Custer Motorway & Pettit Lake

The next morning I wanted to have breakfast at Stanley Baking Company. We didn’t get there quite early enough to avoid the line this time, but we weren’t in a rush. Tru napped in the car, and we had an excellent leisurely breakfast and planned the day. Since we were all three a little spent from the previous day’s hike, we decided to drive the Custer Motorway Adventure Road (quite a name). The road departs from Hwy. 75 at Sunbeam (where we had delicious fries last summer) and creates a large detour to Challis following the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River for much of the way. We didn’t know much about the route when we began, only that the Custer Ghost Town was along the way.

The road winds past some nicely shaded campgrounds before entering an area of Yankee Fork dredge tailings. For 5.5 miles, tailings (gravel piles) surround either side of the road. Every now and then we caught a glimpse beyond the tailings where crystal clear pools from the fork provide fishing holes for nearby campers. Soon after the tailings ended, we came upon a sign for Bonanza City.

Bonanza City was the first town founded along the Yankee Fork in 1877. At its peak in 1881, the town had 600 residents with a newspaper, post office, hotels & saloons, even a dentist. Two fires in 1889 and 1897 destroyed most of the town and those left relocated to Custer City down the road. When the last mine closed in 1911, it left Bonanza City a ghost town. Today there are some ruins alongside the road, a guard station and camp (now a campground) built by the CCC in the 1930s, and cemeteries. We stopped at the Bonanza City Cemetery and walked around the mostly unkempt grounds. We were impressed by the registry of occupants at the front of the cemetery, organized alphabetically, each with a short biography about the person (including their country of origin) and the circumstances of their death. Bonanza and its mines attracted a lot of international residents.

You can kind of see the gravel pilings on the left side of the road

Bonanza Cemetery

After Bonanza City we came upon the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge. Gold mining in the Yankee Fork began in 1872 with placer mining; miners used pans to separate gold from sand or gravel. The dredge was used to dig deeper into the soil to recover gold deposits the placer miners couldn’t obtain. The dredge operated between 1940 and 1952 and created the tailings we had already passed along the road. It sits near where the first gold along the Yankee Fork was discovered. Tours of the dredge are available, but it was just warm enough that we didn’t want to leave Tru in the car for long. Instead we walked around the exterior and marveled at the massive dredge. It’s a behemoth.

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

Shortly after we left the dredge, we came to Custer City. The town was founded two years after Bonanza in 1879, and ultimately became the larger of the two. The town was spurred into existence by the success of the General Custer Mine, the most famous mine along the Yankee Fork. The town transformed from a tent community of miners to a proper town with over 100 buildings lining its single street. By 1911, Custer also went bust and soon became a ghost town like Bonanza. Today there are still several buildings lining the street and a self-guided walking tour takes you back in time. The saloon serves as the gift shop and home of the Land of the Yankee Fork Historical Association – though if it still served as a saloon we wouldn’t have been opposed. We stopped for a while to walk the path and visit the various buildings. There’s also a museum with a rather odd collection of items, but certainly worth stopping in for a look.

The main street of Custer (looking toward Bonanza) with the fewest buildings remaining

An example of one of the finer residences in Custer

An example of a miner’s cabin


Faded wallpaper covers newspaper in one of the homes

From Custer we continued on the Motorway. We soon realized that most people don’t continue past Custer as we rarely saw other vehicles. Lucky for us, this portion of the Motorway was the prettiest portion of the drive. Not too far from Custer we decided to pull over and take a break along the water. We had a couple of beers, I wrote on the postcards I bought in Custer, and Zach practiced. It was such an idyllic hour. I recall it sometimes while I sit at my desk and wish I were back in that spot, sitting along the Yankee Fork and passing the time.

We pulled over here to hang out

The calm before the storm…

Tru howls along

The rest of the Motorway was extremely pleasant. There’s something so tranquil in driving down a dirt road in the forest. In Custer we finally had the chance to read about the Motorway and learned that it was originally used as a supply line between Challis and the mining camps and towns along the Yankee Fork. In 1879, a toll road was completed and became the only freight and stage line for ten years. It cost $5 to ride the stage from Custer to Challis, a huge cost. Eventually, in 1933, the CCC made improvements to the road and it was opened to motor traffic.

What remains of Eleven Mile Barn, one of the rest stations along the stage route where drivers could change their horses

At the end of this descent, we reached Challis

We left Challis, rejoined Hwy. 75, and drove back to Stanley. We decided to grab dinner at Redfish Lake Lodge, but temporarily forgot that it was a holiday weekend. It was very crowded – not Truman’s cup of tea – so we ate and decided to drive back into Stanley for a drink at the Mountain Village Saloon. We had a couple beers on their sunny lawn and enjoyed eavesdropping on nearby conversations.

Not a bad view

In the morning we were in no hurry to go back home. We ate the breakfast goodies we’d had the foresight to buy at Stanley Baking Company the day before, made our coffee/tea, and walked over to Perkins Lake. It was a beautiful day, and we hadn’t had the opportunity to use our kayaks. We decided to take them over to Pettit Lake for a morning excursion.

Perkins Lake

Pettit Lake

Truman isn’t the best kayak companion, but he’s a good sport. We paddled nearly to the end of the lake and then turned around to follow the shoreline back to the day use area. When we started out only one other couple was at the shore, but when we returned several other families had shown up. Earlier is always better.

We were both starving after we got back to the shore, carried the kayaks to the car, and dried and folded them back up. We set off toward Ketchum and decided to stop at Galena Lodge for lunch. We have wanted to stop here for a while, but never make it. There are two patios, one which expressly doesn’t allow dogs, and one which does. It didn’t appear as though the rule was being fully obeyed, but we stayed on the dog deck anyway. We had a couple beers and some quesadillas to fill our stomachs before we began the long drive home. As the weather cools, we may cling to the memory of this weekend to steel us through another winter until we can return to the Sawtooths.

Galena Lodge

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