Mackay Mine Hill, Idaho
The Mackay Mine Hill tour is one of the most incredible places I went to this summer. It is a very loosely organized network of dirt roads above the town of Mackay Idaho. These roads - some of which are very primitive - circle around an old mining district that includes several abandoned mines, mills and a few abandoned mining camps/ghost towns. It's not really a "hill". Mackay Peak is over 10,000 feet tall. The town of Mackay is at 5,905 and some of the sites on the tour are well above 8,000 feet. If you don't feel like pushing your vehicle 2,000 feet up primitive dirt roads, you can still enjoy some of the sites on the tour. The Compressor plant (pictured above) is very easy to get to. White Knob townsite, the aerial tramway head house (pictured below) and the Taylor Sawmill are also easy to get to. Beyond that the roads are challenging.
A self guide map and brochure for the Mine Hill tour is available in Mackay at a tourist information and parking area next to downtown. The parking area is recently developed and has an information kiosk, flush toilets and picnic tables. The Mine Hill tour was "developed" by a consortium of local historical societies, the town of Mackay, the BLM and the NFS. The development of the tour is limited to a few informational signs at the most important sites. There seems to be some road maintenance on the main road up the hill but little or no maintenance on the roads further into the tour. There are no bathrooms or other facilities on the mine hill. The handout map identifies the conditions of the roads along the tour. I disagree with with the assertion that the final segment of the Green Route is okay for low clearance vehicles. The loop portion of this road and points beyond require a high clearance vehicle and preferably a 4 wheel drive. In addition to steep boulder strewn, one lane roads there are places on the road where debris from former structures litters the roadway. Be careful. There are boards with nails in them and metal scrap on the roadway that could easily puncture tires. The drive to the Cliff City townsite and smelter requires extreme caution and a very sturdy vehicle. I also suspect that some of the signs along the tour might have been moved by pranksters.
Lack of development was my favorite thing about the Mine Hill tour. You're on your own. None of the buildings are off limits. There are no "do not enter" or "no trespassing" signs. You will only be restricted by your vehicle and or your willingness to hike. There were a few people besides myself taking the tour when I visited in 2014 but not many. Even if you only go to the most accessible sites you should plan to spend several hours on the "hill".
From the brochure: "Mackay's Mine Hill is the most significant part of the Alder Creek Mining District. Ore was first discovered in 1879, meaningful production began in 1884 and ore was mined into the 1980s." Copper was the most significant metal pulled from the mines by volume. Piles of green colored, copper bearing ore are still scattered around the area. Significant quantities of silver, gold, lead and zinc were also pulled from the mines. Most of the structures on the hill were built in the early 1900s. Mining activity tapered to almost nothing after the 1940s.
The Aerial Tramway was built in 1918 to carry ore from the mines down to the smelter in Mackay. It replaced an earlier railroad. Today it is the most prominent structure on the hill. Along with the massive headhouse, supports for the tramway are visible in several locations on the hill.
White Knob was the largest town on the Mine Hill and reached a population of close to 1,000 in the 1910s. White Knob was empty by the 1930s and very little survives today.
Compressor Building: In the early 1900s all of the equipment in the mine was powered by compressed air. The compressor building was constructed in 1917 to house massive boilers that powered the compressors. This is the first large ruin you encounter on the tour. The sealed Cossack Tunnel is next to the compressor building.
There are 17 points of interest on the Mine Hill tour brochure in addition to the three listed above. I can't find an electronic copy of that brochure online at the moment but I have a paper copy. If anyone is interested I could potentially scan and post it here. Here is a local copy of the BLM map of the tour.