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The Places Where We Live – Idaho

And Here We Have Idaho by Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty)



Idaho is one of those states that you have to break into regions, for each region has a very different identity.  I was born in the south eastern side of the state, on the edge of the high desert where the physical features bear witness to the volcanic past. As the continent drifted slowly eastward, the hot spot which is Yellowstone, was once under the desert, (more about this later). This volcanic soil and the cool high desert is the perfect climate for you guessed it potatoes.  My hometown is in the foot hills of the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, and I grew up with this wilderness area in my backyard and this includes Yellowstone National Park. The part of Yellowstone in Idaho is not as well known as the more accessible parts of Yellowstone proper, but every bit as spectacular, since I am not the type that likes back country hiking I have only been told about this area.

When I am asked about Idaho I speak mostly of the physical beauty of where I grew up.  Idahoans are rugged individuals; they had to be. Most of the families who settled this area are descendants of the pioneers and miners.  A great many of the families can trace their ancestors to the pioneers from the Oregon Trail and to the Mormon pioneers who came west with Brigham Young,  although the first whites were the Lewis and Clark expedition, and fur trappers from several rival fur companies.  The Native American people predominant in the area included the Nez Perce and the Coeur d’Alene in the north; and the Northern and Western Shoshone and Bannock in the south.  I fear the native people didn’t not fair any better here than elsewhere in this country.  Sacagawea (c. 1790 -1812 or 1814) The Shoshone Indian that interpreted for explorers Lewis and Clark; was born in eastern Idaho. Although she joined the expedition in the Mandan Villages of what is North Dakota with her French-Canadian husband.  There were other explorers less well known, Wilson Price Hunt who navigated the Snake River looking for a waterway to the Pacific for one. There was also a great many missionaries that came to minister and to convert the native people and that also drew whites to settle in the territory.  In fact the oldest surviving structure in Idaho was built by the missionaries.  It is the Cataldo mission in Northern Idaho.

There is gold and silver in them thar hills:  Yes in 1860 gold was discovered and shortly after that silver was also discovered and mining had a huge impact on the economy of the territory that became Idaho, there are still active mines there today.  My hometown was settled because it was on the Montana Trail, a freight wagon route into these mining areas.   A toll crossing was built over the Snake River there, specifically to get supplies from the rail lines in Utah into the copper rich area at Butte, Montana. In 1878 the Union Pacific RR built a feeder line into the mining areas through south eastern Idaho, a rail crossing was once again built in my hometown, opening the area to more settlers looking for a place to farm.

Farming:  I have touched on potatoes, but farming was difficult in this arid place, many of the settlers to this area came out of Utah and had learned how to irrigate the desert, the Idaho feeder canals were dug in the late 1800 and early 1900 to irrigate the desert. Idaho became one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas, growing more than potatoes, also sugar beets, peas, grains, and alfalfa. There are also large ranches for cattle and sheep grazing on the public ranges administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Atomic age: In 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission opened the National Reactor Testing Station in the desert of southeastern Idaho, and on Dec. 20, 1951, a nuclear reactor produced electricity for the first time in history. The town of Arco became the first community in the world electrified by nuclear power.

At one time there were over 50 reactors; all but three are shut down now.  The INL is still in operation and employees 8000 people, it is an internationally respected research center.  There were also 3 prototype nuclear submarines and ship reactors, where the US Navy sent sailors to learn skills needed to serve in the nuclear fleet.  The Navy left the facility in the 1980’s

A sad note:  On January 3, 1961, the site was the scene of the only fatal nuclear reactor incident in U.S. history, three people died in the reactor room. The three men were buried in lead coffins and that entire section of the site was buried.

Stats:  Idaho is the 13th largest state, it is known as the Gem State because it produces over 72 different gem stone some that can be found nowhere else in the world.  Idaho became a state on July 3, 1890.  It has over 3100 river miles, more than any other state.  Mt. Borah, near Boise is the highest peak in Idaho at 12,662 feet.  The Syringa is the state flower, the Mountain Bluebird is the state bird, the Western White Pine is the state tree, the state horse is the Appaloosa, the state fruit is the Wild Huckleberry, the state fish is the Cutthroat Trout, and the state gem is the Star Garnet.  As of 2005 thepopulation of Idaho was 1,429,096. It seems that Boise State University has a fine football program.

