|Exploring the Silver City, Idaho
Ghost Town and much more
|Late August, 2002
|Last Update: February 23, 2008
|It was the second major expedition with the new solid front axle. The first was to Montana just a
few weeks earlier. The main destination was the very remote ghost town of Silver City in Idaho,
but there was much to explore along the way there and along the way home.
|Basic map of the trip, showing the
general locations of mentioned places.
Click on map for larger view.
|It would be typical of our many past expeditions. My friend John and I would be only taking one vehicle, my truck.
Our trip would last about 4 days and would cover well over 1500 miles round trip. We would cover much ground,
some of it very remote. Though we had explored much of Oregon in the past few years, we had heard that just
across the Oregon border in Idaho, near the very remote Oregon town of Jordan Valley was a very interesting
mining town called Silver City. Many years ago, Silver City was the base town for the mining operations in the
nearby War Eagle mountain. Today, mining has long ceased, but much of the town still exists and most
interestingly, in it's original 1800s condition. The town has no electricity no telephone and no running water. The
streets are paved with only dirt and are anything but level. When driving around town, I actually put the truck into 4
wheel low, due the extremely deep and off angle roads. What makes the town so interesting is that you are literally
transported 100 years back into history and you see the town almost exactly like it was when it was first built. But
more on that later.....
The Glass Buttes Mines
Leaving Portland, Oregon on a warm summer night, we drove for about 2 hours, camping on the east side of Mt.
Hood, so we could get a good start early in the morning. The next morning we headed straight for Burns, Oregon.
Almost 300 miles away. Our intentions were to arrive in Silver City as soon as possible, hopefully by early the next
day. As usual, we found something interesting along the way. While driving along Hwy 20, about half way between
Bend and Burns we noticed what appeared to be old mining operations off of the highway in the mountains just east
of the famous Glass Buttes. We had driven this highway a dozen times over the last few years and never noticed
them before, which just proves no matter how well you explore an area, you always miss something.
|On the left, my friend John thinking he
looks cool in this "lowered" old truck
on the mine property.
On the right, an abandoned mercury
|On the left, another abandoned
On the right, an abandoned cinnibar
|The hills east of Glass Buttes were peppered with old mine shafts and tailings piles and a few old buildings. Gold
mining was nearly unheard of in this area of the state. After examining one of the old processing plants, it became
obvious that these were abandoned mercury mines. The mines appear to date back to perhaps the 1930s and
1940s with the largest intact mercury processing plant appearing to date to as recent as the 1950s or 1960s. We
didn't spend much time in the mining area. We had much bigger stuff to see, but it was an interesting area
The next stop would be to refuel and resupply in Burns and push on to Jorden Valley about 180 miles away. The
road between Bend and Burns is remote enough, but the road between Burns and Jorden Valley is even more
remote. There no gas along the route or anything else for many miles. In fact there is nothing except an
occasional ranch and vast desert. The highway does see traffic, however. Hwy 35 is one of the faster routes from
Nevada to Boise, Idaho and beyond. Because it was getting late, about 10 miles prior to reaching Jorden Valley,
we pulled off the road and drove out into the desert and camped near the Rattlesnake lava cave. That night, we
decided to explore the cave, ignoring the namesake. To reach the cave entrance we had to climb down a deep pit.
We were met and attacked by literally hundreds of pigeons. Continuing inside the cave, we walked back what
appeared to be about 1/4 mile before reaching the end. We than headed back to camp for the night. To answer the
obvious question, no rattlesnakes were ever seen or heard, thankfully.
|On the left, our camp site near
On the right, the cave entrance. The
cave was about 1/8 mile long and fairly
easy to walk through.
|The Road to Silver City
Upon reaching the Oregon border town of Jordan Valley, we found it to be slightly larger than we expected. This is
not to say it was a large town by any means. The town's population can be measured in the low hundreds. But it
did have two very small gas stations, probably to accommodate the truck traffic along the route to and from Boise.
There was, however, no real store to speak of. The gas station attendant spoke of how the town began to die after
the huge Delmar gold mine, located about 10 miles outside of town in Idaho, closed down 2 years prior.
