“If it’s not grown, it’s got to be mined,” Lenny the mine guide stated matter-of-factly as he led our hard hat-wearing group into the dim, damp underground Sierra Silver Mine in Wallace, Idaho. “If you really think about it, you’ll realize how true that is,” he continued proudly. “The manufacture of everyday products requires silver, gold, copper, lead, zinc and other minerals.” Lenny is right.
Nicknamed “Smurf” by his former co-workers because of his short stature, the retired hard-rock-miner-turned-tour-guide entertained and educated us for about an hour as we toured the fascinating mine and learned its history. Through humorous yet true stories of his career as a miner, we were surprised to hear that the tools of the trade haven’t changed much over the last 100 years. Long pneumatic drills are still used to bore holes into rock, and the holes are then filled with explosives. Although the noise during the drill demonstration was deafening, it lasted for just a few seconds, and it helped us to better understand the working conditions endured by hard rock miners. After Lenny’s enjoyable and educational tour, our group re-boarded the vintage trolley that had brought us out to the mine, and listened to the driver as he pointed out local landmarks during the short and scenic ride back into downtown Wallace.
Wallace, Idaho, known officially as the Silver Capital of the World, is just one of 14 historic towns tucked into Idaho’s Silver Valley. The Valley stretches about 40 miles, mostly along Interstate 90 between the Coeur d’Alene River and the Montana border. It got its name from the silver deposits first found here in the early 1880s, which were some of the richest ever discovered. In fact, the Valley’s Coeur d’Alene Mining District is still one of the largest silver mining regions in the world, producing more than a billion ounces over the past century.
To get a real sense of 125 years of silver mining history, a fun and informative underground tour of the Sierra Silver Mine can’t be beat. Tours are offered May through September. All you need is sturdy footwear, a light jacket (mine temperature is around 50 degrees) and your camera (hard hats provided). While in the Wallace area, you’ll also have plenty of chances to use the outdoor gear that’s probably already stashed in your RV— the Silver Valley is full of scenic spots to camp, fish, bike and hike.
For more information:
420 5th St.
Wallace, Idaho 83873
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com