As far as licence plate slogans go most states don’t strive for modesty. Oregon is Pacific Wonderland, New Mexico - Land of Enchantment, Massachusetts claims - inexplicably to the rest of the country - The Spirit of America. Put on this background Idaho’s Famous Potatoes seems very down to earth. It sounds like a no nonsense state. So we do not expect much. Apart from potatoes in every shape, form and color.
Our initial peregrinations, which take us from Utah through Snake River valley, seem to confirm our thoroughly unheightened expectations. As far as the eye can see the desert is thoroughly irrigated and cultivated for fame hungry tubers. And while we appreciate the starchy staple it does not stir our culinary imagination in the same way as Colorado’s peaches, California’s dates or Louisiana’s oysters do. Well, Idaho also has corn and wheat. Not to mention grass for hay. Allegedly there are also apples, peaches and plums but so far we haven’t seen a single fruit tree amidst acres upon acres of fields dotted with cows. In any case fruit growing is in decline according to USDA’s Idaho Fruit Tree Census (I kid you not, federal government is counting fruit trees).
Appearances quickly prove to be deceiving. Another Idaho slogan is Vacation Wonderland. Which is not surprising if you consider that Idaho has the most forest and the largest continuos wilderness among the lower 49. Not really ready for No Return Wilderness we start exploring City of Rocks and quickly realize that agriculture and tourism are intertwined here. Hiking, climbing and grazing (sic!) are listed under activities at the park entrance, but we try to ignore the third option. Ignore at our peril as it turns out when the trail takes us through a muddy stream. Fording is one thing, doing it under watchful eye of 20 or so cows apparently hiking in the opposite direction takes it to a completely different level of outdoor adventure. The cows seem to be way too interested in our modest struggle. Also not that impressed at our hand waving and noise making tactics. Looks like livestock handling requires different approach then what works on bears and mountain lions. We opt for a strategic withdrawal and some bushwhacking. Alternative trail requires climbing over barbed wire fencing but allows for stream crossing in a well deserved solitude. Wet and proud we quickly find ourselves in the middle of another pack of hiking cows. By the end of the day Damian is quite convinced that climbing is actually a safer option. None of the cows we saw was wearing a harness or carrying any ropes.
Hiking cows don’t deter Idaho lodging owners from quoting us big city prices for modest accommodations. Do you offer any discounts? I ask my standard question. I’m giving you a double room for the price of a single! the motel proprietor huffs indignantly in response. Not really sure why I would want to pay for an extra bed I can’t possibly use I try another tack: Will you give me a better price if I pay cash? It doesn’t help me. The price is the same she says with a scorn. This is not the first time I feel like I committed a major faux pas trying to negotiate with Idahoans. But this is Sun Valley, first winter resort in US. Resigned I want to find out how much she is charging during winter but the lady explains that rates are the same regardless of the season. When pressed she explains that a lot of recreation opportunities are available in the area. She does not mention grazing but recommends kayaking. They give you a wet suit, since the water is rather cold this time of year, she adds helpfully. I start to think we are just not cut out for recreation in the land of potato growers. Does Wi-Fi work in the room? I double-check. I certainly hope so, comes the answer. I try to explain: Some places only have it in common areas. Response: I have no common areas. I am clearly asking questions to which there are only obvious answers.
The next day Damian tries to find some coffee. The motel office is closed at 9 AM. The card in the window announces Ring Bell Once Only and Wait 5 Minutes for us to assist you. Do Not Disturb us if you do not plan to rent a room. We are sleeping!. Coffee here is a tricky proposition anyway. One morning my latte arrives suspiciously sweet and scented. I attempt to protest, but the girl behind the counter just looks at me and says with inner conviction and thinly veiled contempt: This is how latte is made: with vanilla syrup. While lacking worldly charms, the state is full of interesting places so we keep our pride and knowledge of espresso drinks to ourselves and tour Craters or the Moon, Hell’s Canyon and Shoshone Falls.
Strangely the census data shows that Idaho population grows at a rather healthy clip: over 20% since 2000. So either potatoes have more fans than we suspect or living in a state of unwavering superiority proves irresistible.