Retro Roadtrip: Idaho

Lewis & Clark sites
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.” The 29-member expedition left St. Louis in 1804 and spent the winter of 1804-05 in North Dakota. Lewis and Clark hired French trader Toussaint Charbonneau as a guide, but it was his wife, Sacajawea, who proved to be the most valuable asset. In the summer of 1805, the group passed over the Continental Divide to face the rugged Bitterroot Mountains in what is now north-central Idaho. With vital assistance from Sacajawea’s people, the Lemhi Shoshone, the group was rescued from starvation and befriended by the Nez Perce Indians. After they recuperated, the Lewis and Clark expedition entrusted their horses to the Nez Perce and continued on their epic journey, in cottonwood canoes, to the Pacific Ocean.

Several sites in Idaho help guide tourists in exploring this famous route. At the Lemhi Pass, a 39-mile long gravel road leads to the site where the first American flag was unfurled in the West, in 1805. The Lemhi County Museum in Salmon concentrates on exhibits about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but also has a large display of Lemhi Shoshone artifacts. The Sacajawea Interpretive Cultural and Education Center celebrates the life of America’s best-known Native-American woman. A new visitor center at Lodi Pass on the Idaho-Montana border features Lewis and Clark interpretive exhibits. The Weippe Discovery Center in Weippe focuses on the important 1805 meeting between the nearly starved expedition and the Nez Perce Indians. The Clearwater Historical Museum in Orofino displays artifacts from gold mining, logging, farming and the Nez Perce Indians.

The Nez Perce National Historic Park features 38 sites in four states. Canoe Camp, which is in Spalding, is the site where the expedition waited for canoes to be built so they could continue their journey. See a dugout canoe replica, as well as exhibits that explain how the Nez Perce interacted with fur traders, missionaries, soldiers and settlers.

Settled by French trappers in the 19th century, Boise is often defined as an ideal American city. A 25-mile greenbelt surrounding the Boise River offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation and festivals in the heart of the vibrant downtown area, where most tourist attractions are centered.
The Basque Museum and Cultural Center offers visitors a view into the heritage of the Basques, who arrived in Idaho in the 1880s from northern Spain and southwestern France, where the Bay of Biscay meets the western range of the Pyrenees Mountains. Many Basques herded sheep and worked in mines and timber, others formed their own sheep and cattle businesses, and a few became wealthy. Others moved into cities and had a variety of jobs.

The Idaho Historical Museum explores Idaho from prehistoric times, through the fur trade and the Gold Rush, from pioneer settlements to the present. Richly detailed interiors show how Idahoans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lived and conducted business. Exhibits about the state’s Native American, Chinese and Basque populations also are presented.

A special exhibit, “Lewis and Clark: The Journey in Idaho,” will be on display until December. The Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site housed more than 13,000 inmates from 1870 to 1979, and offers a fascinating walking tour where visitors learn about daily prison life and notorious prisoners. Within the prison walls is the J. Curtis Earl Arms collection featuring everything from Bronze Age artifacts through modern-day weapons. Boise Art Museum focuses on 20th century artists from the Pacific Northwest, in addition to exhibitions of American Realism and ceramics. A special exhibit, “Frank Lloyd Wright and the House Beautiful,” will be available to view until October. Noteworthy specialized museums include Idaho Black History Museum, Idaho Military History Museum, and the Museum of Mining and Geology.


Located in the richest silver-mining region of the world, Wallace has produced 1.2 billion ounces of silver since 1884. Its 960 residents are proud that every downtown building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Take a ride on a 16-passenger trolley to begin a Sierra Silver Mine Tour. Hear the history of Wallace as you take a short ride to the mine portal. Then don your hardhat and follow an experienced miner underground to see exhibits of historic techniques used in mining silver, lead and zinc. The Wallace District Mining Museum displays artifacts and exhibits that record a century of silver mining. The Oasis Bordello Museum is located in an 1895 brick building that was a bordello from the 1880s until 1988. While it’s not appropriate for children, the tastefully presented tour gives a glimpse into the rowdy side of Wallace when men outnumbered women 200 to 1.

Idaho Falls
The Museum of Idaho preserves the natural and cultural history of Idaho and the intermountain west. “Guns and Hooks: Guns of the West & Rocky Mountain Fly Fishing” will be on display until January 2007. This special exhibit contains items on loan from a dozen personal collections.