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Goldbug Hot Springs

Hot Springs of the Northwest

The best hidden gem we uncovered during our travels through Idaho was the Goldbug Hot Springs. Found at the end of a beautiful and moderately-rough hike through a canyon just south of Salmon, these cascading hot springs offer an idyllic experience, far off the beaten track.

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We had been completely unaware of Goldbug’s existence until finding a flyer about it in Salmon’s Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t in any of the guide books we read, and even most of the locals we would talk with later, from Challis to Sun Valley, hadn’t heard of it. Or perhaps, they pretended not to have heard of it. Goldbug is a paradise, and there’s no better way to ruin paradise than by attracting too many tourists to it.

The trail to the hot springs gets started here in a small parking lot just off Highway 93. The two-mile trail initially skirts through private property, but soon enters public land and becomes increasingly gorgeous as it follows a small stream into a mountain valley. Even without the promise of hot springs, the trail would itself make a great excursion. The final stretch is strenuous, going up into the hills, but the reward waiting at the end makes it all worthwhile.

The Goldbug Hot Springs are a collection of five or six pools complete with waterfalls and a view over an unforgettable valley landscape. The pools are of varying temperatures; warmer nearer the source, cooler further down, but never too hot nor too cold. And the waterfalls are the crowining touch; I sat underneath one for about fifteen minutes, just letting the hot water pound my shoulders and neck. Even if there are other groups visiting the hot springs, the number of pools almost guarantees some solitude.

We stayed much longer than we had planned, and felt like we were floating on clouds during the walk back to the car. Apologies to all the residents of Salmon and Challis who would like to keep Goldbug secret. We can totally understand that. But this is a piece of nature so incredible, that it simply must be shared.

Location of the Trailhead on our Idaho Map

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November 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm Comments (10)

Copper Creek Falls

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The day after our grueling hike to Hidden Lake and Red Top Summit, our hearts weren’t yet finished exploring the wilderness of Northern Idaho, but our aching bodies were. So, a simple one-mile round-trip walk to Copper Creek Falls sounded like a good compromise.

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The trailhead is found almost on top of the Canadian border, less than a mile south of Eastport along Copper Creek Road (NF-2517), and we arrived 30 minutes after setting out from Bonners Ferry. At the Ranger Station, we had picked up a self-guided walking tour describing different aspects of the forest trail, such as old logging ruts and trees, but we quickly stored this away. I didn’t care much whether I was looking at a lodgepole or an eastern white pine: we were there for the waterfall!

We didn’t have to wait long. After a brisk ten-minute hike, we arrived at the viewpoint. The Copper Creek Falls drop 160 feet into a pool of water which you can wade into. I wasn’t about to take a shower, but would bet that people do in warmer weather. Copper Creek provided a neat excursion, perfect for families or anyone who’s not up for a major hike. And it’s nicely secluded, despite the ease of access. We didn’t see another soul during our time there.

Location of the Trailhead

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November 2, 2012 at 12:34 am Comment (1)

Grizzly Patrol Hikes to Hidden Lake

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I was walking about fifteen feet in front of Jürgen, when suddenly I spun around, grabbed the canister of Bear Spray strapped to my hip, and pointed it right at his face. “You’re toast, grizzly punk!” Jürgen didn’t even flinch… it was, after all, the 23rd time I’d practiced this maneuver.

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We were hiking on a remote path in the northern extreme of Idaho, close to the Canadian border. For days, people had been warning us about bears on the path and suggesting counter-measures, but we had laughed them off. “Bear bells? Please, we want to see bears!” But the laughter stopped after visiting the Ranger Station in Bonners Ferry. With a disquieting sternness, the ranger warned us that not only were there grizzlies in the area, but they were likely to be grumpy because of hunting season. Ten minutes later, we were in a sporting goods store, searching the shelves for Bear Bells.

Sharp as a tack, the salesman recognized the easy mark, and sold us not only Bear Bells but a $49.95 can of Bear Spray as well.

