Idaho’s wilderness is known for its beauty, but certainly not for its geometric symmetry. That’s why a photo taken from the International Space Station, featured as NASA’s image of the day on Tuesday, is so striking.
The snapshot shows a stark checkerboard pattern in the area around Whitetail Butte in northern Idaho’s Bonner County. To the left of the dramatic pattern, Priest River winds its way through the mountains.
So what caused such an interesting marking? According to the NASA post, the white areas of the pattern are where snow has fallen on ground that has been deforested for timber. The darker squares are dense stands of trees.
“The checkerboard pattern is the result of an agreement made in the early 1800s where alternate one-square-mile parcels of land were granted by the U.S. government to the Northern Pacific Railroad,” NASA post said. “These parcels were later sold to private companies and stripped for timber.”
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According to the post, the checkerboard pattern has been maintained as a means of compromise between sustainability and logging interests. The area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and the main stem of Priest River was given protection in the late 1960s.
The photo was taken on Jan. 4 around sunset, casting long shadows from some of the mountains in the area and highlighting the ridges of others. The astronaut, who was not named, took the photo with a Nikon D4 digital camera and an 1150 millimeter lens, NASA said.
It’s not the first time NASA has highlighted striking Idaho landscapes. In December, the agency’s photo of the day featured southeast Idaho’s Bear Lake and its intriguing blue-green swirls.