A Visit By Motorcycles to Historic Silver City, Idaho

Part of our Two Week Motorcycle Adventure mostly in Idaho
September 2016

I found out about Silver City, Idaho while doing research for our 2016 two-week motorcycle vacation. We love ghost towns and old historic towns, and I couldn't imagine that Idaho didn't have a few to visit. Searches for ghost town Idaho and historic Idaho, plus the Idaho 2009 brochure of the scenic byway drives, brought up Silver City. Photos online convinced us both it was well worth a visit.

We weren't sure what the main road was into Silver City. I'd found an excellent map from the Bureau of Land Management for the roads around Silver City before we left, but it didn't say which was the best road. Had I done just a bit more research, I would have found out the best road is the Silver City road from State Highway 78 near Murphy, Idaho. That road into Silver City doesn't require a four-wheel-drive high-clearance vehicle, though it is all gravel and has some gnarly turns and inclines/declines.

Silver City, Idaho Silver City, Idaho We, however, took the road from Jordan Valley into Silver City. It leads away from the main, paved road out of JV, in a curve - there's just a small sign telling you it's the way to Silver City. The road was paved and then after a mile or two, changed to gravel, but it was great: well-packed, small gravel, and relatively easy turns and inclines. I wasn't fond of some of the drop offs on the side of the road, but I was otherwise feeling really good. I was chanting in my head, hey, I can do this! No problem! Wahoo, look at me!

Then we took the turnoff to the left for Silver City, because the main road lead into a closed mining operation. And the road changed significantly...

There was a sign warning about the condition of the road - which some asshole had blasted with a bullet. Guys with guns: don't be assholes. If you are going to have them, do NOT shoot road signs. We need signs. You probably destroy government property, which costs tax payers money, while complaining about people on welfare...

The road became far, far narrower - single vehicle lane - and the road began to change, sometimes gravel, sometimes, rocks, sometimes dirt. Many parts would be absolutely impassible in rain. Still, I was game. My spirits were up. I don't know why. I should have been exhausted after our day of riding the day up to this point - I'd been in Hells Canyon that morning! But I felt sharp and up for it. For a while, I was even having fun! 

But the road got harder and harder. I was getting nervous. I was on a bike made for this kind of road, a KLR, but it was loaded down with luggage, and being ridden by a 50 year old woman who is scared of dirt. At one point, we were on more of a pathway than a road, and went right by a small shack where two guys were sitting in their front "lawn", and had a water hose running water over the pathway. I think it was to keep dust down and to slow people down, but all I could think of was that scene from The Reivers by William Faulkner, where a man has made the front of his house a mud bog in order to charge people to pull their carts or cars out it.

We pushed on, and though we didn't know it, we were going through the ghost town of De Lamar, Idaho, which has just three or four buildings left, none of them occupied. I was trying not to look at my trip counter: I knew we had about 24 miles to go in total, and I hate when I get obsessed with looking at the counter and hoping the hard route is about to end, and getting upset at how long it's taking me. I was praying to a god I don't believe in that we would not meet any opposing traffic. We met a buggy coming the other way and, thankfully, it was at a point that was relatively flat and where we could go around each other. Then we met a huge truck with a bow hunter walking in front of it. And I thought, great, robbed by arrow, how Robin Hood. Again, we lucked out and there was enough room to go around it.

Then we came to a small patch of the road covered in thick, tiny gravel, really more like sand. I drove in, my front tire went wild, and over I went. I immediately turned off my engine and got from under the bike - the panniers kept the bike off the ground and off me. Stefan told me later he thought he would go over as well, the gravel was so thick. I'm felt okay, believe it or not. We got the bike up, I felt ready to go almost immediately, Stefan pushed passed the gravel, and I got back on the bike. About that time, a guy on a KTM came from the opposite direction. He was kinda flip about my crash, and smug as he pointed out a thin part of the road, far to my left, where the gravel wasn't covering the rocky road, where he would be riding in a few seconds. Sigh...

The eight miles before the city were extremely difficult to ride. Now, the road was made up mostly massive embedded rocks. There was also white ground that looked like powder, and I'm terrified of riding through powder. There were small, packed dunes that you had to shoot up quickly, without knowing what was on the other side. And there were cows. Yes, cows, right in the road. With no fear of humans. That meant stopping my bike, honking my horn, and then starting the bike up on precarious angles. I had gone from being invigorated to being scared and almost beaten down. We took a rest amid some cows and then pushed on. There's a weird turnout at what seems to be this randomly-placed pit toilet. Luckily, someone had put up a handmade sign, pointing out that Silver City was straight on and we shouldn't turn off. The road got easier then, and at last, we came into the city.

