Oct. 26, 2016

8. Descend into a Silver Mine

I told you there were a lot of things to do in Wallace….here is another one! This was pretty exciting. My great grandfather was a coal miner over in West Virginia many many eons ago. As hard as I tried I just couldn’t imagine what that would be like. However, when I saw this bucket list item pop up on my list, I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

The area around Wallace is known as the Silver Capital of the World. Many mines dot the Silver Valley surrounding Wallace and through 2010 the district produced metals valued at over $6.6 billion. According to Wallace history, 1.2 billion ounces of silver have been produced in mines from this valley and people are still working the mines where another billion ounces of silver is thought to be waiting for extraction. The Sierra Silver Mine is a decommissioned silver mine outside of Wallace. When it was first decommissioned they used it to train high school kids about mining…a lot like shop class, but in a mine…with really cool tools…and a hat with a light. In 1982 they decided to put it on tour and let people get a feel for mining from the inside out.

To go on the tour you need to stop at the Sierra Silver Mine Tour Shop in downtown Wallace. From there you ride a trolley out to the site of the mine. The trolley ride is a great experience. Our trolley driver, Dennis, was brilliant. We were one packed trolley. I think everyone wanted to get the tour in before the summer ended so every seat (and a couple of laps) were taken. I got to sit up with Dennis. I was feeling pretty special until he told me he figured I could hold on better than the others so he put me in the smaller, bumpier seat. I’m actually glad he did. Dennis led us through town giving us tidbits all about Wallace’s colorful history on the way to the mine. He told us about all the buildings in town being on the historic registry and how the town mayor declared it the undisputed Center of the Universe. The trolley even had a name….Ollie. Ollie was a San Francisco trolley before relocating to Wallace many years ago.

About 15 minutes later, we pulled up to the Sierra Silver Mine and met Wally. We told Dennis we would see him when he picked us up and Ollie trolled on down the road. Hello Wally! Now Wally is a miner with a big personality. With over 50 years of experience and 34 years doing tours, he is salty, smiley and loves to take funny pictures with everyone in their hard hats. After fitting us all with hard hats, Wally introduced us to some tools, told us stories about mine collapses (completely freaking out a few), and then, after reminding the tall people to duck, took us down into the mine.

The mine has been around since about 1900. It was dark, wet and SO cool! Wally showed us all types of mining tools. He even ran a few of them. We heard stories about how mining works, when it doesn’t, miner safety, and why the mine has a bird. (You will have to go ask Wally.) We went pretty far down there, but the mine was wide so it wasn’t bad at all. I was glad for the lights though. Wally turned the lights off so we could see how dark it was…it was dark! Ever horror movie I have ever seen flashed through my mind in those few moments. Yeah…I don’t think I will be taking up mining anytime soon.

Location: Wallace, Idaho. Take I-84 out of Boise headed toward Oregon for 252 miles. Take Exit 179 for I-82 toward Umatilla for 30 miles. Take Exit 113 for US-395 for 7 miles. Then take the US-12/US-395 Exit toward Spokane, Washington. Keep left and merge onto I-183 E. Continue onto US-395 for 74 miles. Merge onto I-90 E (entering back into Idaho). After 139 miles take Exit 61 toward Wallace.
Address of the Mine Office: 420 5th St. / 208-752-5151
Website: Silverminetour.org

Cost: Adults $15.00 / Seniors (60+) $13.00 / Children (4-16) $8.50 / Children under 4 Free
Group rates available for 10 or more people with advance reservation.
School field trips and children’s activity groups receive a special rate with advance purchase.
AAA discount

Hours: Open 7 days a week from May 1st through October 12th every year.
June – August 10 am to 4 pm
May and September 10 am – 2 pm
New tours leave very ½ hour. First tour departs at 10 am and the last departs at 4 pm.
Tour length is 1 hour and 15 minutes

Lodging and Dining: As I have mentioned before there is so much to do in Wallace you might want to stay a couple of days. There are plenty of motels, B&Bs, campgrounds, restaurants, etc. around town.

Special Notes: Kids will love it. It’s an explorers dream. No Pets. If you have any difficulty walking, make sure someone helps you as some of the way is uneven and wet. There is disability access, just ask when you sign up.

It’s cold in the mine so wear a light jacket and comfortable shoes. Bring the camera! There are lots of things to take pictures of and Wally is a photo hog! Be sure to pick up a souvenir at the shop when Ollie drops you off and thank Dennis for the great stories.

I’ll leave you with a funny Wally shared. He said he would like to join us for a drink…but he was a miner. Let that sink in. 