Exploring Northern Idaho

When I was younger and it was time to plan a vacation I was all about the city. No country life for me. Give me some place with action, with things to do at all hours because I want to be busy, busy busy. As I’ve gotten older the urban sprawl of Southern California has lost its luster and I prefer more rural locales for vacations. Last month, I spent a week in Washington, Idaho and Montana and aside from a brief foray into Seattle managed to escape city life. It was wonderful.

One of the highlights of the trip was my stay at a cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. My last visit to Coeur d’Alene was over 20 years ago and it didn’t impress me much so I had mixed feelings about returning. I needn’t have been concerned. While the town still isn’t my cup of tea the lake itself is a dream.

We actually stayed 30 minutes outside of town in a small community called Harrison. Talk about rural! After leaving the freeway we would drive 20 miles along the lake to reach the cabin and, I kid you not, I nearly hit a deer each and every time. In fact, the deer far outnumbered the other cars and it was an absolute joy to be in such quiet surroundings.

As it was before Memorial Day there was little activity on the lake and I spent most mornings and evening sitting on our vast balcony watching the water and listening to the birds sing. I wouldn’t have minded a boat ride but rentals are pretty pricey so I just opted for a visit to our local dock.

Now, I’d love to say that I spent a few days relaxing at the cabin but I can only take so much leisure time. I’m an explorer and I can’t be contented to lounge around when I’m in a new area that’s ripe for discovery and, as it turns out, there’s lots to see and do in Northern Idaho.

One afternoon I headed 20 minutes east to the Cataldo Mission, the oldest building in Idaho.

Built from 1850-1853 it was founded by a group of Jesuit missionaries and served the area’s Native American population. In fact, the community built the church by hand and used local resources to furnish it.

The interior altar, fixtures and statues are entirely made of wood and were hand made by the priests and parishioners using whatever resources they could find.

Now a state park the location is home to the church, the priests’ rectory and a visitor’s center that houses the exhibit Sacred Encounters: Father De Smet & the Indians of the Rocky Mountain West. The exhibit is a beautiful tribute to both the Jesuit missionaries and the Native American’s who settled in the area and I must admit it moved me to tears.

The landscape surrounding the mission is stunningly beautiful and as it was still spring flowers were in bloom everywhere.

The following day I ventured further east to the mining towns of Kellogg and Wallace. Did you know Idaho is the number one source of silver in America? I had no idea until my visit.

Kellogg is home to a ski resort and, as the season was over, it was pretty quiet. One spot open was Radio Brewing Company – a delightful brew-house inspired by old-time radio.

Walking inside it felt like the pub was tailor made for me. There were vintage radios everywhere, the tap handles were retro microphones and the back room was designed like a recording booth complete with an “on air” light!

Not only was the decor wonderfully vintage but the beer was top notch.

I enjoyed a delicious frothy stout accompanied by a pretzel with an amazing pancetta cheese dip.It was the prefect sustenance as I continued my adventure in neighboring Wallace.

Compared to Kellogg, Wallace was humming with activity and I enjoyed wandering around taking in the local scenery. The town reminded me so much of California Gold Country and I loved seeing its wonderfully restored historic buildings.

Not to mention it’s fabulous neon signs!

Wallace is home to the Sierra Silver Mine and, of course, I had to tour it.

Sierra Silver Mine was in production from the early 1900’s through the 1960’s and now is strictly open for guided tours. Each tour is led by a former miner and our guide was a fount of knowledge (and pretty funny, too).

For an hour he led us through the mine and taught us all about the enormous work required for silver mining. It was cold and damp and I couldn’t imagine working a full day in the dim tunnels. Imagine my surprise when I learned that most mines are extremely hot (think triple digits) and are only lit by the worker’s headlamps. No thank you!

The tour is a comprehensive lesson on silver mining complete with demonstrations of the equipment used. Prior to the tour I silver mining was similar to coal mining but, in fact, it’s entirely different with the exception that both are highly difficult, dangerous jobs.

At the end we got to hold some silver ore (did you know it’s black? It doesn’t become “silver” until it’s polished) and, boy, it’s heavy!

The tour was fascinating and the perfect way to wrap up my Idaho adventure. Honestly, before this trip I didn’t have much interest in the state but now I know it’s one of the most beautiful in the country with a fascinating history to boot. I can’t wait to return and discover more of its treasures.

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