There’s no doubt that Idaho is a fascinating and complex landscape, full of diversity, beauty, and indescribable natural wonders. But Idaho is also a part of a world that’s rapidly changing. While Idaho is fortunate to have a number of preservation groups that work to keep our state beautiful, there are a still dozens of natural spaces and historic icons that are rapidly shrinking or falling into ruin.
1. Clark Fork Delta
The overlooked Clark Fork River is the main tributary to Lake Pend Oreille and the stunningly beautiful Clark Fork River Delta is the largest wetland complex in the Pend Oreille system. In fact, the Clark Fork River provides nearly 80% of the water that is in Pend Oreille--which is especially impressive when you realize that Pend Oreille is Idaho's largest and deepest lake.
Sadly, however, the Clark Fork River Delta wetlands are receding every year. Besides the benefits the Clark Fork River delta wetlands provide to the environment, the delta is also economically important to the local community and has cultural significance for several tribes. But nevertheless, each year, the 5,600-acre delta loses about 15 acres to erosion. The culprit is fluctuating lake levels that benefit hydropower production but corrode the delta’s natural shoreline. Your best bet for exploring this oasis? A lake cruise by Pend Oreille cruises.
2. Sawtooth Perennial Snow Fields
Idaho's breathtaking Sawtooth Mountains are an Idaho treasure--rugged, wild, and pristine in their beauty. They are also one of the few places in the state where perennial snow fields - beds of snow that stay year-round - still exist. These high-elevation snowy spots are vital to maintaining the Sawtooths ecosystem and for scientific research when it comes to the ancient hidden secrets of the region.
Today, despite our state boasting 80 different mountain ranges, only 202 perennial snow fields remain, nearly all of which are in the Sawtooths. The remaining few are found in the Seven Devils.
3. Borah Glacier
Idaho's tallest and highest elevation peak is Mt. Borah in the Lost River Range. This rugged, rocky summit was the home of the last true glacier in Idaho back in 1975 - a spot which is rapidly shrinking, and possibly long gone. Since the continental US only has 65 remaining "genuine" glaciers (meaning, not perennial snow fields), most of which are in Montana and Washington, your best bet to see this gem is to take a grueling climb up the mountain.
4. Idaho's Petroglyphs
The victim of time and maybe a few too many curious hands, Idaho's petroglyphs are rapidly fading. Natural erosion has taken its toll over the years, as have hundreds of thousands of visitors touching the irreplaceable rock carvings. The situation is so dire that local college students have been mapping, photographing, and cataloguing every inch of the rock art in and around Celebration Park to ensure that future generations know what once was.
You can also find Kalispel petroglyphs on the north shore of Lake Pend Oreille (by boat only), and around Lewiston (by foot).
5. Oregon and California Trail Migration Ruts
It's incredible to think that so many folks passed through the west that their wagon wheels were able to literally bore through rock to leave a lasting impression. But for the ruts that were carved into the landscape directly, time is quickly fading these as well.
Idaho's Snake River Plain was a formidable expanse centuries ago. Hot, barren, rocky--the wagons that crossed through Southern Idaho as part of the Oregon and California Trails were made up of thousands of families and travelers. The long lines of travelers - carts, pack animals, and backs loaded with the weight of lives uprooted from back east - was heavy and consistent enough that the trains pounded grooves into the dust and rock. While the wagon ruts carved into various boulders have more longevity, the markings in the earth are starting to fade with time and natural erosion.
Where are they? Just about everywhere if you look hard enough! Check out Massacre Rocks State Park, the City of Rocks National Reserve, and around Soda Springs just to start. You'll also find some around the Mullan Road much further north.
6. Idaho's Ghost Towns
Pick a town, any town!
Idaho's old mining camps and abandoned boom towns are a true treasure, but Mother Nature is taking her toll on the abandoned historic structures little by little. For many of Idaho's most obscure locales, little remains of the past other than a few foundations or headstones. For other "out of the way" places, remaining buildings continue to fall into decay as the elements rot the long-standing wood, rust the nails that hold vintage porches together, and fade paint into unrecognizable text. While a number of Idaho's most famous towns are in a continuous process of preservation, be sure to check out the ones that are off the beaten path to catch a glimpse of overlooked history before it fades completely.
7. Idaho's Ponderosa Pines
It may come as a surprise to many, but Idaho's once most-populous tree is actually a dwindling piece of Idaho's native landscape. These sturdy trees typically grow in low elevation forests and at the base of Idaho's scenic mountains; however, as these areas fall victim to development, concentrated pine regions are shrinking. One beautiful area to enjoy? The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway to Idaho City. You'll be able to see these gorgeous pieces of Idaho culture from a magnificently scenic distance.
How many of these places have you visited? Be sure to leave no trace when you visit to preserve these gems for future generations!