Wallace, Idaho

We left Missoula, Montana at noon on Tuesday June 7 with Acey’s mileage at 85,951.1 and Thor’s 103,607. It is a gorgeous day and it’s really too bad we didn’t get a bike ride in – but so it goes! More beautiful scenery on our short drive today!

We saw some signs along the highway for huckleberry shakes at the St. Regis Travel Center – which sounded like a delicious idea to sub for lunch, so we stopped about 1:00 for a “Best. Shake. Ever.”! It was quite tasty indeed!

There were some trout in 2 aquariums in the travel center.

We crossed into Idaho and lost an hour as we are now on Pacific time.

We arrived at Wallace RV Park at 1:30 (Pacific Time)

We are hoping for good weather so we can have some outdoor activity! Our aim is to ride the Route of the Hiawatha (link) while we are here for 3 nights. Wednesday morning was clear and sunshiny! Jim had some work to do on the Aqua-hot system – it is our water heater and heat system. He had ordered parts that were shipped to us at this campground. We got a load of laundry done, Linda packed up lunch, started another load and were able to get on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes right from our campground; only about 900 feet from where we parked Acey! We started at Wallace and rode to the end at Mullan. (The trail is 72 miles from Mullan to Plummer)

It was a gentle almost all uphill climb. Typical of a rail-trail; trains routes were designed with a 2% maximum grade. On our 7 miles out, we gained nearly 500 feet in elevation, but gained only 19 feet on the mostly downhill ride back! It was wonderful to be out riding again – and on such a lovely well-kept trail!

We stopped at a wayside halfway up the trail and learned that this area was rich in silver – more than a BILLION ounces of silver has been extracted by mining here.

This end of the 72-mile trail follows along I-90 for about 30 miles as well as the south fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Mullan is the Eastern end of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes – though another trail continues on for several miles beyond Mullan. It was enlightening to read the sign below: “Mining in the Silver Valley, near Kellog, began about 1884. Construction of the rail line to support the mining and timber industries started in 1888. Mine waste rock and tailings contained heavy metals and common practice at the time was to release the waste into the environment or use it as fill., such as for the rail bed. The rail bed was also concentrated with accidental ore concentrate spillage.

A partnership between the Union Pacific Railroad, the Federal Government, the State of Idaho, and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe allowed for the cleanup and development of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. This trail is not just a trail but part of a unique solution to environmental problems. The asphalt of the trail and the gravel barriers along it serves to isolate the contaminants.” Quite interesting!

As we were driving into Wallace yesterday, we noticed some people in the middle of an intersection taking photos of a manhole cover. Having piqued our curiosity, we went down the street to check it out. The pavement around the manhole cover was reddish in color – weird!

Looking at the manhole cover – we discovered we were at the CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE! Really?!

Decorated as a compass rose, the cover contains the initials of the four major regional mining companies that operated in the area: Hecla Mining, Coeur d’Alene Precious Metals, Sunshine Silver Mine, and Bunker Hill Mining Company. 

We stopped by the nearby visitor Center; we were looking for a hardware store and thought they could enlighten us about the “Center of the Universe” thing! Well, Wallace has a lot of history – being a Silver Capital – about 21% of the world’s silver was mined in this area. We were told an interesting and kind of “in your face” story that resulted in Wallace proclaiming they were the Center of The Universe! Around 2002 the EPA began a debate as to whether or not the soil and water in Wallace was safe due to large amounts of lead sulfide in it. Property values plummeted. The residents argued that no one had died of lead poisoning – even after decades of silver mining and that the soil was safe. So the EPA couldn’t prove that mining resulted in the presence of lead or if it was naturally occurring – Anyway by 2004 the Mayor declared Wallace to be the Center of the Universe – because, using the same logic, no one could prove otherwise!

Oddly, an Englishman named Wallace wrote a book about the city!

Check out this link for more about the Center of the Universe claim! đŸ™‚

Then we couldn’t help but notice the street sign at the corner… So, Google helped to find out who Mr. Magnuson was and why he has a street named for him.

