On Sunday we drove out east of town to Hwy 21 and worked our way slowly up into Boise National Forest and then Idaho City which is listed as a ghost town although it has about 400 permanent residents. We had a good time looking around at all the old mining equipment and buildings, many of which are on the National Historic Register.
In 1862 gold had just been discovered in the Boise Basin. Drawn by the lure of instant wealth, prospectors poured into the area by the thousands. Almost overnight Idaho City became the largest town in the territory. In its heyday the city boasted more than 250 businesses, including such amenities as opera and theater houses, music stores, tailors, breweries, bowling alleys, barber shops and bakeries, pool halls and drug stores. And numerous saloons! Men went armed at all times and were quick to defend themselves. Winners in disputes often spent time in the stout log jail. Losers were carted off to Pioneer Cemetery.
Despite the atmosphere of lawlessness, Idaho City flourished. Within three years of its founding, the city had surpassed Portland, Oregon, as the most populous in the Northwest. And no wonder: during the gold rush more than $250,000,000.00 worth of the precious yellow metal was taken from the Boise Basin. Within a few years, the gold became harder to find and more difficult to mine. With fortunes no longer to be made, the prospectors left in droves. Fires also ravaged the community. The first, in 1865, wiped out eighty percent of the buildings in town. Others, in 1867, 1868, and 1871, were similarly destructive. Luckily, due to the extraordinary wealth of the gold strike, the town was speedily rebuilt each time. Today some of the best examples of early brick work and wooden architecture still exit in Idaho City. Many structures erected in the 1860’s remain standing and represent some of Idaho’s most important historical buildings.
You can stroll along planked boardwalks and walk by the “Merc”, where it once cost a pinch of gold to buy an apple. Peek through the bars of the old jail, where desperados carved their names on the thick wooden walls. Visit the Idaho World Building, the old schoolhouse, and the other landmarks that fully recapture the unique character of a bygone era. And don’t miss Pioneer Cemetery, full of ancient headboards that tell intriguing tales from the past.
The entire Boise Basin is surrounded by the Boise National Forest, which mountains, creeks and rivers, photogenic dams and bridges. The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Drive winds through it to the beautiful Sawtooth National Recreation Area, where you’ll find some of the most spectacular, unspoiled scenery in the world.
The girls enjoyed checking out the local flora and fauna while we took pictures. Later we drove on up to Bad Bear Campground and ate a picnic lunch under the big Ponderosa Pines. Afterwards we returned home to take a short nap before dinner.