The Leader of the Ghost Town
Yet another big burly guy, this one advertising loud and clear that he needs no company. His hat says, “Welcome to Rocky Bar. Now go home” and his t-shirt says, “I’m not just antisocial, I’m really unfriendly.” Not taking no for an answer, Dean, Mike and I enthusiastically jump on the poor guy, thirsty for any story that would explain why anybody would choose to live in a ghost town. Rocky Bar in the Trinity Mountains is a place with a three-season population of seven at best, and a 70 mile ride to the next paved road to the north, 90 to the west, 40 to the south, none to the east, and is snow locked in winter.
It turns out Steve’s first visit to Rocky Bar was in 1964 with his foster family. He’s been back every year since, staying about eight months each time. He has two active mining claims on James Creek. To keep them active, the law requires that he spend a minimum of 200 hours a year working on the claim not just panning for gold but upkeep, maintenance, etc. Over the years he’s panned enough gold to buy a nice house in Boise and a new truck. He showed us a nugget that he had recently found.
When it comes to the area, he’s a history nut and since an early age has amassed a considerable collection of memorabilia — photos, Chinese coins, deeds, furniture, accessories, which he now displays in the tiny house that his foster parents lent him. He may be able to win the award for the Tiniest Museum in the USA.
He knows a great deal of juicy details about the Sawtooth area. At one time Rocky Bar had a 100-room hotel, mail service (by ski in the winter), churches and more. The hotel caught fire and burnt one third of the town. But this town never had a long future. Eventually it went bust because there was not enough water to process the ore … a “golden” opportunity for a one-man operation like Steve. So here he is, all alone panning for gold and – in spite of himself – giving the few visitors who brave the surrounding trails a friendly welcome.