After again refueling, we headed out on the final leg to Silver City. To get to Silver City from Jordan Valley, you
head east on a very wide and well graded (and misleading) gravel road. Misleading, because you begin to think the
road will be this nice all the way to Silver City. Not so. This is the same road that leads to the Delmar mine.
Because of the huge mining equipment that used to drive back and forth to the modern Delmar mine only a few
years ago, the road to the mine was very wide and very well maintained. But upon reaching the Delmar mine turn
off, the road changed dramatically. The very wide graded road continued up Delmar mountain to the closed mine,
while the road to Silver City split off, looking like little more than a Jeep trail. The road would prove to be easily
passable in the dry summer, but a high clearance vehicle is recommended, and I wouldn't expect a two wheel drive
car to be able to pass this road very easily during wet weather. The road to Silver City wasn't extremely long, but it
was slow going in some areas. There were still many interesting things to see along the way. The old De Lamar
mine could be seen along the road. Not to be confused with the recently closed Delmar mine, mentioned earlier.
Most of the buildings were long gone, but some abandoned cabins could be seen. We took a short detour off of the
Silver City road to explore a few mines up in the mountains. Not much was found, except a few collapsed buildings
and mine shafts, however, and the backside to the closed off Delmar mining area.
|On the left, climbing through the hills
on the wide, graded road to the Delmar
mine and Silver City.
On the right, parked at one of the
cabins along the road to Silver City.
|On the left, this building is indicated in
books to be the assey office of the De
Lamar mine. But the inside leads me
to believe it actually used to be the
On the right, the remains of the De
Lamar processing plant.
|On the left, one of the many pieces of
old mining equipment left along the
side the Silver City road.
On the right, a detour off of the Silver
City road, found us up in the
mountains, exploring a few smaller
mines. Note how beautiful the area is.
|On the left, the remains of a mine and
the Silver City road (below)
On the right, driving on the one of the
ledge roads in search of more mines.
Few remains was found up here, but note
|Silver City -- A step back in time 100 years ago.
Most of the buildings in this town are privately owned and the owners have taken great care and pride in preserving
them. Please observe the fact that it is private property and do not enter any of the buildings unwelcome. In short,
look, take pictures, but don't disturb. Let's keep the town open to visitors and keep this extremely rare historical
treasure around for many more years to come.
Later that day we arrived in Silver City. I was a bit surprised at what we found. I was half expecting to find a
normal, modern town with a gas station, a store and a restaurant mixed in with some old buildings. How wrong I
was. There was certainly no gas station and no store. In fact, there wasn't even electricity, running water or
telephone. The town was as isolated from the modern world as a town could be. It looked like an authentic movie
set for an old western movie. In the summer time, the town is occupied by a few residents. The roads in and out
are usually closed from October to June, but the town does have a watchman who watches over the town and
buildings during the winter months. That must be a cold, lonely job.
Not too many years ago, these very old and historic buildings were in a serious state of decay, but in recent years,
some owners apparently have made an effort to preserve the history, since a local brush fire almost destroyed the
town a few years ago. Scaffolding around some buildings and fresh paint on a other buildings is evidence that the
owners are making good progress in saving the town's history.
Silver City dates back to the 1860s when the area was first claimed for gold and silver mining. The town went
through many ups and down, but many of the mines finally closed down by 1914, with only a few smaller mine
remaining open for a few years longer. Many of these buildings, including the hotel on main street actually date
back to mid 1860s. Over 140 years old! Impressive, considering they've survived over a 140 very harsh Idaho
Silver City had the distinction of having the first telegraph service in Idaho. In 1874, a line was built north from
Winnemucca, Nevada, and in 1875, the line was continued from Silver City on to Boise City. It was also the county
seat until about 1934.
To anyone who is interested in mining and ghost town history, visiting Silver City is worth every hard mile of driving
it takes to get there. I highly recommend it. But plan ahead with enough food, gas and water to get you there and
back. Access on the road from Boise, is much easier than the route from Jorden Valley that we took.
