Boise and the Idaho State Museum

Our country is changing in many ways. For one thing, the population, despite COVID, is shifting dramatically. Ruth & I had a taste of this trend at the end of our last trip. We spent our last night on the road in Boise. We used to really enjoy going to Boise, where I have relatives. This time it was very hectic because it’s undergoing significant growth. Just 4 years ago its population was said to be just over 200,000. In just 5 years its area population is now said to be 789,784. That’s not growth. That’s an explosion!

Boise is now the 3rd largest city in the United States’ Northwest. Only Seattle and Portland are larger, and Portland, due to its political problems, may be losing population. Of the 10 largest cities for growth in the past few years, 4 of the 10 are in Texas. They are San Antonio, Fort Worth, Austin, and Frisco. I had to look Frisco, a northern suburb of Dallas, up. But these four are not the fastest growing city. That’s Phoenix! We have lost 3 friends to the Phoenix area in the last couple of years and 2 to Fort Worth.

We only had time for one attraction besides the Basque market in Boise this time. A few years ago one female employee of the Basque Museum in Boise complained to us about a new high rise office building that was being built nearby. The Basque Museum was destined to be in its shadow, and traffic would be affected. Ruth & I decided to spend our time at the Idaho State Museum at 610 Julia Davis Drive in Julia Davis Park, an attraction we were familiar with. This museum was closed in 2017 and 2018 for renovations. They worked. The 19th century saloon is gone!

Just the other side of the welcoming desk and shop now are this museum’s new focus. The exhibits concentrate on Idaho and its people, this states considerable lakes and forests, and its southern deserts and canyons in the 3 well-developed areas that start any visitor’s journey. Children were especially fascinated by the section that replicates a fast flowing stream with much visual appeal. The focus now is Idaho’s forestry, natural resources, and transportation history, its majestic central mountains and pristine wilderness, and its agricultural (potatoes!) and atomic past and high-tech future.

Downstairs are stories from Idaho and its current and sensational temporary show about Idaho and elsewhere’s women of achievement. The attention paid to Ruth Bader Ginsberg could not be missed. Called “Trailblazing Women from the Past and Present”, this truly great show runs until March of 2022. It will be replaced by a display that concentrates on forest fires, a highly contemporary problem here and elsewhere.

On the way to the exit, we talked to a woman employee of the museum whom we had spoken to before entering. We noted the growth that Boise is having, and she had an interesting observation to make. She told us that a low minimum wage was still the custom here and that this was beginning to affect future growth. Many locals she knew including herself were having trouble making it on what they were being paid. This could affect Boise’s explosive growth if the situation does not change rather rapidly.


More Tallgrass Prairie

The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve should be part of any Flint Hills experience. To get there you must drive south from Manhattan, KS almost to Strong City. This is a distance of close to 59 miles on Kansas Highway 177. Ruth and I experienced this several years ago in late afternoon early evening, but we didn’t arrive at the TPNP Visitor Center until just after it had closed for the day. This time we arrived in late morning, so we saw it all. I do not recommend late morning to visit this Nature Conservancy/National Park facility because in summer it’s blood hot by then.

What visitors find at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is more than 40 miles of trails, a fine visitor center, and a ranch complex. The trails are opened even when the center is not, so many people hike in the evening when it’s far cooler. Our favorite views were on the Scenic Overlook Trail behind the ranch complex. It was a long walk but gave access to the Windmill Pasture that is always occupied by a bison herd. After you see the place where the buffalo roam, you can continue on to a 1,495 feet scenic overlook that is a high vista for Kansas. Other trails take you to Palmer Creek and Crusher Hill, but we double-backed on the Ranch Legacy Trail to see the ranch complex.

It was very interesting. In 1878 Stephen and Louisa Jones came here to build a cattle feeding station for their Colorado ranch. They quit after 10 years and their property went through a series of owners until the Z Bar Ranch became the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in 1996. The miracle was that the structures built by the Jones’ were still there including a giant limestone barn, the school they built for their daughter Loutie, and the limestone corrals and fences they created. The barn is now opened to the public and contains a viewable film worth watching. The mansion they built for themselves also still remains as does the ice house that provided coldness for them all year, a genuine luxury. We got to see the Second Empire mansion’s insides this time. It was modestly furnished.

