USA, ID: A Big City with a Small Town HeartIdaho’s largest city and capital is a relaxed metropolis of outdoor revelers, casual dressed city slickers, bicycle riding university students and the odd Stetson wearing cowpoke. A place where modern sophistication meets country chic. The city’s youthful population is centered around technology with giant corporations like Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
On a balmy Friday evening in August I checked into my downtown, Boise hotel where a single guitarist played under a shade cloth in a corner of the hotel’s courtyard as local revelers sang along to his songs. It was a gathering of young and old, and some well-heeled city dwellers mixed in with a touch of cowboy culture. At the table next to mine, I overheard an older man wearing a Stetson say to someone, “I’ve lived in Boise all my life, admittedly in some of my youthful years I was housed in the state penitentiary.” An honest man in an honest city!
Idaho . . . did you know it’s the only state in America that has an invented name? Mining lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name "Idaho" to Congress for the territory around Pike's Peak, claiming it was a Shoshone Indian word meaning, "Gem of the Mountains." However, just as Congress was about to bestow this name, they were advised that Idaho was not of Indian origin, but a made up name. In reaction, Congress designated the territory Colorado instead of Idaho.
When gold was found in Nez Perce country (present day Idaho) these discoveries became known as the "Idaho Mines." Though Idaho had been discarded as a name for the new territory, the name was already in common usage. In 1863, Congress created a new territory for the Idaho Mines and the name Idaho suddenly seemed like a natural. Its not surprising then that Idaho’s nickname is the Gem State.
Boise on the other hand is considered to have French origins. A French word meaning "wooded," Boise came into use early in the nineteenth century among French-Canadian fur hunters as a name for the tree-lined Boise River which passes through the heart of the city. To this day the city takes its "City of Trees" moniker very seriously.
Boise is Idaho’s state capital in a region lying on a broad, flat plain, descending to the west. Mountains rise to the northeast, stretching from the far southeastern tip of the Boise city limits. As of the 2010 census Boise's city population was 205,671. Yet the true Boise metropolitan area is home to over 616,000 people.
Idaho’s largest city and capital is a relaxed metropolis of outdoor revelers, casual dressed city slickers, bicycle riding university students and the odd Stetson wearing cowpoke . . . a place where modern sophistication meets country chic. The city’s youthful population is centered around technology with giant corporations like Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology calling Boise their home.
Boise is a city entwined in arts and culture yet with a family focus where an urban sophistication belies its Rocky Mountain location. Besides the many festivals held in the city during the summer months including the open-air Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Boise is also home to the Boise Opera Company, the Boise Philharmonic and the Boise Art Gallery which houses an American Realism collection. On the weekend I was there family fun was the name of the game as the annual Boise Balloon Festival had 35 hot-air balloons filling the morning sky. Like the city itself, it was a sight to behold.
Not many Americans would know it but Boise happens to have the largest concentration of Basque residents outside of Spain. They began settling here as migrant sheep-herders in the 1890s and as such have had a profound impact on Boise’s culture including music and dance. The Basque Museum and Cultural Centre celebrates Idaho’s Spanish roots with some wonderful displays that interpret their colourful old-world origins. Add more than a dozen other museums in downtown that are worth wandering through and you’d think you were in a city on the East Coast.
Framed by Boise National Forest the city grew up during the frontier days of the 1860s as a gold rush town when gritty prospector’s found rivers teeming in gold, a place where back then only fur trappers and mountain men roamed, yet Idaho had been inhabited by the ancestors of Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce peoples for more than 11,000 years. It was only in 1805 that the first white people navigated across prairielands and traversed its rivers. It was the intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark who crossed this land on their famed journey to Oregon.
Once the boom years of the gold rush had passed and the mining camps had been abandoned, the railroad gave new vitality to the city. Soon the well-irrigated alluvial plains of the Snake River turned the arable land into a flourishing industry – famous Idaho potatoes. Add sheep, grain and cattle and you can see why the state’s produce has become such a staple on the tables of America’s growing population.
The people of Boise thrive in the great outdoors. In the summer month’s you can take in a rodeo, watch minor league baseball, or a professional hockey game, play golf, cast a line or float down the Boise River, skate, bike, stroll or jog on the 40km of greenbelt arteries or visit one of the seven major parks that line the city’s riverfront. Add another 135km of trails and pathways in the Boise foothills and the 22 public golf courses and your outdoor pursuits program will be full to capacity.
As a cosmopolitan oasis, the city also boasts some of the finest restaurants and cuisine this side of Portland, Oregon. Trendy café’s and bars dominate the downtown district offering menus with a decidedly western flavour along with a drinks list that includes local boutique beers and a range of acclaimed Snake River Valley wines.
Thankfully the downtown area has also retained and renovated many of its imposing nineteenth-century buildings, including the graceful Capital Building built in 1905 that’s crowned by a large bronzed eagle. Nearby Main Street also retains many of Old Boise’s late Victorian buildings. For visitors wanting to delve into frontier prison life the Old Idaho State Penitentiary offers tours of it’s cells and the chilling gallows - it closed permanently in 1973 - 101 years after its first locked its inmate’s behind massive doors.
Winter is reserved for skiing, snowboarding and ice hockey. Bogus Basin is located only 25km from town. The ski resort is spread out over a 2,600-acre area. The claim to fame here is family orientation. It sits above Boise with an impressive 550m vertical drop. Here you’ll also will find 37km of groomed Nordic trails for cross-country skiing.
If trout fishing and wild waters excite you then the 4,800km of rivers supply Idaho canoeists, kayakers, rafters and fishermen with an endless supply of wet terrain, more than any other state in the lower 48 states. The Boise River that dissects the heart of downtown is lined with aspens and cottonwoods, is also perfect for floating or fishing in summer.
Boise, Idaho - the perfect blend of nightlife, daylife, wildlife and outdoor life all rolled into one – a big city with small town heart.
Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association will recommend outfitters, guides, activities and rivers in the state: www.ioga.org
For all your angling needs visit Idaho Angler in Boise who offer fly tackle and accessories, outdoor clothing and watercraft equipment. Go to: www.idahoangler.com
Modern Hotel T: +1 208 424 8244 W: www.themodernhotel.com
Hotel 43 T: +1 208 914 2987 W: www.hotel43.com
For more information on visiting the State of Idaho go to: www.visitidaho.org
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