The folks in Idaho and Wyoming are throwing a big Wild West birthday party this summer, and the rest of the country is invited. The dual celebrations mark the 100th anniversary of statehood for the two neighboring Rocky Mountain states. On the program are a couple of big, one-of-a-kind events as well as major parades, fireworks shows, plenty of country-western music and lots of barbecued beef and buffalo.
In Idaho, the state's six Indian tribes will gather for the first time in a common powwow -- the All Idaho Indian Expo, July 9 to 15 in Boise. Tribe members will form an actual encampment, and each tribe will be featured one day of the event. They will interpret the American Indian heritage in dances, arts, crafts, singing, poetry and storytelling. Traditional foods will be prepared and sold.
All six tribes will join in the opening ceremonies on July 9 to bless the expo site -- the Western Idaho Fairgrounds. At noon on the 9th, they will parade through downtown Boise. Representatives from as many as 50 out-of-state tribes also are expected. The Idaho tribes are the Northwestern band of the Shoshone Nation, the Shoshone-Pioute, the Nez Perce, the Coeur d'Alene, the Kootenai and the Shoshone-Bannock.
In Wyoming, a massive wagon train already is on the march. All this month, elements of the procession will trace the 260-mile route of the Jim Bridger Trail from Casper northwest to Cody, just outside Yellowstone National Park. About 115 wagons, duplicating the pioneering wagon trains of the past as authentically as possible, are expected to pull into Cody on July 2. The train got underway June 2.
Most of the participants will not travel the full distance. They will ride a day or two and yield their place in the wagons or on horseback to others. But each day's trek should average about 100 wagons, 800 horses and 700 riders or passengers, according to B.J. Wertz, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train. Space is available throughout the ride at $158 per day per person, (307) 527-6443. Or you can view encampments in Worland on June 16 and 17; Burlington, June 24; Powell, June 29; and Cody, July 2.
In addition to these events, both states are preparing big celebrations in their capitals for their respective Statehood Days. Idaho's festivities in Boise come first on July 3 followed just a week later in Wyoming with ceremonies July 10 in Cheyenne.
Idaho has planned what it calls a 43-hour celebration -- to begin July 2 -- to honor its place as the 43rd star on the U.S. flag. On July 2, vehicle traffic will be banned on the streets of downtown Boise in the evening, so the state can throw a big outdoor homecoming party for its native sons and daughters living elsewhere-and anyone else who wants to attend. The streets will be filled with country music and food stalls selling plates of barbecued beef and other Western treats. A laser show is planned for late in the evening.
Statehood Day will get underway with a "Celebrate Idaho Picnic" at noon in Julie Davis Park in downtown Boise. In the evening, a big musical show featuring Idaho performers is scheduled at Boise State University's Bronco Stadium. It will conclude with a fireworks display and an 11 p.m. "Dance into Idaho's Second Century."
Wyoming has planned what it boasts is a "spectacular" celebration in the State Capitol complex in Cheyenne from July 7 to 9. From 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, the Capitol area will resemble a county fair. Plans call for almost nonstop entertainment on several outdoor stages, crafts displays, contemporary arts booths, historical exhibits, food stalls and an "Avenue of the Counties," a showcase for the attractions of each of the state's counties.
On Statehood Day, the public is invited to a free buffalo barbecue at noon -- limited, however, to the first 10,000 who show up. And the day concludes with a "Grand Finale" show at Frontier Park, featuring a Wyoming cast of entertainers and a massive fireworks and laser display.
When the parties are over, both states expect to reap the rewards of lasting legacies of their centennial celebrations.
Idaho has named the picturesque ghost town of Custer in the Sawtooth Mountains area as its centennial project. The former mining town, a collection of tumbledown structures, has been precariously maintained over the years by volunteers. Now they will get state assistance for preservation and staffing. The state also plans to build a $700,000 visitor center in the nearby town of Challis. It will display exhibits featuring the Salmon River Historic Mining District, of which Custer is a part.
In Wyoming, all of the state's counties and some 77 communities have established "Lasting Legacy" projects. There are now more than 200, among them the preservation of the Hat Creek Stage Station in Niobrara County, the last existing stagecoach station on the Cheyenne to Deadwood, S.D. run. The town of Encampment in Carbon County has restored its inviting "Avenue of Trees," a gateway of cottonwoods that lines the highway into town.
Idaho Travel Council, Statehouse Mail, Boise, Idaho 83720, 1-800-635-7820.
Wyoming Travel Commission, I-25 at College Drive, Cheyenne, Wyo. 82002, 1-800-225-5996 and (307) 777-7777.
America's national parks such as Yosemite, Sequoia and the Grand Canyon are famous worldwide, and justifiably so. But often forgotten in their shadow are hundreds of state parks scattered across the national map, some of them rivaling their federal cousins in scenic beauty and historic interest.
Some states not generally recognized as tourist destinations, such as Nebraska, have the most impressive systems. Nebraska is dotted with lake and stream parks, where fishing, swimming, boating and camping are excellent.
Other states with extensive state park systems are West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, New York and Ohio. California alone has more than 250 parks, among them several very popular ones that chronicle the great gold rush of 1849.
