Boise, Idaho’s Charming Capital:September 10–17, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

The road from Rexburg to Salmon was arguably the most boring to date – 160 miles of straight flat road with dull scenery, peppered occasionally with small towns or other brief encounters. In contrast, we knew before leaving Salmon that the ride south would be a challenge. We have been through others like it, with trips up and down mountains on narrow roads with hairpin turns, shear edges and no guardrails. To this trip was added distance; it was longer than our comfortable daily limit. As we started out, however, we found it better than expected, in fact, the first half was easy. Then we hit Rte 21. It got progressively more difficult, with the last 60 miles no picnic. Again, we can’t say enough about the ability of our Ram dually to get us up and down powerfully and safely. Fortunately, the campground was very nice. We settled into our pull-thru site, got set up and flopped.

Boise is a friendly town, absolutely gaga about its football team and luxuriating in its recent successes. I was confused by the fact that both its colors (blue and orange) and its name (Broncos) parallel Denver’s pros. No one I asked knew how it happened, which came first, or whether legal challenges had been made. They played an away game the weekend we were there, and won.

Our visit to Boise was somewhat utilitarian. We had stores nearby that we hadn’t been able to visit. We had three – count ’em three – Five Guys restaurants. We had what turned out to be an excellent Dodge dealer that did a major 60,000 mile service on our truck. And we traipsed through a fairground-sized RV fall show with incredible bargains (that we resisted). We also had an opportunity to go out to dinner with a local couple, friends of a friend who formerly worked with HP at a time when they were one of my clients. So it was fun on multiple levels, and we did get to see sites of special interest.

First and most enjoyable was The Peregrine Fund’s World Birds of Prey Center. Since 1986, this has been the Fund’s international headquarters, a 580 acre preserve with separate facilities for the Interpretive Center and breeding facility on one side and offices, research and an information center on the other. The Peregrine Fund was begun in 1970 by ornithology professor Tom Cade at Cornell University. Its success with the Peregrine is a poster child for what can be done – the falcon went from serious danger of extinction in the sixties to removal from the endangered list in 1999, after over 4,000 were produced and released by the Center. In 41 years, they have also been instrumental in preserving almost 90 other raptor species in 61 countries.

Today, their primary focuses are on the Aplomado Falcon and the California Condor, the biggest bird in North America. Condor mortality is caused in large part by the use of lead ammunition, not shot at them but left behind in corpses that become their food. Education efforts are underway to switch hunters to bullets that are lethal to prey but not scavengers; in some jurisdictions, it’s law. Another effort of the Center, which has been going on for ten years, is to save the Harpy Eagle, whose worst enemy is the two-legged predator. There are strong beliefs in Central and South America that the Harpy is dangerous to humans. Tremendous education efforts have been going on, especially in schools, where the story appeals to children who take it home to their parents.

The Center makes it very clear that they are not a rescue organization, taking in wounded animals and nursing them back to health. They are a propagation organization, breeding new neornithes in controlled, healthy environments and releasing them in an attempt to expand a species to self-sustaining numbers.

Upon arrival, one is first greeted with a giant, 30 foot high wire enclosure called Condor Cliffs. In it are a breeding pair, working with others to save the species. California Condors only produce an egg every other year. But it’s interesting to note that if something happens to that egg, they will double clutch and produce another. Thus, conservators have been stealing the first egg and raising it separately, using hand puppets. The second egg usually remains with the parents for rearing.

After viewing a collection of fascinating exhibits, including both live birds and the systems used to propagate them, we were invited to the back forty for an exhibition. Here, Kristy Marks, an Aplomado specialist, brought out a young specimen. While she explained that she could let it off its tether, she explained that workmen had recently set up an orange plastic storm fence nearby, which the falcon had not quite gotten used to. She explained that the bird (damn, I wish I remembered its name!) might choose to spend some time in a neighboring tree, which would likely keep them up all night. We got a huge amount of learning as well as credible demonstrations by Kristy putting it through its paces.

Heading back inside, Bill Heinrich, Species Restoration Manager, showed us an older Peregrine Falcon and told us about its history (it couldn’t be released because of a wing problem) and the history of the successful restoration. Only one person guessed that one of the most prolific populations is in New York City, where the skyscrapers provide a suitable habit. Diving from on high, hey can reach speeds exceeding 200 miles an hour. In the wild, their hunting method is familial; some birds will chase and flush the prey while others dive on it and crush the neck. Then all share the spoils.

Here’s a trivia question for you. What descriptor is used for a male and a female falcon? The female is called a falcon, and the male is called a tercel. Toyota didn’t invent the word; its German for one third. And it refers to the fact that the male is approximately one third smaller than the female.

Finally, Bill introduced us to Luigi, a ten year old Harpy. You’ll see below why everyone was so fascinated by him. We also got to see an education film starring Luigi himself, as he visits South American Schools to explain why he should be preserved rather than feared. The back walls of Luigi’s and other residents’ enclosures have been fancily painted by Kristy, who schooled and worked in the art world for years before pursuing her other favorite vocation.