We didn’t see any grizzlies during our nine-mile round-trip hike to Hidden Lake and Red Top. In fact, we didn’t see any wildlife. But that was fine. The incredible northern nature gave us plenty to gawk at, and an endless vista of pine-covered mountains isn’t going to tear your chest open with its claws or gnash your skull into sludge.

Bear Spray

It had snowed a couple days before our visit, and we immediately noticed that ours were the only human tracks on the path. There were some deer and rabbit footprints, but despite this hike’s general proximity to Bonners Ferry, we were the only people who had journeyed to Hidden Lake in at least two days.

Hidden Lake lays just a mile and a half from the trailhead. Deep blue water ringed by pine trees, it’s beautiful, but there didn’t seem to be anything especially “hidden” about it; it was, in fact, rather easy to find. But our trail continued up Red Top mountain and, once we had gained some elevation and could look back on the lake, the name made a lot more sense. Hidden Lake is completely encircled by mountains and obscured by tall pines.

The rest of our hike, to the summit of Red Top Mountain, was rough but completely worth the effort. From the top, we had views of the entire region. We could easily see into Canada, and enjoyed a panorama encompassing the Selkirk Mountains. We ate lunch on the remnants of an old fire station (destroyed by a long ago fire), and then started back down the hill.

Location of Trailhead | Hidden Lake | Red Top Summit

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November 1, 2012 at 11:04 pm Comments (4)

Riding the World’s Longest Gondola

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The longest single-stage gondola in the world isn’t found in the Alps or Asia, and doesn’t belong to a famous resort like Vail or St. Moritz. Nope, this record goes to the Silver Mountain Ski Resort, in humble little Kellogg, Idaho.

Longest-Gondola

Silver Mountain’s gondola runs for 3.1 miles, climbing over 1000 meters (3400 feet) for nearly twenty minutes. There are longer gondolas in the world, but those either use “angle stations” or don’t carry people.

We’re constitutionally unable to resist anything that owns a world record (see our trips to the world’s biggest department store, and the world’s biggest beagle-shaped bed & breakfast), so there was no way we’d be skipping out on Silver Mountain’s gondola. Although it was well before ski season, the gondola runs on weekends throughout the summer and fall. At the top of the mountain, there are a couple hikes and mountain bike trails.

Our trip was just as fun and scenic as we figured it would be. Twenty minutes can pass by pretty fast when you’re soaring above a landscape as lovely as the Silver Valley’s.

Silver Mountain Resort – Website

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October 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm Comments (0)

Kellogg’s Crystal Gold Mine

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The day after visiting the Sierra Silver Mines in nearby Wallace, we were invited to check out Kellogg’s Crystal Gold Mines. Two mines in two days might sound repetitive, but they offered sufficiently distinct experiences to make each worth the time.

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Where the most memorable aspect of Sierra Silver Mines had been its still-working equipment, that of the Crystal Gold Mine was its history. This was the first hard rock mine explored in the Silver Valley, dug out by a small group of prospectors years before the silver rush which brought about the first permanent settlers. The identity of the men responsible for the Crystal mine remains shrouded in mystery.

Our guide for the day, a former miner who joined the Navy when the industry slowed, showed us the veins of quartz which the gold-seekers followed into the underground. Gold is often mixed with quartz, and he pointed out some nuggets still embedded in the hard, white rock. No one knows how much gold this mine produced, but considering how much was left when the mine was rediscovered, it must have been a substantial amount.

The miners vanished suddenly, for reasons which are unascertainable. Their equipment, advanced and expensive for the day, was left behind, and the mine’s entrance was sealed up and carefully concealed. It seems safe to assume that they intended to return. The mine was so well-hidden that it remained undiscovered until 1991.

Our tour took about an hour. We learned about various minerals, including the beautiful and worthless Smithsonite, and got to experience the unsettling sensation of absolute blackness when our guide shut off the lights completely. We saw downward shafts now filled with water (and some fish), some of the rotted, original equipment, and an interesting exhibit which demonstrated the blast pattern on a wall packed with dynamite.

