Two Track into Loon Creek – Part 6 …. Sunbeam

Passing over Loon Creek Summit the road opens up into a southern exposure overlooking the Yankee Fork drainage. A single lane two track guides me down past exposed edge and through multiple switchbacks.

Pinyon Peak, Loon Creek

Blind curve-

Pinyon Peak, Loon Creek

Visible in the distance is the old Sunbeam Mine site currently under reclamation.

Sunbeam Mine

Pinyon Peak, Loon Creek

As I near the Sunbeam entrance … the road widens from it’s previous stature of single lane two track.

Pinyon Peak, Loon Creek

Riding this loop in it’s clockwise direction … I take note of buildings that I have previously flown right by …. it’s evident that there is a long mining history in the area, as with much of wild Idaho.

Pinyon Peak, Loon Creek

Old mine tailings deposited by the Yankee Fork Dredge many years ago. As disruptive as they were to the landscape .. it still amazes me how in their era they were able to float such a large piece of equipment down a relatively shallow low volume creek.

Pinyon Peak, Loon Creek

Yankee Fork Dredge

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Yankee Fork Dredge

The area surrounding the dredge was once a very active community … Custer to the Northeast and Bonanza just down the road. Life here at the time was hard and full of challenges and sacrifice…. all for the sake of carving out a living within the gold industry of the day.

Custer, Bonanza

Custer, Bonanza

Bonanza Guard Station

Bonanza Guard Station

Custer, Bonanza

Bonanza Cemetery-

Custer, Bonanza

Custer, Bonanza

Peaceful rest-

 

Bonanze Cemetary

Custer, Bonanza, Yankee Fork

A few more miles down the road and the Sunbeam Dam appears.

Sunbeam Dam

The dam only operated for a few short years supplying much needed power up to the Yankee Fork operations, but gold/mineral prices of the day barely covered operating cost, which lead to the shut down of the dredge to where it sits today. The dam was breached years later to help restore lost Salmon runs.

To be continued…

 

Railroad Ridge (2014)

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads”

– Rosalia de Castro

So, the weekend immediately after our Ross Fork trip opens up and I figure it might be a good time to plan a day loop out of Stanley. I contact my brother in law, John who with no hesitation is up for some riding.

We load up early Saturday morning and make the 2 1/2 hr drive finding a nice spot to stage a few miles past Lower Stanley along HWY 75.

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We arrive right around 10:00 am, the air is cool and should make for a nice brisk start to our planned loop.

Off loading the mighty DRZ’s

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The start of our trip requires about a 10 mile run along HWY 75, following the Salmon River.

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Salmon River

We make good time along our initial stretch arriving at the old Sunbeam Dam.

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Sunbeam Dam

This will be our turning off point up Rd 013 along the Yankee Fork. We enjoy a dust free ride all along the Yankee Fork until we hit Bonanza and the old Yankee Fork Dredge.

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The colors present in this part of Idaho are nothing short of amazing … my camera doesn’t do a very good job at pulling in the colors, but the green of the forest in contrast with the red rock makes me want to stop constantly to take pictures … I resist knowing that we do have a long day ahead of us.

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The Dredge …

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Yankee Fork Dredge

Just past the dredge, the road splits … 172 heads up over Loon Creek Summit as part of the loop over Pinyon Peak … this will be a ride and report for another day because today we are going right along 070, the Custer Motorway.

Once we’re past the Yankee Fork Dredge and turned east onto 070, the Custer Motorway, we immediately hit the small mining ghost town of Custer. The Forest Service has turned this into an attraction, next to the dredge, to give people a glimpse of what mining life was back in the day. While well intentioned I still don’t think all the pretty displays or staged buildings really reflect the true hardships that these people endured.

Custer

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Hello Mr Forest Ranger on the porch …

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A little farther up the road we come across more structures along the hill side …..

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and then ….

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… again it seems a bit staged for the benefit of the viewing public, but the cemetery did exist for the poor souls who’s remains could not make it to the main cemetery due to weather, etc.

Hopefully when I go it won’t be for being “Over Drunk” … on the other hand you know the saying …

” Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but to rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting … Holy Shit, what a ride!”

After the sights we head on down the Custer Motorway, sliding sideways, but hopefully avoiding any graves …

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The Custer Motorway is virgin ground for me, so I’m excited to see where each corner and bend in the road takes us …. I take notice that the road surface is hardpack with loose gravel on top, making for a bit of a loose “skittery” ride.

