This summer, I spent a week traveling across the northwestern part of the United States. My brother, his fiancée, and I rented a car and drove from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Occidental, California, stopping along the way in Grand Teton National Park; Yellowstone National Park; Butte, Montana; Anaconda, Montana; Wallace, Idaho; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Walla Walla, Washington; and Portland, Oregon. Of all those amazing and distinctly unique places, our favorite was Wallace, Idaho.
Our journey in Wallace began with a bike tour on the Hiawatha Trail. We crossed the border from Montana into Idaho, picked up our mountain bikes, hitched them to the back of our Volkswagon, Passat, and then drove back over the border into Montana. We parked at the entrance to the trail, tested our brakes, flashlights, and then entered into the tunnel. It was absolutely pitch black, cold, damp, windy, and with no sign of when it would end. Pedaling slowly and clutching the handlebars with my frozen hands, I finally emerged from the tunnel two miles later, grateful to see the sun.
The trail then wound through the mountains on the states’ border. We rode over train trellises and through smaller tunnels, making our way 13 miles to the valley floor. After the fear of being forever lost in a tunnel or sliding down the side of the mountain wore off, I felt the exhilaration of riding through this historic trail. After an hour and a half of riding, a shuttle bus brought us back to the car and we once again crossed back into Idaho to find the town of Wallace.
The tiny Wallace used to be a major silver mining hub located in what is known as “Silver Valley.” Now it is mostly a tourist destination.
We arrived in time for happy hour, grabbing a flight of beers at Wallace Brewing. Then we had dinner at Red Light Garage – a restaurant with a unique decor and the perfect amount of charm. Lola served us an amazing meal topped off with a huckleberry shake.
Lola recommended that we then go to the Wallace Brewing Company on the “outskirts” of town, just on the other side of the highway which passed overhead. We headed over there and grabbed another flight of beers as well as some huckleberry lemonade. The owner of the brewery invited us to take a look at the tanks in the back. Everyone in Wallace was so friendly.
We ended the night at Metals Bar where we encountered the heart of America and were presented with the most moving rendition of God Bless the USA sung on the karaoke stage in the back.
The next morning, crunched for time, we learned about three different industries in the span of two hours.
The first business was the railroad. We visited the railroad museum located near the highway overpass. The station had to be moved 200 feet to make room for the highway. Wallace, once a center of industry and prosperity, depended on the railroad to transport goods. It was also a hub for businessmen. The main claim to fame of Wallace (aside from being featured in Dante’s Peak) is that President Teddy Roosevelt visited for one day in 1903. He came by railroad.
The second enterprise was prostitution. There was a bordello that successfully operated until 1987 when the madame got word that the state police were coming to investigate. The women fled and never returned, leaving the building in exactly the state they had left it. It remains in that state today.
The third industry was mining. We hopped on a trolley that took us to a nearby silver mine located in the mountains. A former miner took us into the mine showing us the quartz veins that indicate silver, the tools, the methods, and the way of life for a miner. We learned that the science of mining and the physical demands were not for the weak of heart or mind.
In addition to these planned excursions, we also happened upon an accordion parade. It was the icing on the cake of our stay in Wallace.
All in all, Wallace was a beautiful and quaint town full of history and culture. I definitely recommend visiting. Tell them Lola sent you.