IDAHO was the last of the states to be penetrated by white settlers, and in 1805, Lewis and Clark declared central Idaho’s bewildering labyrinth of razor-edged peaks and wild waterways the most difficult leg of their epic trek. Though much of its scenery deserves national-park status, its citizens have long been suspicious of the government. It remains one of the country’s most environmentally compelling places, despite widespread anti-environmental attitudes. Indeed, the name “Idaho” was promoted by a mining lobbyist, who claimed it was a Shoshone word meaning “gem of the mountains”; he later admitted to making it up.
Idaho is a great destination for the outdoors enthusiast: natural wonders in its five-hundred-mile stretch include Hells Canyon, America’s deepest river gorge, the dramatic Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and the black, barren Craters of the Moon – not to mention the skiing mecca of Sun Valley. Beyond these, hikers and backpackers have the choice of some eighty mountain ranges, interspersed with virgin forest and lava plateaus, while the mighty Snake and Salmon rivers offer endless fishing and whitewater rafting.
To this day, there is no east–west road across the heart of the state, and the central wilderness divides the state in half. The heavily forested north is interspersed with glacial lakes fronted by resorts like Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene; in the south, irrigation begun in the 1880s has transformed the scrubland along the Snake River into the fertile fields responsible for the state’s license-plate tag of “Famous Potatoes”.Read More
The Sawtooth Mountains
The Sawtooth Mountains
North of Ketchum and Sun Valley, Hwy-75 climbs through rising tracts of forests and mountains to top out after twenty miles at the spectacular panorama of Galena Summit. Spreading out far below, the meadows of the Sawtooth Valley stretch northward. The simple road meanders beside the young Salmon River, whose headwaters rise in the forbidding icy peaks to the south, as the serrated ridge of the Sawtooth Mountains forms an impenetrable barrier along the western horizon. Backpackers are guaranteed solitude in these climes, dotted with some five hundred remote alpine lakes – pick up details of camping sites and hiking trails at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters, eight miles north of Ketchum at 5 North Fork Canyon Rd (daily 8.30am–5pm; t 208-727-5000, w www.fs.fed.us/r4/sawtooth). Fly-fishing for brown trout, steelhead and salmon is a popular pastime here as well.
The Nez Percé
The Nez Percé
The first whites to encounter the Nez Percé people were the weak, hungry and disease-ridden Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. The natives gave them food and shelter, and cared for their animals until the party was ready to carry on westward.
Relations between the Nez Percé (so called by French-Canadian trappers because of their shell-pierced noses) and whites remained agreeable for over fifty years – until the discovery of gold, and white pressure for property ownership led the government to persuade some renegade Nez Percé to sign a treaty in 1863 that took away three-quarters of tribal land. As settlers started to move into the hunting grounds of the Wallowa Valley in the early 1870s, the majority of the Nez Percé, under Chief Joseph, refused to recognize the agreement. In 1877, after much vacillation, the government decided to enact its terms and gave the tribe thirty days to leave.
Ensuing skirmishes resulted in the deaths of a handful of settlers, and a large army force began to gather to round up the tribe. Chief Joseph then embarked upon the famous Retreat of the Nez Percé. Around 250 warriors (protecting twice as many women, children and old people) outmanoeuvred army columns many times their size, launching frequent guerrilla attacks in a series of narrow escapes. After four months and 1700 miles, the Nez Percé were cornered just thirty miles from the safety of the Canadian border. Chief Joseph then (reportedly) made his legendary speech of surrender, “From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever”. Today some 1500 live in a reservation between Lewiston and Grangeville – a minute fraction of their original territory.
Nez Percé National Historic Park, with 38 separate sites, is spread over a huge range of north-central Idaho, eastern Oregon and western Montana. At the visitor centre in Spalding, ten miles east of Lewiston (daily 8am–4.30pm, summer closes 5pm; free; t 208/843-7001, w www.nps.gov/nepe), the Museum of Nez Percé Culture focuses on tribal arts and crafts, while the White Bird Battlefield, seventy miles further south on US-95, was where the tribe inflicted 34 deaths on the US Army, in the first major battle of the Retreat.