And after the tour, we got to try our hand at panning for gold in tubs kept in the yard. I was too clumsy and impatient, but Jürgen demonstrated an innate knack for it. So I wasn’t too surprised when, the next day, he swung into the parking lot of a hardware store and ran inside to buy his very own pan. For weeks, every time we drove by a river, his eyes lit up with gold fever, and we had to stop. Amazingly, he never hit it rich.

Crystal Gold Mine – Website

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October 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm Comment (1)

The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace

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Word had spread around Wallace that the Feds were on their way in, and the town’s bordellos had to close up fast. Under the vigilant eyes of Madame Ginger, the working girls of The Oasis grabbed what they could carry and left everything else behind. Their departure marked a sudden and unexpected end to prostitution in Wallace. The year was 1988.

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For the next five years, until being sold in 1993, The Oasis was locked up and undisturbed. The building’s new owner found everything inside the former bordello just as Madame Ginger and her girls had left it — clothes, toiletries, personal items, drawings, Atari systems, price lists, liquor, even the now-rancid food in the refrigerator. He realized almost immediately that he had a ready-made museum on his hands.

It goes without saying that, in 1988, prostitution in America was completely illegal, even in out-of-the-way Wallace, Idaho. But Madame Ginger had been careful to make generous “donations” to the police department, and was one of the town’s prime philanthropists. As such, she was popular with locals and could even call upon the law for assistance, when needed. For all intents and purposes, The Oasis was a legitimate business… and what a business it was! With five girls working sixteen-hour shifts, profits were estimated to clear a million a year.

And that’s despite the competitive prices. Even those of us who’ve never, ahem, procured a Lady of the Night understand that $15 for an eight-minute session isn’t bad. During our fascinating tour of the Bordello, we found the price list posted up in Madame Ginger’s bedroom. Eight minutes was “the basic” session (let’s not kid ourselves, guys, that’s plenty of time). But there were other variations; you could go up to an hour, have a bubble bath, or purchase extra positions. The basic fare only included missionary.

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The tour was compelling, often hilarious, occasionally sad and completely surprising. I had been expecting a staid, informative presentation of the prostitution racket in Idaho’s mining towns; not a bordello as it looked while still operating. We saw the girls’ music collections (Lionel Richie, Diana Ross), their reading selections (almost exclusively romance novels, which broke my heart), and wardrobes. We saw where they bathed, where they ate and, of course, where they worked.

Madame Ginger had expected to quickly return and resume business, but the FBI stuck around for years conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Wallace’s corrupt sheriff. When the Feds finally left, times had changed and bordellos were no longer a welcome enterprise in Wallace. With the money she had saved, Ginger moved to Coeur d’Alene and lived out the rest of her years in style.

Location on our Idaho Map

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October 16, 2012 at 2:51 am Comments (9)

The White Pine Scenic Byway

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Across 82 miles of old pine trees, historic towns and sparkling lakes, the White Pines Scenic Byway brought us northeast from Potlatch to the old mission at Cataldo. It was a peaceful stretch of driving, with few other cars and increasingly beautiful nature.

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The Byway begins in Potlatch, founded in 1905 with the establishment of one of the country’s biggest lumber mills. The business closed down in 1981 and Potlatch emptied out; today, it’s little more than a commuter town for people studying and working in nearby Moscow. It’s got a rugged charm, but wasn’t enticing enough to convince us to pull over.

Highway 6 follows old railway tracks through towns and stations curiously named after famous universities. We passed through Harvard and Princeton; other former train stations included Purdue, Stanford and Yale. Soon, we were cutting north through a thick forest of Western White Pine. As few trees as possible had been cleared to build this road, and it felt as though we were driving through the legs of giants. The White Pine is Idaho’s state tree.

