Yankee Fork Gold Area
Sunbeam Dam on Salmon River below Sawtooth National Recreaton Area, Idaho
Sunbeam Dam on Salmon River below Sawtooth National Recreaton Area, Idaho
Yankee Fork area map

Continuing down the Salmon River from the Sawmill Mountains Recreation Area on July 3, 1997, I stopped to see the Sunbeam Dam the only dam ever constructed on the Salmon River.

In 1881, Ebenezer Cunningham, an officer of the Consolidated Yankee Fork Gravel Mining Co., built a small log store at the present site of Sunbeam. In 1910, the Sunbeam Consolidated Gold Mining Co. constructed a dam across the Salmon River to generate electrical power for the Sunbeam Mine on Jordan Creek.

However, the company went bankrupt in 1911, and the power plant was abandoned. In 1934, the rock cliff on the south side of the dam was breached to permit the return of salmon and steelhead to the spawning beds on the upper Salmon River.

Left the highway and headed north to Bonanza, Idaho, another old mining town, on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River.

A few log buildings standing at Bonanza.

Nearby was the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge which has been fixed up and is open for tours.

It was donated to the Forest Service. Information here.

Information about Bonanza and Custer and a video about the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge here.

In the early 1930's several placer miners joined together to form a company to see if they could get someone interested in dredging their claims on the Yankee Fork. From 1940 until it closed in August of 1952, the dredge dug out rock and recovered gold by washing and separating the rock, dirt and gold. The dredge has not been operated since 1952 and it remains the largest self-powered dredge ever to operate in Idaho.

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, Idaho
Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, Idaho
Bucket Line, Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, Idaho
Bucket Line, Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, Idaho

In 1979, the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge Association was chartered by former employees and their families who have restored the dredge and it is open for guided tours. This fascinating tour is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Nearby are picnic areas, fishing in the dredge ponds and streams, campgrounds, hiking, wildlife viewing, and the historic town sites of Bonanza and Custer.

Click for more Yankee Fork Gold Dredge.

A short distance up the river is the historic mining town of Custer City, named after the infamous General Custer. It came into being about 1879 and had a population of 600 in 1896. By 1910 all the mines had closed. A number of buildings have been preserved/restored and it is an interesting mining history site.

Five Stamp Mill, Custer City, Idaho
Five Stamp Mill, Custer City, Idaho
Historic Mining Town, Custer City, Idaho
Historic Mining Town, Custer City, Idaho

In 1990, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation joined the Forest Service in managing Custer. This led to the establishment of the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park and Historic Area.

Click for more Custer City.

Found a completely empty campground a few miles up the river which was free. A couple more people showed up later. Thought the July 4 weekend might make things a bit crowded but this campground is sort of off the main track and not on the river. Was a busy and interesting day.

Custer Motorway

On July 4, 1997 I continued up the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River on what is known as the Custer Motorway (Forest Road 070) which follows pretty much an old toll road route.

Pretty forest, meadows, some flowers, a few snow patches, a little rough in spots. Stopped on the 8700+' summit and talked to a couple of Forest Service people. More Custer Motorway Information.

The mining camps of Bonanza and Custer were already established before any roads came into the Yankee Fork area. Pack trains brought supplies in and took gold and silver ore out to Challis, charging 20 cents per pound for their loads. In 1879, Fred Myers and Alexander Topance constructed a 35-mile road over two steep summits to link Bonanza and Challis. The road proved a boon to the growth of Bonanza and Custer.

Several stopping places were operated along the way since the trip from Bonanza to Challis took at least two days. A toll was charged until 1889, when the construction of a new road along the Salmon River from the mouth of the Yankee Fork provided a new and easier link to Challis.

Traveling along this historic road, you can still see remains of the Eleven Mile Barn, Fannie's Upper Hole and the Toll Gate.

Check out this Custer Motorway trip blog and this Custer Motorway Guide.

Arrived in Challis, Idaho about noon just as their Fourth of July parade was starting down main street. I was behind the parade so just parked and walked down and back - got to see the parade twice.

Typical small town parade - volunteer fire department, kids, a few businesses, etc.