Soul Searching along the Weiser River Trail

They say some things happen for a reason. I’m not so sure if it’s by chance, fate, or even luck that my full-time home is located in a beautiful little valley not far from the Weiser River Trail. This recreation trail is located in a lovely part of Idaho just east of the Idaho-Oregon border and near the deepest river gorge in North America, Hells Canyon.

It also just so happens that some of the places along and near the Weiser River Trail are former homes of some of my ancestors. From the 1880s through the mid 1900s, a good number of my family on my dad’s side were born, married, died, and buried in towns and places near the trail. All of my immediate family moved away from this area years ago, my only connection to this place until recently was seeing a few old, faded black and white photographs.

First snow of the season mountain view just out our backdoor near the Weiser River Trail

The Weiser River Trail, a former Union Pacific Railway corridor, starts in the town of Weiser and runs northeast for about 84 miles. The trail will take you through the even smaller towns of Midvale, Cambridge, Goodrich, and Council before ending four miles west of the town of New Meadows near the Tamarack Saw Mill. The railway, built in 1898 and finished in 1911, brought growth to this part of Idaho with the boom of mining, cattle, sheep, farming, and logging.

Eventually the railroad closed for good. The Union Pacific Railroad deeded the abandoned railway in 1997 to the non-profit group the Friends of the Weiser River Trail under the 1983 Railbanking Act. This wonderful trail is also part of the Rails-to-Trails program and was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2010.

Just east of Cambridge a few miles away on Hwy 95 are the towns of Alpine and Indian Valley. This is where my family history near the trail begins. My great grandfather William Ross Lane was born in Alpine, Idaho in 1885. He was one of eight children of Martin Burton Lane and Sarah Cornelia Hoffman Lane. Bill Lane met Sadie Ethel Woods in Indian Valley, Idaho and they were married in Alpine in 1904. They eventually settled down in the nearby town of Goodrich and had three boys. Today, not much is left of the towns of Alpine or Indian Valley except for a few scattered farms, ranches, and abandoned buildings. In Alpine there’s a small general store and, behind it, the old one room Alpine School.

Great, great grandfather, Martin Burton Lane (born in 1854) came from Topeka, Kansas sometime between 1879 and 1885 and settled in the Alpine/Indian Valley area.

I’ve been cycling, walking, and running the 20-mile section of the Weiser River Trail between Cambridge and Council almost weekly this past late summer and early fall. This part of the trail is remote and away from roads. Spending time on the trail is a spiritual journey of sorts and gives me the feeling of going back in time to when life was much simpler and quieter. This feeling keeps drawing me back.

I’d guess the landscape alongside the trail hasn’t changed a lot since the railway began full operation in 1911. Most of the time you can see more wildlife and animal tracks than any signs of humans. I’ve come around a corner and have seen a herd of elk standing in the middle of the trail. We’ve seen a beautiful golden-brown black bear crossing the river, mule deer, coyotes, foxes, coveys of quail, chukar, grouse, wild turkeys, blue herons, tons of ducks, and, just recently, migrating Canada geese.

 

My husband and dog just outside Cambridge heading to Goodrich.
One of the 62 trestle crossings along the Weiser River Trail.
This is one of the rougher sections but is about as bad as it gets.

One of the many cattle control gates between Cambridge and Mesa Siding.

Big Valley Trestle, mile 43.5, just north of Cambridge.
The dreaded puncture weed or goat head plant slowly creeping onto the trail. If you see one of these vines, stop and carefully find the center then pull out from the roots and fling off the trail as far as possible. Cyclists (and dogs) will be grateful.

Grizzly Creek Trestle mile 46.1.
Elk and deer tracks are very common on the trail.
We met these two young college students on the trail. The one on the left goes to TVCC in Ontario and said he rides the trail weekly. His friend is a Japanese exchange student. On that day, they saw the exact same bear I did.
Well hello, Ms. Deer.
Black bear poo as big as my shoe! I’d hate to run into this bear, but luckily he was long gone.
Looks like cows have been crossing the Cow Creek Trestle.
Cool looking star shaped spike on one of the trestles.

One of my favorite sections of the Weiser River trail begins near the town of Goodrich, located about six miles west of Hwy 95 between Cambridge and Council. To access the Goodrich trailhead, you take a short drive on Goodrich Creek Road, a decent county dirt road. You can also get to Goodrich from Cambridge by driving past Mundo Hot Springs where the road then turns to dirt and heads north to Goodrich along rolling hills with beautiful views.

