The sun was hot on the back of my neck as I crouched down over another pile of rocks, wielding my hammer and garden fork. My legs were getting sore, and I kept forgetting to drink water, but the growing exhaustion didn’t matter. Every time I had almost convinced myself to quit, a shiny glint appeared underfoot. Yes, my precious, another opal!
Driving along the Salmon River Scenic Byway, we entered the Land of the Yankee Fork: a state park which stretches out to the south of Challis, dedicated to the mining history of the area. There are three ghost towns in the park, and we decided to make a stop at Bayhorse.
The history of Wallace is synonymous with that of silver mining in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. The town was founded when silver was discovered, thrived as long as the mineral was abundant, and faded once the mines closed up shop. The Sierra Silver Mine Tour confidently describes itself as “the most popular, interesting, and instructive tour in the Northwest”, and offers an excellent primer to both Wallace and the industry which defined it.
Warren is the most remote town that we visited in Idaho, stationed at the end of a dirt road 45 miles out of McCall. It’s a moderately popular summer getaway which empties out almost entirely once snow sets in. Understandable, since the only road into town closes for winter. After that, it’s either snowmobile or airplane.
In the late 19th century, the largest city between San Francisco and Saint Louis was Idaho City — a boomtown constructed after the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin. With a rowdy population of miners from California, Washington, Missouri and China, Idaho City was the kind of place where whiskey was cheap and lives even cheaper.