“The best way to travel is to live with the locals”
State 18: Idaho - October 10, 2017
Nate and I have spent the past 3 days at my Cousin Stephen’s house in Mountain Home, Idaho. I haven’t seen my cousin and his family in over 25 years, and it has been amazing catching up. Here are some pictures of our visit.
Idaho’s capitol city of Boise is only 49 miles Northwest of Mountain Home, Idaho. My cousin graciously offered to take us to the capitol city, and show us some of the sights. During our week long visit to a state, we always actively seek out opportunities to implant ourselves among the locals. We want to eat the food the locals eat, shop where the locals shop, and partake in the activities the locals partake in. This provides us with the best insight into the culture of a state, and what it would be like living there. Normally, when we visit a state capitol, we do so alone, and we were very excited to be accompanied by my Cousin Steve; a 36+ year native Idahoan. We all hopped in Steve’s vehicle, and were off to the state capitol building, and state's museum.
Boise is a respectably sized city, home to approximately 225,000 people, and counting. The cities explosive growth is due to rapid industrial expansion, drawing transplanted workers to the capitol region. In fact, Boise’s expansion has been so rapid the city has been scrambling to upgrade their infrastructure. Throughout the entire city, detours lined the streets, and construction crews were busy building hospitals, bridges, housing, and expanding roadways. Although Boise is home to a quarter million people, it did not have that big city feeling. Large trees lined the city street, and lush grassy lawns grew in front of the city’s building giving Boise a softer suburban feeling. First, my cousin took us up a steep mountain to a lookout point on the outskirts of Boise called Table Rock. We usually view a capitol city skyline from the approaching roadway. However, viewing the city skyline from a mountain lookout point offered a different and unique perspective. The lookout point also features a massive white metal cross, which had to be over 10 stories tall! Enjoy the beautiful pictures below of the Boise’s skyline.
After departing Table Rock, we headed for the state's museum. Nate and I were extremely excited to visit the museum to learn more about Idaho, but upon our arrival, we received disturbing news. The Idaho State Museum was currently closed while under construction, and would not be reopening until 2019. Darn, that put a serious damper on the day! However, the current construction on the Idaho State Museum sent a clear message Idaho values their state's history. We have visited many state museums on our cross country trip, which looked as if the displays were made in the 1970’s, and then entirely forgotten about. Clearly this was not the case in Idaho. The Cross Country Couple likes states who make a point to preserve their history. Good Job Idaho!
After departing the construction site of the Idaho State Museum, we headed across town to the Idaho Capitol Building. We parked along a side street, and encountered the most perplexing parking meter of our entire cross country trip. The meter accepted quarters, but alas we had none. The parking meter also had a slot to insert a credit card, which did not work. The face of the parking meter advertised an app you could use to pay for parking online, but the app did not download onto our Iphone. Finally, we found a phone number on the parking meter, and in a last ditch effort, I decided to call for help. An unhelpful customer service representative with a very heavy accent answered the phone. After 5 minutes of collecting my personal information, the representative informs me I had to pay $5.00 for her assistance. Are you kidding me? ARRRRRRR! This was getting very frustrating! I hung up the phone, walked 2 blocks to a nearby Wells Fargo with Steve, and finally acquired the quarters to feed the meter. In all, we spent 45 minutes on the side of the road attempting to pay our $1.00 for 2 hours of parking! A few words of wisdom about life on the road: Always carry quarters! Please see the pictures below.
After settling our tab with the parking meter, we walked 2 blocks to the Idaho State Capitol Building. Most capitols are recessed back from the street surrounded by large courtyards, and massive parking lots. The first thing we noticed about the Idaho State Capitol Building is how close the structure was to the city streets. This sends a symbolic message the state government is not far separated from it's citizens. The external construction of the capitol is made of limestone from the cornerstone all the way to the apex of the dome. In front of the external grand staircase was a scale replica of the Liberty Bell, which pedestrians can actually ring! In the 1950’s, 50 Liberty Bell replicas were cast, and sent to each of the 50 states. It has become a fun scavenger hunt to find the Liberty Bell every time we enter a capitol city. Some states display the bell in the capitol building, some display the bell in the state museum, and others don’t display the bell at all! Idaho is the first state we have encountered to display their Liberty Bell directly in front of the grand staircase outside for all to see! This sends a powerful message the state is proud of their freedom, liberty, and historic relics! Good job Idaho! Please see the pictures below.
We ascended the external grand staircase, entered the capitol building, and were pleased to learn we would not be searched by security at the door. This was shaping up to be an excellent experience, but the best was yet to come! As soon as we crossed the capitol’s threshold, we heard the most beautiful singing, and decided to investigate further. We walked into the building's central room, and saw a choir consisting of teenage boys and girls singing absolutely angelically! The sound of their voices resonated throughout the walls of the central room and created the most beautiful acoustics we have ever heard. We stood there being serenaded by these talented youths for the next 15 minutes. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we descended a gorgeous marble staircase, to the basement of the capitol's building to the gift shop, were we learned their capitol does not offer a guided tour. Instead, we were handed a booklet, lead to a room with a large screen, and showed a movie tour of the capitol building. In addition, the Idaho State Capitol offers virtual tours of the capitol building online, which is the first capitol we have come across offering such. Although we always prefer a guided tour of the state capitol, Idaho did a great job in the absence of such. We began the tour on the basement floor beneath the central room, and saw the most exquisite mosaic depicting the state seal consisting of thousands of individual tiles. Please see the pictures below.