 

Trail head at Goodrich heading south to Cambridge.
Cattails near Goodrich trail head.
Goodrich Creek Trestle mile 49.6.
Goodrich trail head gate heading north to Mesa Siding with plenty of parking.

 The town of Goodrich was established in 1901 and was originally called “Milligan” until the named changed to Goodrich in 1912. My grandfather Lloyd Lane was born in Goodrich in 1910 and lived there most of his life. The one-room schoolhouse, still standing, was built in 1910. My Grandfather attended school in that building, along with his two older brothers Wilbert and Arnold.

Grandfather Lloyd Lane, uncle Wallace Lane and grandmother Margaret Brown Lane.
Connecting with the past and wondering about the hard but simple life of my family back in 1910 when the school was built.
Imagine the boys and girls sharpening their pencils and gazing up at the rolling hills, thinking about playing outside or working on the family farm after school.
Interesting collection of objects still inside the old Goodrich one-room school.
Goodrich, Idaho school.
Sarah Elizabeth Baker Woods.

Some of my family died in Goodrich. My great great grandmother Sarah Elizabeth Baker Woods died there in 1931. She is buried in the Indian Valley Cemetery alongside her husband Elijah Woods who died in 1904. My great grandfather William Ross Lane died in Goodrich in 1943. Towards the end of the Great Depression a lot of people in Goodrich lost their farms, including my grandfather Lloyd Lane. I suppose most people just eventually moved away because, in 1956, the school closed, and, the following year, the post office also closed. Today, about the only thing left in Goodrich is the one-room school house and a few private homes and ranches.

Steel Trestle north of Goodrich, heading south.

We drove out to Mesa Siding trailhead to explore the trail on foot. If you blink you might miss the trailhead right next to U.S. route 95 just past Mesa Siding Road between Mesa Orchards and Council on the left if you’re heading north. We walked the trail towards Goodrich and it was about 2 miles before running into the Weiser River. Back in 1908 they built a seven-mile-long wooden flume to carry water from the Weiser River up to the 1,400 acre apple orchard in Mesa that at one time was one of the biggest in the world and employed five hundred men, including my great grandfather William Jefferson Brown of my dad’s mothers side.

My grandfather Lloyd Lane (fourth from left), grandmother Margaret Brown Lane (fifth from the left), great-grandparents William Jefferson Brown and Elsie Lawrence Brown (far right) at Mesa Orchards.
My grandmother Maggie and dad Leo, 1939. Maggie was born in Fort Benton, Montana but grew up and went to school at Mesa Orchards.

In 1920, an aerial tramway, 3-1/2 miles in length, was constructed to transport thousands of boxes of apples from the orchard down to the railroad siding at Mesa to be loaded onto the trains. My dad was born in 1938 in one of the homes no longer standing in Mesa Orchards. He said that my great grandfather Brown worked in the orchards irrigating the trees, while his mom Margaret and grandmother Elsie Brown would sometimes take the train down to Weiser for shopping which, at the time, was the big city. What was once a very long car ride on rough roads was shortened to three hours in a passenger train car. My great grandmother Elsie Brown came to the United States from Scotland when she was 21 years old. Her plan was to visit her brother living in Montana for a few months but she never returned to Scotland again. In Montana, she met her future husband, got married and then they moved to Mesa Orchards. I wonder if the lush green rolling hills in the spring around Goodrich and Mesa reminded her of Scotland? I’ve been to Scotland a couple of times, and I think the landscapes Between Cambridge and Council in the spring time look a lot like the Scotland Highlands.

Trailhead at Mesa Siding next to Hwy 95.

 

Walking back to Mesa Siding on a hot, smoky September afternoon.
Mesa Siding Trestle, mile 56.1
Some of these cool old spike distance markers still remain.
Wild turkey track near Mesa, about the size of my hand.
We finally reached water. The Weiser River is a blessing for birds and wildlife on a hot summer day.

The Mesa Orchards remained in production until 1954 when a late frost froze 40,000 boxes of freshly picked apples, still under the trees. After our walk on the trail we drove up to Mesa Orchards, just a short side road off of 95. A few apple trees still dot the hillside with deer grazing underneath them. Just a handful of old homesteads are all that is left of this once thriving orchard. After the orchard’s closure, most people moved away from the area which probably coincides with the closure of the Goodrich School and post office in 1955 and 1956.

Grandpa and grandma Brown first moved to Council after the closure of the orchard then onto Grangeville, Idaho.

