Monday, September 8, 2008

Western Legends #2

There probably won’t be many more days this year to drive up Warren Wagon Road from McCall to Burgdorf hot springs. Snow comes early above 6,000 feet, & the road to Burgdorf can be treacherous with snow & ice when autumn’s just beginning to settle down on Indian Valley. Of course, for intrepid folks, there are ways into Burgdorf year round—snow cat, snowmobile, cross country skis; & some folks do winter up there—but more on that later….

Either in spite of the fact or because of the fact that I haven’t spent a lot of time there, Burgdorf occupies a significant place for me in the Idaho landscape—my mental or imaginary Idaho landscape that is. It’s the first trip Eberle & I took together when I was visiting her in Indian Valley from Baghdad by the Bay way back last century—(the picture of Eberle in the pool at Burgdorf was taken on that trip); the stories I hear about it take me back to the Idaho hippie & hipster days, before I ever set foot here; & of course, it’s the first place I ever played the uke….Burgdorf was developed as a resort by a Frank Burgdorf back around 1870—it’s not far in terms of miles from the mining town of Warren (though if you drive from Burgdorf to Warren on the washboard road, you may find it’s a lot longer than the mileage leads you to believe). In fact, the original name for the hotel & collection of cabins was “Resort”—kinda generic if you ask me. The Denver chanteuse Jeanette Foronsard (who was also coincidentally Mrs. Burgdorf) convinced Frank to give his own name to the place back around the turn of the 20th century. You can see the hotel in the pic below, with Eberle & our Cambridge, MA pal Margot Kimball. This pic was taken back in 01, in either late September or possibly very early October—as you can see, winter was on its way, & as a matter of fact, we had quite a time coming up the road that day, even briefly high-centering our Subaru on a patch of icy snow.
& speaking of winter, our Oregon pals & also bona fide old hippies JD Smith & Doug & Toby Gunesch spent at least one winter at Burgdorf back in the 70’s. Now, I’m thinking it’d be hard enough on a person’s psyche to undergo a winter lasting from sometime in September to sometime in May even if they were living in a town with some distractions. The idea of spending it in that kind of isolation is mind-boggling to me—no matter how much woodworking you can do with your drawknife, or how many dips you take in the pool, etc., time has to hang kinda heavy at a certain point. But the best story I’ve heard about that winter is as follows (at least as I got it)—some time that winter the Idaho County sheriff came in by some sort of conveyance suitable to the conditions with a “care package” of booze & lettuce. Now this was a hard-partying bunch at the time, I think I’m safe in saying—so it’s testimony to the situation that everyone was far more interested in lettuce than whisky. Sadly, someone (none of the people I mentioned, I hasten to add) snuck off with the lettuce & ate it all himself. Needless to say, there was great consternation about this, though I’m assured that frontier justice was not carried out; whether some form of karmic retribution kicked in (this being the 70’s & all), I can’t say….

The other story involves whisky, too, but not lettuce. At some point in the past, Eberle & our pal Audrey Bilger were spending a weekend up at Burgdorf, & they ran into a group Eberle always describes as “the wild women of Riggins.” Now, for those who don’t know, Riggins, ID is a small Idaho County town on the Salmon River, particularly known as a white water rafting locale & steelhead fishing spot. It’s also a town where the locals are apt to party pretty hard, so calling this crowd the “wild women of Riggins” makes me think they were a serious bunch. Anyhoo, whisky taking its usual effects, the wild women of Riggins began telling Eberle & Audrey some very detailed & graphic stories about the rigors of the childbearing process, something all these gals had experience with, but which neither Eberle nor Audrey knew firsthand. These stories went on well into the night up there amongst the pines as the Jack Daniels or Old Crow or whatever the particular brand of poison was made the rounds. Eberle points out that these stories definitely had an impact, as neither Eberle nor Audrey have firsthand experience of said process to this day (happily so, I believe, in both cases)….

It seems Burgdorf is a bit more peaceful these days. We were up there last month with our Portland pals Sue & Jay, & other than a rather resplendent turkey who was having a stand-off with a rooster about who was in charge of a flock of hens, everything seemed pretty calm. It was a Saturday, & the pool was more full than I’ve ever seen it—probably a sign of the times as the greater McCall area becomes more & more a “destination.”

But Burgdorf is still a lovely spot—“half a ghost town,” to steal a phrase from Utah Phillips—& as such still quite different from what your mental picture of a commercial hot springs might be. The large meadow across the dirt road is still home to elk cows & their calves in season (& as such, off limits to human beans), the rental cabins all seem in good repair & the old abandoned structures are still picturesquely abandoned. If you want to learn a bit more about Burgdorf, check out the site here (the fact that Burgdorf has its own website is also a sign of the times….)

I got historical background on Burgdorf from Cort Conley’s wild & wonderful “Idaho for the Curious,” Backeddy Books 1982

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