We enjoyed the drive to the Preserve a 2nd time. It went through the 2nd most important town in the Flint Hills that some consider its capital, Council Grove, provided vistas of the Flint Hills we had not seen before, and gave us many more views of the tallgrass that remains. Its roots can extend 15 feet down into the prairie. We also got to see again a lot of the limestone that is favored in erecting many buildings in this area. Council Grove has at least a dozen tourist attractions. I really liked the roof on the historic Farmers and Drovers Bank. We entered the toll road to Wichita at Cassoday, the so-called Prairie Chicken Capital of the World.

I have Don Kostecki to thank for my love of Kansas. He lived in Topeka and worked for the state. Unfortunately, he was murdered in Belize in 2005, but his widow still lives in Topeka.


The Discovery Center in Manhattan

The Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, KS is a bit of a tough sell but a rewarding travel experience. The city of Manhattan definitely benefits from its presence. It’s a tough sell because The Flint Hills are not The Rocky Mountains even though Zebulon Pike, the first explorer to see Pike’s Peak (seen just below), named them the flint hills as he passed through the area.

The Flint Hills Discovery Center celebrates the tallgrass prairie it sits on. There were as recently as 200 years ago 150,000,000 acres of this deep-rooted grass from Ohio to the Rockies and north and south from Canada to Mexico. About the shape of Sweden or Illinois, this expanse of grasses has mostly disappeared. Only about 4% of it remains and most of that is in Kansas’ Flint Hills. A rich and diverse ecosystem, this sea of deeply rooted sometimes greenery contains many species of grasses, but it also contains lots of limestone and rocky soil that early settlers of The West bypassed because they, like Zebulon Pike, thought of it as a desert. Writer William Cullen Bryant was more astute. He called it, “The gardens of the desert.” Long-haired bison and cowboys loved it too, but so did 100 species of grasshopper (seen below the prairie chicken) and dung beetles. It’s estimated that there are ten million insects per acre here. There is also fire, lightning, and tornadoes but also the prairie chicken seen below and clean air. Early humans before Pike liked to hunt the up to 50 million bison for food and daily needs and apparently liked the flatness of the landscape. Early settlers in this area used the abundant limestone for buildings like the First Congregational Church in Manhattan. One of the great pleasures of being here is seeing the plethora of limestone used in the construction of public buildings, government facilities, and barns.

The Flint Hills Discovery Center is partially built with native limestone. Its first floor contains a theater that frequently shows a highly interactive film with smoke, other emissions, and lots of displays of the topography of the land in every direction. Upstairs is a family fun zone, usually a traveling exhibit, and a roof garden. Everything here exhibits love of a landscape.

When you finish, you still have lots of Manhattan to explore. You can eat at the Guilty Biscuit or Rock-a-belly Deli or have a drink at the So Long Saloon. Unfortunately, you can’t go to the Brookville Hotel for fried chicken. It has closed and been torn down.


The Fabled Broadmoor

One travel regret Ruth & I share is that we have never stayed at The Broadmoor Hotel. We have seen it, however, on a few occasions. It’s a complete resort in Colorado Springs to this day, but this time we learned how to experience it like a local without actually committing to staying there for more than $500 per night.

At 1 Lake Avenue in the foothills that abut Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor Hotel is all about serving its guests during a complete resort experience. Most play one of its 2 golf courses and don’t leave after arriving for as long as they care to stay. The Broadmoor story began in 1918 with the dream of Spencer Penrose and his wife to develop a resort of unrivaled splendor at the foot of Pike’s Peak in this one-time total resort city. The sprawling Broadmoor still shows European flair in its overall design, and it still honors a kind of dress code in an era of few social rules. The Broadmoor is over 100 years old and does look it. However, The Broadmoor is still a place where some men and women arrive who call themselves Presidents or Royalty or at least CEOs.

The Broadmoor sponsors a couple of must-see travel experiences. It has links to Seven Falls, a venerable Colorado Springs attraction. The Broadmoor offers a free shuttle up to it daily. Visitors can walk the .8 mile path to the falls’ top or take a shuttle. The Broadmoor also redid and reopened the cog railroad to the top of Pike’s Peak in May of 2021. To ride it to the summit of this mountain seems pricy but is said to be worth it. Our son and his family moved to Denver this past year, and one day they decided to drive to the top of this peak. He told me that it was not worth it to drive because the road was one lane, difficult, and had no guard rails. I did this when I was much younger but not since and still remember the experience well. I want to take the restored cog railway to the new visitor center at this mountain’s top, but Ruth & I have not done this yet. It’s 8.9 miles from the station in Manitou Springs to the top and takes about 3 hours to achieve the summit. If the weather is good that day, expect the cog railroad to be sold out. If you simply walk up and buy a ticket, you will pay $59.50 for it as an adult. A child’s ticket will cost you $49.50. This is rumored to be quite worthwhile to do, and deals are available if you plan ahead. The other local attraction that the Broadmoor sponsors seems to be permanently closed. We tried but failed to see The Figure Skating Hall of Fame near The Broadmoor because it was closed that day. COVID appears to have kept it closed for some time, but the new Olympics Museum may have made it completely obsolete by covering its subject so well. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this museum will not reopen under the Broadmoor banner.