The Weiser River Trail is great for cycling, running, and walking. I’ve also seen people on horseback which looks like a fun and interesting way to travel. Since the trail is an old railway, the trail is flat with no hills to climb so it’s perfect for all ages. The dirt trail is fairly smooth and the cattle control gates on this section will make you stop every now and then to open and close them but I don’t mind since you can see more that way by taking your time.

 

Trail running on a lovely crisp fall day between Cambridge and Goodrich.
Girl’s best friend cools off after a nice trail run.
Mr. Fox near the trail.
Big herd of elk on the trail in the middle of the day.
The elk saw me and ran up and over the hill and onto the trail on the other side. I turned around and shortened my ride. These guys have a long cold winter coming up; no sense stressing them and pushing them further down the trail.

The entire Weiser River Trail system gets some visitors and is slowly getting noticed but it’s still a hidden gem that has yet to be discovered. The little towns along the way could use the boost in recreation dollars since these days they can’t entirely rely on ranching, farming, and logging. When we were researching places to move four years ago, the access and recreation on the Weiser River Trail definitely was a huge draw for me.

It seems that my life has now come full circle and this is where I belong.

Thank you Friends of the Weiser River Trail.
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15 thoughts on “Soul Searching along the Weiser River Trail

  1. Really enjoyed your family history and picturing them back in the day. Reminds me of Ivan Doig stories of Montana settlers. Looks like a great trail – will have to come visit and try it out.

  2. As a member of the trail I greatly appreciate home grown stories and factual truths..It’s been a pleasure reading, and envisioning your story. Thanks for the great deal of family dated information…I’m glad you have come full circle, and as far as I can see, your going to become Weiser’s new author….
    best of luck….
    Ron Alvarado

    1. Ron, I’m glad you enjoyed reading my blog. I’m really looking forward to exploring the trail between Weiser and Midvale, plus Council to New Meadows next spring/summer.
      Cheers, Leslie

  3. Leslie–I left a comment on the WRT Facebook Page. I just wanted to thank you again for posting it there. I so much enjoyed the way you wove your family history with your own personal experiences on the Weiser River Trail, and tied it all together with the photos. Looking forward to seeing you along the Trail someday!–Irene

    1. Thank you so much Irene for reading. I love the WRT, I debated on putting too much family stuff in the blog when my main focus wanted to be about the trail. It was interesting finding out more details about the area while doing research for the blog. It will be fun to explore the rest of the trail and learn some history about the other places along the way. Hope to see you out there, Leslie.

  4. You have a calling as a travel writer! Loved the family history interspersed with great descriptions of the trail and the pictures past and present. Made for a very interesting read.

  5. I stumbled on your site here doing a search on Mesa. My grandfather moved to Weiser from Kansas around 1900. My father and uncles were born there. My mother’s family was in South Dakota. Most came to the Mesa Orchards when times got hard in the 20’s. My cousins, the Hart’s, lived in council. The Ballard cousins are mostly around Boise. My father and brothers moved on to Oregon. I remember a lot of the tales of Mesa, Council, the sawmill and others. Looking through this brought back some good memories and some sad ones. Keep it going.

    1. My grandmother, on my mothers side, was originally from Burr Oak, Kansas. She moved to Parma, Idaho in the early 1900’s. If you ever make it over to this part of Idaho, Cambridge has a very nice history museum that’s open in the summer. Thanks for the comments. Leslie

      1. Your family is my family. My Great grandmother was Clara Lane. Her son my grandfather Everett Woods worked at the Mesa orchard. My mother has some pictures of all of the workers at the Orchard. My mom grew up in Council on an Orchard. Her double cousin, granddaughter of Cora Lane and Homer Woods, still lives in Indian Valley. she use to run or help run the cemetery there. The Lane family picture you have we had never seen before. Most of my family still live close by the same area. I would love to hear from you. WE are big into family history and always love to hear more and see pictures.
        Thank you,
        Jeen

      2. Greetings,
        My Great-grandfather and your Great grandmother were brother and sister. Years ago, a woman named Wanna Belle from Indian Valley gave my sister and I, tons of family tree information. That is where that Lane family picture came from. Yes it’s true, our family is quite large and goes into so many directions. I still live in Cambridge and I’m sure that sometimes I’m meeting someone from Indian Valley or Council that I’m related to and we both don’t know it. I still have all that family tree information here at home. At one point, I almost donated it to the history museum in town to help others with their research. If you’re interested seeing it, contact me privately at leslie@taisiedesign.com
        Thanks for reading my blog and commenting,
        Leslie

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