Burke Idaho

Note – I originally sketched out this post this back in 2011, fully expecting to do the research needed to finish it up in the next few weeks, then completely forgetting about it until a few days ago. D’oh! Well, I finally had time for the research and truly enjoyed “revisiting” this amazing spot virtually. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it too.


07-03-2011 We left Wallace early Sunday morning, taking an inconspicuous road underneath the freeway and further up into the hills. Our destination was Burke Idaho, a mining town that was mainly ghosts and a few current residents who were willing to put up with possible landslides and collapsing mines to revel in the rugged beauty of this place (or the cheap land costs).

We rode through little hamlets with hopeful names like Sunshine and and Gem, rolling to a stop in front of the monolithic structures of the defunct Hecla Mines. Eerie even in the bright morning sunshine, these huge brick and cement structures just begged to be explored, but newly erected fencing and multitudes of “No Trespassing” signs (along with our own need for self preservation) keep us on the right side of the fence. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, let’s go back a few years to see what this place is all about.

Bustling Burke in the 1920's.

Bustling Burke in 1897.

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Wandering through Wallace Idaho

Mike got away from work early enough Friday evening that we were able to make it to an old Motel in Hermiston. Got up this morning and flew across the flats and into the mountains of Idaho’s Panhandle. There’s silver and gold in these hills, and old mining towns galore.

We rode through this area a few years ago on our way up to Newfoundland, glancing off the freeway, doing 80mph and passing semis on the steep grade, we were both intrigued to see the old brick structures and decidedly vintage homes on the very steep hillsides. I remembered the town name and filed it away for a possible future visit.

Then last year I read an incredible book, The Big Burn, by Tim Egan, which chronicles a massive forest fire in 1910 that burned 3 million acres, and decimated Wallace and its residents. The opening chapter of the book is still so vivid in my mind, creating images of a roaring wildfire whipped by 70+ mph winds, whipping over the ridge above the town, and swooping down on the residents and the one train that will take them to safety. Really worth reading, especially if you are planning a trip to the area.

Wallace, after the fire

Although the fire wiped out about 1/3rd of the town, many of the original buildings are left. And what buildings they are! At the turn of the last century, Wallace was one of the richest cities in the west, producing more than a billion ounces of silver by the 1980’s. So, there was some money here, and plenty of it was spent on beautiful homes and business establishments.

We arrived in town around 11am, and pulled into our motel, the Stardust.

Stardust Motel Sign, with accompanying "escape pod"

The gal at the desk was very accommodating, juggling things around to get us a first floor room, then asking the maid to clean it right away so we could get in early. The maid happily dragged her cart from a completely different section of the hotel, cleaned the room in 20 minutes and we were in. Unfortunately, there was no refrigerator, we asked a guy who was fixing a lock on the room next to us if the other rooms had a fridge, he said yes. He talked to the desk clerk, who said our room was one of the few without, and so he simply unplugged the fridge from the room he was working in, and lugged it to our room!

Turns out the “maintenance man” was actually Scott Lasley, the president of the Wallace Chamber of Commerce! He made sure we had a local map and tour book, and said to just ask if we needed anything else. Wow! We’re in town for 20 minutes and already we’ve been treated like royalty! Turns out everyone we met here was just as friendly and accommodating. I can’t say enough nice things about the people here. Just amazing.

We hiked a few blocks down to the Sierra Silver Mine Tour building, and purchased tickets for the tour. I was hoping to also do the Burke tour, but missed out on the season opening by a few days. We didn’t really know what to expect from the Mine tour, only that we’d be taking a trolley (with some color commentary by the driver) up to an old mine, then be taken underground by a “real miner” and shown some mine operations.

Good thing they gave me this hat

This description makes it sound a bit cheesy, but the tour is really quite amazing and a little dangerous. Our mine guide was tall, gangly and a bit rough around the edges, probably about our age, and he’d been mining off and on his entire working life. Articulate, and very good at creating a word picture of what mining was like “back in the day”, and what it was like for miners today. Amazingly, he demonstrated mine equipment including a drill, a drag instrument, and a loader, all of which were of course, loud, and astonishingly evil-acting pieces of pneumatic machinery which could maim or kill you in a variety of ways.

Tour goers check out what's keeping the roof from becoming the floor

After the Mine tour, we wandered around town, taking pictures and checking out antique stores. Wallace has done a great job of showcasing the old while allowing new businesses to survive. I was very surprised at how quiet it was for a 3-day weekend, I really expected the place to be packed. I know that during the ATV jamboree it’s a madhouse, and I hope they get enough tourists during the rest of the year to keep things going.

I can’t express enough how nice the people are here, everyone, at every store, went out of their way to make sure we had a great time during our visit. Whether you are interested in history, love riding high mountain ATV and MC trails, or just enjoy wandering antique stores, go to Wallace, you’ll have a great time, guaranteed!

For us history buffs, Wallace has put out a great booklet with maps and descriptions of every historic building in town. It’s broken up by residential and business districts, and is very easy to follow. A huge asset, and it made our visit even more interesting.

Even furry residents of the town are ready to smile for the camera

As evening approached, our grumbling stomachs forced us to turn in to the Pizza Factory for their salad bar and some garlic breadsticks. After a filling meal, we headed back towards our room, on the way “home” this little sweetie rolled past, fitting cap to a great day in Wallace.

Back in our room at the Stardust, tired feet, tired bodies, comfy bed, ready for some sleep!