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Eleven Mile Barn … Evidently the Custer Motorway was also a main stage line between the Yankee Fork and Challis. There are multiple stopping points along the way where the stages could and would exchange horses for fresh teams. These stopping points also offered accommodations for travelers should the weather turn bad.

Eleven Mile Barn/Tollgate Station/Homestead Station

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Homestead Station before Mill Creek Summit … another stopping point for the stage. Another stopping point is also on the other side of the summit. The sign describes a long and arduous climb for the horses … I figure the stages of the day probably had 4-6 horse power, but today we are atop 40 hp which over comes the pass with ease!

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Mill Creek Summit ….

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As we crest Mill Creek Summit and after the signs we had read up to that point I was expecting (or hoping for) a grand view with maybe a panoramic perspective, but the summit actual passes through a saddle, so the views are of the road fore/aft … and of the tree’s … we all like tree’s …. right?

:D

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The summit is nice and temperate being at 8800′, so we opt to stop, take a break, and eat our lunch. We are kicking back when we hear the faint sound of what I thought to maybe be a UTV, but as the sound grew near and they popped into view it was actually another set of riders, one on a F800 and the other on a GS1200.

We chatted for a bit, realizing that they were both from a small town in Southern Oregon from where I had originated, Grants Pass …. small world again. Sounds like these guys both log quite a few miles and were on there way to Montana…… They pushed on.

As do we ….

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The motorway continues to wind it’s way east along Mill Creek and through the forest for a number of miles. The road surface starts to clean up a bit with a bit less of the loose rock allowing us to pick up the pace without fear of drifting off the road.

As Mill Creek veers off away from the road the landscape starts to take on a different look. The last few miles we had run parallel along some impressive rocky hillsides and we are now starting to climb back up to pass over a grassy saddle before our last stretch into Challis.

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From where we came….

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To where were going ….

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Once over the last saddle were are treated with the view of a nice glacial valley ….

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We drop down into Double Spring Creek … the surroundings open up with a bit more flavor of the desert and we make our way into Challis.

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I have never been through Challis before, but as we roll in it has that small town feel that most smaller ranching communities have in rural Idaho. Along the old main drag I could get a sense that there are small businesses making there way in like coffee shops, art shops, etc.

Challis Idaho

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Challis will be our refueling point before heading down HWY 93 …..

Once fueled up (No corn 91) we depart Challis and head south along HWY 93. Our next destination is approx. 25 miles (+/-) off 93, Road Creek Rd …

HWY 93 right outside of Challis …

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All along our southern route on 93 we are running parallel to the west side of the Pahsimeroi’s, part of the Lost River Range. These mountains are so impressive that both John and I rode the almost entire 25 miles gazing off to our left. There are a few routes on my to ride list over the Pahsimeroi’s that I have yet to complete…. after seeing these at a distance … I’ll be back for sure.

As we ride south the HWY approaches a canyon…. I’m impressed how the road builders did not advert around, but ran right through.

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It’s a short section, but fun as hell … riding twisties between sheer walls as the sound of our four stroke’s echo through the canyon!

We arrive at Road Creek and stop for a quick break and pic ….

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Road Creek (Dry Gulch)

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Road Creek circumnavigates around Anderson Peak, through desert and pines …..

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Pass on the backside of Anderson …

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John making his way up the pass …. the distance was far enough across the valley that I could her John before my eyes could pick him out as a little spec of movement.

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Once underway our road winds downward to intersect with Walker Creek Rd … there was a cattle camp below with a cowboy riding along the road … he promptly step off the road with his two horses to let us pass … I wave, but he seemed less than amused, sorry dude … public road!

White Clouds and Railroad Ridge in the distance …

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Road Creek follows the ….. wait for it …. Road Creek drainage. It very much desert and warm (not my favorite), so my inclination was the blast through in search of more favorable temps and scenery.

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After a number of miles we finally pop out on the East Fork Rd (Salmon River). This little valley is primarily populated with ranches all up and down the river. It is impressive how these folks have carved out their niche in life in these remote places.

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We ride about 10 miles down the East Fork before we intersect with Boulder Creek. We head up Boulder Creek with enthusiasm knowing Railroad Ridge lies ahead. This rock arch (diamond in the rough) caught my eye.