As a sightseeing motorist, I often find it hard to pass one by since they offer such a variety of diversions. Many state parks are located in some of the most scenic spots in the state, providing pleasant views, walking trails, picnic sites or a lake or stream for swimming as a respite from the road.
Oregon's rocky coast is lined with so many beach parks the state's mapmakers have a difficult time fitting them all in place. Arizona's Slide Rock State Park, north of Sedona, features a natural sandstone water slide on Oak Creek. The creek tumbles down a red rock staircase of clear pools, and you can slip from one to another.
Like the National Park System, several states also have preserved historical structures, battlefields and other sites as state historical parks. Fort Hartsuff in central Nebraska and Fort Verde north of Phoenix, for example, are two excellently preserved frontier military posts recalling in impressive detail the 19th-century conflict between settlers and Indians. California's San Juan Bautista State Park near Monterey recreates the Spanish mission life of the 18th century.
Inexpensive campsites are available in many state parks throughout the country, and they can be a satisfactory alternative to crowded national park campgrounds. In some states, among them Virginia, summer cabins can be rented. Hungry Mother State Park near Marion in southwestern Virginia offers cabins nicely situated beside a mountain lake, a fitting destination for a one- or two-week vacation.
And a few states -- West Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas and South Dakota, among them -- have established inexpensive resort state parks. The Sylvan Lake Resort Lodge in South Dakota's Custer State Park may very well have the most scenic location of any state park lodge in the country. It occupies a rocky perch high above Sylvan Lake in the ponderosa pine country of the Black Hills.
One of the most complete park resorts anywhere is West Virginia's Canaan Valley Resort State Park near Davis. Open year-around, it offers 250 modern rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, winter downhill and cross-country skiing and miles of hiking trials -- all in a 6,000-acre setting of mountains, forests and fields.
State parks are a resource to keep in mind when you plan to explore a region of this country. One of my favorite travel memories is an afternoon's drive I took over a dusty back road in South Dakota's Custer State Park. In a remote valley of the park, I suddenly had to bring my car to a halt. In front of me, a herd of hundreds of buffalo was crossing the road, blocking my way but putting on a fine show. I sat on the hood for a half hour or more fascinated by the wildlife parade. The elder buffalo ambled by quite gracefully, while countless calves scrambled to keep up.
The National Forest Service recently has undertaken a program to identify the most scenic roads in America's vast national forests. The first 50 of the routes are described in a new book, "National Forest Scenic Byways," by Beverly Magley (Falcon Press, 240 pages, $9.95 paper). The byways cover more than 2,600 miles in 26 states.
In the Mid-Atlantic region, Virginia is represented by the Mount Rogers (55 miles) and Big Walker Mountain (16 miles) scenic byways in the southwestern corner of the state and West Virginia by the Highlands Scenic Byway (43 miles) near Marlinton.
As might be expected, most of the byways are mountain drives -- primarily in the Appalachians, the Ozarks and the Rocky Mountains. Seven byways are named in Arkansas, which has more than any other state. This presumably reflects the state's scenic beauty, at least in part. But officials in Arkansas also may have moved quickly to get their nominations included in this first volume. A second volume with other byways will be published next year.
The text is very informative, providing insight into the geology and plant and wildlife along the way. The book also serves as a guide to important scenic, historical and cultural attractions. The detailed maps for each route are excellent.
Copies are available in some bookstores or may be ordered by contacting Falcon Press, P.O. Box 279, Billings, Mont. 59103, 1-800-582-2665 and (406) 245-0550.
State Travel Sources
Every state is eager to attract tourists by providing a ready supply of tourism literature. You can tap this source by phoning or writing the state tourism office in the capital of the state you plan to visit. The quality of the information varies, but at the very least you should be able to get a free road map.
The state tourism offices are a good first step when planning a sightseeing trip to an unfamiliar part of the country. If the state tourist office cannot help, it may be able to provide you with a contact at a county or community chamber of commerce or visitor and convention bureau. Most states have toll-free information numbers.
Don't expect tourism officials to plan your trip for you, but they can mail out literature with ideas on where to go, what to do and where to stay. Nebraska and Wisconsin, for example, offer excellent booklets listing detailed driving itineraries.
The Wisconsin booklet lists 23 tours, including a 168-mile circle drive west of Green Bay that takes you to the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame, Indian museums, the world's largest collection of logging artifacts and a modern paper mill. Nebraska features eight drives, including one that winds through the state's lovely Prairie Lakes Country, famed for excellent fishing and quiet camping.
Depending on the state and its tourism office, you should be able to obtain useful information about:
State and national park lodges and campgrounds.
Food and music festivals and other events.
Hotels, motels, resorts and health spas.
Alternative lodgings, such as bed-and-breakfast inns and guest ranches and farms.
Recreational opportunities, such as golfing, tennis, boating, fishing, swimming and bicycling.
The names of outfitters offering backpacking, canoeing, trail riding, whitewater rafting and other outdoor adventure tours.
Wineries and their sampling hours.
To get the best service from a tourism office, be as specific as you can in your request. If you have a special interest, mention it.