A window into the not-so-distant and none-too-glorious past of America's prison system, the Old Boise Penitentiary is probably the city's most popular historical site. Up until a riot forced its closure in 1973, the Old Pen is where Idaho's worst criminals came to serve their time, get shanked and wait for the gallows.
At either end of Capitol Boulevard sit Boise's two most distinctive buildings. To the north is the stunning State Capitol, while on a bluff to the south, easily visible from the capitol's steps, is the Old Train Depot.
With over 23,000 students, 200 degrees and 100 graduate programs, Boise State University is the largest institute of higher learning in Idaho. But rather than for its academics or gorgeous urban campus, BSU is most famous around the country for its football program. And, of course, for the crazy blue turf of its field.
With just a little over two weeks remaining of our 91 days in Idaho, we pulled into Boise. We had originally planned on using the capital as the base for our entire three-month stay, but decided Idaho was too big to be stationed in just one spot. So we went on a road-trip through the state, and left our exploration of Boise for the journey's end. Did we save the best for last?
The Bruneau Dunes are perhaps the most bizarre natural phenomenon in the state. Trapped in a low-laying basin just south of Mountain Home, they're thought to have originated during the Ice Age, in the aftermath of the Bonneville Flood. Unlike most sand dunes, those at Bruneau don't shift dramatically with the wind. They're trapped in the basin, and the highest peak stays at about 470 feet year-round.
There are a few Indian reservations scattered about Idaho, which means that there are a few casinos. But due to rough anti-gambling laws, these are rather drab venues offering nothing more than slots. Table games are completely verboten in Idaho, even on reservations, so when it comes time to hit the craps table, Idahoans in the know head south to the border town of Jackpot, Nevada.
Shaped during the Ice Age by the cataclysmic Bonneville Flood, the Magic Valley is something of a geological wonderland, loaded with canyons, rivers, boulders, cliffs and fossils. We embarked on a long driving loop starting at the Malad Gorge, through the Thousand Springs State Park to Balanced Rock, near Buhl.
An hour and a half southeast of Twin Falls, near the small community of Almo and just a few miles from the Utah border, is the City of Rocks: a national reserve which holds some of the Pacific Northwest's weirdest formations. This silent city was a stop along the California Trail, and today is a paradise for mountain climbers.
There are extreme sports, and then there's BASE Jumping. It's bungee jumping without the cord. Skydiving without the airplane. You just strap on a parachute and jump off something tall. And Twin Falls is the only place in the world you can legally do it year-round.
After exploring eastern Idaho, we slowly made our way back west. The eventual goal was Boise, but first we'd be spending a few nights in Twin Falls, to see the city and investigate the surrounding area, which goes by the promising name of Magic Valley.