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First glimpse of Railroad Ridge ….

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Heading up ….

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Right at the end of the main road, just past the Boulder Creek Trailhead, which was friggin’ busy as hell!…. then we come across this old mine … Livingston Mine.

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Livingston Mine

Regardless of your political views of past mining… one fact holds true, most of these roads accessing these beautiful locations would not exist otherwise.

The road turns primitive at this point and continues up the mountain … Railroad Ridge is close!

Just past the rows of cabins we pass part of the old mill … evidently the mine had constructed a tram system that ran for 3 miles up and down the mountain. Evidence of the tram is still only apparent by some old cable lying dormant on the ridgeline above ….

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We continue up the rocky two track for a mile or two before we crest the ridge…. there is an established two track that runs along the ridgeline that steers us in the direction we need to go.

Once on top the views in all directions are nothing short of breathtaking. The air is clear, the sky is blue, and the wind is only a breeze. The view is so ominous that we are conflicted to what part of the ridge we wish to venture to first. We have a complete panoramic view off Railroad Ridge over to China Wall, Crater Lake, around to the north in the direction of Challis, the Pahsimeroi’s, and back around to the White Clouds. Railroad Ridge is truly one of those places that is impossible to describe, one needs to venture up on their own for their own experience.

Looking back down the Boulder Creek Drainage …. our route was up the bottom of the drainage with the road up to the ridge visible to the left.

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The mighty Z at 10,300 ft ….. bike was actually running great!

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The coming soon OBR ADV Gear High Basin Tank Bag …. seemed like a fitting back drop for the High Basin!

OBR ADV Gear

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John’s arrival to Railroad Ridge …

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For what it’s worth … a panoramic sequence of Railroad Ridge …

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There was a make shift memorial on top of the ridge where some artifacts and oddities like corral had been left.

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Crater Lake at the base of China Wall …

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View northwest …

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Mighty Z’s

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John … (China Wall – Crater Lake)

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Yours truly … (China Wall – Crater Lake)

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View down Railroad Ridge …

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As we were departing the ridge a group of ATV’s rolled up the track. A lady told John that there is actually access to the lake from one of the lower side routes. this we did not explore since we had a few miles still to ride back to the truck, but does give us an excuse to return another day.

Back down the road …. Railroad Ridge on the right …

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Rocky Road …

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Almost back to the mine …

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John and I make our way back down Boulder Creek, down the East Fork towards HWY 75. Once we hit 75 we have approx. 25-30 miles back to the truck.

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All in all what an amazing days ride in some amazing country!

One of the reasons that I wanted to complete this ride …this year is that we have a movement by certain environmental groups to establish the Boulder-White Clouds as a National Monument. This action I personally oppose because to me all it equates to is more governmental control of our lands and likely restricted access to places such as this. Now I do not feel that motorized access is appropriate in all places and the current SNRA manages this access as it pertains to motorized and non-motorized users.

Proponents of the monument will say that it is to curb development and mining …. the current SNRA restricts both to not harm or deface the scenic values of the area. They state to curb errant OHV use … show me where errant OHV use is occurring?

In the end it is really about certain political entities attempting to create a legacy for themselves and/or for certain special interest groups to limit access to any user groups that “they” do not approve of.

I think we would all agree that our natural resources are seeing a higher level of users than in years past, so lets allow local land managers to manage with common sense instead of a lock and key.

(Since this posting a compromise was made to establish a portion of the Boulder/White clouds as wilderness. This wilderness boundary encircles some of the higher elevation areas that 1) I do feel are not appropriate for OHV use 2) were not open to OHV’s as is, and 3) retains most of all other common OHV routes. The scaled down wilderness option allows the USFS to retain control vs the National Park Service …. lesser of two evils. The downsides are that 1) the local mountain bike community, not careful in their alignment on the issue has lost some fantastic mountain biking trails and 2) the enviro’s are probably back room planning another assault on our access)

Get out and enjoy your access to beautiful locations!

Winds over Pinyon – Part 4

Reconnecting to our next section of pavement was a pleasant reprieve to kick up the pace and blow off some dust… Although only for a few short miles since we will be jumping back onto the dirt at the Horn to follow Rd 203 (Cape Horn Rd). Cape Horn Rd parallels the paved Hwy 21 for approx. 7-8 miles before reconnecting.

