Apparently, the good word about Idaho is getting out. Idaho attracts more new residents than any other state, and by percentage, was the fastest-growing state in the country for the second straight year.
What’s not to love? The scenery is exquisite, with snow-capped ski mountains, wild rivers, deserts, thick forests, and ancient lava fields. The economy is booming– unemployment is 2.2 percent.
U.S. Route 30 travels the southern end of Idaho, through the most populated cities. Boise is no one-horse cowboy town, but rather a city of 231,000, larger than Salt Lake City or Richmond, VA. The Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had a population of 730,426, larger than Winston-Salem, NC, Des Moines, IA, or Akron, OH.
Another reason the population is skyrocketing could be the weather. It compares favorably to Harrisburg’s and not to the rugged and cold mountain towns many people expect. Boise’s average high August temperatures are higher than Harrisburg’s and January temperatures are nearly the same. Boise averages about 18 inches of snow a year compared to Harrisburg’s 28 inches. In the northern mountains, however, Idaho’s 18 ski resorts thrive, some with 500 inches of snow.
U.S. Route 30 enters Idaho as a two-lane from Wyoming and joins Interstate 15 about 50 miles later; it later becomes part of Interstate 86 and then Interstate 84 until Portland, Oregon. The roads speed through Treasure Valley with ski-able mountains to the north and south.
The Oregon Trail, a 2,100-mile route to free Oregon land takes nearly the same route as U.S. Route 30 through the state. Maybe with that in mind, the first city into Idaho from Wyoming, Montpelier (population 2,500) built the National Oregon/California Trail Center to introduce visitors to the trail.
The locally-funded center is a living history gem. This isn’t a typical, static, display-on-the-wall museum. The hosts– staff and a few volunteers– are dressed in period costumes and take visitors on a truly bumpy wagon train tour. “Families will… be guided by our live cast of pioneers whose dialogue and stories and will make the adventure come alive!” says the website.
Cap hosts today’s excursion and explains that 500,000 people made the five-month-long trek mostly to find land between 1852 and 1914. “Sixteen percent of the travelers didn’t make it to Oregon,” he says. “Ten percent died of cholera, five percent to accidents and a mere one percent to Indians, which is what they were all afraid of.”
Also in Montpelier is the Butch Cassidy Museum, which was the last standing bank he and his friends robbed. Apparently, Cassidy was a busy man, as references to the outlaw spring up throughout Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah.
At Soda Springs (population 3,000), an Oregon Trail oasis, U.S. Route 30 turns west again. For a town only about the size of Dallastown, Pa., there are plenty of reasons to stop here.
A wagon train on its way to Oregon had stopped near Soda Creek in 1861. One family’s horses strayed from the main train and they started a search, but the next day, the seven-member family was found dead, killed by Indians. Others in the train buried all seven in the Wagon Box Grave. It was the first cemetery plot in what is now Fairview Cemetery.
At Geyser Park is the only captive geyser in the world. Not as high or powerful as the more famous Old Faithful, it was discovered during an attempt to find a hot water source for a swimming pool. On November 30, 1937, the drill went down 315 feet and unleashed the geyser. It is now capped and controlled by a timer, which allows eruptions every hour on the hour. The geyser reaches heights of 100 feet year-round.
Just north of town, every hour of every day, specialized Bayer Global trucks dump molten slag over the side of a man-made mountain just a few miles from town. Visitors can see the sight any time, but when the sun goes down, the sight is even more amazing.
“The stuff they’re dumping is the byproduct of their phosphorus production,”Soda Springs City Clerk JoAnna Ashley said, and “it looks like a volcano when they pour it down the side of the mountain — at night it lights up the sky and makes it orange.”
Lava Hot Springs (population 407) becomes a huge parking lot in summer, with tourists from all over the world visiting the naturally heated pools. Or, trying to tame wild white-water creeks or sliding down huge water slides.
One white-water rafting company owner estimates this tiny town will see nearly one million visitors this summer. Just above the heated springs is U.S. Route 30, and just above that is the Union Pacific Railroad.
Pocatello (population 55,000) has an identity problem, and it’s understandable. In at three different places, mention was made that “no one comes to Pocatello unless lost, on their way to Yellowstone, or…” and then insert a place to visit, but not Pocatello. “Gateway to the Northwest” is the nickname. Or, it’s The Smile City. In 1948, the Mayor of the City of Pocatello, George Phillips, passed an ordinance making it illegal not to smile in Pocatello.
Pocatello is at the junction of interstates 15 (north to Yellowstone or south to Salt Lake City) and 86 (west to Boise). Travelers can use Pocatello as a stopping off point to those destinations, but there’s plenty to see here.
One museum that travelers probably won’t find anywhere else is The Museum of Clean. The project is the brainchild of Don Aslett, a cleaning expert who has written books about cleaning. “My whole being said, ‘Why not? There are car museums, horse museums, train museums, and plane museums; so why couldn’t there be a museum of clean? What’s more important to mankind than the concept of clean?'”
The museum is an interesting collection of anything ‘clean’ from vacuums to toilet scrubbers, to dirty garages. There is a play area for the children, including barbells made with floor scrubbing pads and a hockey game with toilet plungers. Be sure to take the guided tour– the host should take his hilarious act on the road.
