After a surprisingly good nights sleep in our CRV camper we resume the drive east. Driving along Interstate 90, about 45 minutes past Coeur D’Alene, we decide to check out historic Wallace, Idaho. What a delightful surprise. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and whole blocks in the business district have remained virtually intact for a hundred years or more.
Located in the silver mining area of northern Idaho, mining began here in the 1880′s and by 1900 Wallace became the hub of one of the world’s richest mining districts. Since 1884, the district had produced 1.2 billion ounces of silver. Miners still mine the mountains for silver and today old mines are being reopened.
Thirsty after walking around town, the Red Light Garage catches our eye. A very friendly waitress makes us Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade) as we sit at the counter and take in the collections (vintage musical instruments, license plates…) that decorate the restaurant and antique store. Soon we are talking with the owner, Jamie Baker, who is a local historian. He tells us the story of May Arkwright Hutton a suffrage leader and political activist, talks about the mining wars, and we wind up the conversation with the forest fire of 1910 that burned half of Wallace. Some of you may know the book written about the fire by Timothy Egan – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. The largest wildfire in American history, based on size. In less than two days, it torched more than three million acres, burned five towns to the ground, and killed nearly one hundred people.
Many stories emerged from the big burn. One of the most well known is Ranger Ed Pulaski’s heroic rescue of his crew in a mine tunnel. Holding his men there at gunpoint overnight, Pulaski managed to save all but 6 of his 45 men. In the 100+ years since the fire, the trail Pulaski’s crew used to escape became overgrown and almost impossible to locate. Then, in 2002, a local group partnered with the US Forest Service to save the trail and mine site. The Pulaski Tunnel Trail trailhead lies about a half-mile south of Wallace on Moon Pass Road and is a moderately challenging two mile trail along the creek with large format signs along the way recounting the history of the fire.