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Zipping Through the Air with Silver Streak

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Wildlife In North America

Not much is required for a good Zip Line course. A few high-altitude hills or trees. Some poles stuck into the ground. Wire. Harnesses and helmets. That’s about it. Nice views are a plus, but optional. After all, when you’re flying through the air at 45mph, looking around isn’t a priority. But the mountain vistas on display during our run through Silver Streak’s course were too beautiful to completely ignore. Most of my zips went like this: terror (“WAGHHHHHHH!”), admiring nature’s beauty (“AHHHHHHHH!”), and back to terror (“AAYYYYGGGHGHGHHG!”).


2012 was Silver Streak’s first year of operation, and we were invited to check out their six-run “west course”. A second “east course” is slated to open in 2013. Our guides for the day were Megan and Nick, who proved capable of keeping us both alive and entertained.

The bigger you are, the faster you go on a zip line; I’m average-sized, but let’s just say I was going fast enough. After a couple light zips to ease us into it, the third line was ridiculous. Over a thousand feet long, with a steep vertical drop at the beginning, speeds of up to 45 mph and a terrifying landing. It was awesome, but I was glad not to be as big as 6’6″ Jürgen. I estimate my facial expression during the landing had a terror/fun ratio of 60/40. His was more like 95/5.

Zips four, five and six just kept upping the ante. I especially loved the last one, which allowed Jürgen and I to race against each other (he won). The tour lasted about two and a half hours, including the drive to and from the mountain, and refreshments were included. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush during your trip to the Wallace area, Silver Streak Zip Lines will fit the bill.

Silver Streak Zipline Tours – Website

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October 18, 2012 at 1:10 am Comments (3)

Reliving the Big Blowup of 1910 on the Pulaski Trail

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Smokey The Bear

Big Ed Pulaski was probably as famous as it’s possible for a firefighter to be. He invented the Pulaski: the hatchet/pick-axe tool which has become the fireman’s most important weapon. And as a young man, Big Ed’s accomplishments were even more notable; unless you’re unimpressed by something like saving 40 men during the biggest wildfire in North American history.


The “Big Blowup” of 1910 wiped out much of northern Idaho, with especially devastating effects in the Silver Valley. The fire burned over three million acres (about the size of Connecticut) and did so with terrifying fury. In August of 1910, Ed was supervising firefighting crews, when the winds suddenly shifted, placing him and his men in immediate, mortal danger.

Pulaski was familiar with the terrain and remembered an abandoned mine in the vicinity. With trees falling down around them and panicked wildlife, including a bear, pushing by them on the trail, Big Ed led his men to the mine. All 45 made it safely inside, and laid on the ground while the fire roaring outside sucked the oxygen out of the air. Suffocating and in the grip of panic, some men wanted to escape the relative safety of the mine — but cool Ed Pulaski trained his pistol on them. “The first one who tries to leave, gets shot”.

Due to the scarce oxygen, all 45 men lost consciousness. When the fire passed, 40 woke back up. The loss of five men was tragic, but without Big Ed’s knowledge and level-headedness, the toll would have been much worse.

A two-mile interpretive trail just south of Wallace leads to the location of the old mine which saved the lives of 40 men. Along the way, placards recreate the hellish nightmare of the Big Blowup, showing the extent of the devastation and sharing quotes from Pulaski’s memoirs. At the trail’s end, you can see the mine. It’s closed off and rather small, but the weight of history makes it improbably dramatic.

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October 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm Comment (1)

The Sierra Silver Mines of Wallace

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A Mine We Visited In Bolivia

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.


Our tour started with a trolley ride around Wallace, with the driver pointing out historic buildings and sharing anecdotes from the town’s bawdy history. The trolley then drove outside the town limits and deposited us at the opening to the Sierra Silver Mine, where a retired miner was awaiting us. He outfitted us with hard hats, gave us a short history of the mine, and then led us into the underground.

Discovered around 1900, the Sierra mine was a dud which never produced any real riches. It had a few different owners throughout the years, but regardless of how far or deep they dug, silver was never discovered in sufficient quantity to justify full-scale mining. In 1982, the mine was purchased by a group of locals who opened it up to tours, hoping to preserve and promote Wallace’s mining history and heritage.

Our tour underground lasted an hour. During it, we were taught how to identify silver and lead, and how these differ from lesser-value metals like zinc. Turns out the sparkliest stuff isn’t necessarily the most exciting. Our guide also demonstrated some of the equipment used by the miners of the early 1900s, such as a giant drill which was at least twelve feet long. My favorite was the slushing machine, which removed the sludge and water produced after a blast.

It was a fun tour, and an interesting peek into the history of the industry that shaped the Silver Valley.

Sierra Silver Mine Tour – Website

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October 17, 2012 at 12:22 am Comments (2)

The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace

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The History Of Prostitution

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.


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.

Prices For Paid Love

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.

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October 16, 2012 at 2:51 am Comments (25)

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!


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.

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October 12, 2012 at 1:05 am Comments (5)
Zipping Through the Air with Silver Streak Not much is required for a good Zip Line course. A few high-altitude hills or trees. Some poles stuck into the ground. Wire. Harnesses and helmets. That's about it. Nice views are a plus, but optional. After all, when you're flying through the air at 45mph, looking around isn't a priority. But the mountain vistas on display during our run through Silver Streak's course were too beautiful to completely ignore. Most of my zips went like this: terror ("WAGHHHHHHH!"), admiring nature's beauty ("AHHHHHHHH!"), and back to terror ("AAYYYYGGGHGHGHHG!").
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