When History turns into Entertainment

May 2016 – It was Memorial Day weekend and although we knew we were running the risk of encountering crowds, we were on a mission to see what all the hype was about.  We were enlightened on the small town of Mackay, Idaho, from numerous people and all encouraged us to explore its history.Mackay Idaho

When Al and I first heard about the Mackay reservoir with a campground and lots of shore boondocking, that alone piqued our interest, but add in some fun back country 4×4 roads with remnants of yesterdays mining days…. well, let’s just say, we were all in for a day of sightseeing.Mackay Idaho

Located in the south central part of Idaho along Highway 93, the quaint town of Mackay exudes an inviting Western charm and plenty of interesting history. The Mackay Mine Hill Tour is a self-guided  tour of mining locations found in the hills southwest of town.

We picked up a route map at a local gas station and verified we wouldn’t have any trouble on the back country roads with our F-250 truck with extended bed…. the ‘big dog’ isn’t exactly agile with its long wheel base.

There are three different color-coded routes; each designated for vehicle accessibility.

The Green Route (the one we took) is accessible to all modes of transportation.  It’s about 15 miles of graded dirt roads, and although rough in spots it can easily be navigated with a CRV, Subaru, or even a car, if careful.

Points of interest

Points of interest

Mackey Mine Hill TourThere are twelve points of interest along the green route that are clearly marked on the map and along the road way.

The Blue Route adds another five points of interest, but requires a high clearance vehicle.  Considering the road is extremely rough, steep, and narrow making it a challenge for our less than agile length, we didn’t venture onto any Blue trails.Mackay IdahoThe Red Route is open only to ATV’s, UTV’s, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, horses, and hikers.  This is one time I wish we still owned our ATV.  The area is truly an off roaders paradise with plenty of 4×4 back country dirt roads offering interesting sights along the way to keep one entertained.Mackay Mine Tour

Al and I had packed a picnic lunch and set off mid-morning the last Saturday in May.  Although we occasionally had to share the road with groups of all-terrain-vehicles, we were still able to enjoy plenty of solitude considering the multitude of routes available to choose from …. allowing us all to spread out.Mackay mine hill tourEach numbered stop was clearly marked and offered information about the site.   What surprised me most is that much of the land is still privately owned.  Thus, the land we toured is owned either by private individuals, companies, the US Bureau of Land Management, or the US Forest Service.  The tour is sponsored by the South Custer Mining ExhibitCounty Historical Society and White Knob Historical Preservation Committee.

Stop number one is of course the closest to town, most accessible, and definitely a must see stop.

This is a former Smelter site and is now home to an extensive hardrock mining exhibit.

Fascinating Mining Exhibit. The building was filled with tools, equipment, and detailed information

Fascinating Mining Exhibit. The building was filled with tools, equipment, and detailed information

Mackay Idaho

Although most of the smelter facility ruins have been removed, many features remain, including an 8-hole company outhouse …..Smelter siteOuthouse




I guess, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go !  Nothing like being chummy with your co-workers.

Continuing up the road, we came across Aerial Tramway Towers, a Compressor Building, a Sawmill, Tunnels, and several Homesteads.

a homestead

a homestead

I thought I lived in a tiny house! I have indoor plumbing ;-)

I thought I lived in a tiny house! But I have indoor plumbing 😉

Open Pit Mine Site - Produced gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc from 1902 to 1975

Open Pit Mine Site – Produced gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc from 1902 to 1975

I was tempted to step into the building BUT first off, this is private property and second, note the scribble on the black tank. I wasn't interested in seeing that kind of wildlife!

I was tempted to step into the building BUT first off, this is private property and second, note the scribble on the black tank. I wasn’t interested in seeing that kind of wildlife!

From one historic site to another!

From one historical site to another!

Mackay Mine Tour

Interesting tidbit….. Mackay’s Mine Hill: Ore was first discovered in 1879 and was mined into the 1980’s.  Geological sampling still occurs to this date, and mining could Mackay Mine Hill tourbe renewed at any time to withdraw the millions of dollars of Ore remaining in the ground.  Hmm, I wondered – does that mean I was driving over millions of dollars?

All the routes entail a change of elevation from about 6,000 feet in the town of Mackay to about 8,500 feet at the highest point, which (I think) is near site #12. This change in elevation provides some wonderful views but also some changes in temperature. Weather seems to move in quickly.  So it’s best to be prepared for just about anything.Mackay Mine Hill Tour

Al and I had a great time traveling these back country roads and exploring an important part of Mackay’s history.  It was a very fun and entertaining day …. one I would recommend.

Rachael and I check out the old Compressor building

Rachael and I check out the old Compressor building

At the RV Park a couple of weeks later, I met a single gal traveling solo in her Class C Mackay Mine Hill tour Idahomotorhome.  This artistic, talented gal and I hit it off, and I was quick to share the Mackay Mine Hill Tour with her.

We only had time to visit the first three mining sites, which was fine by us considering our focus that day was on photography.

