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.
Visible in the distance is the old Sunbeam Mine site currently under reclamation.
As I near the Sunbeam entrance … the road widens from it’s previous stature of single lane two track.
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.
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.
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.
A few more miles down the road and the Sunbeam Dam appears.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)-
Sunbeam Dam (Present)-
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.
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)-
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)-
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)-
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.