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IDAHO , sandwiched in between Washington, Oregon and Montana,
was the last of the states to be penetrated by whites, and rivals
Alaska in the sheer scale of its barely explored wilderness
areas. Though much of its scenery amply deserves national park
status, its citizens have long been suspicious of encroachment
by federal government and tourism alike, and only now is its
potential for adventurous travel being appreciated.
With a marked absence of urban centers (the pleasant state
capital Boise , in the south, being the only real exception),
Idaho is very much a destination for the outdoors enthusiast.
Natural wonders in its five-hundred-mile stretch include Hell's
Canyon , America's deepest river gorge, the dramatic Sawtooth
National Recreation Area and the black, barren Craters of the
Moon . Beyond these, hikers and backpackers have the choice
of no fewer than 81 mountain ranges, interspersed with virgin
forest and lava plateau, while the mighty Snake and Salmon rivers
offer endless scope for fishing and whitewater rafting .
In 1805, Lewis and Clark declared central Idaho's bewildering
labyrinth of razor-edge peaks and wild waterways to be the most
difficult leg of their mammoth journey from St Louis to the
Pacific. Only their Shoshone guides enabled them to get through;
to this day, there is no east-west road across the heart of
the state. Reports of game animals tripping over each other
in their profusion attracted the usual legions of itinerant
trappers, but the Gold Rush of the 1860s and white pressure
for land hastened the violent end of traditional life: four
hundred Shoshone men, women and children were killed along the
Bear River in 1863, the Nez Percé were driven out, and
by the end of the 1870s the "Indian problem" had been
eradicated. The name "Idaho," incidentally, was invented
by a mining lobbyist, who felt it sounded Indian; it was originally
proposed for what is now Colorado.
The central wilderness still divides the state into two distinct
halves. The heavily forested north , interspersed with glacial
lakes now fronted by resorts like Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene
, has always had strong trading links with Spokane in Washington;
in the south , irrigation programs begun in the 1880s - partly
instigated by Mormons - have transformed the scrubland to either
side of the Snake River into the fertile fields responsible
for the state's license-plate tag of "Famous Potatoes."
Idaho's isolation, and small (1 million) population, have kept
it largely out of the mainstream of recent US history; indeed,
its remoteness has attracted assorted unwelcome guests - neo-Nazi
survivalists awaiting the Second Coming and/or nuclear holocaust.
Bus services between northern and southern Idaho are very poor,
and a car is essential for extensive travel. Only one Amtrak
route crosses the state, ultimately linking Seattle with Chicago,
and stopping only at Sandpoint in northern Idaho, though Spokane
is not far across the border. Boise also has an airport , though
Spokane and Salt Lake City can be more convenient for northern
and southern Idaho respectively.
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