We were impressed enough to leave a hundred bucks behind. Their website is http://www.peregrinefund.org/.

Later that day, we visited the Old Idaho Penitentiary. It was called both the Territorial and the State Pen because it was opened prior to statehood – less than ten years into territorial-hood in fact, in 1872. Its location was determined by the adjacency of the sandstone deposit that was mined to build it. Starting as a single cell block, it expanded into a 30 building campus by inmate labor. It had buildings with very different accommodations, some stacked five rows high. It had two solitary cell blocks, either of which will send shivers up your spine. Even more shivers come from the gallows. It consists of a viewing room with a large window and an execution room, with a sturdy eye-bolt in the ceiling and a trap door in the floor. Unlike the “firing squad” style we found in Bozeman, where none of the four knew for sure whether he had pulled the lever, this executioner moved the lever next to the victim. Walking down a flight of stairs, one then gets to see the “results” room below, where the condemned swings until cut down and removed out a back door. The last hanging was in 1957.

One building served at first as a federal lockup and was later remodeled as a chapel. The dining hall, built in 1898, was designed by an inmate who committed suicide the day after his release. Eventually, a women’s barracks was separate; we were amused that, along with stories of its most notorious inmates, this sign appeared. Many of the prison’s building are gutted, as you can see below. Much of this was the result of inmate riots in 1971 and 1973. The last 400 or so inmates were moved to a newer, more secure facility in December, 1973, 101 years since the first crossed the threshold. In that time, it hosted 13,000 prisoners, as many as 600 at a time. Two hundred fifteen were women. Idaho has only executed eleven people; ten were executed here. Another 110 died of natural causes and murder within the walls. There are several exhibits in ancillary buildings; one is a collection of weapons that date over three centuries.

A surprise find was the Idaho Human Rights Education Center. There are three principal components. The first is education. There is a library, as well as programs for both citizens and teachers, as well as seminars and idea exchanges among authors in the Log Cabin Literary Center. Component #2 is advocacy, supporting specific groups that are subject to bias as well as lobbying efforts for human rights legislation.

The third component is the one we went to see. It is the Anne Frank Memorial Garden. It’s a tranquil space, about an acre, that effectively portrays the movement rooted in her memory. There is a touching statue of Anne, spreading her message. There is a memorial tree, planted on behalf of one of Anne’s childhoofd friend, Jacqueline Van Maarsen, who attended her fourteenteh birthday party, at which she was given the blank journal she so richly filled. Please see these two photos below to reveal details of this story.

The pièces de résistance, however, were the endless walls inscribed with the sentiments not only of Miss Frank herself but with those who have either been affected similarly or who have been infused with her message. The first row of pictures below provide the setting. The next two rows are a small sampling of the content. I would again urge you to enlarge these pictures to see the wide scope of opinion, including at least one from an unexpected source.

Authors of quotations, l to r: Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Haim Ginott, Chief Seattle (for whom the city is named), Sojourner Truth, Moses, Olaudah Equiano (African slave), Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Pastors of a Rwandan church, Nelson Mandela, Pearl Buck.

Our final tour de cité was the Capital Building. An impressive structure, 208 feet tall to the tip of the eagle, the core of the latest iteration was completed in 1912, and wings for both the Senate and House were added circa 1920. The building was built primarily of sandstone; like the penitentiary, it was mined and transported by inmates. The columns, which appear to be marble, are instead constructed of steel, concrete and brick and coated with a substance called scagliola, a mixture of granite, marble dust, gypsum and glue dyed to look like marble.

A commission was charted in 1998 to renovate and expand the building. The estimate ran to $64 million, half to be financed by the state and the balance through bonds. When it was realized that a significant overrun would occur, the plan was withdrawn and replaced by a $1.5 million protective restoration plan. The issue did not die, however, and 2010 saw a rededication of the revised facility, after expenditures of over $100 million!

The building is certainly magnificent, as the pictures above attest. Entrance was as free as Salem’s in Oregon – just walk in, no screening. Finding my way to the lowest level, I discovered the education center, where dozens of storyboards encapsulate three subjects: the history of Idaho’s formation, the process of governing, and the chronology of the reconstruction.

On the top floor, there’s a sculpture gallery, including a full figure of George Washington, made of wood and gilded in gold.

Outside, near the foot of the endless staircase on the front side, sits a replica of the Liberty Bell. From the Liberty Bell Museum website comes the following information: In 1950, the United States Department of the Treasury assisted by several private companies selected Paccard Foundry in Annecy-le-Vieux, France, to cast 55 full-sized replicas of the Liberty Bell. The bells were shipped as gifts to states and territories of the United States and the District of Columbia to be displayed and rung on patriotic occasions. This was part of a savings bond drive held from May 15 to July 4, 1950 with the slogan “Save for Your Independence.” The site also has a list of the latest known location of each replica.

Boise proved to be a charming city, with acceptable weather (not unlike our home territory in Maryland but drier) and full of nice people. We wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

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