When legendary Idaho loner Richard "Dugout Dick" Zimmerman died in 2010, his famous junk caves were boarded up and the property was taken over by the Bureau of Land Management. His trash huts, cut into the rocky cliffsides outside of Elk Bend, were fashioned from dented car hoods, rusting chicken wire and treadless tires that Zimmerman had scavenged from the area since the late '40s.
Billy O. Flynn, known by many as Queen of the Caves, lived in one of those post-apocalyptic, off-the-grid dwellings with her dogs and loaded pistol off and on for 20 years, sliding Dugout Dick $20 a month.
"I haven't been allowed in here since they told me I had to leave," Flynn said in a recent interview with Searching for Quartzburg. "I about cried on the way here."
Searching For Quartzburg is an audio and photo documentary project led by local artist Rachel Reichert, photographer Seth Ogilvie and audio engineer Eric Bower. The trio spent two days with Flynn, recording stories and snapping chilling photos of half-empty water jugs and UFO Files books scattered around her dusty former abode. In a raspy, lightly Midwest accent, she described warding off predatory strangers with a flash of her gun.
"You've gotta kind take care of yourself. You've gotta be pretty much prepared for whatever's gonna happen to you," said Flynn. "I've had some crazy people come through here."
Flynn is one of approximately 20 "dreamers, visionaries, eccentrics, hermits and those who live outside of mankind's self-imposed boundaries" that SFQ plans to document in Idaho.
"I grew up in Idaho, so I've always been really fascinated with people who have that sort of individualist mentality. I have family members who live off the grid," explained Reichert. "Originally, [SFQ] was going to be photography and a series of wearable lockets. It sort of evolved into an audio project and ... it's still evolving."
Searching for Quartzburg was born during a road trip Reichert and Ogilvie took in search of the small town of Placerville outside of Silver City. After making several wrong turns, the pair eventually stumbled upon a lonely forest service worker living in a camper who told them about the "fabled city of Quartzburg."
"I realized that this dead end was far more interesting than anything on the right path," Ogilvie wrote at, searchingforquartzburg.com. "This man was a wormhole to the unknown, he could be a poet warrior, a fugitive on the lamb [sic], an artist in exile or a snake oil salesman, and even though I feared I may be raped and/or killed he was far more interesting than the plethora of right decisions we had made earlier that day."
In Reichert's opinion, the project is about seeking out stories and personal histories from characters she couldn't even begin to conjure up in her imagination.
"The idea is that we're searching for something that we're either never going to find or that it'll be totally romanticized even if we do find it ... We decided Searching for Quartzburg was a perfect title because the people that we're interviewing are the people that we also romanticize on some level."
But that romantic vision also has an inherent pitfall. Loners, by nature, want to be alone.
"I think the fundamental problem with the project is that we're involved in a dichotomy. We want to talk to people that don't want to be talked to. So that inherently sets up a major problem for us," said Ogilvie. "But I think once you've talked to enough people in little communities, you start getting leads."
Currently, the trio's travels across the state and some snippets of their audio field recordings are documented on their blog, searchingforquartzburg.com. But that's not the final format these tales will take.
"The blog is just a reference for us, for whatever the end product will be," said Bower, who linked up with SFQ as an audio engineer after it was founded. "It's also to keep people motivated and excited about it. It's not the final product. That's not the end-all."
The website also features a handful of other profiles--a roadside poet evangelist, a family who runs an exotic hunting preserve, a hermit nun and an Elvis impersonator who crafts his own costumes and performs regularly at Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home.
"We try really hard to make these people not shown in an exploitive light," explained Reichert, "because I think it's a very thin line, and we're trying to bring a sense of beauty to their lives."
Ogilvie added: "I think, as opposed to bringing beauty to it, it's when you can see the beauty in what they're doing ... I think inherently they are beautiful people."
Recently, Searching for Quartzburg received a BW Cover Auction Grant to pay for room, gas, board and post-production expenses as they explore unique personalities living in the North Idaho panhandle. The trio hopes to have the project mostly completed by the beginning of 2012 but that all depends on their subjects.
"All these people are such individuals--look at the Elvis guy, who would've thought that person even existed? How do you define boundaries around these people? They kind of define them for us in a way," said Bower. "We're open to ideas and to people that we encounter, but we can't pick out who they're going to be until we meet the person."