ROAD CLOSED AHEAD. These were not words of inspiration for me and two friends last month on a road trip in Idaho.
But with a truck glazed in a patina of mud, the decision was as black and white as the font on the sign: Continue on, or turn around.
We hit the gas, moving forward. Our destination, the abandoned mining town of Silver City, was ahead just below the summit of War Eagle Mountain.
Between the city and the “Closed Ahead” sign was 15 miles of pocked desert road, its ascending twists and turns notorious for tire-sucking mud.
Any other year and the route called Silver City Road, between Jordan Valley and Murphy, would have been closed this late in the season. But a bit of freak warm weather melted the November base, giving us a rare opportunity to explore the ghost town as winter descended.
It was also a chance to test out the new BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires.
We chewed uphill into the mountains, crashing through a mixed medium of mud, rock and ice until we eventually rumbled into Silver City an hour past the sign.
We entered the time warp that is Silver City. While most towns of this era have been burned down, demolished, or urbanized, Silver City has been spared the degenerative effects of time.
More than 70 structures remain, all privately owned, alluding to what range-life might have been 150 years ago. There’s no gas station, no electricity, no plumbing. Just a few original telephone lines stretch over the city loop.
In its hey-day, the town’s population swelled to over 2,500 people, hosting six general stores, two hotels, a paper, a brothel and, of course, a profitable mine that pulled more than $60 million in silver from its veins.
The mine closed in 1942. The town died soon after. But the empty structures remain as one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the country.
Cresting the lip into town was like driving back into Deadwood. We hitched our rig next to the slumping mass of the Idaho Hotel, loaded our cameras, and scattered across the abandoned streets under dank air.
I found a crack under the hotel that allowed me to climb into its catacombs. They were stacked precariously high with empty wine bottles, ripsaws and supplies. Everything was coated in a blanket of dust collected from the 60 years of storage. I climbed out of the basement and took a breath of the outside air.
I dropped down to Jordan Creek and walked around the old school house. Whitewash was peeling back in the southern exposure, and I peeked in the windows to see a lone desk at the head of an empty room. School’s been out for some time in Silver City.
We wandered and explored. The sunlight was dim, and we were the only souls in the busted silver town.
Hours later, we gathered at the Catholic Church perched on a south-facing escarpment. Then we hoofed it over to the cemetery to see how the city took the living.
Every headstone shared a story: a meaningful life carved out in the mines… the Bannock War… the premature departure of two infants.
There were innumerable strange and sad relics to explore, but the sun was dropping fast.
Driving back to the junction, I wrenched the wheel to the left. “We’re taking the long way home!” I shouted above the clatter of ice and potholes.
Bashing down the backside of the mountain, we rattled past the crumbling sites of De Lamar and Wagontown, eventually spilling out onto the main route.
The BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires and my truck handled it all with hardly a blink. As the name notes, these tires are designed for “all terrain,” and the company cites toughness, traction and tread-life as hallmarks of the design (BFGoodrich also notes they have a “3 Peak Mountain Snowflake” status, which means the tire exceeds the Rubber Manufacturer Association (RMA) severe snow traction requirements.)
Nearing a town, I looked in the rearview mirror to see War Eagle Mountain. The sun pierced the moody sky, shining for an instant the way back toward home, then disappearing just as fast. Silver City was abandoned again. Winter was coming, and it was time for the ghost town to sleep.
Steve Graepel is a contributing editor. Photos by Dave Blum. This article is a part of an adventure series; see additional stories in the series, “Climbing A Giant: Ascent Of Mount Adams” and “4×4 Roadtrip ‘Up North.'”