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USA: Idaho: Boise
Boise, Idaho, USA: Gem of a potato
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The right pronunciation is Boysee and not Boyzee. When the French speaking fur trappers were moving in the area they surely must have christened the city – a combination of Leblou (trees) and Blosse (wooded area). So here we are in a beautiful city surrounded by magnificent mountains and inhabited by beautiful people.
The State of Idaho has a population of just about 1.5 million. Half of those live in the Boise area. No wonder Idaho State is the 2nd largest in wilderness only next to Alaska. Essentially, the State also nicknamed The Gem State (over 14 kinds of precious and semi-precious stones are found around here) is a great location for outdoor enthusiast. But that doesn’t take us away from the enchantment of Boise town.
I drove from Portland to Boise. By the time I reached my hotel it was 7PM. I had a business conference to attend in Boise. For the next 4 days, my home would be Hampton Inn and Suites, that was ideally located in the business district just blocks away from the convention centre, Capitol building and the entertainment district. Boise is a beautiful little town. Everything is quite within walking distance – if you are prepared to foot that is.
The next morning, the day was kept aside to discover Boise. The delegates had a bus at their disposal. Nancy from Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau did a great job. She was our guide for the day.
Our day began with a breakfast at Owyhee Plaza – Built in 1910 it’s one of the town’s finest ‘old world charm’ hotels. The name rhymes well with Hawaii. And that’s not a coincidence. Way back in 1792 when the locals travelled with hunters from Hawaii, they liked the name Hawaii and actually named their mountains and the river accordingly. However, the spelling became Owyhee.
Post breakfast, our first stop was the Julia Davis Park. Just blocks away from downtown Boise, this is an all encompassing location. The sprawling 90 acre premises has a park, a zoo, a rose garden, Idaho Black Museum, a chapel, a historical museum (they are closed on Mondays), a tennis complex, a duck pond and a section of Boise River Greenbelt. This park was created thanks to a donation of 43 acres of land way back in 1907 by Thomas Davis in memory of his beloved wife Julia. Since we had little time on hand, I decided to visit the park early next morning on my own.
Driving along the Boise River we passed through Boise State University – home to over 20,000 students. The university offers over 165 fields of interest to its students through its 7 colleges.
A short drive away is the Morrison Knudson (MK) Nature Centre. It’s a 5-acre enclosure that offers excellent fish and wildlife experience. The Nature Center's stream walk and visitor center provide a glimpse of Idaho's many landscapes and abundant wildlife. The underwater viewing windows along the stream walk give visitors a fish-eye view of the world. Talking of fish, the State of Idaho produces USA’s largest quantities of Trout. Streams in Idaho are a great location for Trout fishing enthusiasts.
Passing through Fort Boise Park (a 33 acre complex for public use with amenities including open play area, baseball, skateboard, softball ad tennis) we arrived at Idaho Botanical Garden with an idea to walk part of the 33-acre garden nestled in Boise foothills. It would have been an encounter with nature to see heirloom roses, aromatic herb collection and delicate alpine garden blossoms. However, that was not to be. As soon as we got down from the bus, it started snowing pretty heavily. The trip was cut short and we proceeded, just next door to Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site.
Built in 1870 and functioning well up to 1973, the Old Idaho Penitentiary is one of the four territorial prisons open to public in the United States. The authorities offer walking tours of the prison. Our guide was Terry. He himself was a guard and he did a terrific job walking us through the prison, taking us through its history and briefing us about the various buildings and cells. Shivers ran down my spine whilst we were shown the Solitary Confinement Cells, The Death Row and the Gallows. Terry was indeed a fine story teller!
It was time for lunch. And what better place than to have one at the Stueckle Sky Centre, atop the Boise Stadium overlooking the blue turf of Boise Bronco football field. “I bleed deep blue” is the war cry of die-hard Boise Bronco fans. Lunch was baked potatoes – an Idaho symbol. More popular than its Trout are Idaho potatoes. As you drive along the country side, acres and acres of potato fields dominate the State skyline. By the way, on one of the evenings we were served an ice cream that resembled an Idaho potato with sour cream. My compliments to the chef for making us believe the dessert was actually a potato with toppings and all!
The lunch prepared us to explore the Anne M Frank Human Rights Memorial. Anne Frank and downtown Boise may seem like an unlikely pairing, but the legacy Anne left for human dignity strongly resonates in Idaho. In 1995, a traveling exhibit on Anne Frank drew in tens of thousands of visitors from across Idaho. This overwhelming interest sparked the idea for a more permanent tribute. Over the course of the next several years, a group of community leaders, human rights stalwarts, and citizens from across the state and the country worked tirelessly to bring the Memorial to life.
In 2002, their long-held vision was realized, and the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial opened to the public. This world-class educational park, which has been profiled in several national publications including the National Geographic book "Etched in Stone: Enduring Words from Our Nation's Monuments," is the only Anne Frank Memorial in the United States and one of the only places in the world where the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is on public display. Kurt Karst, an Idaho Falls architect, designed the Memorial to integrate the beauty of natural elements-like water, stone, and native plants-with the message of hope in humanity. Over 60 quotes from world’s humanitarian leaders are etched in stone – each one to stir a soul.
Our next stop was to another Boise landmark – The Boise Depot. Built in 1925 for use as a Union Pacific railroad depot, the mission-like structure was designed by New York architects and was heralded as the most beautiful structure of its kind. Situated on the rim at the south end of the Capitol Boulevard, the panoramic view from the Depot patio is a stunning glimpse of the city skyline and the ridgeline of the Boise Foothills. Today no railroads touch the Depot. Instead the location is used for hosting private functions. I am told the citizens are trying hard to get the railroad back. Is Amtrak listening?
Our last stop for the day and probably the best one would be a visit to Capitol Building. Boise is Idaho’s capital city. And like all capital cities in USA, there must be a place for the administrators to plan and execute strategies. Funny, to me all Capitol Buildings look the same. While every State take pride in letting us know as to how unique their building is, to me they just appear the same. So far I have visited Capitol Buildings in Washington DC, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and now Boise. Probably the only difference to me was who rules within – Democrats or Republicans!
Built in 1905, Capitol Building in Boise extensively uses marble of 4 colours – red, green, grey and black. The pillars look like marble but are actually a treatment called scagliola that renders Plaster of Paris to look like genuine marble. After spending an hour touring the many offices within, we reached our hotel.
End of a long day and the beginning of jam-packed business meetings over the next 3 days.
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