Surrounded by the scenic Coeur d’Alene National Forest and Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho’s Panhandle, is a tiny town with a sign that reads: “This is the town founded by a jackass and inhabited by his descendants.” Strangely enough, the humorous advertisement for Kellogg, Idaho (population 2,400) pretty accurately describes the town’s founding.
Back in 1885, while a prospector was out looking for his lost burro, he spotted a large outcropping of galena (lead ore) shining in the sunlight. The prospector’s name was Noah Kellogg and it was his discovery that eventually led to the creation of the great Bunker Hill and Sullivan mines, which made the town flourish.
For over 100 years, the Bunker Hill mine and smelter were known world-wide as a leader in lead-zinc-silver mining. In fact, Kellogg is part of Idaho’s Silver Valley, named for the area’s rich silver deposits first found in the early 1880s. Bunker Hill ceased operations about 20 years ago, but visitors can still learn about the Silver Valley’s mining history at the Staff House Museum on McKinley Avenue. Mining equipment of all shapes and sizes is on display, as well as extensive metallurgical and mineral exhibits.
A definite highlight of Kellogg is actually found in low light conditions-at the authentic Crystal Gold Mine. Dress warmly, don a bright yellow hard hat, grab a flashlight, and follow your tour guide into the underground world of gold mining.
For over 100 years, no one knew this mine existed. The original prospector simply disappeared, leaving his mine car, track, tools, and high-grade gold ore behind-sure signs he intended to come back, but strangely never did. During the years that the mine was lost and undisturbed, beautiful turquoise-colored blue smithsonite crystals formed on the walls.
You’ll also see gold and wire silver, too. After the tour, pan for gold outdoors under the tutelage of your mine guide. Even if there’s no flash in your pan, you might find a star garnet-Idaho’s state stone. These garnets naturally occur in only two places on earth-India and Idaho.
After being underground, you just might want to head in the opposite direction and get a bird’s eye view of the area via the world’s longest single stage people carrier-what a huge claim to fame for small town Kellogg! The gondola at Silver Mountain Resort travels about three miles in 20 minutes to the top of Silver Mountain. If you visit during the winter, you definitely won’t be disappointed by the skiing and other snow sports offered at the resort.
Although you might not find the silver, gold, zinc, and galena that first attracted prospectors and miners to the area, it’s fun to turn back the clock to the early days of Idaho’s mining heritage by exploring Kellogg and other nearby towns. Some of the small rural communities have lapsed into ghost towns, but many offer modern-day amenities and activities for travelers as well as plenty of outdoor recreation such as camping, fishing, cycling, and hiking. Don’t forget your camera-the scenery throughout the region is a real treasure!
What & Where:
Staff House Museum (also known as the Shoshone County Mining & Smelting Museum, Inc.) (820 McKinley Ave, Kellogg; 208-786-4141)
Crystal Gold Mine (208-783-4653)
Silver Mountain Resort (610 Bunker Ave, Kellogg; 208-783-1111)
Historic Silver Valley Chamber of Commerce (10 Station Ave,Kellogg; 208-784-0821)
Getting to the Gold Mine: Take Idaho Exit 54 on Interstate 90 to the Miner’s Memorial (located on the North side of the freeway). Turn left (west) on Silver Valley Road, and go two miles.
Through words and photos, Denise Seith not only tells you where to go, but what to see and do once you get there. She regularly contributes photo features to travel magazines and travel websites. Denise is also a freelance graphic designer, copywriter, and loves a good latté.