Sunday, August 8, 2010

jaybear and shmemily ride again: the ghost town tour, 7/22/10

this was a trip jason and i had been meaning to take since high school: placerville, centerville, idaho city. three old mining towns north of boise.

placerville had thousands of residents in the gold rush days, and is now down to...60. idaho city is still somewhat well-populated, and we’ve been going there for years, mostly to visit the graveyard, almost always at night. we tried to find the other two towns once, venturing down a sharply-winding dirt road for what seemed like hours, middle of the night, not really knowing where we were...then we saw a jeep, driven off the side of the road, overturned and abandoned. wary of omens we turned back immediately.

this time i looked up maps ahead of time. we left during the day, driving out highway 55 through horseshoe bend then making a loop, placerville to centerville to idaho city and back to boise via highway 21. and we had one of the best adventures ever. EVER.

on the drive up we got ourselves pretty pumped. we listened to holly golightly and the brokeoffs (perfect soundtrack for old-timey western mining town explorations). we reminisced about old times, all the crazy stuff we used to do in high school, how impossible it seems that that was six whole years ago.

after about an hour we reached the turn-off that lead to placerville. not far down that road we found ourselves surrounded by stunning scenery and interesting vegetation, so i pulled over. we were circled by a bald eagle and an osprey, found a beautiful creek, j collected yarrow,

we found a lot of what i think is wild amaranth,

then we searched for a way down to the creek. just up the road there was a small bridge, and on the other side of it a fairly easy way down to the water.

we hunted for pretty rocks,

saw huge, dreamy spiderwebs connecting the low-hanging, dead branches of trees,

and j waded but i stayed on the bank and took photos. i was wearing socks and sneakers and didn’t want to get my feet wet yet. besides, as he reminded me later, the two of us can’t be trusted with cameras near streams--together we dropped my first digital camera in a stream in mccall years and years ago, destroying it completely.

we drove down the road another few minutes, then out of the corner of my right eye i glimpsed something amazing by the side of the road.

see it? how about now:

holy crapricots! a wild apricot tree, loaded with perfectly-ripe fruit! they weren’t easy to get to. the tree grows out of the side of a ridiculously steep, loose-sandy hill that ends in jagged rocks and a stream. after we gathered all the fruit that could be reached from the road i sat and slid down part of the hill on my bum until i could reach the fruitiest branch. i didn’t really stop to think about how i’d get up again. that was a struggle.

worth it, though. i took a lot, but only as much as i could use, leaving tons of fruit still on the tree for animals and other lucky travelers. believe it or not, the above picture of the branch was *after* i’d had my way with it.

next we stopped at a beautiful overlook where j collected more yarrow.

then we found a historical site.

star ranch, built around 1870, once inhabited by the ranft family. i wish i could see what it looked like back then.

finally we reached placerville.

we stopped in the general store for sodas, and i picked up a copy of the adorable local newspaper.

then we drove up to the cemetery.

j brought his banjo and i brought my accordion, and together we serenaded the dead people. he was so excited about the accordion. no one’s ever reacted so positively to my lower-than-beginner-level playing. i played neutral milk hotel’s “ghost,” for one because it seemed setting-appropriate, but mostly because it’s one of the only songs i can play reasonably well.

we were wandering around the cemetery playing music when we came across a plaque that stopped us dead in our tracks: “fiddlers murdered at ophir creek.”

the story describes two wandering musicians (one of whom played the banjo) who stumbled upon a gold robbery/murder in progress and were killed. we were both awestruck. i went to my car to get my camera and on the walk back practiced “amazing grace,” the only funeral-ish song i could think of at the moment. coincidentally, j had just learned the clawhammer version of that song, so under the shade of the four pine trees we took turns playing “amazing grace” to honor the dead musicians.

after leaving the cemetery, we stopped alongside a lovely creek--i think it might be ophir creek, actually.

this time i took a dip, which is why there aren’t many pictures closer to the water--i left my camera safely on the bank. the water was cool and refreshing, and we found more neat rocks.

after that stop we looked for centerville but never found it. turns out we drove through without noticing it. there’s no town, really, just a cluster of houses.

so, on to idaho city. first we stopped at the sluice box, the craziest, coolest, hoarder-tacular-est secondhand shop i’ve ever seen.

i’ve never been inside because it’s never open when i’m there.

believe it or not, this store has both a website and a facebook page. i’m surprised they even have electricity.

i took a peek inside the window...can’t wait to go in sometime:

from certain angles the shop reminds me of howl’s moving castle. i can imagine it coming to life, sprouting legs and hopping around in the mountains.

in town we saw this gem...bill clinton in a jail cell, smoking a cigar, with a blue dress hanging behind him:

we took a quick trip to the cemetery.

we can’t go to idaho city without stopping by to say hi to allegra eckles.

one of the reasons j and i were excited to go back to idaho city was “top dollar dog.” we found harley’s pub, but dusty wasn’t on duty that day. there were other dogs, though--a fluffy white dog, a sweet doberman named buffy, and a playful pit bull puppy named reefer.

we also met an awesome czechoslovakian guy named george. when george learned that jason played banjo, he went upstairs and returned with a guitar and a banjo. george has been playing guitar since the 50s--he even spent time in jail for playing protest songs during the communist era. 25 years ago he escaped and immigrated to idaho, first boise then idaho city. he and jason played some incredible music together while i watched and documented.

first they played “cripple creek.” i got so excited because when j said “cripple creek” i was thinking of the song “up on cripple creek” by the band, one of my all-time favorites. apparently i’m an idiot because j said i had the same reaction the first time he played “cripple creek” in my presence. they also played “dueling banjos” (the deliverance song), “amazing grace,” and a few others.

there was hardly any available light and i didn’t want to use flash, so i had to use 1600 ISO and 1/15-1/40 second exposure at f/2.8...but i got two photos that (after extensive editing) i love:

we split a beer at the bar. it’s perfect because we’re both extreme lightweights when it comes to drinking--if either of us tried to drink an entire beer on our own, on an empty stomach, we’d be falling down drunk. ridiculous, right? even after slowly sipping half a beer we were both tipsy, so we left the bar and took a walk to sober up.

we walked up a steep hill to this catholic church.

we stood on the church’s porch and enjoyed a view of the town just after sunset.

then it was time to go home. i hate driving, but this drive was wonderful--windows rolled down, clear night with an almost-full moon glittering on the surface of lucky peak reservoir. we got back to jason’s around 10:30. neither of us could believe the day we’d had. everything about it was magic. later j told me he tried to describe it to some of his friends but no one’s definitely one of those things where you had to be there. but i think this insanely long post at least does it some justice.


Refinerii said...

I love adventures like this: also love old mining towns--Idaho City included :) You should take the drive up to Silver City sometime too--also a cool day trip :)

Emily said...

silver city is a great idea! i haven't been up there since i was a kid. this trip definitely made me feel like i should go on more fun little day trips, despite my aversion to driving.

GoneferalinID said...

I love mining towns, you seemed to have captured some of the spirit of Idaho City. It's so cool to be able to meet people like George.

Emily said...

i agree, george is a's so interesting to hear the stories of people who end up in idaho, and in small towns like idaho city especially. it seems like this state is a magnet for people with such interesting backgrounds and from the most diverse places.

geekette said...

oh, spoony i am so jealous! how of these weekends we should go on a berrypickingphototaking adventure on the greenbelt yes please?

geekette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

hehe yes please indeed! that would be much spoonyfuntimes.