July 4th was right around the corner and we needed a place to stay, which is always a joy when it comes to a major holiday. Kathy had her eye on a 73 mile paved multi-use path that is a great example of a rails-to-trails project. This combination led us to Heyburn State Park at the very south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Not only did they have some campsite availability, but the trail Kathy wanted to ride went right through the park. Perfect!
Hawley’s Landing Campground
There are three campgrounds at Heyburn State Park and we chose the main campground, Hawley’s Landing, which is relatively small with 52 sites. When I originally made the reservation we got site 17, but we had to change the reservations due to the extended stay in the Wallowas (thank you Jeep!) and ended up at site 35. Turns out that site 17 is THE best site in the campground and we lucked out getting it with our original reservation. But due to the dead Jeep in the Wallowas, we lost out on this. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. And sometimes you get a string of actions where the Universe seems to be plotting against you.
The campground was pretty nice. Not great privacy. Not overly quiet (big surprise considering it was a major holiday, right?). But it was nice.
One of Kathy’s co-workers happened to be in the area and popped down to spend the night at Hawley’s Landing on her way to Seattle. I had met Kim originally in Iowa when Kathy was doing RAGBRAI last year, and I have seen her once or twice at Kathy’s work in Austin. It was a very pleasant surprise to see here again in Idaho.
The first evening we strolled down to the boat docks on the lake and sat with our feet in the water watching the sun settle on the horizon. A relaxing way to finish the first evening at our first Idaho state park.
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes follows an old Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way from Plummer, Idaho (about 6 miles due west of Heyburn State Park and just a few miles from the Washington border) all the way across the Idaho panhandle to Mullan, Idaho (just a couple of miles from the Montana border. The entire 73 miles of trail is paved – for a very good reason.
This part of Idaho is silver country, where silver was discovered in 1884 and is still mined to this day, although most of the mines have been closed. The railroad bed was made from mine waste and tailings that contain heavy metals. In other words, rather toxic stuff. Back in 1888 when the railroad was put in, they didn’t seem to consider this a bad thing.
A coordinated effort between Union Pacific, the state of Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe, and the U.S. Government cleaned up this environmental disaster by putting in gravel barriers on top of the original rail bed, and capping it with a thick layer of asphalt. This environmental “cleanup” allowed the area to be used recreationally, but there are signs everywhere saying to stay on the trail, don’t go in the water, and to only drink water from approved sources. Not a place I want to pitch a tent to enjoy nature!
Kathy, being one that enjoys her long bike rides, was looking very much to riding the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes as soon as she found out about it. She even got the idea of doing all, or most, of the trail. Yeah, I would be passing on this one! 🙂
The first morning we were at Heyburn, Kathy, Kim, and I set out on a ride on the trail. We had no idea how far we would go, or where our ultimate destination would be. We started out heading west and went to the trailhead in Plummer, about 6 miles away. This stretch of the ride went by quickly and it wasn’t apparent that we were riding uphill the whole time. I would like to think that this is because I am in incredible shape, but that certainly isn’t the case. I am guessing it had more to do with the wonderful company I was sharing the ride with. (Scoring brownie points there!)
We turned around and pretty much coasted 6 miles back to Heyburn, then kept going. Just east of the state park the trail goes over the Chatcolet Bridge which is a badass bridge that is a hoot to ride over and gives a great view of the lake. We continued on almost to Harrison and back to the campground, for a total of somewhere around 30 miles. Way more than I would normally do in a day, but for some reason it didn’t seem like we put in that many miles. Kathy was great in going slow enough for me to keep up. It was probably killing her even though she said she enjoyed the pace.
July 5th found Kathy starting at Heyburn State Park and heading east on the trail – destination Wallace, Idaho, “only” 60 miles away via the trail. Wallace is an interesting town that Kathy found somehow during her poking around on the Interwebs. On paper/computer screen it seemed like at the type of town that was worth checking out. We even kicked around the idea of seeing if they had a Fourth of July celebration, but it was a bit too far to drive on a work day (yes, I have the pleasure of working holidays if they don’t fall on my normal day off).
I was the support crew for Kathy’s ride which meant that I was to pick her up wherever she stopped – hopefully Wallace. I did my best to stalk her progress using the Find Friends app on my iPhone, but for most of the ride she was in a bad cell coverage area. I finally found her about 45 or so miles into the trip where I got an action shot of her and refilled her water. I didn’t see her again until Wallace, famous for having about a third of it burned during the Great Fire of 1910 which burned about 3,000,000 acres in Washington, Idaho and Montana.
Wallace is in the heart of the Idaho silver mining area and is right off of I-90. In fact, the trail runs underneath I-90 (it’s elevated in Wallace) and right along the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, aka Shit Creek. I kid you not. Apparently back in the day the miners would put their outhouses over the river and when they were used, all “deposits” went right into the river. Combine that fact with all the silver mine contamination in the area, and one might think twice about taking a dip in the river. Too bad as the water is extremely clear (not even brown, go figure!) and very inviting. Especially after an almost 60 mile bike ride. So we had to make other plans.
We found the City of Wallace pool, an absolutely magnificent watering hole that was constructed in 1939 and open to the public. For a couple of bucks, Kathy had her place to cool off and take a shower. I was beginning to like this town.
There is a lot to like about Wallace. After all, it is the center of the universe. Has a decent brewery. And is a pretty cool little town to hang out in for a bit. Just don’t go skinny dipping in the river.
We were in the area over the Fourth of July and thought it would be interesting to experience how small town celebrates America’s birthday. Coeur d’Alene is at the north end of Lake Coeur d’Alene, but it isn’t a small enough town. Wallace definitely looked like it fit the bill, but it was too far away for a work day. Harrison was across the lake and seemed to fill the bill, so we headed over there to see how they celebrated.
Harrison, Idaho has a population of just north of 200 people. Yeah, it fills the bill of being a small town. However, it appears that the population at least doubles on the 4th. Apparently Harrison is someplace that people congregate on the lake. Whatever works for them!
We grabbed a pizza from a restaurant across from the town park which was the center of the celebrations. We ate, watched and experienced. What can I say? It was about what one would expect. Kids running around. Parents chasing them down (sometimes). Picnicking families. A general feeling of a lazy day. And decent live music.
One can only take so much of this and with the fireworks show still hours off, we decided to grab some ice cream down the block and head back to the house. Mission accomplished. Not sure I need to do that again.
As I finish writing this, it dawned on me that last 4th I was also in small town America. Lincoln, Nebraska has a much larger population than the 200 people in Wallace, Idaho, but it is still on the smaller side. Makes one wonder where July 4, 2016 will find me…