August 13, 2012

Idaho – “The Gem State”


Idaho Map

Just the Facts…


bird – Mountain Bluebird
flower – Syringa
tree – Wetern White Pine
capital – Boise
union – 43rd state on July 3, 1890
population – about 1 1/2 million





The Basics 

Idaho is known for its mountains and scenery.  There are over 80 mountain ranges in Idaho, including the Cascades, Rockies, Bitterroot, and Sawtooth mountains.  Over half the land in Idaho is owned by the federal government.    And, most of Idaho does not get much rain.

The name, “Idaho,” was made up!  A man named Willings claimed that “Idaho” was a Native American term that meant “Gem of the Mountain,” but he later admitted that he made it up!


Its Claim to Fame

Idaho’s mountains contain a lot of minerals and precious metals.  In fact, the discovery of gold brought the first settlers to Idaho.  As the amount of gold to be found decreased, mining of other minerals took over.  People searched for silver and copper, lead, zinc and phosphate.  People also searched for gemstones! Idaho has more gemstones than any other state.  In fact, 72 kinds of gemstones have been found in Idaho – garnets, quartz, jade, opals, agates, and diamonds to name a few.

Large scale mining began once the railroads came to Idaho and could haul the minerals to other parts of the country.  Today, Idaho produces more zinc than any other state.  It also produces much of the phosphate used in America (which is used in fertilizers).   In addition, Idaho produces sand and gravel, concrete and other minerals needed to construct roads and buildings.  In total, over 850 different kinds of minerals, metals and gemstones can be found in Idaho!


What Makes it Tick

Potatoes!  Idaho grows about 1/3 of all potatoes in the US.  Idaho’s Snake River Valley provides the perfect growing conditions for russet potatoes.  In fact, most of Idaho’s potatoes are grown along the Snake River.   Potatoes like the volcanic soil and silt that the Snake River carries down from the mountains.  Idaho does not naturally have the fertile farmland of other states.  As a result, agriculture didn’t really take off in Idaho until the Federal Desert Land Act, which allowed private companies to create water systems in arid areas like Idaho.  These companies built canals and dams to bring water from the Snake River to farming communities.  The first potato was grown in Idaho in 1850, and the crop really took off after the irrigation systems were established.   When you are at the grocery store – check out the potatoes.  Can you find some that were grown in Idaho?

Lewis & Clark crossed Idaho on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  They crossed the Continental Divide in Idaho, at the Lehmi Pass.  They were the first white people to explore the area and record what they found.  Before them, French-Canadian fur traders hunted throughout Idaho.    The Oregon Trail also went through Idaho.  One of the most treacherous part of the Oregon Trail was Three Island Crossing along the Snake River -  many settlers lost their possessions while trying to cross the river.


If You Visited

If you visited Idaho, you might visit the Shoshone Falls.  If it known as the “Niagara of the West.”  It is a waterfall on the Snake River and is actually a little bit higher than Niagara.  Shoshone Falls is the farthest upstream that many fish can travel (like salmon and trout).  As a result, the fishing above the Falls is very different from the fishing below the Falls.  Fly fishing is big in Idaho -

You might also go treasure hunting in Idaho!  Anyone can search for gemstones in Idaho’s public land and wilderness.  People who search for gems in Idaho are called “rockhounds.”  Many people have found gemstones, petrified wood, and fossils while rockhounding in Idaho.  And, you get to keep what you find!

Idaho is sometimes called “The Potato Capital of the World!”   So, it is fitting that there is an Idaho Potato Museum.  It is located in an old train depot in Blackfoot, Idaho.  The museum highlights the history of the potato as well as the railroads role in that history.  And, if you visit you even get to bring some of those famous Idaho potatoes home with you!


Want to Know More? 

Check our Idaho state scrapbook for an industry map, state symbols and information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Do you live in Idaho?  Or, maybe you have visited Idaho?  We want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.

  • What is your very favorite thing about Idaho?
  • What is your favorite thing to eat?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What other special or unique facts do you want to share about your home state?

Do you have any photos of Idaho to share? Email them to: Or, post them to our Facebook page:

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about Idaho.  Visit these websites to learn more: