Monday, January 14, 2013


Idaho has an interesting name origin story itself.  In fact, “Idaho” is an invented word. 

Turns out some mining lobbyist came up with it, claiming it meant “gem of the mountains” in Shoshone.  (The closest actual Indian word is idahee, which means “enemy” in Plains Apache.)   Ah well, just one more pig in the poke from K Street.)

10. Cabinet

This odd one comes from the nearby Cabinet Mountains.  Right then.  Case settled.  On to #9 …

What?  Oh, you’re wondering why the mountains were named that?  Well, aren’t we particular today?  If you insist …

According to the U.S. government, the name comes from “early French explorers who observed that the mountains resembled a series of closets or cabinets.”  Um, if you say so, Uncle Sam …  Kind of sounds like that old John Denver song, if you ask me.  You know, “Friends around the campfire, and everybody’s high …”

Couldn’t find much on Cabinet.  Except, of course, for all those DIY stores and contractors who want to help me “build the perfect kitchen” and assume I live in Boise. 

In fact, I couldn’t even find Cabinet on Google Maps, but only on Mapquest.  From the latter, it looks like it’s a handful of scattered houses and buildings along the Clark Fork River and the Montana Rail Link railroad.  There’s a nearby dam, fittingly named the Cabinet Gorge Dam.

I’m sorry, I just don’t see it

9. Headquarters

C’mon.  Headquarters of what?  The Trilateral Commission?  The Idaho State Police?  The Bildergbergers?  The Clearwater County Soil and Water Conservation District?  The Illuminati?  Smersh? 

Turns out Headquarters got its name because it was the center of logging operations for the Potlatch lumber mill, in the somewhat-nearby city of Lewiston.  The railroad’s gone now.  Subsequently, there’s not much left of Headquarters. 

This place looks pretty darn remote.  In fact, the first two “suggested searches” on Google for it are “headquarters idaho wolf attack” and “headquarters idaho wolf kill.”  Yikes!  Read all about it right here.

Headquarters in its heyday (ca. 1960)

8. Macks Inn

Right next to Rick’s Café, Moe’s Tavern, and Joe’s Garage …  (And that’s Casablanca, The Simpsons, and Frank Zappa for those of you out there not in the know.)

I’m afraid Macks Inn is no more.  Well, I mean, the Inn is still there.  But the village is no longer.  I mean, it’s still there too.  It just …  It just got renamed.  Mack’s Inn (the inn, not the town) is now in Island Park (the town).

According to Wikipedia, the renaming came about as follows:

The city was incorporated by owners of the many lodges and resorts along U.S. Route 20 in 1947, primarily to circumvent Idaho's liquor laws that prohibited the sale of liquor outside of city limits.  It is only 500 feet (150 m) wide in most locations and, at 33 miles (53 km), claims to have the longest "Main Street" in the world.

Macks Inn the town was started around Mack’s Inn the inn.  Both were founded by William H. (“Doc”) Mack, beginning in 1916.  The area’s located on a fork of the Snake River famous for its fishing.  It’s also pretty close to Yellowstone National Park. 

I’m not sure if Doc
started this one or not

7. Riddle

What do you get when you combine a tiny town, a mysterious ranch, two western states, and a very confused writer?  I don’t know.  I’m stumped.  Tell me!

I am so confused.  There is a town in Idaho called Riddle, in the southwest corner of the state.  The Wikipedia article for it says it’s named after the Riddle Ranch (which is in turn named after the Riddle family).  The Riddle Ranch, however, is in Oregon, about 700 miles away.  And just to top it all off, there is a business called Riddle Ranches, in Idaho, but an hour and a half away from Riddle.  I am so confused.

Does this mean I can’t trust Wikipedia?  Please tell me that’s not so.  I’m not sure what I would do without it.

Could be Idaho,
could be Oregon,
could be Peru for all I know

6. Chubbuck

This has got be some Native American word, right?  It probably means something cute and crazy, like “where the woodchuck makes love” or “plain of the ugly pumpkins” or “elk gizzard incident.”

Unfortunately, it’s named after a railroad conductor named Earl Chubbuck.  He loaded beets here. 

Today, Chubbuck’s a “suburb” of Pocatello.  It has about 14,000 people, along with its own elementary school, library, and SHOPPING MALL!  Yup, Chubbuck’s big time, folks.  We ain’t talkin’ about no Cabinet, Headquarters, or Riddle here, my friends. 

Chubbuck’s finest

5. Syringa

I don’t know about you, but this name just brings up visions of medical waste on New Jersey beaches, or perhaps a park where junkies hang out in The Bronx.  Definitely not the beautiful wide open spaces of Idaho.

Wouldn’t you know …  It’s the Idaho state flower.  Also, the “g” is hard.

Syringa’s on the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, in the Clearwater National Forest.  The two businesses I could identify in town – Riverdance Lodge and Lewis Clark Trail Cabins – both cater to the tourist trade.  Looks like a beautiful area.

Philadelphus lewisii

4. Cocolalla

Native American?  Spanish?  Baby talk?  Very poor spelling of Coca-Cola?

Well, it turns out it is Native American.  It’s Coeur d'Alene Salish for either “deep water” or “very cold.”  Or, perhaps – and this is only my theory – “very cold, very deep water.” 

The town is named after a lake, and is located at the north end of it.  Looks like we’ve got a post office, a church, an RV park, a cemetery, a little light manufacturing, and someplace called “Wolf People.”  Thank you, Google Maps.

Man, those are …
I mean, that is a big one

3. Mud Lake

Few know it, but “Mud Lake” was the working title of Tchaikovsky’s balletic masterpiece.  Think frogs instead of swans.

Would you believe there are no less than 10 mud lakes in Idaho?  Ours is in Jefferson County, and is the namesake of our little metropolis of 400.  The closest real place is Idaho Falls. 

The very helpful site tells me its – when I google “mud lake idaho” – that there are “thousands of things to do near Mud Lake from places of interest to outdoor recreation to sightseeing and tours to arts and culture.”  Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link and got “no results found.” 

Watch your step!

2. Culdesac

How nice to see a developer call a spade a spade for once.  No The Villages at Cheshire Glen.  Skip Olde Hamptonwicke.  The heck with Chumley Heath Crossing.  Just plain ol’ Culdesac.  I love it!

From what I can tell, Culdesac was the end of the line for a local little railroad that made its way out here from Lewiston.  There was also a historic mission here (to the Nez Perce).

Today, we’re talking about 400 people.  One of the main drags in Culdesac appears to be called Culdesac Ave. (by the way, it is not).

And just in case you couldn’t read it:

In 1863 this area was a “shebeen” (outlaw headquarters) and murder and robbery of travelers were common place. This valley was on the main and original Nez Perce Trail leading into Montana through Elk City. Homesteaders moved into the fertile valley and by 1900 two towns were growing. One called Culdesac located at the end of the railroad terminal and the other at the east end of the valley called Mellen. The citizens of both towns applied for a post office under the one name of Cul-de-sac. The post office was granted, but the department suggested the people adopt the name Magnolia. This stood until through a citizens petition the post office was renamed Culdesac. In 1903 the towns consolidated and adopted the name Culdesac. With a population of 400 the town grew rapidly, boasting all of the businesses of a larger town. A number of fires over the years burned out complete town blocks and greatly damaged growth. However, a school, businesses and homes have been re-built, and farming is now the chief industry.

1. Magic City / Atomic City

It was just too hard to pick one of these for the grand prize.  So, like any event that involves kids younger than high school these days, everyone’s a winner!

Not completely sure what the magic is in Magic City.  It’s one of those barely there kind of places.  There is a Magic Reservoir though.  And that, in turn, was created by the Magic Dam.  I’m assuming the water it holds is magic water, which makes magic waves along the magic shoreline, where magic fishermen cast their magic lines for magic fish.

I guess we all know what the magic is in Atomic City.  That would be radioactivity!  Rads and rads of it.  Atomic City is right next to the Idaho National Laboratory, formerly the much-scarier National Reactor Testing Station.  Great description of the town on Wikipedia:

There is one store and one bar in Atomic City; the store no longer sells gasoline, due to new laws pertaining to its underground gas tanks.  Most of the people who were raised in the town have now passed on, and many of the current residents are retired.  There is an RV park on the south end of town with full hook-ups, and stock car races are held in the summer.

I guess that Wikipedia article
may be a little out of date
(And who are those guys anyway?)

Honorable Mention:

  • Some more cities – Malad (French for “sick” or “ill”) City, Butte City, Sugar City, Moose City, Thunder Mountain City
  • B-o-r-i-n-g – American Falls, Oldtown, Mt. Idaho, Idaho City
  • Short & sweet – Pearl, Paul, Roy, Henry, Pine, Bear, Bridge, Bliss, Bench, Bone, Stone, Felt, Naf
  • Just a little out of place – Dixie, Atlanta, Harvard, Princeton, Naples, Moscow (home of the University of Idaho), Paris
  • Numerically oriented – Twin Falls, Twin Groves, Three Fork
  • Native American mouthfuls – Kootenai, Pocatello
  • Atypical adjectives – Sweet, Gross, Tensed, Deary, Chilly
  • Abnormal nouns – Squirrel, Sunbeam, Triumph, Soldier
  • Unconventional verbs – Crouch, Coolin
  • Fun to say – Tuttle, Dingle, Shoup, Rathdrum, Ponderay, Stites, Waha
  • Just plain weird – Smelterville, White Bird, Fish Haven, Priest River, Warm River, Warm Lake, King Hill, Harpster, Chilco, Cold House, Black Cloud, Good Grief, Slickpoo, Beer Bottle Crossing (look, there goes one now!), Dickshooter
  • Ghost towns – Yellow Jacket, Hump Town, Stibnite, Czizek

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