STATE 21 - IDAHO
07/31/2011 75 °F
When I (someone living in the opposite corner of the country) think of Idaho, I think of the Idaho potatoes. I have never met anyone from Idaho, and I've never been there personally, so there really hasn't been anything or anyone to educate me about the state. Well, I am going to set you straight (if you are as clueless about Idaho as I used to be). I am going to share 3 reasons to visit Idaho other than the potatoes (although there is a 1 in 3 chance your potato came from Idaho)!
Western Idaho (along with eastern Washington) is known for its great tasting wines. Vineyard after vineyard passed by the first hour driving through Idaho. The slightly arid climate and hilly landscape give long period of sunlight during grape-growing season. The grapes have a concentrated fruit flavor, perfect for making wine (similar to the wine country in South Australia). Here is one of the vineyards we passed just after we entered Idaho.
The hills grew larger, eventually forming mountains. Trees filled the countryside, and lakes filled the valleys. Western Idaho is very scenic. We turned north to head to Sandpoint, ID in the skinny northern section of the state. Few cars were on the road, and there were even fewer towns. Most of the area here is reserved for National Forests. This leads me to Reason #1 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes: Lots of forests, trails, and rivers. It's an outdoorsman's paradise. As far as the eye can see, the land is unspoiled by humans, and the land that is being used is for growing grapes for wine!
We eventually wound our way into Sandpoint (couldn't miss it, the highway slows to 25mph when it forms the main street in town). It had the feeling of a small beach town. Most of the people were on foot wearing bathing suits or riding bikes. We parked the car and walked through the town. The town was only about 5 blocks long, but it was the biggest town I had seen since entering Idaho (most of the people in the state live in the southern end near Boise). It was relaxing, no one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. A bluegrass band played some mountain music while people moved in and out of the shops.
Megan and I went into one of the wineries in town to try some of the wine we passed by on the road. The winery was called Pend D'Oreille, named after the local Indian tribe that lived around the lake. They had a variety of wines, choosing not to focus one particular type of grape. Megan got excited when they had 3 different types of desert wine for her to try.
We chatted with the bartender about being from North Carolina, and he kept our glasses filled. I could have sat in there all day, but we wanted to see Lake Pend Oreille and some of the trails in the area. We thanked the bartender and headed back out onto main street.
We walked through town towards the lake access. To my surprise, a giant beach surrounded the park next to the lake. No wonder it felt like a beach town! This was the closest beach for some of these land-locked Idahoans.
It wasn't exactly hot outside compared to a North Carolina summer, but it was roasting for northern Idaho. Everyone was at the beach, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. People were riding skateboards and bikes along the walkway lining the beach. We both waded into the water, and then promptly got out (it was chilly!).
We continued down the beach. People were grilling out and sunbathing, while kids dove off floating logs serving as a swimming barrier. Every person for miles was probably on the beach, and it was hardly crowded at all. The mountains rising over the clear, blue water was very pretty. Reason #2 for Visiting Idaho Other than the Potatoes: It is hard to beat the views.
We followed a trail going around the lake. A few people passed us on bikes, but for the most part the trail was empty. We passed by some swimmers that were doing half mile loops in the lake (most of them we wearing wetsuits). Megan found the "biggest dandelion in the world", and proceeded to blow the seeds into the wind.
The trail eventually went over a bridge, so we stopped to watch the sun set over the water. The lake and surrounding mountains were absolutely beautiful. The air was clean and refreshing. A train went over a nearby bridge, adding to the backdrop.
We walked back into town to try the local brewery and get some dinner. Megan has come a long way, from disliking all beer to now enjoying a few of the darker varieties. It is my belief that she makes up her mind whether she is going to like something before she even tries it, so I challenged her to a blind beer taste test. I ordered a sampler of beer and had her blindly taste all the varieties in the brewery.
She started going through the beers randomly, ranking them 1 to 5. The darker beers scored much higher than the hoppier beers, so it seemed that she genuinely didn't like the bitterness of a hoppier beer. Instead of randomly handing her beers, I started just handing her only the hoppy ones, just to see her bitter-beer face. It was hilarious. After taking a sip, she involuntarily shuttered and made a bitter-beer face.
To make Megan feel better, I started making a bitter-beer face after every drink. Here is my bitter beer face.
To try some authentic Idahoan food, Megan and I ordered the Idaho specialty, the magnificent spud. Megan opted for the french-fried variety, while I stuck to the homemade chip.
Reason #3 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potato: It was one of the most relaxing days I've had in a long time. And the potato was pretty good too!