Entering Silver City on the only road in
and out of town.
|On the left, one of the many intact
houses/hotels in the city.
On the right, the town masonic
building, built over a creek.
|On the left and right:
Some of the 19th century buildings in
various states of decay.
|On the left: The huge schoolhouse,
recently painted and partly restored.
On the right: A view of part of the town
from the upper hillside.
|Historical pictures of Silver City taken during it's heyday between the 1860s and early 1900s.
|War Eagle Mountain -- the mines of Silver City.
Nearby War Eagle mountain is where most of the mines were based. These were where most of the mines Silver
City supported, were located. Our trip up to War Eagle involved some spectacular scenery as we climbed higher
and higher into the mountains. At the summit we were treated with one of the best views in southwestern Idaho. At
one point we could even see the city of Boise over 70 miles (by air) away. In the dark evening sky, the small dot of
light indicated the capitol of Idaho.
|Above: The view from the summit of War Eagle
Mountain. Looking toward eastern Idaho. A radio
tower was located at the top of the mountain.
|Coming down the other side of War Eagle, John and I were briefly stopped by a trail obstical. A hand saw and a
winch, solved the problem.
|On the other side of War Eagle Mountain, we came upon one of the largest abandoned mining operations on
the mountain. Left: The mine camp itself. Middle: The stamp mill and vertical mine shaft. RIght: A
monsterous air compresspor that appears to be once powered by a tractor motor.
|On the left: What's left of one the War
Eagle Mtn mines. There was little in
the way of open mine shafts and
buildings that we could find.
On the right: A view of Boise at night
from War Eagle Mtn.
|Leslie Gulch and Surrounding Area
After leaving Silver City and War Eagle Mountain in the dark of night, we drove back the way we came and headed
back to Jordan Valley to refuel and resupply. Thankfully, one of the Jordan Valley gas stations was open late that
night or we have been forced to camp there as we would not have enough fuel to continue to our next destination.
There are few gas stations in this part of Oregon. Heading north on Hwy 95 out of Jorden Valley, our next
destination would be Leslie Gulch. Leslie Gulch is a beautiful geological area near the Owyee river where very
interesting rock formations can be seen. The Gulch is named after a miner who was prospecting the area when he
was struck down by lightning and killed. This area is extremely remote. A newer well graded road has been built to
the area in recent years, so it's passable by a 2 wheel drive car, but making sure you have plenty of fuel and
supplies is a good idea in this very remote region of the state. We arrived within about 10 miles of the Gulch and
set up camp for the rest of the night. The next day we began to explore the area and the gulch.
|Our camp site near Leslie Gulch in the morning after starting to pack up and getting ready to continue the trip.
|Far left: Inside the Gulch. Middle and Right: The Gulch ends at the Ohywee River. As you can see the river is much lower than
normal this time of year. The normal water level is far above the green area.
|Far left: The painted hills near Leslie Gulch. Middle and Right: The scenery on the road from Leslie Gulch.
|MISC. Mines Along the Way Home.
From Leslie Gulch, we wound our home, spending the next day making multiple stops looking for mines and
anything else of interest. The following pictures are of those mines
|An old bunk house and miner's cabin
|The Record mines, near Unity, Oregon. These mines date back to the 1900s, but what make them so interesting is how well they
are intact. Note the railroad track and ore cars still in place. These mines are likely still being mined infrequently by a local
claim holder, but much of the equipment here still likely dates back to the mine's heyday. The fact that we arrived late in the
evening, prevented me from getting better pictures of the overall area.
|On the left: A collapsed mine plant near Sumpter, Oregon. On the Right: The final sunset of the trip. From here we drove
straight home to Portland, Oregon.
|This concluded our trip to Silver City and beyond. It lasted about four days. What we learned is that there is
never enough time to cover the areas like we want too. There is just too much to see. I hope to someday return to
Silver City and the surrounding area to better explore it.
|Copyright © 2002-2005 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or websites. Simply
|On the left, my friend John exploring
what's left of a mineshaft near Glass
On the right, two abandoned mine
cabins near Glass Buttes.