As a solo traveler, Rachael is usually short on photos of herself and asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a few shots of her for her to share on her Instagram site:  @bohemian.dreamer

Little did she know, I was giddy with delight when she handed me her Fujifilm camera.  I always have my eye on new cameras and I was impressed with the color quality and ease of use of this camera Fujifilm X-E2 16.3 MP Mirrorless Digital Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD – Body Only (Black)  Hopefully she didn’t notice me drooling 😅

Mackay Mine Hill tour Idaho

I had a great time trying to tap into my inner Scavullo ….. yeah, I’m a work in progress, but with Rachael’s artistic direction, my photos and her modeling improved as the day went on and we both tapped into a wonderful groove.Lava Tube Craters of the Moon

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we arranged to spend another day together hiking a Lava Tube at Craters of the Moon before it was time for her to hit the road for new territory.  I’m hoping to run into her again sometime this winter so I can play with her camera again…… and oh yes, meet up with her too!Mackay Idaho

Additional RV information on Mackay, Idaho.
Camping: There’s a very nice campground at the Mackay Reservoir called Fallini Campground.  There’s also plenty of free boondocking along the shores (near mile marker 14)  Interested in a quick overnight? There’s free overnight parking in the town of Mackay at the visitor center along with a restroom and free dump station. The visitor center is merely information boards in a parking lot.  There is also some nice boondocking along the river near mile marker 11 but a lot of dense brush that can easily cause some of natures pin striping (aka vehicle scratches).  There are several private RV Parks in the area, but keep in mind, Mackay is a very popular second home location, meaning a lot of folks park their RV’s in a site for the entire season.

👍👍 Two thumbs up for a visit to Mackay, Idaho!  We heard there’s some great hiking in the area, which unfortunately, we never got around to tackling.

My latest mode of transportation?

My latest mode of transportation?

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57 thoughts on “When History turns into Entertainment

    • Thanks. It was fun spending time amongst the old structures with a fellow shooter. Rachael and I lingered much longer in one spot than when I went with my husband. So many details to capture on ‘film’.

  1. What a great mine. Out here in AZ the BLM are tearing some down due to safety liabilities etc. So you were very lucky to see a fabulous mining area!

    • Well, your posts have a similar effect on me. Guess, that’s the beauty of sharing. I was surprised with the abundance of wild beauty in Idaho. So many great places to camp. Definitely worth exploring.

  2. Thank you for the interesting writing and beautiful pictures. So cool that you were able to Serendipitously make a new friend. You can see from the many comments that your post was appreciated. Take care

  3. What a fun day of exploring! Could be the engineer in me, but I love exploring old mining sites like this one. Often you will find some of the old equipment they used and it is fun studying the mechanics of it:)

    • I must admit, even with that notice I was a tad curious to poke inside that building. Little mice I can deal with, large rats no thank you 😀

  4. Good memories. I especially loved the photo of the old barn and the mountain. Can’t wait to see you later this month and swap stories!

    • We barely scratched the surface in this area, but talk about a boondockers haven and so many interesting sights to photograph. The gravel road between Mackay and Sun Valley was also fun and filled with endless camping opportunities…. and moose!

  5. Thanks for the tour! I do love the old mining towns out West, and Idaho is one of my favorite places..There is a neat little town in the Northeast of Idaho called Wallace..I-90 goes right over it..very cute town..a volcano disaster movie was filmed there, but cannot think of the name..CRDT disease..Your pictures give me hitch itch to go out West again…but NOT a good time of year for that right now…Where are we going next?

    • It’s getting a tad too cold there at the moment, hehe. We both know this is a summer destination. Although Idaho offers some stunning and unique scenery, I was missing Colorado which lead us to pointing those wheels toward her mountains in early July.
      Right now we’re sitting in Phoenix for a few months and then heading back to Rockport for birding. Summer of ’17 is still in the “where do we wanna go” stage.
      Hope you guys are able to escape the IL winter, even for just a month or two. I know you’re faced with some challenges right now ☹

  6. Love your posts. However, think you meant to say Memorial Day rather than Labor Day on this one as May is that holiday while Labor Day is in September.

    • Oops, I always seem to mess up those two holiday weekends. Thanks for pointing that out – corrected and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • During my ‘work camping’ adventure, I was occasionally waitressing in the RV park café and had the opportunity to meet and interact with locals. All were gracious and excited to share their love of their home state. There were still so many things in the area we never got a chance to experience, but overall it was a wonderful two months in Idaho.

  7. It looks like an interesting place to visit. Rachael was very brave to stand in doorways and under roofs like that, though. I’d have been scared of something falling on my head. Some of those building seem kind of rickety. 🙂

  8. Although you were nice enough to mention a CRV as one of the vehicles that can tackle the road you took, Steve won’t be easy to persuade to do the tour. But your post will be enough for me to enjoy the mining town sans the dust.
    I can feel your giddiness when you met Rachel and you got to hone in your photography skills. And you gave justice to her camera with great photos of her.

    • If you are passing through next summer, you must explore those first three mining stops… easy peasy for the CRV. You’d also enjoy the Fallini CG at the Mackay Reservoir. Supposedly there’s some great hiking trails on the north side of the highway but we were work camping way too much and never had the opportunity to tackle any trails, much to my disappointment. The town is also super cute.
      I always enjoy my photographic outings with a friend 😉

  9. Very cool, having just been through that area we can really appreciate this post. There is so much history to explore in that area we are going to have to go back someday.

    • After hanging in Idaho for two months, I was missing my beloved Colorado and in July we had those wheels rolling into my former home state. Love Colorado’s western slope and the San Juans with all those back country roads filled with history.

  10. This looked like a perfect day! I love driving these back roads discovering new areas. And old mines are a favorite place that I love to poke around. You found a great site!! An 8 holer…what a find! Of course the beautiful snow kissed mountains surrounding your on your journey only made the day even better. Thanks for sharing this area:) A new idea for our list!

    How nice that you were able to share some adventures with Rachael. Love the lava tubes:) Cute photos of Rachael:)

    • You two would love Jeeping this area. There’s also a ton of interesting hiking that I was itching to try but we were working a tad too much. The history, the views, and humorous tidbits make for plenty of entertainment in this remote part of Idaho. I think you’d also enjoy the campground at the Mackay res.
      Rachael will be moving to Sedona soon and we’re already planning another photographic get together!

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