After emerging from the forest, we reached St. Maries (pronounced Mary’s): another old timber town situated at the junction of the St. Maries and St. Joe rivers. It’s a neat town, larger and more lively than Potlatch. We visited the Hughes House Museum and got some grub at a gas station/pizzeria. Nearby, we found an old-time Steam Donkey; a logging winch. Like I’ve always said, any town with a Steam Donkey is a winner in my book.

The byway continued north past St. Maries to a set of small lakes fed by the Coeur d’Alene River. With evocative names like Black Lake, Cave Lake, Medicine Lake and Swan Lake, these pools set in the midst of the forest were unforgettable. We stopped every 100 feet for more pictures, and it’s a real shame we didn’t have time to hike around — Cave Lake, in particular, demanded a proper exploration.

Our drive ended at Cataldo, where the oldest building in the state is found. The Old Cataldo Mission was constructed by the Jesuits to convince the Coeur d’Alene tribe of the wonders of Christianity.

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October 7, 2012 at 1:41 am Comment (1)

Bald Eagle! USA! USA!!!

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After our moose encounter, we didn’t have to wait long for Mother Nature to rear her head once more. Minutes before we entered the Snowdown Wildlife Sanctuary outside of McCall, a bald eagle swooped down from a tree and soared over the stream in front of us.

Bald-Eagle

It was the first time I’d ever seen our national bird, and I immediately remembered the lessons of my youth. This might surprise any non-US readers, but it’s a fact that in every school across the country, American children are drilled on the proper reaction to seeing a Bald Eagle. So as it soared over my head, I jumped into the air, pumped my fist, and screamed “Home of the Brave!” Behind me, fireworks. In front, amber waves of grain.

Jürgen was impressed, I could tell.

After I had calmed down, I went straight to the internet and researched Bald Eagles. When bragging about the encounter (and, oh, did I plan on bragging), I wanted to have more to say than “eagle was pretty”. So please, friend, take a seat and allow me to dazzle you with my EagleFacts!

On average, Bald Eagles live up to twenty years. Along with Golden Eagles, they’re the largest raptor in North America, with an average adult wingspan between 5.9 and 7.5 feet. Females and males are similar in appearance, but the ladies are larger by up to 25%. They build the largest nests of any bird, and return to them year after year, continually adding material to them. These nests can reach thirteen feet in depth, and eight in width. The eagles mate for life and can fly faster than 40 miles per hour.

Bald Eagles live all over America, but are sensitive to human presence and prefer remote areas with plenty of access to rivers and lakes. This explains why they are so often found in wild, remote Idaho. They mainly eat fish (which they rip apart with their talons), but will attack and eat anything they can manage, including raccoons, small reptiles and geese. They’re not preyed upon in the wild, and so are considered apex predators.

First a moose, and now a Bald Eagle. And all within our first few weeks in Idaho. We’d spot Bald Eagles a few more times during our stay, but I’ll never forget that first encounter.

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September 23, 2012 at 3:58 pm Comments (0)

Three Great Restaurants in Cascade

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For the first time in half a year, we were living in a place with a fully-equipped kitchen, and were finally able to cook at home. So we didn’t eat out a lot during our month in Cascade. But occasionally, we felt like letting someone else do the work. For such a small town, there are quite a few good dining options in Cascade. Here are our favorites.

Huckle-Berry-Pancake
Gramma’s Kitchen

Order an omelette for breakfast at Gramma’s Kitchen, and you’ll be skipping lunch… and possibly even dinner. Gramma serves up some giant portions. On our first visit to this unassuming restaurant on the north side of the town, I asked our waitress about Huckleberry Pancakes; even though they weren’t on the menu, I thought I would try my luck. “I’m so sorry, honey, we don’t have any”, and so I ordered an omelette.

But the cook had overheard my request, and went about scouring the kitchen for any extra huckleberries that might be laying around. When my meal came out, it was with a giant huckleberry pancake on the side, free of charge. And just like that, Gramma’s Kitchen won an eternal place in my heart.

