New York met the Big Empty this week.
Idaho has more wilderness, more public forest lands (20 million acres), and more whitewater than any other state outside of Alaska, but it has no national parks.
For this reason the state is sometimes overlooked as a vacation destination for those who shape a trip around the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Zion, national parks that are part of vacation lore, according to a front-page Travel section article in the Sunday, July 1, New York Times.
Two days later, it had become the second-most e-mailed story on the Times' web site.
Titled "The Last Wilderness," the piece says "just as there are good sandwiches to be had outside of the Carnegie Deli (New York City), there is much to see, float, hike and absorb in what may be the most overlooked part of the West—the Big Empty of north-central Idaho."
The piece was written by former Times Seattle bureau chief Tim Egan who looked at an area between the St. Joe River in the north and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the south, which lies within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Egan wrote of driving "until there was no more road" and then hiking "until there was no more trail" and then catching fish "until our arms were tired" and then watching "the night sky theatrics." He did not reveal the location except to say it was the upper St. Joe River in the state's panhandle.
In many places the country is as wild as it was 200 years ago, he wrote, but with surprises, like the Turkish chef at the Three Rivers Resort who serves up lamb tahini.
Central Idaho has the largest wilderness area in the United States, the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. There, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Class III and IV rapids challenge rafters about every hour.
The region is also steeped in history. It's where Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce won a major battle at White Bird in 1877 against the U.S. Army. A running battle followed and they were chased 1,500 miles before they surrendered near the Canadian border.
When the Sawtooth National Recreation Area north of Ketchum-Sun Valley was created, designating it as a national park was also considered, but rejected because greater protection was sought for mining, timber, ranching and hunting activities. The headwaters of the Salmon River lie within the SNRA.
State Division of Tourism Development officials were happy to hear of the Times piece. "Anytime we get great coverage on our beautiful state we're happy," said communications director Bibiana Nertney, of the Idaho Department of Commerce.
The state is marketed internationally and nationally through trade shows, with a Web presence (www.visitidaho.org), and by pitching stories to journalists, she said. The state gives back monies to chamber and visitor bureaus in seven regions to market local events. Those funds come from the state's two- percent take from the lodging tax, Nertney said.