Why Idaho is Worth More Than Just Their Potatoes

Idaho is famous for its potato production. However, there are far greater treasures within the state than just its spuds. From Couer D’Alene’s breathtaking landscape to the amazing work by Sun Valley, Idaho architects, Idaho’s worth remains extremely underrated. Here are some other features that make Idaho such a special place. 

It’s Called “The Gem State” for a Reason

It started with gold. During the 1800s, Idaho was a significant source of gold for the expanding United States. In addition, miners uncovered a wealth of gemstones giving the state its nickname of "The Gem State." 

The State of Idaho produces 240 different minerals and 72 gemstones. These naturally occurring deposits are more than in any other state and second to Africa (as a whole) worldwide. Geologic conditions were concentrated over millions of years in this area, allowing nature to create the volume and number of inorganic geologic forms. 

Idaho Garnets

Idaho is one of only two places on earth known to have abundant gem-quality garnets, with the other being India. Garnets are silicate rock-forming minerals, typically with either aluminum or calcium composition. The aluminum composite yields the red color commonly associated with garnet gemstones. Calcium groups create green, yellow, and transparent colors. 

Miners found a particularly rare form called a star garnet in Idaho. A linear aluminum deposit provides a reflection that appears as a four or five-pointed star within the polished gem. Perhaps as a result of this unique distinction, the Idaho Star Garnet is the state gemstone.

Idaho Opals

Miners have dug Opals in Idaho since 1900. A majority of these are small private mines run by two or three individuals; however, one sizable commercial opal mine is open to the public as well. There are various opal colors, designs, and presentations for this style of gemstone. Black opals, for instance, have iron oxide deposits and the ebony serves to highlight other colors present. The most expensive opals are solid in appearance.

A "triplet" opal is a thin layer of opal backed by dark material, usually basalt, black obsidian, glass, or plastic. A protective layer of clear quartz or other transparent material protects the top face. A "doublet," on the other hand, does not have a clear coat. Triplet and doublet opals are less expensive, maintain the gem's beauty, and add protection. 

Idaho Jasper

Jasper is another mineral composite formed of quartz and other mineral deposits. The more common red hues are due to iron substrates. Brown, green, and yellow are also common throughout Idaho.

Its physical properties are such that artists can form it into attractive shapes. Archeologists have recovered ancient snuff boxes, jewelry boxes, official seals, vases, and other jasper creations worldwide. 

Petrified Wood

Petrified wood is more than just old wood that didn't decompose – it is a fossil. In a multi-step process, nature preserves the wood through the conditions of the sediment. Then, mineral-rich water flow deposits crystals through the maintained wooden framework. The rest is a densely impregnated mold of the plant structure. 

Because of the specific conditions required for the petrification, "pockets" or "bands" of petrified organic material are frequently found together. Idaho has several locations where petrified wood is found and created into art and jewelry. 

Opalized wood is petrified wood that had opal crystal content in the liquid during the deposit phase of its creation. 

Fee Mining

It was initially gold mining that started Idaho off into notoriety and statehood. Within the first few years of miners finding gold, the population of Idaho jumped exponentially. In 1860 there were about 10,000 people in the entire state area. Thirty years later, in 1890, at the end of the gold rush, the population had grown to 89,000. 

There are four opportunities to pay a fee to mine in Idaho, keeping whatever you may find. Two gold mines, one opal, and one garnet mine, offer the chance to "strike it rich," which are excellent forays for those seeking family adventures. 

Low Unemployment Rate, Job Growth, and Beautiful Architecture  

Idaho saw the second-highest state population growth behind the state of Florida in 2022. The "Sunshine State" would make sense for retirees and affluent immigrants to the extensive beach fronts in Florida. What, however, is the impetus for the influx to Idaho? The numbers reveal an influx from other nearby states and a mortality rate below the birth rate. 

Recently the annual reported family income in Idaho was ranked 44th in the country. It was $830 less than the lowest nearest state of Montana. The population increase (1.8% in 2022) increases property values and raises the cost of living index. However, it unintentionally removes the impetus for the influx: the lower cost of living. The population reached just under two million for the first time during the 2022 census.

Idaho's low unemployment rate and consistent job growth are reasons for continued population increases. In 2022, Idaho had the second most new homes constructed in the United States; in fact, only Utah reported more. Idaho reported 11.43 new builds per thousand population, twice the national average of 5.23 per 1,000. These new trends and styles add to a foundation of historic Idaho architecture that boasts incredible craftsmanship and vision. 

Not All That Glitters

While essential to Idaho's economy and history, gemstones and minerals are not leaders in Idaho's current economic structure. Instead, science and technology account for 70% of the state's exports and provide over 25% of the state's revenue. 

Semiconductors, dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, and laser printers account for some high-tech products.

Agriculture – yes, Idaho Potatoes – as well as all three species of wheat grown in America, also contribute to Idaho's stable economy. Idaho potatoes make up one-third of all potatoes grown in the United States. Beef and dairy are agricultural staples in Idaho. The state is the third-largest producer of milk and cheese in the United States. It is the fourth largest supplier of milk cows and sixth for sheep and lambs.

With this in mind, every time you wash down a piece of steak with a glass of milk while wearing an opal ring, remember that Idaho is worth more than the baked potato on the side. 

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