Tucked deep in the Idaho Rockies far away from any paved road is the open pit at the former Stibnite mine. Once a thriving company town of 1,000 people, Stibnite was the source of 98% of the antimony and tungsten used to make hardened steel for munitions and battleships during WWII.

Other than the open pit, the tailings are all that remain today.

Rainstorm sweeps across the barren Oregon desert.
General Mercantile, Paradise Valley, Nevada

Clouds and shadows dance upon the sagebrush hillside.

Parish church on the high plateau.


Silver City

While the actual number of Idaho ghost towns is anyone's guess, there's no dispute as to which one is in the most pristine condition: Silver City, nestled deep in the remote Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho. What makes this site so unique is its authenticy; for in the western U.S., most ghost towns are either long abandoned piles of timber and metal or kitschy tourist traps, such as Tombstone and Virginia City.

Getting there is no easy task; once the pavement ends the road rises through outlying sagebrush hills on the way to subalpine 8,000 feet passes. Mining is still occuring in the area, and encountering an ore hauler barrelling around one of the numerous blind curves could be disasterous. Further on, the road narrows to a one-laned jeep trail as it traverses high ridges covered in mountain mahogany and juniper.

Silver and gold were discovered in the area in the 1860's, and soon after the town boomed to 2,500 people. Thanks to the quick prosperity, Silver City is historically notable for several reasons; it was the first town in Idaho to have telegraph service and a daily newspaper, and one of the first in the west to have electicity. While few of the buildings are occupied today, they are in remarkable good condition given the harsh desert environment and unmerciful threat of wildfires.

What's always amazed us about western ghost towns is how the residents abandoned all earthly possesions in the quick exodus after the lode ran dry. Cars and equipment were left behind, as well as fine china, furniture, and every other type of househood goods. It's as if the people presumed all they owned could be replaced as soon they arrived at the next boomtoom. Now, antiques (and junk) left behind from the golden age of mining can be found in abundance for retail in many mining boomtowns such as Globe, AZ, and Deadwood, SD.

Outside the city limits, old mine shafts dot the adjacent hillsides. In total, an estimated $60 million dollars (obviously worth much more today) of gold and silver were extracted from the hundreds of miles dug deep into the mountains.

Someday, as Silver City continues to age and the effects of time wear hard on the buildings of this once prosperous town, there will be little left but fallen timbers and heaps of scrap metal. But today, as one stands in the center of town, it's easy to imagine the sights and sounds of a whiskey fueled Friday night at the Idaho Hotel one hundred years ago, when dreams of silver and gold were the reality.


Idaho Big House

We're still here! Despite our ever-lessening blogging tempo, we have a batch of fresh posts on the way (let's face it. The blogosphere peaked long ago, and RR was never much to brag about even during the golden era of blogging. So from now on we'll be limiting postings to unique places or experiences, like Idaho). First up: the Idaho State Penitentiary, one of three remaining territorial prisons still standing despite the erosion of time and neglect.... just like this blog!

Built in 1872, the Idaho State Pen housed 600 inmates at a time, for a total of 13,000 before closing in 1973. All 13,000 entered through the bars of this sallyport entrance and upon completion of their term, walked out this same gate. Lifers left in coffins of course, as did 10 inmates executed by hangman's noose in the rose garden.

High sandstone walls with rifle towers rim the complex, which housed several dorms, a hospital, dining hall, commissary, and laundry facilities. The rocks were cut and hauled from local quaries and meticulously placed by the hands of.... you guessed it.... inmates. Building the walls of your own prison must be one of the more disheartening things a man can do with himself.

When the prison closed in 1973, the Department of Corrections transferred the property to the Idaho State Park system, which greatly benefitted the facility's preservation. Unlike many other historical prisons which were dismantled, looted, or simply fell victim to neglect, the facilities at the Idaho State Pen are in the same condition as the day the last prisoners left.

Many cells look as if the residents had just left for recreation time in the yard.... soda cans and cigarrette butts sit on makeshift card playing tables; toothbrushes and shaving razors stand in cups along the sinks. The only sign of abandonment is the peeling paint, although not to say it wasn't already peeling in 1973.

Throughout the prison are photographs and stories of some of the more notable inmates. Like Henry Wilmbusse, who served a life sentence for killing the judge who previously committed him to an insane asylum. The brief vignettes offer insight into the people who occupied the often violent and lawless western frontier.

Scattered among the many cattle thieves and bank robbers are stories of the 200 women prisoners who served time at the prison. Like Mary Mills, Idaho's own "Typhoid Mary", sentenced for spreading VD. In the early days of the prison, women were actually mixed in with the men. Of course, predictable problems ensued, and so a womens dorm was built in 1905.

Even though the cells are empty and the washing machines sit idle and the only residents are the quiet ghosts of former inmates, it isn't difficult to imagine the constant commotion and clatter of when 600 prisoners occupied the prison. The best part of the visit: walking out the front gate, freely and without impedence, an event the 13,000 inmates of the Idaho State Penitentiary could only dream about.

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