The Bannock County Historic Complex includes the Fort Hall Replica, cabins, Pocatello Junction (three-quarter scale buildings built originally for Idaho’s Centennial Celebration) and the Bannock County Historical Museum.
Just behind the complex is the Pocatello Zoo, noted for its all-local animals. The zoo is expanding beyond its 89 animals (not including the hundreds of ‘rock hogs’ or yellow-bellied marmots that are not necessarily welcome visitors) and 30 exhibits, soon expanding their water area to include Trumpeter Swans. About 36,000 people visit here annually and with the expansion, it is expected to reach 60,000.
The American Falls Fish Hatchery is just one of 14 hatcheries in Idaho. The primary mission of the hatchery is to rear approximately 325,000 catchable-size Rainbow Trout. These fish are stocked in waters statewide for anglers to catch. The hatchery also produces fingerling-size Rainbow Trout, Rainbow/Cutthroat, and Hybrid Trout– from the web site.
All along the highway water is poured on crops, but is more easily seen on U.S. Route 30 where it reverts to a two-lane highway away from I-84 near Burley in south-central Idaho. Idaho, which ranks 39th nationally in population, ranks second in total irrigation.
“Southern Idaho, where most of the state’s 2.8 million irrigated acres are located, is a desert and farmers there are heavily dependent on the state’s reservoir systems to grow their crops,” says one official. ““We have an agricultural economy that is built on water,” said University of Idaho Agricultural Economist Garth Taylor.
Murtaugh Lake provides plenty of water from the Snake River, and dams are used to control water flow for crops and animals.
Also along the Snake River is Twin Falls and the exciting I.D. Perrine Bridge. The fourth highest arch bridge in the U.S. at nearly 500 feet, it is the scene of common and legal base jumping– no permit needed. One Twin Falls business has classes that, after only 90 minutes, students can jump off the bridge– for a $400 fee.
The bridge has claimed the lives of four jumpers since 2002.
In Filer (population 2,500), plans are already being made for next year’s Route 30 Music Festival. June’s country music festival nearly tripled the town’s population. Twenty-five groups and musicians are expected for next year’s event.
About 300,000 sheep were herded through Hagerman (population 872) in the early 1900s. Hagerman Valley was an attractive wintering location for sheep ranching because of plentiful year-round spring water that didn’t freeze due to milder winters and protection from harsh early spring storms during lambing. Soon, sheep had become the principal livestock industry in southern Idaho, and by the late 1920s was considered the golden age of sheep ranching.
Irrigation continues throughout southern Idaho, and the Bruneau Dunes State Park will convince visitors that this area would be, indeed, a desert without water. Bruneau Dunes State Park boasts the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America with a peak rising 470 feet above the surrounding desert floor.
About 60 miles west of the dunes, Boise suddenly appears. The capital is busy, something terribly out of place for the past 320 miles. Bikers, hikers, walkers, and joggers are everywhere. Drivers see traffic jams for the first time since Wyoming and hear jets arriving and departing from BOI.
“The Boise Airport set a new passenger record during 2017, as new flights, increased frequencies and low fares deepened its role in connecting Boise to the world,” says the airport website.
The Boise metro area is expected to continue growing. The valley in which Boise is located is wide and mostly unpopulated. Suburbs Nampa and Meridian join Boise as the largest cities in Idaho, and it doesn’t appear that growth will stop anytime soon.
Boise has a large ethnic Basque community of about 15,000 people, which is the largest in the United States and the fifth-largest outside of Mexico, Chile, Argentina and the Basque Country in France and Spain. Idaho has been a refugee resettlement arena since 1975 when it was established as the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program to help resettle refugees fleeing the overthrow of US-supported governments in South Asia.
According to Forbes– The median home price here is $291,000, 17% above the national median. Cost of living 7% above the national average. PROS: Robust economy. Low serious crime rate. Highly bikeable. Good weather with low humidity and relatively mild winters, and good air quality. A high rate of volunteerism.
According to the most recent ACS, the racial composition of Boise was White: 88.82%, two or more races: 3.52%, Asian: 3.29%, African American: 1.93%, other race: 1.62%
Away from the capital’s busy-ness, is the World Center for Birds of Prey. The stars here aren’t the Bald Eagles but the California Condors and the falcons.
From the website– In 1982 there were only 22 California Condors left in the world. Today there are nearly 500 – more than half of them flying free in Arizona, Utah, California, and Baja Mexico. Condors are the largest birds in North America with a wingspan of 9.5 feet.
Today, Condors die for a variety of reasons, but the biggest preventable cause of death is lead poisoning. In fact, half of all deaths are due to poisoning by lead fragments that condors ingest when scavenging on remains of animals, like deer, that have been harvested with lead-based ammunition.
The Peregrine Fund was founded in 1970 to bring the falcon back from the brink of extinction through captive breeding and release to the wild.
U.S. Route 30 splits I-84 again for about 15 miles before crossing into Oregon. New Plymouth (population 1,500) was founded in 1894 to demonstrate a canal system for farm irrigation. Settlers came from Cleveland, Boston, and Chicago to try out their idea of putting all their farmhouses in a central city. The town map still shows that plan.
Depending on traffic flow in this, the most congested highway in the state, drivers can expect a 50-minute drive from Boise to the Oregon state line and the last leg of U.S. Route 30.