Sep. 9, 2016

93. Custer and Bonanza Ghost Towns

I heard an interesting story while visiting Custer Ghost Town. Back in the day Custer winters were pretty rough. Apparently it was so cold that many residents brought their farm animals in for the winter. In their homes! One miner had a pig he was sharing his domicile with and that pig escaped into the snow during a particularly awful snowstorm. The snow was so deep a grown man couldn’t see over the pile up. Well, what do you do when your pig runs into the snow? You follow it of course! So, into the snow went the pig owner. By the time he located his pig he realized he couldn’t see his cabin over the snow and the pig didn’t know where to go either. To make a long story short, he found that by sitting on his pig he could see over the snow and located the path to the cabin. Then he RODE THE PIG out of the snow and back home.

Custer if full of interesting stories like that. Bonanza is located just a few miles down the road from Custer and both their histories are intermixed. The Bonanza graveyard holds past residents of both towns. I am assuming their ghosts kinda go back and forth. I didn’t see any ghosts but really enjoyed getting to know the histories of the towns.

Bonanza is in extreme disrepair. There are only a few buildings remaining. However, the National Historical Society of Idaho is working on a plan to restore the town and bring the history back to life. The Historical Society has already done that with Custer and it is amazing!

You can visit Custer at any time, but during the winter it is very difficult to reach. Because of the winter conditions the town is basically ‘put away’ for the winter so that there is no damage done to the many historical items throughout the buildings and outdoors. I met Dan and Zora, the summer caretakers of Custer while I was there. They are from the area and during the summer they stay in Custer facilitating everything and educating the visitors. Dan mostly keeps the museum up and running. He is happy to share stories about the many museum treasures and outbuildings. Zora handles the General Store. She tells some amazing stories herself about the town. If you get up there be sure to ask her about the history. The stories are fantastic! They spend the winters down in Arizona, but are always back in time to get the town up and running in the spring. You have to ask Zora about how the town prostitutes took care of the sick and donated their old dresses to make clothes for the town children. She is a gifted storyteller.

Location: These ghost towns are located just outside of Stanley. Leaving Boise, from I-84 take Exit 46 (Eagle Exit) toward Eagle ID-55. Then Take ID-55 for 34 miles. Take a right on Banks/Lowman Rd. Go 33 miles into Lowman. Turn left onto ID-21 N. Go 58 miles. Take a left on ID-75 N and go approximately 11 miles. Turn left on Yankee Fork Road at the SunBeam Resort. The road starts out paved, but turns into a well maintained gravel road. Bonanza is about 8.5 miles down the road on the left. You really need to pay attention here. There are signs, but the buildings are hard to see because of the disrepair. Further down the road you will pass a historic gold dredge that you can actually tour. The hours are 10-5. Custer is two miles further up the road.

Cost: There is no cost to visit either location. There is a self-guided walking tour available in Custer at no cost.

Lodging: This is a great location to spend a weekend because of its proximity to fishing, rafting, camping, and all sorts of outdoor adventures! The mountains are beautiful!

SunBeam Village Resort: 208-838-2211 / RV and Ten Camping / Lodge and Cabins / Restaurant / General Store (doubles as a grocery store) / Contact resort for pricing
Yankee Fork Retreat: 208-589-4493 / Cabin and Bunkhouse / Contact retreat for pricing
**If you wish to stay in Stanley, there are many hotels/lodges/motels available. **

Camping: Custer Campground / Located 2 miles past Custer. Tent and RV parking. $10 a day
** There are many primitive camping sites around the area, particularly on Yankee Fork Road. These sites are free to camp. **

Fishing: This is located right near the Salmon River so there are many fishing locations. Along Yankee Fork Road I saw many pockets of water with people fishing. Imagine the fishing is pretty good up there.

Special Notes: Bring the kids and the pets. There is so much to do up there. It’s a great place to have a family vacation. When touring Custer you will need to keep the pets on a leash, but the kids can roam free as long as they keep their fingers off the old stuff.

I plan on returning next summer to hike the area around the towns. It was so beautiful and imagining how difficult it was for the early settlers made it that much more interesting. If you make it over that way be sure to tell Zora and Dan I said hello.