My travel isn’t all in search of great compositions. I consult on non-photographic projects as well and the nature of those assignments means I’ll pass through my share of cities. Instead of hauling around bulky camera equipment I probably won’t have time to use, I take my little Canon point-and-shoot. It’s the first digital camera we bought, back when we were just dipping our toe into the technology. It’s pocket sized but with 6 megapixels and a 3x optical zoom lens (f/2.8-4.9) with a big 3″ screen on the back. Just enough to record places I visit.
I’m always interested in how a place came to be, and how it turned into the place it is. Westward from the Mississippi River many of those stories revolve around the railroad.
While waiting to fly out of Boise, ID recently I took some time to drive around town and get a sense of the place. Originally founded on a river, then moved to a site protecting the westward Oregon Trail (the interstate highway of the day), Boise eventually found itself on a rail line. As with most western towns the railroad presented new opportunities to ship goods to markets and receive merchandise more luxurious than the local businesses could provide. Commerce grew and curious people started wondering, “what’s it like out there?” enough to develop a passenger service. Not satisfied with a plank and beam wooden cargo station, Boise built a real train depot, one that would impress visitors and new citizen alike.
The station is placed on the Bench, an ancient river shoreline overlooking the valley where Boise gradually developed. Stepping off a train, passing through the depot and walking out on the front plaza the traveler is greeted with the sight of a growing town, back-dropped by mountains.
The depot commands quite a view of the valley and is visible from much of downtown. The street stretching away in the picture leads right to the state capitol building, bisecting the city. The depot’s Spanish architecture is distinctive for the region, uncommon to such a northern area and more befitting a location in the southern deserts, Los Angeles or such. Bells in the tower still sound at times, a call I’m sure you can hear all over the community.
Steam locomotives no longer bring wide-eyed visitors to this Idaho valley. Passenger service itself ended in 1997 and the line adjacent to the depot, although with signs of use, probably just sees freight trains passing through without stopping. Both praised and vilified in its day, rail did open up the west and transport the adventurous to new opportunities, leaving legacies for us to appreciate. Airline terminals I’ve visited have yet to match the splendor of rail depots, architecture that proclaimed a great age for the frontier.