Photos Here

An ‘Oh Wow!’ Weekend – Lolo Pass and Montana

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Have you ever revisited a spot and just been amazed at the beauty you missed (or forgot) the first time?

Last weekend was like that for us.  Two years ago (to the day) we attemped this same ride with our buddy Bill.  That time we encountered a massive storm and battled through the worst rain we’ve ever ridden in.  Although I remembered the Lolo Pass road fondly, for some reason I completely blocked out the beauty of the scenery (or maybe the rain washed it out of my brain?)

Friday evening we drove over to carpenter Nick’s place to see what he’s been up to – amazing changes there, new paint, flooring and other mods really make a difference!  We picked up cinderblock and mud so he could ride over to our place instead of driving and toting supplies.  Our intention was to use the 3 day weekend to finish the inside of the garage, but Nick had cedar delivered to his place and needed to use the time to build a fence.  So driving back home at 10:30pm we saw a 3-day weekend stretching before us with nothing to do.  Hmmm, ride??

Getting home I jumped on the computer, checked weather reports (very good), and looked for rooms (also promising). Waking up bright and early Saturday I called and booked rooms for Saturday night in Riggins Idaho and Sunday night in Stanley Idaho.  This would put us at a little over 400 miles each day.

The sun was shining and high temps were in the 80’s, perfect riding weather, although the furnace effect did warm things up through Oxbow reservoir, it cooled again as elevations increased on the road to Cambridge.

I did remember this road from our last trip – especially the tight twisty climb up the canyon side next to the reservoir – fun, but a little tense for me as I still have a bit of an issue with heights.

Scaling the Wall at Oxbow dam

By 6:30pm we were happy to pull into Riggins and find the Big Iron Motel.  This little spot offers motorcycle discounts, and the owners Scott and Rose have really worked hard to make this a nice place.  Comfortable beds, soft linen, nice pillows, and other amenities really shows the care and hard work they put in here.  Highly recommended!


Our room at the Big Iron

The next morning we got an early start and headed down the road towards Grangeville and our turn onto Hwy 12 – Lolo Pass.  The road was damp in spots, showing that at some point overnight they’d had rain.  Glad we missed it!

Lolo Pass has the most amazing corners. Long, sweeping, banked, and no reduced radius endings. Some are so long and tight, I swear I’ll meet myself coming the other direction at the exit!  With every heaven there’s a hell – and this road’s bad side it the speed limit. 50mph is just stupid, and aggressively patrolled by a State cop whom we narrowly avoided by chance.

Breakfast of huckleberry pancakes at Lochsa Lodge and from here out we were in new territory we’d never ridden before.  At this point, the road leaves the river valley and raises up to meet Lolo Pass in all its rocky twisty glory.  A tiny bit of snow and a few gravel patches showed the winter didn’t let loose of this one until just a few weeks earlier.

Dropping down the other side, we landed in Montana. The road opened up to sweeping views of open farmland green with new crops and dotted with freshly born foals and calves.  The smell of sweet grass and lilac was nearly overpowering in some spots.

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Riding through old small towns made me wish for more time, museums and vintage buildings flew by though, with no time to stop and smell the roses.  At one point, a sign to Daly Mansion made my head turn in time to see a long shaded lane flanked by maple trees leading to a massive light pink-brick Georgian-style mansion.  The view was gone in an instant, but not before I added it to my mental list of ‘places to see when we have time’.

We did stop for a few minutes in the next town when I spied this old beauty

St. Marys Mission - Circa 1840s -  Stevensville Montana

St. Mary's Mission - Circa 1840's - Stevensville Montana

This quiet spot is still lovingly maintained by the Catholic parrish, and the attached cemetary added a sweet sadness with newly planted flags and flowers in readiness for Memorial day.

We continued on, following the Salmon river through red rock canyons and open valleys.  Such varied, ruggedly beautiful terrain here.

Hard to believe this was all one road, and the pictures were taken within 100 miles of each other – looks like we’re in three different states – well, four if you count the state of elation we’re feeling from being able to ride this!

I was a bit unsure of our Sunday night’s lodgings. Everything in Stanley was over $100 and the Salmon River Motel was $65. I’m always happy to get a deal, but then find myself wondering WHY it’s so cheap? Time would tell. Upon arrival, the motel appeared like a normal 1970’s cracker box, with cabins located to the side.  Opening the door to our room, we were pleasantly surprised to find a full kitchen, large space, two beds, and then sliding open the curtains brought the biggest surprise – the Salmon River, huge and full, racing by not 5 feet off the back deck!  This had to be the most beautiful view we’ve ever had from a motel room.

Million dollar view from our 65 dollar deck

Million dollar view from our 65 dollar deck

Waking up the next morning, we were on the road again early.  The view for the first few miles out of town was dominated by those imposing Sawtooth mountains, then began climbing into a heavily forrested area.  I was worried the road would get boring at this point – just trees and no view.  Boy, was I wrong! Soon we were climbing and negotiating 20mph switchbacks on a road that became increasingly more beautiful and technical.

Breathtaking vista on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway

Breathtaking vista on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway

Even dropping down into Boise the road treats you to views of Lucky Peak Lake surrounded by steep rock walls with beautiful blue water sparkling below.

We did our time on Hwy 84, then happily turned off at Vale for the final leg of our journey.  Arriving home in time to watch the Lakers get trounced, it was good to remove our sore butts from the saddle – 1300 miles in 3 days – definitely not a relaxing weekend, but totally worth the pain!