idaho: The Gem State
Geography and Industry
Idaho is a state full of contrasts: heavily forested northern mountains, semi-arid southern flatlands, mountain lakes, and the broad Snake River cutting a canyon across its own floodplain.
Along the narrow Idaho panhandle (which is less than fifty miles wide) in the northernmost part of the state, there are medium-sized mountain ranges such as the Cabinet Mountains, and gorgeous lakes such as Lake Coeur d'Alene, Priest Lake, and Lake Pend Oreille.
In the north and central parts of the state, Idaho is covered by high, rugged mountains such as Mount Borah, which is close to 13,000 feet high! The Bitterroot Range lies in the north, and in central Idaho are the towering Sawtooth Mountains. Between the Sawtooths and the broad Snake River Valley to the south are the smaller Salmon River Mountains.
The Snake River flows across southern Idaho from its source in northwestern Wyoming, to form part of the state's western border with Oregon. It has been dammed in a number of places so that its water could be used to irrigate dry land that is fertile but lacking in rainfall. This lets southern Idaho produce lots of agricultural products, especially potatoes, beans, peas, sugar beets, hay, and wheat. Cattle ranching also continues to be a very important industry in Idaho.
But agriculture is no longer the major money maker it once was, and mining in the state is on the decline. However, high-tech industries have become important, especially telecommunications companies and computer software companies.
One of Idaho's newest and fastest-growing industries is tourism. The state is lovely, and has several different types of outdoor recreation areas, including the skiing available at places like Sun Valley, and boating in places like Hells Canyon National Recreational Area.
ALL ABOUT Idaho
LARGEST CITY: Boise
POPULATION: 1,293,953 (2000 Census)
STATE BIRD: Mountain Bluebird
STATE TREE: White Pine
STATE FLOWER: Syringa
STATE MOTTO: “Esto Perpetua (It Is Perpetual)”
STATEHOOD: July 3, 1890
POSTAL ABBREVIATION: ID
The first explorers of European descent to visit Idaho were the Lewis and Clark expedition, which followed the Snake River down to the Columbia and onward to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. At the time that Lewis and Clark entered Idaho, Native American tribes such as the Western Shoshone, Bannock, and Ute lived in the southern part of the state, the Nez Perce lived in western Idaho, and the Coeur d'Alene, Pend Oreille, and Kootenai lived in the north.
During the next forty years the only regular non–Native American visitors to Idaho were fur traders. They weren't the only whites to enter the region, though. The trading post at Fort Hall in southeastern Idaho was the point where the California Trail split off from the Oregon Trail and dipped south, headed toward northern California. None of the settlers who came west in those early years stayed in Idaho. They all pushed westward to either Oregon or California. That changed in the 1850s when gold was discovered in Idaho. Settlers poured into the region. Native Americans began to resist the settlement of their lands by whites seeking gold, government troops were called in, and the tribes were suppressed by the late 1850s.
The most famous Native American resistance to whites taking their land in Idaho occurred during 1876–77. The Nez Perce in western Idaho refused to move to a reservation, and fled their homes. They slipped into Montana, and almost made it into Canada, but were trapped and surrendered at Bear Paw Mountain, just a few miles south of the Canadian border. Chief Joseph and most of his people went to a reservation in eastern Washington. A few years later, many Nez Perce were able to return to their homes in Idaho.
Gold was discovered again in Idaho during the 1880s in Idaho's panhandle. The gold vein that miners found wasn't very big, but it led to the discovery of one of the largest veins of silver in the world. For the next 100 years, silver was mined out of several places in north Idaho. The mines ran dry in the early 1980s.
THE IDAHO POTATO
Do you like potatoes? Then more than likely you have eaten an Idaho potato, because Idaho leads the country in potato production. Many scientists think that potatoes do so well in southern Idaho because the climate is very similar to the climate in the Andes where potatoes evolved.
Can you guess what the deepest canyon in North America is? It's not the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon — it's Hells Canyon in Idaho. At one point this canyon runs nearly 8,000 feet below the mountain peaks that surround it. You could stack five and half Empire State Buildings in a canyon that deep!