A hike back to 1910
Last week Kyle, Juneau and I set out to go hike outside of Wallace. As we drove over the pass heading east, the already dark, smoky sky continued to become more dense, filling our car with the smell of smoke. About halfway to Kellogg we made the call to turn around and go back home – not wanting to expose ourselves to more smoke than absolutely necessary.
This isn’t the first time our area has been under siege by wildfire, and it certainly won’t be the last. But as bad as the air quality seems, it is probably minimal in comparison to the wildfires of 1910, which burned more than 3 million acres of Idaho, Montana and Washington. What is now referenced as the Big Burn, or also the Big Blowup, was a culmination of several wildfires fed by extremely dry conditions and nearly hurricane-force winds. The smoke affected areas as far east as Boston (learn more here).
It seemed only fitting that we pay homage to those who fought for their lives and town during the 1910 fires by hiking the Pulaski Tunnel Trail just outside the mining town of Wallace, Idaho.
Coincidentally, Kyle and I have been reading a book by Timothy Egan called The Big Burn. The book tells the tale of the fires, Teddy Roosevelt’s creation of protected public lands, and all the players involved in establishing our forest service. One of the major story threads follows Ed Pulaski, a ranger in Wallace who led a crew of 45 men out to battle the fires in an attempt to save the town from burning.
Ed and his crew had to retreat and survived by taking refuge in a mining shaft along Placer Creek. He saved the lives of all but six of his men, threatening to shoot any man that attempted to retreat back out into the blaze.
The Pulaski Tunnel Trail
Part of the trail Ed and his crew took to the mine shaft is now preserved and named in his honor. The two-mile trail follows Placer Creek, leading back into beautiful, dense forest which hides most of the evidence of the fires from 107 years ago. However, if you look carefully, signs of the fires do still exist.
The first half-mile or so is paved, accessible and easy to walk for anyone. The tale of Pulaski’s crew is told on signs throughout the hike, with landmarks called out for reference. The trail ends at a lookout across from the mine where the crew took refuge.
It was crazy to stand across from the Nicholson mine and think about the men trapped in there for days while their homes and land burned to the ground, not knowing if they would still have a family to go home to. With the haze of residual wildfire smoke lingering in the trees, I felt the impact of their bravery and grateful to the firefighters who are battling similar fires throughout the west today. They are not only protecting us, but the lands that those who came before us worked so hard to preserve for posterity.
Thank you to our wildland firefighters, may you all go home safe.