Motojournal No. 5: Silver City and Cow Creek

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I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but in my 28 years in Idaho, I had never visited Silver City until this past weekend. With the trip now under my belt, my shame has turned to guilt for having missed out on this alpine treasure for all those years.

The Owyhee Mountains are bitchin' and Silver City is no exception. One of the most historic towns in the West, Silver City is nestled against a beautiful backdrop that many Boiseans wrongly assume is an extension of the desolate desert landscape to the south of Grand View, Murphy or Melba. This isn't really the case.

The aptly named, retired mining town sits adjacent to steep green and red grassy canyons, lush high alpine forest, stoic rocky peaks, crystal blue streams, and yes, the desert several thousand feet below.

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The surrounding area is an outdoorsman's candy store, with endless hiking, trail riding, dirt biking and exploring options available. I came in from the Jordan Valley, Ore., side, which can take you to Succor Creek and the epic scenery of Leslie Gulch should you choose to head further west.

Getting There:
Leaving Boise around 2 p.m, I mounted the newest member of the family (not how/what you're thinking): a dirt worthy Kawasaki KLR 650 dual sport motorcycle I have affectionately named Geronimo. Riding west to Nampa, then south on Highway 95 through Southern Idaho's bustling wine country, I crossed the Oregon border about 60 miles from Boise. About 10 miles into Oregon—just past the Succor Creek turnoff—signage on the east side of the highway points towards Silver City by way of Cow Creek Road. The sign reads 25 miles from this point, although you can also come in from the Jordan Valley side, via Trout Creek.

(Note: The common route to Silver City is from Murphy, Idaho, and is in generally good condition. I chatted with an elderly couple in a minivan who had no problems with the road from the Idaho side. The scenery from the Oregon side is well worth the added mileage, but should be done in a vehicle with adequate ground clearance. Substantial rainfall the day before made for a muddy run of things, so check weather before attempting this route.)

About five miles out Cow Creek Road, the nicely buffed gravel road turned a little rough. Several creek crossings later, and the scenery began to change drastically.

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Rolling range land turned to a sea of dead conifers before dropping into the river valley up to Silver City.
Rocky spires rise out of steep canyon forests as the road continues its gnarly progression.

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As you enter the recreation area surrounding Silver City, you start to finally come across some signs of civilization.

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Open from Memorial Day until early October—weather permitting—the durable, super-historic relic of Silver City is frozen in the 1860s. The old hotel and restaurant are the main hub of the town, and the locals are some of the friendliest I've met in my travels. A lady at a local souvenir store offered me new socks when she noticed that my lower half had been soaked from the day's creek crossings. Everyone I met was authentic, sociable and cordial.

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The only signs of modern society (apart from vehicle traffic) to be found anywhere in Silver City are the solar panels that power the majority of residences and businesses.

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According to the folks I talked to, weekends in the summer are fairly busy, with the biggest crowds gathering on holidays. This fall, residents are hosting several events to raise funds to pay for the town's watchman and volunteer fire program. More information can be found at historicsilvercityidaho.com.

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If you feel like going further, the South Fork of the Owyhee River to the south, and Jarbidge, Nev., to the southeast offer some excellent exploration options.

Total Distance: 166 miles, 45 on dirt


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