Location on our Map

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Dollar Bill’s Redneck Kitchen

We stopped at the brand new restaurant called Dollar Bill’s after breathless recommendations from a few people in town. Well, “restaurant” might be a stretch. Bill had just opened for business and there wasn’t much to the place, besides a grill on his deck and a few tables in the yard. A little skeptical, we asked Bill to make us whatever he thought was best.

While our food was cooking, Bill told us about his story. Turns out, he’s quite the character, a chef who’s worked around the country at a number of posh resorts. Most recently, he was in charge of the restaurant at Cascade’s Golf Club. At Dollar Bill’s, he specializes in his favorite foods: BBQ and seafood chowder. We got a bowl of the chowder; rich, creamy and cheesy. Delicious. Even Jürgen, who’s no fan of seafood, ate every bite.

Swing by Dollar Bill’s if you’re looking for a good, no-nonsense lunch. You can’t miss it: the bright red cabin, where a bunch of people with barbecue-smeared mouths are sitting on benches in the yard.

Location on our Map

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Clear Creek Station

Found a few minutes south of Cascade on Highway 55, Clear Creek Station is referred to between Jürgen and I as “Merlott’s”. Anyone who watches True Blood will understand the reference. Clear Creek Station is just like Merlott’s. The owner even looks like Sam, and has the same affable personality. I’m not sure about the shape-shifting abilities.

Our first time in Clear Creek, I ordered a side of short ribs which were the best I’ve had in years, and Jürgen choose a giant burger which almost defeated him. Portions are big, beers are cheap, and the place is understandably popular with locals. Absolutely recommended, even if you have to wait for a table. We liked it so much here, that we made it our final meal in Cascade.

Location on our Map

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More pictures from Gramma’s Kitchen
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September 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm Comments (0)

A Short Hike to Rainbow Lake

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We were hosting a couple friends from San Francisco for the weekend, and had promised them an easy hike — just enough physical activity to justify soaking our bones in hot springs later in the evening. Rainbow Lake came recommended as a simple five-mile hike, just outside Cascade.

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I underestimated the time it would take to reach the trailhead, so we got a very late start on the day. Luckily, the supposed five-mile hike turned out to be even shorter than advertised, and we reached Rainbow Lake after only about twenty minutes of walking. The hike was beautiful — the forest lightly burnt in a long-ago fire and colored with fire-red bushes. The lake was small, picturesque and, considering the short length of the hike, surprisingly remote; we were in the middle of the Salmon River Mountains, and completely alone.

Anyone looking for a strenuous, all-day adventure will find themselves disappointed by the hike to Rainbow Lake, but for fishermen or families (or groups of friends who’d rather spend the time immersed in hot springs), the short hike is perfect. We came, saw the lake, ate lunch, and were back to our car within a couple hours.

Location of the Rainbow Lake Trailhead

Epilogue – A short time later, we were sitting down with a cooler of beer in the Trail Creek Hot Springs. We had arrived at the same time as a big biker dude, who wasted no time in stripping down into his birthday suit. Luckily, there are two pools at Trail Creek, so we weren’t compelled to admire the jewels.

Soaking in the hot water was the perfect post-hike reward and we could have stayed for hours, but felt compelled to leave after a rowdy family of locals arrived. They had quickly shamed Naked Biker into putting on his shorts (“this ain’t no porno-show”), but he made it clear he wasn’t going to abandon his pool. So they hocked next to ours, all ten of them staring at us. “No pressure, y’all. We’re jes waitin’ our turn!” Sigh. But it was time to be getting home, anyway, and so we emerged to dry ourselves off on the rocks.

As soon as we were out, they jumped into the pool. And then brought out the Palmolive. Under our horrified glares, they slopped dish soap into their hands and started cleaning their bodies and clothes. In the hot spring. With dish soap. I had never seen anything of the like, but was most surprised by their willingness to lather up in front of us, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. They could have waited five minutes, and we’d have been gone. Shameless? Ignorant? I’m not sure, but it was definitely amazing.

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September 21, 2012 at 3:31 am Comments (3)

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