The major wilderness areas are The Sawtooth Wilderness which has 260,000 acres, The Frank Church-River of No Return known as “The Frank” Wilderness Area, it has 2.6 million acres.  The Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness has 1.28 million acres. The Gospel Hump Wilderness has 206,000 acres. There are 12 National Forests and 1 National Grassland, Boise National Forest, Caribou National Forest, Challis National Forest, Clearwater National Forest, Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, and St. Joe National Forests, Nez Perce National Forest, Payette National Forest, Salmon National Forest Sawtooth National Forest, Targhee National Forest, Curlew National Grassland. 

The volcanic past I spoke of earlier can be seen at the Craters of the Moon, National Monument and Preserve.  It is a very unique place and must be seen to be believed, it can be seen from outer space, and NASA did some testing there before the Apollo Moon landings. It is an extinct volcanic landscape, but it would have looked very much like Yellowstone in the primordial past.



The spirit of the west in Idaho  attracts people there, some of the celebrities that call Idaho home are: Viggo Mortensen, actor; Demi Moore, actress; Carole King– singer songwriter; Patty Duke– actress; Ernest Hemmingway had a home in Idaho and committed suicide there. I don’t think it had anything to do with Idaho though.  Dawn Wells, Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.  Native Idahoans include Joe Albertson (1907 – 1993) Grocery chain founder, opened his first grocery store in Boise. Gutzon Borglum (1867 – 1941) the Sculptor of Mount Rushmore; born near Bear Lake.  Lou Dobbs – Anchor and managing editor of CNN’s Lou Dobbs Moneyline. He grew up in Rupert. Philo T. Farnsworth (1906 – 1971) inventor of television. He first came up with the idea when he was only 14 years old. He emigrated to Rigby in 1919 at the age of 11. Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011) played baseball for the Minnesota Twins and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame; born in Payette. Patrick McManus (1933 – ) author, born near Sandpoint. Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) poet; born in Hailey, Picabo Street (1971 – ) two time Olympic medalist, born in Triumph, Carol R. Brink author, Vardis Fisher author, from Annis; J. R. Simplot industrialist; Lana Turner actress, born in Wallace.

I am sorry if I did not do justice to the north and western parts of the state, I have only been to northern Idaho twice, and it was lovely and has its own history to tell.  As for Boise and the west I have been over there only twice as well, while I have been to Sun Valley on a number of occasions. But the northern and western part of my home state is a foreign place to me.

A Little Trivia:

Because of gold mining, Idaho City was the largest town in the Pacific Northwest in the 1860’s

Hell’s Canyon is the deepest river gorge in the US, deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Shoshone Falls is called the Niagara of the west, and spills over 212 feet near Twin Falls.

Sun Valley was created in 1936 as America’s first destination ski resort.

They say if you could iron out the mountains in Idaho the area would be equal to Texas.





The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark


The Nez Perce by Sharlene Nelson and Ted W. Nelson

Bird Woman: Sacagawea’s Own Story by James Willard Schultz

Philo T Farnsworth: The Life of Television’s Forgotten Inventor by Russell Roberts

A Fine and Pleasant Misery by Patrick F McManus






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7 Responses to “The Places Where We Live – Idaho”

  1. Lori S. (GroovyGlitterGirl) says:

    I visited Idaho last year and it is a beautiful state!! Especially the Bear Lake area!! Simply gorgeous! Thanks for the great article!!

  2. Joleen W. (mediamama) says:

    I was born and raised in Southeast Idaho and still live here. It is a great place to be. Loved the article!

  3. Lynda C. (Readnmachine) says:

    Loved your essay! I was born & raised in southwest Idaho, and when I mention it that way, I often get curious looks and the question why I’m so specific. Your essay points it out very well!

  4. Bonnie (LoveNE) , says:

    Holy mashed with cheese Batman! Is there anything you don’t know how to write about? Great job and your new title is Miss Smarty Pants!

  5. Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty) says:

    GW Bonnie. I’d like to say hello to Lynda, and Joleen “my home girls.” Lynda I am sorry I didn’t have more to say about Western Idaho, but the truth is I know very little about it, maybe a Idaho Part Two is in order. Lori, Bear Lake is an amazing area, I am always happy to hear that people find my home state as wonderful as I do.

  6. Lori B. says:

    Jerelyn, thanks for the info on a State that I have always found intriguing. Adding Idaho to the states to see before it’s too late list… LB

  7. Alisa F. (Greycat133) says:

    Great post! Glad you mentioned old Philo T. Farnsworth. He’s my great-great uncle. 🙂

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