Welcome to Silver City, Idaho The roads in the city are worse than the roads to the city. I'm not exaggerating. I stopped at the bottom of the hill that leads into the town (see left). I was not going any further into town for now. I wanted Stefan to ride up the hill and see if there was a place to park outside what looked like two main buildings at the top. He did, and while he was gone, I talked to a guy passing in a pickup. "It's real hard to park up there," he said. "She just put a whole lot of gravel right outside that hotel. A biker went right over trying to park there yesterday." Hurrah! Stefan came back and said it didn't look great up there, and that it wasn't that flat - the hill shoots down right on the other side.

We weren't sure what to do next. There was no sign saying where the camp site was, just that you can't camp in town. We turned off our engines and listened to see if we could tell where a loud conversation was coming from - in that city, the way it's positioned, a talk on one side of town could easily be heard on another. A woman on her back porch at the top of the hill yelled down to us and asked if we needed help. We told her we were looking for camping. She said, "There's a real nice campground right outside of town. It's got clean pit toilets and picnic tables and fire pits. It's... oh, what, how far out of town?" She was turning to talk to someone back in her house. "Oh, I don't know, maybe a quarter mile out of town?" Well, it's not a quarter mile out of town - it's right next door. In fact, I would consider it in town. Regardless, I'm so thankful for that lady!

The BLM campsite is just on the other side of Silver City from where most people arrive, just past Memorial Park. It had all that she said it would. It's also open range, just like the rest of the town, meaning you have to dodge cow patties, and, on occasion, cows, in putting up your tent - something we've done many times (just the patties, not the cows). It also means you need to stay away from the creek going through town. We were shocked that it was free to camp there - we would have been happy to pay $10 for the evening. Note: the campground is also on the other side of the creek.

We put up the tent, and I iced my ankle - it and one of my wrists felt sore. It worried me - what if it was worse in the morning?

We were stunned at how many people seemed to be living in the town, and how many houses and other buildings had been restored or were in the process. I was shocked at how many structures there are as well, probably more than 50, most not in ruins. It all looked even better than the photos we saw online!

It was too late to tour the city once we had set up camp. We skipped supper yet again and stared at the gorgeous sky. Oh to be in a place like this for the Pleiades meteor shower! It was cold though - which, once again, I was thankful for, after the intense, hot day. Stefan gave me a great pep talk about my fall, saying he probably would have fallen had he been in the lead. Stefan is not very good at pep talks, but this time, he was right on.

I slept really, really well that night. I had each night of the trip so far. It's part of the reason I go on these trips: the opportunity to reboot my mind and body with copious amounts of sleep. I don't like getting in and out of a tent at all, but I sure love sleeping in a tent, in a sleeping bag, on a cold night. The campground was so quiet - there were no other campers at all, and the cows left us alone. I did wake up a few times - there may have been some critters walking around the tent at one point - but went right back to sleep.

We were up early that Monday morning, before 7 a.m., my ankle and wrist were fine, but (insert sad French Horn sound), the back tire of Stefan's Africa Twin was flat. He's been on more than 20 adventure motorcycle trips, in some really rough terrain, and has never had a flat before. We looked for a puncture, but found nothing. He decided we would go ahead and walk through Silver City, try to get some breakfast at the hotel, and then in the afternoon, decide if he would try a temporary fix with Fix-a-flat or try to replace the innertube himself with just hand tools (without puncturing the tube - SUPER DIFFICULT). I think he was also hoping he would find someone who had the equipment needed to change the innertube - in a town like this, you never know! Stefan pumped up the tire before we began our walking tour, and we would check back afterwards to see if it held air.

An experienced off-road motorcycle rider could tour Silver City, Idaho by his or her bike. If you can stop and start easily on hills, ride on sheer rock and dirt, make sharp uphill turns on dirt and gravel, and put both of your feet down on the bike on any terrain, you can do it. I am not any of those things. Only way I was seeing Silver City was by walking around it. I really cannot emphasize enough how difficult the roads are, and just how hilly it all is.

We walked around town, taking photos and reading information boards. It's such a beautiful city! There's a Masonic Lodge (for sale!), a large school, a very large Catholic Church with services once a month in summer, lots of former Old West business buildings, a small round building displaying items collected by one of the residents long ago, and many houses that I'd love to have anywhere - not just in a ghost town - like this one. Or this one. Or this one! I found several places that could be my dream cabin. Yes, I want a cabin. My problem: I don't know WHERE I want a cabin.

