The road leading to the ghost town of Sawtooth City
Snow fell early this season in Colorado, a foot of it along with sub-zero temperatures. Seeing that sparkling snow from my window takes me back to the inspiration for my novel Comes the Winter. Set at the base of the mighty Sawtooth Range, Sawtooth City sees an average snow fall of 75 inches per year. Seeing the terrain that summer of 2017 and reading these winter statistics put the wheels in motion for a story of a woman who finds herself marooned there in a dying mining town.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. We need to backtrack a little by traveling south for a while. The two women I chose to make the journey in the year 1886 met on the wagon that crossed the Galena summit before descending into the basin depicted in the first photo. This pass is daunting now, but imagining the kind of road conditions they'd have faced on a supply wagon makes one appreciate the courage of those who made the trip in any season. The Galena summit tops out at 8,700 feet. I've read stories of mail carriers who made that trek in winter wearing snow shoes. It's the place I chose for the dramatic climax of my story, a place prone to avalanches and the dangers of snow blindness. A locale where Evan finds himself enduring both.
Galena Pass, Idaho
Heading north on 75, just over the summit, provides a dramatic overlook of the valley where the Salmon River begins its trek south to the Snake River. Any writer worth her muse can't help but be intrigued by a name such as the River of No Return. When one considers the steep canyons the Salmon travels, the name is not given simply as inspiration for the imagination. It's justifiably earned.
The road visible in the valley is where we travel north to find the easily missed dirt road leading to the remains of Sawtooth City. In my opinion, 75 is the most beautiful scenic highway in Idaho, winding through rolling terrain where pronghorns run with few fences to interfere with their grazing. No photos I took did it justice. One must travel the road to appreciate its beauty as it winds through the basin bordering the majestic Sawtooth Mountains to the west.
Mr. Levi Smiley found gold in these mountains, establishing the stamp mill in 1878. As was the case in most western mining towns, a town sprung up within months. As you can read for yourself, one did not lack for supplies, especially refreshments of the spirited kind. Sawtooth City was established at nearly the same time just a few miles beyond Vienna. For more historical information you can follow this link to Blaine County history.
Sawtooth City Ruins
We turned off the 75 a mile or so beyond the sign pictured above, following that winding road you can see in the first picture of this post. We passed a graveyard first with names of Sawtooth's last residents. From there, the valley narrowed with hills rising more steeply on both sides. A wide space in the road allowed us our first chance to stop and explore the area of thick brush and downed trees. We made our way south to Beaver Creek where we hoped to discover a few remaining foundations. The above photo was the only significant foundation we located close to the creek. A few logs remained in place and we could identify where the doors and windows would have been. A short walk farther into canyon revealed deep holes behind more foundations.
We surmised that these might have been the results of the archaeological digs referenced on this Forest Service website. With the help of volunteers, the forest service is on a quest to reconstruct the town's story. Locating trash dumps will reveal much about the lives of those who lived here. I'm grateful to see pieces of twisted iron and tin cans still in place. Let's hope the area stays this way for many years to come.
As I stood at the base of another crumbling foundation, I turned my focus to the hills a short walk from what was probably the town center. On that south-facing hill, I imagined Alena's boarding house as it might have been when she and Evan wintered there in the brutal winter of 1886-87. The view was pleasant and when covered in snow, most likely magical.
Redfish Lake, Idaho
Traveling back to the Highway 75, we turned north again and visited the pristine Redfish Lake. We saw it for the first time on a chilly October day when most tourists would not be attracted to sit on the beach or go boating. We braved the chill and ate our lunch with this magnificent view to take our minds off the temperature. A few years later we revisited in the summer and climbed a pleasant trail into those mountains on the other side. This was where Evan and Bart took Lena and Jessie on a picnic.
Twenty minutes up Highway 75 Stanley stands at a crossroad. I took this photo because I was struck by the amount of firewood stored under the porch eaves of the house to the right. I imagine none of it carries over to the next winter season. Not surprising is the population count of 69. It's clearly a good place to get away from absolutely everything citified.
Those are the Sawtooth peaks in the distance. Thompson Peak with an elevation of 10,751 feet is only one of 147 peaks for the serious mountaineer to climb. From here, Highway 21 leads back to Boise.
It's a memorable trip and well worth the time. We've seen it in spring, summer and fall, and each season has its own special delights. I highly recommend you add this to your bucket list of scenic tours. I'd love to read your comments if you've visited Idaho's central mountain range.
Because the Hartmann story begins with Comes the Winter, and before the release of the Christmas novel
A Hartmann Ranch Christmas, I've placed Lena's story on sale this weekend for .99 cents.
Sale Priced October 29th - November 5th
Coming November 18, 2020
Here's to a season of celebrating our gifts. We have much for which to be grateful. I hope these stories will bring a smile to your lips and hope to your heart.