Rd 203-

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The views of the Stanley Valley start to open up, but unfortunately with continued lingering smoke from recent wildfires…. absent smoke … the views are amazing! Rains of weekends past, while extinguished most all of Idaho’s wildfires … Washington and Oregon are still ablaze with jet stream winds directing the smoke into Idaho’s back yard.

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My hope is that as we change our direction north we will find the edge of the smoke allowing the views to open up.

We ride the next few paved miles into Stanley where we take advantage of the next fuel stop. From this point I have estimated our loop over Pinyon and into Garden Valley to be somewhere around 130-140 miles. Well within our fuel range, but not with much to spare …. we stuff our tanks.

The days plans are open ended …. I figured we could camp anywhere around Stanley … the afternoon is still young so we opt to grab some lunch and refreshment at the Bridge Street Grill in Lower Stanley to decide our next move.

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Bellies full and refreshments consumed … we opt to continue down Hwy 75 towards Sunbeam and our turn off towards the Yankee Fork. We’ll keep our eyes and options open for just the right camp spot.

The paved stretch of Hwy 75 from Stanley to Sunbeam is fantastic fun. The road rides the edge with the beautiful Salmon River on the right and sheer rock walls along the left. There is hardly a straight stretch of road allowing a nice workout of our tires perimeter lugs.

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Most all of the camp spots along this stretch are associated with designated camp grounds …. some are pretty nice and mostly vacant, but not what were after this day. So we push on to Sunbeam and the Yankee Fork Rd.

Sunbeam Dam (past)-

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Sunbeam Dam (Present)-

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Built back in 1909 to supply power to the operating mines and dredge of Yankee Fork …. the price of ore dropped negating the economic feasibility to continue extracting. The dam ceased operating in 1911. A caretaker maintained the structure for a number of years until the fish ladders reached disrepair, which at that time the most feasible option was to breech the dam restoring normal river flow.

Sunbeam

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We turn off Hwy 75 at the Sunbeam Village and head up the Yankee Fork Rd. The Yankee Fork Rd runs along a North/South valley with mountains of the Salmon/Challis Nation Forest looming in the distance. The soil/rock makeup of these mountains differs from the mountains we have already ridden by and through. As the sun hits the mountains they take on a majestic red hue.

Yankee Fork Rd (First image from a past ride)-

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We speed along the Yankee Fork Road still looking for a camp spot …. after about 10-12 miles we pass Bonanza and the they old Yankee Fork Dredge.

Yankee Fork Dredge (Photoseek.com)-

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge operated from 1940-1952 near near Custer Historic Site, in Idaho, USA. This floating gold dredge chewed a wide swath of stream gravel leaving rocky dredge tailings along 5.5 miles of the Yankee Fork, a tributary of the Salmon River, near Stanley, Idaho, USA. It recovered an estimated $1,037,322 in gold and silver at a cost of $1,076,100. Visit Land of the Yankee Fork State Park in Salmon-Challis National Forest near Stanley, Idaho.
Yankee Fork Gold Dredge operated from 1940-1952 near near Custer Historic Site, in Idaho, USA. This floating gold dredge chewed a wide swath of stream gravel leaving rocky dredge tailings along 5.5 miles of the Yankee Fork, a tributary of the Salmon River, near Stanley, Idaho, USA. It recovered an estimated $1,037,322 in gold and silver at a cost of $1,076,100. Visit Land of the Yankee Fork State Park in Salmon-Challis National Forest near Stanley, Idaho.

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In most cases of dredge history the dredges operated at a high level of profit, not such the case for the Yankee Fork Dredge. The dredge now sits as a tourist attraction with guided tours available.

The old Ghost Town of Custer is located about a mile up the Custer Motorway with the Forest Service maintain the history of the site for visitors.

Custer (Images from past ride)-

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Today we bypass Custer and turn up Rd 172. Rd 172 turns off directly behind the dredge and takes us up towards Loon Creek Summit. Still on the lookout for just the right camp spot ….

Custer and the dredge are highly recommended for anyone to visit should they have an interest for old mining history. I myself find all mining history, the good and the bad, interesting as it has shaped the country that we live in with roads, infrastructure, towns, etc. It is a nice ride… or drive.

To be continued …..