Finally, Pictures from the Center of the Universe
Taking pictures of manhole covers would be too cliche. So I’m showing some other stuff.
Earlier this month, I decided to visit Wallace which was part spur-of-the-moment and partially planned. It was spur-of-the-moment because I came across this small town on some random internet searching and it was partially planned because I wanted to go on a day during spring break on which it was not snowing. Of course, that didn’t prevent snow from wreaking some havoc anyway.
After getting out of lab at 6:30 AM, I took US-95 north to Coeur D’Alene and then I-90 east to my destination. Sure, this was a couple hours of driving, but it was no hardship. The scenery, especially as the sun bloomed from dawn to early morning, was a revelation. How can the poetic soul not be swayed by the swelling ground crowned by evergreens and little spoiled by human detritus? I-90 as it went through the steeply graded Fourth of July Pass at 70 mph could have been terrifying. But it was exhilarating. Something about frosted mountains and clear sky makes one want to fly.
I first stopped at Kellogg. At the nadir of tourist influx, the place was half sleepy village, half abandoned ski resort with an empty garish amusement park visible from the highway. Some people may only be comfortable when a crowd is around. I enjoy places where I feel like I’m the only person in the world. After poking around with nothing other than the occasional car coughing past, I stumbled upon a mining accident memorial and a place advertising for mining tours (although it was closed). Then I decided to turn around via a parking lot which deceptively looked like it was covered in a fine layer of snow. And my car got stuck in that hellish brew of one inch white slushy. I spent half an hour spinning my wheels before a passing motorist helped push my car out. Yes, let that be a lesson: don’t enter an unplowed parking lot even though there’s just a sprinkling of snow. Seemingly inconsequential things can bite you in the ass.
Wallace itself was a cluster of historic buildings nestled in the navel of mountains. And aside from a couple of shady looking characters with trucker hats, was as empty as a ghost town. All of the museums were closed as well as the trinket shops. I did discover a used bookstore, Placer Village Books, which I couldn’t resist visiting. The front door warned of tough guard cats although while I was poking around the inventory (surprisingly extensive for a town with only a couple hundred residents) only one cat was briefly interesting in sniffing my fingers and another more neurotic feline peeked at me from behind a rack of thrillers. There was also a cockatiel stationed at the front of the store with delusions that it was a rooster. Cuk-cu-cuk-cu-coo! Cuk-cu-cuk-cu-coo!
On another spur-of-the-moment impulse, I decided to visit Murray, another historical mining town. But I never got there because the road I took was a dead end. I did end up driving through Osburn though–a tiny town with a somewhat creepy-looking bar as its focal point and the impression that it’s been permanently stuck in the 1950s.
For someone who enjoys hectic soccer mom vacations, these places in the Idaho panhandle may not be ideal destinations–particularly at this time of the year. But for someone who loves the unusual, these last outposts skirting the boundary between civilization and wilderness, where wilderness looms heavily in the background threatening to take back what it once owned, are fascinating. It’s not literally the center of the universe, but when you’re physically standing at a remote crossroads surrounded on all four sides by chilly, sheer rock, you certainly feel like you are.