We then headed to the East and West basement wings. In 2010, legislators approved the construction of the single-story underground wings, which run beneath the capitol courtyard. An underground construction was a very creative solution to address the need for additional government space without sacrificing the capitol courtyards. Each wing also featured skylights along the entire length of the hallway. This flooded the hall with natural night, and allowed the apex of the rotunda to be viewed from the capitol basement. What a clever architectural design! Please see the pictures below.
On the walls along the entire length of the East and West basement wings are pictures of iconic landmarks within the state, which was very interesting to see. Please see the pictures below.
Upon walking down the East basement hallway, we came across a Senate Committee meeting, which had just returned from recess. One of the committee members directed us towards the congressional cafeteria, and invited us to partake in the leftover food from lunch. We entered the Senate Cafeteria, and saw platters and platters of sandwiches, huge pitchers of lemonade and ice tea, and even a Greek risotto. The food was surprisingly fresh and delicious. We were fed and musically entertained compliments of the government of Idaho! This is shaping up to be one of our best capitol tours ever! Please see the pictures below.
Next, we headed back up the marble staircases to the first floor to view the Governor’s official office. The Governor uses this office to entertain important dignitaries, and sign bills into law. The desk in this office has been used by every Idaho Governor since 1919. Very few governors allow the general public to access their office. The sitting Governor's name is Butch Otter, and he is also a cowboy! If you need proof, he had a framed magazine on the wall which featured him on the cover. Please see the picture below.
We were then lead to the Senate chamber which was blue, and the House chamber which was red. There was also a committee room called JFAC, and when they were restoring the room, they found a clock on the wall original to the structure hidden beneath a painting. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we visited the States Treasurer's office to view an original and extremely rare safe. Back before the digital era, millions of dollars were stored in the room sized safe. Within the aforementioned safe, was an extremely rare safe called a manganese steel cannonball safe from 1905. The safe is named cannonball after it's round opening. It is still considered one of the most secure safes ever created, and is virtually impossible to crack! I have only seen one cannonball safe on our trip, and it was locked and unable to be opened. Today the safes are used to store important government documents. This is the first time we have seen inside of a States Treasury safe. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we headed up to the 4th floor of the capitol to view two sculptures with very interesting stories. The first statue features George Washington on a horse. Over a period of 4 years in 1869, Austrian Immigrant Charles Ostner hand carved the sculpture from a single piece of pine guided only by candlelight, and a postage stamp depicting Washington’s likeness. In 1966 the sculpture was restored, repaired and gold gilded. What an amazing work of art! Please see the pictures below!
Across the hall was the 2nd significant statue: a replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The original marble statue was sculpted in 400-300 BC on an island in the Aegean Sea, lost for centuries, rediscovered in 1863, and sent to the Louvre Museum in France where it resides to this day. After the WW2 ended, France sent the merci (thank you) train to each state capitol in 1949 to thank the US for their assistance during the war. Inside of Idaho’s boxcar was the replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue. This statue was spectacular, and I can’t wait to one-day travel to France to see the original. Please see the picture below.
After departing the capitol building, we stopped at two state parks on the way back to Mountain Home, ID. The first stop was at Lucky Point State Park. The park features a hydroelectric dam, which created a beautiful reservoir. The site was well developed with all the facilities one could want for outdoor enjoyment. The water level in the reservoir was quite low during our visit, which allowed for some very unique and beautiful landscapes. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we headed to Bruneau Dune State Park, which features several large sand dunes and two small lakes. The state park also has the unique distinction of having the largest single-structured sand dune at 470 feet, which is the tallest in North America! The visitor center rents sand boards for $15.00 a day, so you can surf down the dunes. I had no idea one could do such a thing! I wasn’t particularly feeling like taking another trip to the ER, so I respectfully declined. The park is also the site of the Bruneau Dunes Observatory, but was not accessible during our visit. We usually only have time to visit national parks on our journey, and rarely have the time visit state parks. Bureau Dunes State Park was a gem, and we are grateful my cousin took us there. Please enjoy the beautiful pictures below.
We are going to spend tomorrow back in Mountain Home, ID doing some housekeeping before we continue with our exploration of Idaho. My Cousin Steve and his wife Martina were gracious hosts, and awesome people. Nate and I will definitely keep in touch with them in the future. In addition, we reached out to Steve’s brother; Joe during my visit. Joe is another of my cousins whom I haven’t seen in 25 years. He lives in Lakewood, WA just outside of Tacoma, and we will be visiting him when we arrive in Washington in a few weeks. Although life on the road can be quite an adventure, at times it can also be quite lonesome. It was very refreshing to spend time with long lost family, and reminisce about life way back when. However, it is now time to continue on our year long cross country journey to discover America, and find a new state to call home. We are only 1/3 of the way finished with our trip, and we can’t wait to see what lays ahead!