If all the lower 48 states were ironed out flat, Idaho would be the largest; its rugged terrain with towering cliff sides, pine-forested peaks and deep canyons make Idaho's natural scenery one of the wildest and striking in the U.S. The southern half of the state is much lower in elevation compared to the north. The Snake River forms the western border with part of Washington and Oregon before turning into the state and bisecting the southern half, meandering through the fertile Snake River Plain in the eastern part of the state. The Bitterroot Range serves as a natural border with Montana, and further east, the Clearwater and Salmon River mountains extend for miles into the some of the most isolated regions in America. Native Americans had long settled in the region of Idaho, the most dominant groups being the Nez Perce in the north and Shoshone in the south. The Lewis and Clark Expedition traversed the northern terrain of Idaho, becoming the first Europeans to explore the area. Missionaries and fur traders began to settle the area in the early 1800's, but it was not until 1846 that the U.S. established a permanent foothold in the region. Some 14 years later the first organized town, Franklin, was set up by Mormon pioneers (who thought they were in Utah). In 1863, the Territory of Idaho was at last established, though the borders remained in dispute until 1868. On July 3rd, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed in Idaho as the 43rd state to enter the Union.
German is Idaho's largest ancestral group at approximately 18.9%. The fast-growing Hispanic population, currently at about 7.9% according to 2005 estimates, is the largest minority group. Idaho itself is the fifth fastest growing state in the nation, with urban areas in the south experiencing huge population booms, in particular the Boise-Nampa area, and Idaho Falls. Boise is the capital and largest city in the state. The city is the economic hub of the region and home to the largest Basque community outside of the Basque region in Spain and France. Other important cities include Pocatello is the southeast, and the transport hub and tourist town of Coeur d'Alene. Agriculture is an important economic earner. The famous Idaho potato has been an essential part of the American diet for much of the twentieth century (one third of all potatoes in the U.S. come from Idaho), though the state also has significant bean, sugar beet, cattle, and dairy product exports. Manufacturing is another critical sector of the economy, dominating much of Idaho's southern cities, and employing much of the population in a state which enjoys relatively low unemployment. Northern Idaho has one of the highest concentrations of militant right wing communities in the nation. Idaho is a conservative stronghold, voting Republican in every presidential election since 1964. George W. Bush carried the state in 2004 by a margin of 36 percentage points.