Boise for the Save

December 14, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

I was supposed to be in Chicago the first week of this month for a combination photo shoot and pre-holiday visit with some family and friends, but 12 hours before my flight was due to push back I got a phone call from Illinois which put the kibosh on everything.

Now the closest I'll get to my home city this Christmas season is via some of the ornaments on my tree.

While the architectural photography I'd planned to work on will have to wait until the next time I'm in Chicago, I was unwilling to completely abandon this year's installment of The Christmas Project. That's an essential holiday season activity as far as I'm concerned.

A lot of thought goes into both the location selection and subsequent planning of each year's shoot. Finding a last minute substitution - especially out here in the Wild, Wild West where municipal decorations tend to be on the anemic side and towns are spread WAY out - is no simple task.

I've already photographed Salt Lake City and Jackson. Sun Valley in December is booked (and overpriced). Downtown displays in the Teton Valley are either sparse or nonexistent. Larger population centers don't necessarily mean better decorations, though. There's not much to write home about in Idaho Falls. Or Pocatello. Or even Billings. Not Grinch level, but only a few notches above. 

Which leaves...Boise.

Actually, Boise has been on my list for a while, though Old Man Winter has often had other ideas. At roughly a four-hour drive, it's more than a casual commitment; the forecast is always a factor. White knuckling it for nearly 300 miles one-way isn't my idea of a good time.

Last week it was Boise or Bust. Taking advantage of a mostly favorable 48-hour forecast, I ran over there, stayed long enough to get a reasonable amount of work done, and avoided the worst of an incoming storm on the return.

Not only does Boise believe in decorations, it gets an A+ in terms of illumination: lights are on from at least dusk to dawn (many are lit 24-hours a day). 

The number one item on my list was the Christmas tree standing outside the Idaho State Capitol. 

STATELYSTATELYIdaho State Capitol at Christmas

Architects: John E. Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel
The dome and central structure were constructed between 1905-1912, with the wings added during 1919-1920

Boise, Idaho
Wanting to photograph it at twilight, I was on the grounds the evening of my arrival and again the following morning. 

As is typically the case the morning shoot was a much better opportunity since there were almost no pedestrians to contend with. With rain forecast for later that day, I'd hoped there might be a good sunrise. You know the saying: "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." As the sky lightened some color did begin to develop behind one side of the dome, but it failed to strengthen. Too bad; that would have been icing on the cake.

Twilight ended and I finished up. Or so I thought.

Suddenly the color dramatically intensified and extended across a much greater expanse of sky. I pulled the camera back out and quickly repositioned elsewhere on the grounds. Though the vibe is entirely different from what I was shooting earlier and the Christmas tree is no longer the main focal point, I knew that'd be the keeper.

Most of the superstructure of the Capitol building is made of locally quarried sandstone; it blends in beautifully with the surrounding hills. The granite base which supports it came from Vermont. Construction on the main portion of the structure was completed in 1912. As you can see, its design was influenced by the United States Capitol. Sitting on top of the dome is a seven-and-a-half-foot tall bronze eagle, gilded with gold leaf.

Inside, natural light (via skylights, light shafts and reflective marble) is a significant decorative element. Always stunning, the rotunda is even more lovely when decorated for the holiday. 

CAPITOL OF LIGHTCAPITOL OF LIGHTThe beautiful Idaho State Capitol rotunda, decorated for Christmas

Boise, Idaho
The original architect, John Tourtellotte, envisioned a grand approach to the Capitol but it took nearly 20 years before this was realized - at least in part. A New York City-based architectural firm designed a stately mission-style depot for the Union Pacific Railroad which opened in 1925 (praised at the time as "the most beautiful structure of its kind in the West") and concurrently created plans for a 1.25 mile boulevard to connect the depot and Capitol. 

Though the plans were not fully implemented, Capitol Boulevard does run from Depot Hill directly to the Capitol and provides an excellent sight line.


Boise, Idaho
Things you might not know about Boise: first, it's surrounded by nearly 5 million acres of forest. Not every square mile of Idaho is high desert and sagebrush! Second, the city sits on top of the largest geothermal system in the country. The Statehouse is heated by geothermal energy, as are many buildings downtown. Third, it's pronounced Boy-see, not Boy-zee.

And it decks the halls at Christmas time. Bravo, Boise!

In Local News - URGENT

As I've mentioned throughout the past few months, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have been actively working to have grizzly bears removed from protected status. Unfortunately, the states are now one step closer to achieving the outcome they desire.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released their proposed grizzly bear management plan, which - if implemented - puts grizzlies in grave danger. Inside you'll find this: "The states may use regulated harvest as a management tool when and where appropriate." 

It's hard to get more open-ended than that. Three guesses as to how quickly the states will determine it's "appropriate" to "harvest" the bears (as if they're ears of corn). The ink won't be dry on the plan before hunting licenses go on sale. 399 becomes an immediate target. And who's to do the regulating?

It has taken decades to bring grizzlies back from the brink in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. That success story, about which the states should be proud, is instead something they cannot wait to undo. 

[Read up on the ways in which Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are waging war on wolves. It's a preview of coming attractions for the grizzlies.] 

The public comment period regarding this proposed grizzly bear management plan is open through tomorrow, December 15. Please consider helping the grizzlies of Greater Yellowstone. The powers that be in Washington might listen if there is a great enough public outcry.

Neither 399, nor her offspring, nor any of the bears living in the GYE have formidable lobbyists speaking on their behalf. They're up against state governments, Congressional delegations and influential ranchers who are hostile to them. The bears must depend on people like you and me for help. We cannot let them down.

Public comment is not limited to residents of Wyoming, Idaho or Montana. Wherever you live, you can voice your opinion. 

The link below will take you to the report and form:

Feedback to the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee

And this link will send you directly to the comment form:

Ecosystem Subcommittee Comment Form



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