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Traveling the Road to Sawtooth City

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.

Vienna, Idaho

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</