The Land Of Yankee Fork State Park protects several historic gold rush sites in central Idaho that are well worth checking out. The land along Yankee Fork River once was a major placer gold producing area and a few old lode mines can be found in the surrounding mountains. Points of interest in this Idaho State Park include the ghost towns of Bayhorse, Bonanza and Custer City. The Yankee Fork Dredge and the Challis Bison Kill Site are also featured in this park, so a complete tour will likely require more than one day to accomplish. There are few modern accommodations in this region, so for those who prefer to tour at a casual pace, camping in the neighboring National Forests is the best option for an overnighter.
The Yankee Fork Dredge, Bonanza and Custer City are all located along the Yank Fork River Road, so these three historic sites can easily be experienced in one day. All three of these places are historically interconnected and there are several information placards along the dirt road travel route that provide insight. Custer City has a museum that depicts the entire Yankee Fork gold rush history in detail and plenty of information about Bonanza can be found here.
The Bonanza Ghost Town originated as a true settlement back in 1877 and not just an old mining site camp. The land was cleared and lots were marketed to to the local miners who were practically living like mountain men back in the early days. Just the thought of a civilized town popping up in in this vast wilderness was enough to make the community plan a success and nearly all of the lots were sold in a short time. In fact, the prospectors were so eager to reap the benefits of city life that they stopped mining operations to help build the town. Soon there were general stores, hotels and saloons, which firmly etched Bonanza on the map. All good things come to an end and the wildfire of 1889 nearly razed the town to the ground. After the fire, most of the Bonanza residents moved to the neighboring Custer City, where life continued till gold prices plummeted.
The Yankee Fork Dredge entered the picture long after the original prospectors acquired their wealth and the old original mining camp towns were abandoned. The dredge was first dreamed up as an economic driver and the plan was set into action in 1939. The Yankee Fork River dredging operations ran for about 12 years before the project was deemed as being unfeasible due to a drop in gold prices. The Yankee Fork Dredge produced several million dollars of gold, but it turned a long stretch of the river into an environmental disaster area. Restoration projects were started several decades ago and the cleanup is still underway.
The Yankee Fork Dredge is very well preserved and it is open for public touring, while the river restoration project is equally as interesting to see. The remnants of the Bonanza and Custer City Ghost Towns are just a little further down the mountain forest dirt road, which means these historic sites can all be experienced during one venture and the complete story will be easier to comprehend. Why hydraulic placer mining and dredging are dinosaurs of the past is easy to understand while viewing the environmental disaster area. The Land Of Yankee Fork State Park certainly is an educational experience for visitors of all ages, so be sure to chalk this historic destination high on the list!
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