For years, Wallace had the distinction of having the only stoplight on Interstate 90 between Seattle and Boston as the route wound through surface streets.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Harry Magnuson, a mining and business magnate, led a fight against the government to stop demolition of portions of historic Wallace for I-90 freeway construction. A compromise rerouted the interstate along the hillside just north of the historic business district via a 30-foot-tall, 4,400 feet long elevated viaduct, The freeway opened in 1991. In 2010, The city honored Magnuson by renaming of the former highway route after him. Fun stuff to be found in this small town with a population of just 960!

As we walked down the street to the hardware store, we saw this sign:

We got what we needed at Ace and stopped at Wallace Brewing for some cold ones!

Thursday – our day to ride the Route of the Hiawatha! We picked Wallace as a place to stay so we could experience the 10 tunnels and 7 sky high trestles on this 15-mile downhill ride. There are 47 interpretive signs along the route – no way you can stop and read them all – so here is a link to see all of them! The rail-trail opened in 1998 and they are celebrating their 25th year in 2022. We started our day driving to Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area at exit 0 to pay for riding on the trail and for the shuttle to take us back up to our car. We will go between Montana and Idaho today!

The buildings at Lookout Pass also serve as a ski lodge in the winter months,

We drove up to the top of the trail at East Portal, near the entrance to the St. Paul Pass Tunnel (or Taft Tunnel) which is 8,771 feet long! There were lots of other folks also ready for this ride on a beautiful day!

It was wet, cold and dark in the tunnel – we had flashlights attached to our handlebars and gloves on – but even so, our hands were quite cold by the time we passed thru the 1.66-mile-long passage! There was a waterfall by the other end of the tunnel when we stopped to warm up! We were told it was 40° in the tunnel.

Spectacular views as we rode downhill!

This tunnel was shorter – we could see light at the other end!

The gravel trail was in good shape. The mile markers indicate mileage to Chicago.

The only wildlife we saw were chipmunks – several chipmunks!

In the distance, we could see one of the trestles we will be riding over!

Curves and straight ways… a fun ride!

We came to our first trestle – at Small Creek – 515 feet long and 120 feet high

l – o – n – g way down!

The Kelly Creek Trestle is the longest – 850 feet – and tallest – 230 feet.

As we neared the bottom, we could see the road that ran next to a river; the shuttle bus will take us back up to the west portal.

One last tunnel – just 217 feet long!

And we made it down to the bottom!

We ate our lunch as we waited for the shuttle bus. As the bus pulled up, it began to sprinkle. Our bikes were put in a trailer, and we boarded the bus. It dropped us off near the long tunnel which we got to ride thru a second time to get to the Jeep.

It was a fun day – and we rode a total of 17.6 miles. Our bikes got really dirty riding thru the wet tunnels, so we cleaned them up when we got back to Acey.

On Friday morning, as we were leaving Wallace, we saw an unusual vehicle parked; perhaps they were coming to see the Center of the Universe?!

We are heading to Newport, Washington for a week, and then join up with our caravan to Alaska on June 17.


6 thoughts on “Wallace, Idaho”

  1. So glad you made it to ‘the center of the Universe’ and caught the Magnuson Way reference. The Route of the Hiawatha is fun. I’d do it again. Your run to Alaska is getting closer by the day! Thanks for posting.

    1. We sure did enjoy the Route of the Hiawatha! It was a bit bumpy and wet, but a great experience with beautiful views! We will be crossing the Canadian border next Friday to meet up with the Passport America group and head to Alaska! It seemed so far away when we planned this for LAST year and got postponed to this summer (COVID) its been a long time coming!!

  2. What a cool trail – I love train trestles!! Must have been a really fun ride. And a fun story about the Center of the Universe – how do people come up with this stuff?!? Toni and John love the Coeur d’Alene area and have been camping in Mom’s old Scamp (13’ trailer for both of them and their 2 dogs!) up there a couple times. I’ll have to ask them what they know if Wallace.

    1. The Route of the Hiawatha was definitely a fun ride. It was really nice to ride over the trestles without having to climb up – and the tunnels were cool! We stayed at Wallace since there was a campground near that trail; we didn’t realize the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes also ran by there – and we got to ride right from the campground. Wallace was interesting with its “claim to fame”.
      There is a really cool train trestle on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes at Chatcolet – the path is undulated as it goes up and back down – being a rail trail, it is not terribly steep, but it’s a fun one to ride over!

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