So what does one do to experience this resort without actually staying there? Locals, according to the lady at the downtown Colorado Springs Visitor Center, like to go there for drinks. They select a place to sit near the Broadmoor Lake on the mountain view terrace and order whatever they want. Ruth and I did this and had access to the stunning lobby with its fireplaces and comfortable seats and original artwork all around, the Portales Library, an elevator and stairs, and many shops. We did not feel in any way restricted and had free parking to do all of this. The only amenity we lacked was the one hour free use of a paddleboat given to hotel guests. Dress appropriately, of course.


A Wild Animal Sanctuary

Denver’s Official Visitor’s Guide has 2 pages called “Wild Denver”. Featured on these pages is the Wild Animal Sanctuary. We traveled 30 miles northeast of the city to see it. Denver has become, over time, the wild animal rescue capital of the United States. This sanctuary established in 1980 is now home to hundreds of rescued lions, tigers, wolves, and more, and it already is planning a 9,000 acre expansion. Luckily, we visited this Wild Animal Sanctuary with 3 grandchildren.

Upsides to this visit included fairly close encounters with many wild, rescued animals and genuine excitement among the children who didn’t complain one time, and lots of talk with well prepared and excited volunteers. Kid loving souvenirs were lovingly collected. I appreciated exposure to an animal I had never heard of called the serval.

Downsides to this visit included a rather expensive afternoon. These rescued animals. after all, must be transported for long distances after being rescued and then fed and tended to. Good weather is no guarantee in a place that can have months of snow each year. Lots of walking is required to see the residents.

Over 85% of the animals we saw, and we observed more than 100 of them, have been rescued from circuses and private ownership following legal interventions. These interventions included judges issuing arrest warrants and court orders. Many of the animals observed have been victims of abuse during captivity.

The TV series called “Tiger King” has actually helped. Its 70 million viewers and exposure to Joe Exotic, who ended up with a prison sentence of 22 years and is serving time, has opened eyes to the world of abusive breeders and foul animal treatment. Some of Joe Exotic’s animal characters have ended up in this rescue facility. The man who called himself exotic has shared details of illegal activities and practices that hurt animals. He has willingly spoken to investigators.

The director of this facility, Pat Craig, shares his thoughts with interested citizens via letters and news releases. To date, he and his staff have rescued more than 120 mostly large animals and brought them to Colorado to live unencumbered. This refuge has already grown to 9,000 acres and more habitat space is needed.

Rescued animals include 2 white tigers that were in a Buenos Aires’ zoo and 2 grizzlies that arrived in 2018. Bears and several other large animals did not need to adapt to Colorado’s climate, but tigers and lions needed time to acclimatize to this area’s weather, sights, sounds, and smells. Their new habitats range from 25 to 75 acres, and adapting takes time. Two of the newer residents of this Wild Animal Sanctuary include a couple of wolves named Arlo and Blue that were rescued from an exotic animal breeder and seller in Indiana.

This kind of facility depends on many volunteers. The ones who love what they do here are especially willing to share their views. One verbose male advises all to, “Take advantage of the knowledge of the volunteers on the walkway.” An enthusiastic female named Thea says that volunteering is the most rewarding thing she has ever done.

Those who work or volunteer here at the Wild Animal Sanctuary claim it would not be opened to the public unless a way could be found to reduce stressors. Early on they discovered that large carnivores and other animals do not consider air or sky to be territory, so elevated platforms are not a threat to residents. This means that visitors must be willing and able to walk long distances on raised walkways to see the residents. Be aware of this before making the journey.

Also feeding large animals is not easy. Most residents feed 3 or 4 times a week and large cats can eat 30 to 40 pounds of meat per feeding. One volunteer told me that this refuge requires 80,000 pounds of food each week. Almost all of the food is currently donated by Walmart stores and picked up by refuge drivers each week.

As pressure is put on individuals to abandon the practice of adopting and housing wild animals and zoos lose favor, places like this animal refuge will be increasingly needed. This one near Denver is one of the first of its kind to deal with this growing need.