Silver City, Idaho When we'd seen about half of the main part of town, we went back to the Idaho Hotel for breakfast. So happy that it was open on a Monday! It's so cliched to say it, but I have to say it: stepping into that lobby is like stepping back in time. It was astounding. Inside the restaurant (former bar), it's serve-yourself-coffee, and even though it wasn't on the menu that morning, they had biscuits and gravy that day - and that made me oh-so-happy. The town's breakfast club sat at a table near us, and I enjoyed eaves dropping. I wish we'd asked to see a room in the hotel. If you want to stay at the hotel, you MUST call in advance, the sooner the better. Also, the hotel is NOT open year-round. The locals told us the campground is packed on the weekends, usually full of bikers. And we saw a poster that the town was opening several houses and buildings for tours the weekend after Labor Day - darn! Would love to have seen that! But not to have dodged traffic on that road...

There's a big menu sign in the restaurant that answers most of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) you might have about Silver City. Some things not on the board, but I learned from interviewing locals: most residences have running water, from a reservoir high above the town. Some places have electricity from electricity, others from generators. Many homes have propane, and a propane truck comes into town to service tanks. A truck also comes in regularly to pump out the sump pumps once a month, at least in summer. The hotel has a landline phone. One woman told us Verizon works on one side of town and AT & T works on the other.

We walked back to the campground and found the tire absolutely flat. It hadn't held air at all. We  still couldn't find a hole in the tire anywhere. Stefan said we would pack up, he would pump up the tire again and use fix-a-flat, and then we would run for it on the better road, and hope we could make it to at least Murphy, if not Nampa. We didn't really have a plan B...

Silver City, Idaho We toured the rest of the city, the part behind the hotel, including seeing the town's fire response truck and visiting a cement-pouring party. If you live in Silver City, you've got to help your neighbors with their construction and repair projects - it's how you all get by.

Silver City is now my second favorite historic mining town, behind Bodie, California. But it can hardly be called a ghost town - there's still a lot of people living there! There are a LOT of "no trespassing" signs on buildings; it's important to remember that this isn't a state park, this isn't a museum, this is a real town made up of private property owners. If you look in a window, you are looking into someone's home.

We had gotten conflicting info about the roads in and out of town. One person said the road we came in on was easiest, another said, oh no, the Silver City Road was better. There was a minivan in town, the only non-SUV or pickup or ATV we saw there, and Stefan kept saying, "There has to be an easier way to get to town. Just look at that minivan!" So I asked a third person, and she was adamant: the road we came in on was insane, the Silver City road was the easier road. Spoiler alert: she was right, though "easier" does not mean "easy."

We walked back to the bikes and packed up everything, ready to put it on the bike. It was getting hotter and hotter. Stefan pumped up the back tire and used Fix-a-flat, then we packed up stuff on his bike and headed out of town.

Silver City, Idaho The main road out of town is the one that goes the other direction around that weirdly-placed pit toilet we encountered a few miles out of town on our way from Jordan Valley. The main road goes up and up and up and up, or down and down and down, and turns a LOT. Was it easier for me? Yes, but it was still really challenging. I do not do well going downhill on gravel, no matter how well packed and wide. Some parts of the other road were easier, actually - there were places to stop and regroup, but rarely on this main road - the inclines and declines were too severe. I was terrified of my bike stalling on a hill, up or down.

I stopped on what I estimated was the halfway point, so we could have a look at Stefan's tire and so I could flip off the cameraman. Not only was the tire still inflated, we'd stopped near a warning sign Stefan had seen online and really wanted a photo of: "If you travel beyond this point, you will be responsible for cost of search and rescue."

We continued on, up and up. Now we had an added bonus: massive mining trucks barrelling down the road in the opposite direction. HOW FUN! Okay, there were maybe three, but still. Then I got my gift of the day: the road turned out to be just 12 miles of gravel. We'd been told it was 20. I yelled and celebrated all the way to the main highway. We stopped at the history information signs at the start of Silver City Road. I was feeling great, and Stefan's tire looked great. Things were looking up. And the visit to Silver City had been totally worth it.

So, just to be clear: if you are visiting Silver City and don't have a high clearance, all terrain vehicle or a motorcycle with knobby tires, you should NOT do the road from Jordan Valley - you will NEVER make it. And even if you take the main road, if you have a camping trailer, leave it in Murphy or something.

Here's a really nice account from 2011 by a visitor to Silver City.

See all our photos from Silver City, Idaho

What next? More in part 3

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