Sometimes as a full-timer, you hit the road with a plan that might lack a few details like where you will spend the night. And when you are driving a 36 foot motorhome, you can’t exactly do stealth camping. You will be seen. We left Washington for Montana, thinking we would boondock our two nights on the road. For those unfamiliar with the term, boondock generally means camping with no hook ups. The best boondocking is in the middle of a national forest with no neighbors and a beautiful trees or a lake nearby. At the other end of the spectrum is at the parking lot of a Walmart and Cracker Barrel, also known as mooch docking.
For this particular trip, we found a delightful Harvest Hosts the first night, a brewery in Cle Elum, OR. The plan was to then head closer to our destination and find land to boondock in nature. However, after our night in Cle Elum during the historic Northwest heatwave, we realized that air conditioning was important for a good night’s sleep. With much of the Northwest seeing triple digits, our small bedroom window and fan were not doing the trick of keeping us cool.
Finding Wallace, ID
We stopped at a rest area across the Idaho border, hoping a last-minute cancellation would grant us the night at one of the many nearby campgrounds. When they all reported being full, we started calling every campground along I-90 across Idaho. Just as we were thinking that Cracker Barrel was our best bet and we would have to suffer one more night, Steve at a campground in Wallace called back to say they had a spot and were only 45 minutes away. Yeah!! My husband was thrilled as he lives by the saying – “Happy wife, happy life” or in this case, “Cooler wife, happy life.”
All we knew about the camp was they had electricity and we knew nothing about Wallace, ID. As we pulled into the camp, a narrow campground right along the river, we were delighted to see the campground was part of a brewery and restaurant. We also quickly learned that this must be a great off-roading area. Nearly every campsite included one to three ATVs with people of all ages riding them. Our neighbors confirmed this when they shared that this area of Idaho is nearly 92% BLM with miles of logging roads that criss cross and create incredible off-roading. In addition, the 72 mile Trail of the Couer D’Alenes bike path, which follows an old train route, was adjacent to our campground. The trail connects Mullan, ID near the Montana border to Plummer, ID on the Washington border so bicyclists can ride across Idaho.
North Idaho Mountain Brew
After the long day, we quickly covered the easy 50 yard walk to refreshments. The buildings were once the home of a produce distributor so a freight elevator was center stage of the North Idaho Mountain Brew, which has the motto “brewing one great beer at a time.” Amanda, who quickly got us our beers, said the Honey Loft, a strong pale ale, is the most popular.
They had a full board of options including an Amber that Barry liked and the Jackass Juicy that was more my taste. One of their beers, the Pulaski Porter is named after one of the heroes of the 1910 Big Burn. This fire, which burned a third of the town and 3 million acres in a few days, established beer in Wallace. The local water was ruined by ash so for three days, the local authorities restricted everyone from drinking anything but beer. Perhaps they also thought it would ease the pain of so much loss!
We met Matt Burmeister, the son in this father and son brewing business. Dad Mark was a home brewer before they bought the place in 2010. Now they make about 700-800 barrels each year and distribute a few hundred gallons to restaurants in the Silver Valley. When I asked him how they sustain business during winter in this area, he told us that the nearby skiing mountains bring folks in during the winter. He also mentioned that the Silver Valley area, which includes several towns, is a close knit community and many locals visit often.
As we chatted, we noted a gentleman bring in a red solo cup which was promptly filled with an adult beverage before he left. When we questioned Matt about this, he mentioned that a loophole in the local open container law allowed beverages in a red solo cup. I asked if the lawmakers had shares of red solo, but he wasn’t sure how this little loophole had evolved.
Colorful and Historic Wallace
This is just one piece of Wallace’s colorful past. Since 1884, more than 1.2 billion ounces of silver has been produced from the nearby silver mines. Hotels, bars, and restaurants sprang up to serve the many miners who had pay to spend. Of course, miners coming to town also are looking for companionship with their refreshments. Bordellos soon became some of the most profitable businesses and in many cases, the most charitable.
The local law turned a blind eye to the business, knowing how important the miners and silver were to the local economy. One bordello, the Oasis, run by Madame Ginger, was one of the most charitable, giving generously from the millions they earned annually. She once bought all the needed uniforms for the local high school band. Madame Ginger learned that the FBI planned to raid her business in 1988, so she gathered her girls and left in the night. They left so quickly that all their belongings, furnishings and even food in the refrigerator were left behind. They, and most of Wallace, likely expected their return after the feds left. However, the FBI stuck around for several years, investigating the sheriff on account of that blind eye. He was acquitted when they could find no witnesses to testify of his corruption.
In 1993, the bordello was bought with all items inside intact and turned into a museum. Mannequins posed as the ladies and tours are given of the various rooms. Sadly, it was closed when we visited.
A small town of about nine blocks by four blocks, Wallace is easy to walk and the downtown area is minutes from the campground. We walked about a third of a mile to have breakfast at the Brooks Hotel, where Amanda, the daughter, of this multi-generational family business, served us. She shared a few stories about the history of this town including that of Mr. Brooks who bought the hotel and a lot of other properties in the 1980s and re-named several building for himself. Amanda’s grandfather managed the hotel buildings for Mr. Brooks and eventually bought it. The Brooks Hotel was only one of the many historic buildings on the walking tour of Wallace.
In fact, Wallace is one of only four towns in the USA listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another benefactor of the town fought for this designation in order to thwart the government from building I-90 through the center of town. When he won, the town got its reprieve and the highway was elevated to bypass Wallace.
This is a city with a sense of humor and lots of colorful characters. In 2004, the mayor declared Wallace the Center of the Universe and put up a “monument” to prove it. In the middle of the main street, you will find a manhole that states Wallace to be the Center of the Universe. Based on what,? Well, can you prove it isn’t?
This is one of the wonderful aspects of RVing. Sometimes you stumble into a treasure that you didn’t even know you wanted to find. There is much more we could have done in Wallace including silver mine tours and a visit to the other brewery in town, but we were limited in time. Next time we are in the area, we know to make a point to visit. And we hope that you will stop on your way as well and let Matt at North Idaho Mountain Brew know we sent you. Order a Loft Honey and let me know what you think.