Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Gold Rush Scenic Byway

O.k., so Spirit was a little tired after working four days.
Yesterday was the start of our four days “off” and we were ready to hit the road. The four days we spent working the registration/fee booth pass by quickly and was fairly uneventful so we were well rested.  It has always been our goal to explore the area during our three-month stay in north-central Idaho but sometimes it is hard to pull ourselves away from our beautiful campsite on our days off.  Yet we would be remiss if we did not visit some of the nearby small towns, eat in their diners, and drive along some of the dozen or so scenic byways that are right here in our backyard.  For starters, we chose the Gold Rush Historic Byway.  The 42-mile drive is full of gorgeous scenery, abundant wildlife, and rich history - just what we were looking for.  A gold strike in 1860 brought prospectors from across the country racing to the area to find their fortune.  The small country towns have been through the typical cycles of boom and bust that define many a western town that was founded on gold.

The first stop on our drive was the town of Pierce (Population: Almost No One).  Pierces’ claim-to-fame is it is where gold was first discovered in Idaho and it boasts the state’s inaugural government building (which is also the oldest public building in Idaho), the Old Shoshone County Courthouse. 

Captain Elias Davidson Pierce first led a party of gold seekers to the area in 1860.  Once gold was found in a local creek bed, thousands of men seeking their riches flocked to the Clearwater Mountains and a town sprang to life.  At that time, Pierce was located in Washington Territory but when the Idaho Territory was established Pierce was recognized as the first established town in Idaho.  Today, the town proudly boasts that their town is "Where Idaho First Began."

Attractions in this little town included the J. Howard Bradbury Logging Museum and the Old Shoshone County Courthouse.  We were thoroughly bummed when we found out these two attractions do not open until mid-June so we headed over to the Timber Inn to lift our spirits by indulging in the “Northwest’s Best Burger in 2006.”

The Old Shoshone County Courthouse has seen many prisoners, trials, and hard times.  At one time the building was owned by a private individual but in 1972, the Idaho State Historical Society acquired the building and has restored the exterior to as close to its original appearance as possible.  The interior houses exhibits and some of the original cell walls.

Downtown Pierce

So after a quick stroll around town (which takes about three or four minutes) and full bellies (or should I say stuffed) we were ready to continue our journey.  As we headed out of town we stopped at the historical marker that led us through the woods to the "Chinese Hanging Tree" - the site of vigalante lynching in the late 1880's.  As EuroAmerican miners removed the easily obtainable gold from the ground they abandoned their claims and sought to seek gold elsewhere.  Beginning in 1864, hard-working Chinese immigrants filled the area and began the arduous task of mining whatever gold was left in the claims.  Soon the Chinese population swelled and 800 of the towns 1,000-person population was Chinese.  While the Chinese kept the town alive and viable, animosity was mounting and descrimation widespread.  In 1885, five Chinese were accused of the brutal attack and murder of D.W. Fraser a local merchant.  The men were confined briefly in the jail before being transported just out of town and lynched.  Idaho later passed strict immigation laws and prevented Chinese from owning mining claims which led to a mass emigration of Chinese from Idaho's mining communities.

The short hike up to the hanging site is lined with interpretive panels. 
As we continued on our drive we abandoned the towering lush pine forests (known in these parts as "green gold" because of their timber value) that wrap you in shade.  Soon we entered the lush mountain top prairie that stuns the eye with the color contrast of azure sky and blankets of green rolling fields of grass and cultivated grains.


The next destination is the funny named town (prounounced wē′·īp) which roots its history in the critical meeting of the Nez Perce Tribe and the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery expedition in 1805.  The tribe met the starving Corps members as they descended the mountains and quickly became the ally that Lewis and Clark needed to survive the winter and ensure success of their expedition.

Our brochure and guide book indicated that the Weippe Discovery Center was the major attraction in this little town so we decided to take a look.  It is a wonderful mix of library, meeting hall, museum, college outreach center, and everything else a small town needs.  The basement floor and the grounds outside are filled with exhibits, murals, and plaques describing the towns history and the importance of the meeting of the Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark. 

Exhibits depict various aspects of the Corps of Discovery Expedition including biological specimens representing many  flora and fauna that had never been reported before. 
Outdoor exhibits and murals illustrate the challenges the Corps faced and the remarkable feat they accomplished.  I certainly would not explore unknown rivers and territory in that canoe.
Fields of camas lilly dot the prairie and illuminate it in a light blue splendor.  The camas bulb was a favorite and important food source of the Nez Perce Indians.
The Scenic Byway ends as you descend the Greer Grade and overlook the magnificent Clearwater River.  The panoramic view is breathtaking and a great way to end the drive.  We love it here and northern Idaho is indescribably beautiful.


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