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Goldbug Hot Springs

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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)

A Walk About Historic Wallace

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Without a doubt, Wallace is among the most unique towns that we’ve ever set foot in. The entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. It had active bordellos until 1988. And leading theoretical physicists agree that Wallace is the exact center of the universe!

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Fine, perhaps it wasn’t physicists who decided that Wallace was of such cosmic importance, so much as drunken locals who, after a rowdy night of drinking in the Smokehouse Saloon, laid down a plaque in the intersection of Bank and 6th Street which reads “Wallace: Center of the Universe”. Despite the questionable science, the nickname stuck. And extra-terrestrials seem to agree; we saw two spaceships during our walk around town.

Though “center of the universe” might be a stretch, Wallace is certainly the center of the Silver Valley mining area. Only 700 people live here today, but it was once one of the largest towns in the Pacific Northwest, and probably its most notorious. Wallace was a hard-drinking, brawling mining town famous for its bordellos, which remained open until 1988.

Originally, Wallace was constructed mostly of wood, leaving it defenseless against the horrific 1910 wildfire that ravaged northern Idaho. Thereafter, all buildings constructed in the town center used brick. The result is an exquisitely-preserved mining town from the turn of the century. The entire historic district has survived the years, and visiting is like stepping back in time.

The official walking tour of Wallace starts at the old Train Depot, then leads visitors around on a comprehensive tour of 43 historic buildings. Hotels, brothels, bars, banks… just about every single building in the old town has a story to share. Despite the town’s diminutive size, we were exhausted by the end of our tour. Somehow, though, we found the fortitude to grab a seat in the 1313 Club, and treat ourselves to a delicious dinner of burgers and home-brewed beer.

Location on our Idaho Map

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October 12, 2012 at 1:05 am Comments (3)

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)

An Ice Cream Social in Historic Roseberry

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Maybe it was all the Mountain Dew we’d been drinking, but Jürgen and I woke up on Saturday morning with an unquenchable thirst for crazy action. “Dude!” I yelled at him. “Extreeeeme!” came his frenzied reply. Mouths frothing, we examined our options. Repelling in the Sawtooths? Lame. Kayaking in Hell’s Canyon? Snooze-ville. But what’s this? An ice cream social in historic Roseberry? Sounds like it’s time to get our party shoes on!

Ice Cream Social

In its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, Roseberry was among the most important towns in central Idaho, boasting two schools, a telephone exchange, stores, churches and a bank. But its fortunes changed irreversibly in 1914, when the railroad decided to build their line a mile and a half to the west, founding the new town of Donnelly. Businesses quickly abandoned Roseberry, even picking up entire structures and moving them down the road. By 1939, the last store had closed and it became little more than a ghost town.

But for the last few decades, there’s been a concentrated effort to bring life back to the town. The Long Valley Preservation Society has been working to turn old Roseberry into a place of historic interest. Barns have been rebuilt according to the original plans, the general store has been renovated, and the churches and houses now look much as they did in 1907.

Saturday’s ice cream social provided a great excuse to check it out. Houses were open to the public, and locals dressed in period garb were on-hand to relate Roseberry’s history and describe the buildings, most of which were Finnish in origin. We wandered from the “Barn at Roseberry” to the 1905 Arling House, and saw the 1898 Korvola Cabin… it was like a giant outdoor museum.

We had a great day out. The ice cream was free and delicious, and the town was packed full with visitors. We hovered around the proceedings a bit, checking out classic cars and eavesdropping on conversations. Everyone seemed to know each other, which I suppose isn’t surprising. We stayed until the bagpipe band finished their performance, then headed home.

Location of Roseberry

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September 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm Comments (2)

A Slow Drive Around Lake Cascade

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Propped up against the Boise National Forest, and just an hour north of the capital, Lake Cascade is a convenient spot for restless city-dwellers to get their nature fix. The charming resort town of McCall crowns the northern end of the lake, while the smaller villages of Cascade and Donnelly line the east, providing an abundance of places to stay the weekend.

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On our first full day in Idaho, we mapped out a drive around the lake in order to get a sense of its size, and also to explore the area. I thought the simple loop would take perhaps an hour, tops, but hadn’t reckoned on two things: (a) how huge Idaho is, and (b) how picturesque. Lake Cascade looks like a tear drop on the map, but has a surface area of 30,000 acres.

Jürgen is a professional photographer and, after all the years we’ve spent travelling together, I’ve become accustomed to pulling over and letting him take pictures. It’s his job; I understand. But during our tour of Lake Cascade, we were stopping with absurd frequency. “Pull over here. I’ll be right back!” I’d wait in the car, frustration level slowly rising, until he returned, grinning from ear to ear and proudly displaying a picture of some field, or old bridge. And then, just as soon as I’d finally nudged back over 20mph, he’d ask to stop again.

On the western edge of the lake, we followed West Mountain Drive, which brought us to the doorsteps of Tamarack Resort. This sprawling four-season resort opened in 2004 and almost immediately fell into financial ruin; it’s now in foreclosure. We drove up into Tamarack, past hundreds of impressive lodge houses which were impressively empty. Not a soul anywhere you looked, it was like a ghost town for very wealthy spirits. We later learned that some of these beautiful lodges had been auctioned off for as little as $60,000.

We completed our loop of Lake Cascade in four hours, and were compelled to scrap all remaining plans we’d had for the day. Underestimating the time required for excursions and road trips would be a recurring problem during our 91 days in Idaho. But Jürgen was on cloud nine, and I couldn’t help but share his elation. Our first little road trip had only confirmed how amazing Idaho was going to be.

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August 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm Comments (2)