“The Danskin Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area encompasses 60,000 acres and provides more than 150 miles of Off-Highway Motorcycle (OHM) and All-terrain Vehicle (ATV) trails in a mountainous, high desert setting. Trails of varying difficulty from ‘Easiest’ to ‘Most Difficult’ occur within the area providing recreation opportunities for riders of all skill levels.”¹
Having learned of the Danskin riding area from a friend at work, I was excited by the prospect of so many miles of groomed trails so close to home and anxious to ride over and see it. I wanted to find a minimally paved route so Jessica and I took off from our house along Parkcenter, out Boise Avenue, through Surprise Valley, across the highway and then along the dirt roads that follow the Oregon Trail.
What was a manmade lake used to float logs for the Barber sawmill has long since been drained and is now a conservation area¹ immediately east of Boise, behind the Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor theater.
The Barber Pool Conservation Area has been identified as an important urban wilderness area and as a ‘unique ecosystem’ by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The black cottonwood forest is heavily utilized as a perching area by wintering bald eagles and over 200 species are found seasonally and permanently on the Conservation Area property.²
There are a few stretched wire gates to open and close as you continue following the dirt roads up above Lucky Peak Reservoir.
We continued to follow the Oregon Trail or something close to it until coming upon a surprising structure in the middle of nowhere. Or at least it seemed like the middle of nowhere from the direction we came. On the other side is a wide gravel road.
We stopped to learn about the “spot where Captain Bonneville stood overlooking the valley he named Les Bois, which came to be known as Boise.”¹ “Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville was a French-born officer in the United States Army, fur trapper, and explorer in the American West. He is noted for his expeditions to the Oregon Country and the Great Basin, and in particular for blazing portions of the Oregon Trail.”
Almost as fascinating as the history lesson were the thorns on the trees decorating Bonneville point. Yeowsers.
After learning of Captain Bonneville, we forsook the gravel road and tried to follow the faint path along the Oregon trail, guided by occasional markers. “This portion of the Oregon Trail reportedly followed the approximate location of the older Shoshone Trail, which had connected the homelands of Shoshoni peoples across southern Idaho. The fur trading party of John Jacob Astor followed the Shoshone trail along the Boise River in 1811.”¹
“Barber Analysis,” sec. 2.4.1.c
“Between 1843 and 1900, settlement of the west was facilitated by travel over the Oregon Trail … The Oregon Trail brought most northwest settlers through southern Idaho in the 1800s … Commerce, military, and mail to Boise followed the route until railroads like the Oregon Shortline Railroad (1887) and, eventually, automobiles, supplanted the use of the trail route … By the mid-1860s, settlers were established in the Boise River Valley, and the Boise community was growing. In 1861, gold was discovered about 35 miles northeast … and Boise area farms supplied the mining camps with food.”¹
The trail soon intersected Blacks Creek road which we followed for several miles on pavement and then some gravel to the first Danskin trail head. The trail is a sandy ATV track that quickly took us from a sizable pull-out to ridgelines. The Forest Service provides a detailed trail map of the area.²
When peering out my window from the air while departing Boise I’d often wondered how to get to this area speckled yellow and marked by rocky protrusions.
In spite of some soreness from 21 miles on a brick shaped seat, we were excited to discover such beautiful vistas. What the desert terrain may lack a lot of the year, it works hard to make up for in the spring.
We would like to have had more time to revel in the scenery but a waiting babysitter at home required brevity. We picked an outcropping visible not far away as our final destination.
Those distant bits of rock or hill that we choose as our terminus never end up being so readily achieved as expected. We nonetheless made it there with time to climb around a bit before turning homeward.
Not wanting to return by the same path (ever!), I picked a narrow trail we could see heading into the draw (trail 502, I think) that looked like it would take us out close to where we sumitted earlier. On the way down we ended up in a long deep rut that all but ruled out deviation or reversal of our course. It was yabba-dabba-doo-time as we moved forward by the pedaling of my feet able to easily reach the ground on both sides of the rut.
The trail in the draw (number 510) was quite enjoyable—several stream crossings, some up and down, encroaching brush but otherwise smooth riding. We were merrily on our way, rounding a little bend as the end of the trail came into sight, where we would rejoin the first bit of the wide path, when we came upon what we judged to be some old mining equipment. We stopped and turned off the path for a closer look.
Wow, a mine shaft. I usually have a good flashlight on me but had just transferred to a different bag for this ride and didn’t think to include it. After thinking a moment I realized the motorcycle could be a giant flashlight on wheels, provided I could squeeze it in there.
The motorcycle served quite successfully as a giant flashlight on wheels. The shaft split left and right at a “T” not too far in. The intersection was large enough to maneuver the motorcycle around. The way to the left ended almost immediately.
The tunnel to the right continued beyond what we could see. It looked too narrow for the motorcycle so I just pushed it a bit that way and put the beam on high—better than nothing but kind of cumbersome to walk in front of the flashlight. We knew if the tunnel went far we wouldn’t be able to follow it. We were disappointed to find that it didn’t go far.
It was nonetheless exciting to find a hidden away, entirely unexpected mine that we could get into and look around. I thought momentarily of ducking low and riding out but succumbed to better judgment.
Our first visit to the Danskin riding area was one of delightful discoveries—Bonneville Point, high desert vistas and an accessible mine. After putting off our return home for the sake of exploration, we made haste homeward without further stops. It was a great ride.