Photo Diary | Ghost Town |

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One of my favorite places to visit when I went back to Idaho with my grandparents was the ghost town of Burke which resided in Burke canyon in the panhandle (that's north) of Idaho (there are lots of canyons and gulches in this area.). The Silver Valley, as this region is called, was once filled with boom towns and this was one of the first and most profitable mining areas which housed the Hecla and Star mines where silver, zinc and lead was mined (you can see from the last photo the lead mineral deposits still turn the creek rocks a deep rust). People came from all over for the mining in the late 1800's. My great-grandfather on my mother's side, once a runner for the pony express, came here for the mining, as well as my other great-grandfather also on my mother's side ended up in this area looking to make money in the mines. This is where my grandparent's grew up, where they met (they were neighbors - their houses within inches of each other) where my mother was born and where I was raised for a few years in my early childhood. 

I have always been fascinated by the history of this area. Once Burke was busy and bustling with mining and so many people flocked to the area that houses were precariously built on the hillside and scrunched up against one another on any and all available space. The road was so narrow through here that, The Tiger hotel, had two train tracks and a creek running through it's lobby. Shop owners had to pull in their awnings to let the trains pass. My family worked the mines when they were still running. My grandfather's father and brother both died in the mines as well as countless others that they knew. There were fires and mining disasters and it was overall a very hard life. And when my grandfather had children, my mom and uncles, he left the area to come to Portland to ensure that his children would never work the mines. My mom moved back for a short time when I was about two until I was 5. When I lived there people still worked the mines, in fact most everyone I knew worked the mines, but there were only a few left in operation. Now I believe there is just one. The towns were fairly depressed then and even more so now. 

As I said in my last post, going back here is literally like stepping back in time and in so many more ways than just visiting ghost towns. I took to calling the area the detroit of the pacific northwest. Things are so unchanged from my perspective, which is a trip (for lack of a better term) in and of itself, but also they have changed so much from when people first flocked here, when these ghost towns were anything but that. When the towns were filled with millionaires and people actually traveled from all over to find work here. Now it is a very depressed economy, really a quite desolate place. And to me there is something so beautiful about the preservation of history in this abandonment, but of course something so pervasive in that as well that seems to spread for miles and miles.

As you can imagine mining practices in the late 1800's was probably not up to the environmental standards that it would be today, and even that, well. So the one thing that I can say has changed since the time that I have lived there is trees have grown in so thick. For years the landscape was strangled out along these mining gulches likely because of all of the toxins and minerals that were released into the soil. My great-aunt who has literally lived up two mile gulch since the day she was born (that is where my grandparents lived after the moved from Burke canyon) her whole life mumbled something about the "goddamn EPA messin' with stuff," I just smiled and nodded happy to hear the EPA is messin' with stuff around there. 

Of course I had to visit Burke again on this trip and due to peer pressure, for the first time one or more of us, may or may not have, hopped the no trespassing fence (no children were involved in this crime). Which completely took me back to my teen years as I found myself saying "i don't think this is a good idea guys." But I finally saw the "other side" and was able to get some photos of this place that has always made my imagination run wild. We also took a mining tour in a different mine, which I took last time I went as well, where they take you into a mine and show you all the in's and out's of mining. So those photos of the actual mines - don't worry, I would never in a million years go unattended into a mining shaft. That would be crazy.

You can see some photos of Burke back in the day here, here, here, here and here.


  1. The stark beauty of these photos is so compelling to me. I love the contrast between industry and nature. Although not part of my personal history, my mother's history walks along a similar path. Coal mining in southern Illinois. I have stories too. (Ones I plan on sharing someday, but we're still looking for some key pieces of the puzzle.) My mom's hometown, Murphysboro, IL was a booming town at the turn of the century. Shoe factory, farms, mines. A tornado in 1925 devastated the town (those who were underground in the mines survived), and by the time my mom was growing up, it was far from booming. I remember visiting in the summers and seeing a depressed and hot and beyond sleepy little village. Empty store fronts, stuck in decades old decor. But it's funny how these things cycle. Murphysboro has had a comeback of sorts. Reinvented itself. Change is inevitable, I guess, and they decided to grow too.

    Anyhoo. I love these photos. The clear contrast mirrors the story you're telling. Stuck, and yet still so starkly beautiful.

  2. detroit immediately popped in my mind as i read the second paragraph. such a mystery how a once lucrative and thriving economy can just dissintegrate to the point of abandonment! the history that remains in towns like burke and detriot are tragically romantic because of their depression, but it's important to recognize and appreciate because there's a beauty in the decrepit as well as the new. i can't say enough about your photography - the pcitures tell such stories in themselves. glad to know you didn't venture into an abandoned mine unattended though!

  3. It was wonderful to read about the area you spent part of your childhood in, Christine. You would be so good at writing a travel book about America. I like your perspective when you write about places you visit and your writing style, well, I think I've mentioned how much I admire it. I could read on for pages and pages.

  4. These pictures are so eerie and you always imagine places like this in "Russia" or some other place but not in the Pacific Northwest. Your family history is so interesting and also so very different from mine - thank you for sharing it with us

  5. So, so spooky! I think places like this are eerier in the daylight than they are at night. They appear so much more empty during the day, you know? I loved reading about your connection to the area; my family are all Northeasterners, mostly freshly immigrated from Europe, so mining isn't part of our family history. It's fascinating to me though, and I loved hearing about it in your own lineage. "Working the mines." What a world that must have been. xo

  6. Wow! I am in awe of these photos, and all the history! I hate to go here, but I can't help but say it, It totally reminds me of the Hunger Games. I think it's really beautiful though. : )

  7. Such a rule breaker! and look what you are teaching your children. haha. What an amazing place with so many layers to look at it. Looking at the photos I just think about the history of this place and stories this town could tell.

  8. Oh my goodness. What a spooky and fascinating place. Can you imagine what this place would be like at night? It's actually given me the chills just thinking about it. It's so sad that these unique and picturesque places have become desolate and rundown (although this is obviously part of its charm). It's also wonderful to hear that you took your kids there - just picture what it will look like when they have kids!

  9. oh, I love love love ghost towns. there are decidedly not enough around where I live :(


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