The hardest thing about choosing the Seven Wonders of Idaho is that there are so many more than seven.
In a state blanketed with mountains, canyons, lakes, rivers and even desert marvels, wonders abound. When the Statesman decided to pick the Seven Wonders of Idaho, Statesman readers showed just how hard the task would be.
Readers sent more than 400 nominations by letter and e-mail, identifying what they feel is special about the state, both natural and man-made.
A panel of experts selected by the Statesman had the daunting task of winnowing them down to the final seven. The Idaho Statesman and Today's 6 will present them, one day at a time, beginning Monday.
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In addition to the daily stories, the Statesman produced seven museum-quality posters with photos shot by staff photographers and a poem by one of our writers — one for each of Idaho's Seven Wonders.
Many of the wonders that readers nominated were predictable, specifically the aforementioned mountains, canyons, lakes, rivers and desert attractions.
Others weren't. A surprising number of readers — primarily from the Treasure Valley — suggested the infamous blue turf at Boise State University's Bronco Stadium.
The Perrine Bridge near Twin Falls, the Statehouse dome in Downtown Boise, the Abraham Lincoln statue at the Idaho Veterans Home and the University of Idaho in Moscow also made the list.
So did the Dutch Oven Cafe, a Boise institution known for its ample hamburgers and lively conversation. Owner Tom Sweeney said he appreciated the accolade, "but I don't think I deserve it."
Another reader nominated his wife, then followed up with an e-mail to emphasize the seriousness of his nomination.
"I was sitting at the computer with my son," the husband wrote, "and we decided mom ought to be one of the wonders."
Mom, however, wasn't comfortable with the heart-felt attention. When she learned that her name could be in the newspaper, she had her husband withdraw his nomination.
Some of the suggestions, we think, were tongue-in-cheek: Bill Sali and Butch Otter together, a gigantic potato, Californians, Republicans and even Otter's hair.
Some serious but unlikely nominations included the Flying Wye, the yard at the governor's mansion (but not the mansion itself), Arco's Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 and Cottonwood's Dog Bark Park — home of the state's only bed and breakfast shaped, yes, like a beagle.
The overwhelming majority of the votes, however, were for natural rather than man-made wonders. Big Horn Springs, Bruneau Canyon, Camas Prairie, City of Rocks, Galena Summit, Malad Gorge, Mesa Falls, the Payette River, Rainbow Rock, Redfish Lake, the Sawtooths, the Seven Devils, Sun Valley and dozens more.
A fourth-grade class at Meridian's Prospect Elementary School nominated the Salmon River. The students, according to their teacher, Lynette DuBay, chose the Salmon because it's "the longest river in the country to lie completely within one state, it's nicknamed the River of No Return due to its rough water and rapids and amazingly the salmon are able to travel upstream to get to their spawning place."
Brad Seymour of Mountain Home suggested Idaho's hot springs, "one of our most overlooked treasures and located in some of our most scenic landscapes. Hot springs can be found the entire length and breadth of our state."
So who are the winners? We're not telling. Yet.
Only the panel of seven experts and a handful of reporters, editors and photographers know — and they've been sworn to secrecy. You will find out beginning Monday.
Just who were these seven experts charged with the wondrous task of identifying Idaho's top seven?
• "Idaho for the Curious" author Cort Conley.
• Sawtooth Society founder Bethine Church.
• Retired Interior Department geologist and Idaho Division of Earth Resources Director Terry Maley.
• Travel photographer and former Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation Director Steve Bly.
• Sacajawea descendant Rozina George.
• Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association Executive Director Grant Simonds.
• Retired Idaho Historical Society historian Judy Austin.
It took our experts nearly four hours to make their list.
"I think it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to work on because so much of this state from north to south is so near and dear to me," Church said. "When I started trying to come up with just seven things, I couldn't shut it down. I couldn't stop thinking about it."
The goal in Conley's view was to "choose places where people go and are never disappointed, things that are of national interest and worth driving across the country to experience."
In a state with so many natural wonders, Simonds doesn't see that as a problem.
"The entire list is a wonder," he said. "We have over 32,000 miles of rivers in Idaho, more than any other state in the lower 48, and the diversity is amazing. We have mountains, high sagebrush plateaus, 1,500-foot- deep canyons that in places go almost straight up. It's all inspiring."
To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Tim Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org or 377-6409.