Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wallace, Silver Valley, Idaho

Backroads Destination-Wallace, Idaho

If and when some scientist announces that the end of world is upon us I am moving to the Silver Valley in Idaho.  The Silver Valley has survived the 1910 fire, the depression of the 30's, the Interstate Highway system, and the drop in the precious metals market in the early 1980's.  Each time it was the end of the Silver Valley and each time the community has bounced back better than before.  So when that announcement is made I am heading for the Silver Valley since I KNOW that they will survive.

Wallace was founded as a mining town and for nearly a century it survived on mining.  Now it has blossomed into a tourist town, while still maintaining their historical focus.  It is a REAL town, with real people.  If you are into mountain and road biking, ATV's, motorcycles and dirt bikes, hiking, downhill and cross-country skiing, camping, fishing, exploring the backcountry historic sites and snowmobiling the Silver Valley is calling you.

In 1972 I was working as a summer employee on the Clearwater National Forest and was driving to Spokane for the weekend.  There at the only stoplight on I-90 between Boston and Seattle I watched a young woman jiggle through the crosswalk in front of me.  Now I was a Forestry student at Berkeley in 1972, jiggling was rather common there as all the bra's seemed to have been burned.   I was surprised to experience it in conservative Idaho until a friend pointed out that she was a working girl.  I guess the Silver Valley was always into recreation in one form or another.

Well, the working girls are gone, but there is a museum dedicated to them and their history in the Silver Valley.  It is worth a visit if you were ever curious about these houses.  The FBI finally closed the last house in the Silver Valley in 1988.  Seems that they finally decided to cut the local police authorities out of bust and they did catch the girls by surprise.  The folks that purchased the building left it just as it was the day of the bust.  And after a few years started giving tours and it soon became a museum.  If you go up the road to the Murray cemetery you can visit some of the more famous ladies that lived in the Silver Valley.

The Silver Valley faced many threats to its very existence starting with the 1910 fires.  The epicenter of the fires was Wallace.  See our previous blog entries on the fire: Big Burn .  For more information read Egan's book on the 1910 fire and the Silver Valley.

Later in its history the Wallace faced destruction at the hand of the US Department of Transportation.  It seems that stoplight in 1972 really bothered the folks in Washington, D.C.  Well, it was either the town or the interstate highway system.  It ended up a draw, but the town managed to keep the impact of the interstate down to a manageable level.  Now it just appears to threaten the town, before it curves and heads just north of town.

In early 1980's the minerals market collapsed and the Silver Valley was plunged into a deep depression.  The local car dealer was on the verge of going out of business when he decided to sell cars mail order.  I was in the market for a new truck so I called him on the phone.  Now I have always had a fond place in my heart for the Silver Valley so it was easy to buy that truck from the dealer.  Even though I had never bought a truck over the phone!!  Six weeks later I went to pick up my truck in the small town of Kellogg.  Two salesman in a small building and my truck sitting out front.  Well, I guess selling trucks by phone turned out to be much, more popular than anybody imagined.  Here is a photo of ONE of their lots for trucks today.

Like I said earlier somehow the Silver Valley will survive.  But it was just not the business community.  The town of Kellogg voted to tax themselves to get matching funds from the Federal government to build a gondola from downtown to their ski hill.  They did rename the ski hill from Jackass to Silver Mountain to get the tourists to stop.  Here is the photo of the gondola, condo's and restaurants on-site.  The gondola runs on weekends during the summer and is worth a trip up the mountain.  There are also concerts up on the mountain during the summer.  It reminds me of Telluride without Oprah.

This story really sums up the attitude of folks in the Silver Valley.  I was working for BLM out of Coeur d'Alene and we did manage lots of the federal land in the Silver Valley.  One winter we had a rain on snow event in North Idaho and Shoshone County and the Silver Valley got hit really hard with flooding.  The day the rains stopped I received a call at my desk.  It was Shoshone County public works asking "Does BLM have land in the Shoshone County?"  "Yes", I answered.  Their next question was "Do you have a grader and operator?"  The answer was "Yes".  He was done asking questions.  "Send the grader and operator to the county shop tomorrow, we will be dispatching all heavy equipment in the county and fixing the flood damage."  Three days later our grader and operator returned to Coeur d'Alene.  No paperwork, no FEMA, just every piece of heavy equipment fixing the damage.  Then everybody went home.

So when that scientist says the world is ending head for the Silver Valley.  Somehow they will survive the end of the world.  Bet on it.

Remember the previous post on landforms?  Landforms and Boondocking   Well, Wallace is in a bad location for boondocking.  There is barely room for a town!  Outside of town toward Murray and Thompson Pass there are boondocking location on National Forest land.  Before climbing up Lookout Pass on the Lolo National Forest are boondocking locations.  This area is worth staying particularly if you bicycle.

Everybody traveling I-90 through western Montana and Idaho should bike the Hiawatha Trail.  It is managed under a special use permit from the Forest Service.  I have not bicycled it, but did drive it in a Forest Service truck while I was still working.  See it was work, I had to visit it in my truck!!  Great trip and there is a shuttle to get you back to the starting point!  The only downside is the trail fee.  Here is the link:  Route of the Hiawatha.

If a 17 mile mountain bike trip is a bit short how about 72 miles of paved trail?  The trail of the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.  Here is another web site:  Coeur d'Alenes Bicycle Trail.   This trail goes through the Silver Valley before heading into the Lower Coeur d'Alene River Valley.  If you ever wanted to complete a century ride (100 miles) this is probably the place to do it.

Soon we will cover the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River and the Lower Coeur d'Alene River Area just outside the Silver Valley.  Also just south of the Silver Valley is that St. Joe Wild and Scenic River.  I wrote the management plan for the St. Joe in 1979.  All these areas are worth exploring and I will cover them in future posts.

The Silver Valley is one of those special towns in America well worth the stop if you are traveling I-90.


Anonymous said...

In 1972 there was also another stop light on I-90 and that was at North Bend Washington. I moved to Seattle from Fort Collins, Colorado in 1978 and the light was there then.

Anonymous said...

Well written and informative, but you are wrong on one point. The FBI never raided the houses in Wallace. Somehow a rumor got started that they were coming and all the girls (and madams) left literallywith only the clothes on their backs. That is why the Museum is so real...everything was left.

Several years later the FBI did raid, but it was for the gambling that was going on all over the Valley, not just in Wallace.

And yes, Wallace and the Silver Valley survived that, too.

The EPA is proving to be the most tenacious of threats and may well prove to be the demise of this wonderful place, but that's another story for another day..

Vladimir Steblina said...

In 1988, we were in Wenatchee and I read about the raid in an article in the Spokane paper. In the museum tour, the lady also mentioned the raid. However, now that you mention it it was subject to interpretation.

Never did hear about the gambling raids in Wenatchee. Hard to get news about Idaho anymore this far west.

I still think they will survive EPA.