05 September 2014

This Map Is Useless If You Want To Get To Murray, Idaho

If you ever find yourself in Northern Idaho and want to get to Murray on the back roads, don’t use this map. 

Sure, the map is free, but the roads on it don’t seem to bear any resemblance to any sort of reality. I think it is more of a conceptual map. It is what someone imagined roads could look like in Northern Idaho. I suspect that it was a school project by some kids in Bangladesh that the State of Idaho somehow got a hold of and decided to print off for penny pinching motorists who aren’t willing to shell out any money for a proper map. Yep, that would be us. The cheap ones. And for some reason, we have at least seven copies of this map. 

Scott, one of my brothers-in-law, my father-in-law and I headed off for one of our scenic drives the other day with this trusty map in hand. And before you say it, no, there is no cell phone reception in the mountains, so asking Siri where the heck we were and how to get to Murray wasn’t really an option at the time. Sure, we could have researched our route before we set off, but what’s the fun in that? 

If you find yourself up in Northern Idaho, make sure you find time to get to Murray. It is an old mining town which was known for gold and prostitutes. Today, it has a couple of bars, a museum and a cemetery and is a fun day trip from Coeur d’Alene. We couldn’t find the turn-off for the back road up to Murray, so we ended up going there the boring way via I-90 to the turn off to Prichard and then over to Murray. I suggest you take that route too (unless you have a better map then we did).

Once you get to Murray, start off in the cemetery. You can see grave markers for some of the famous residents of Murray – like Molly B’Damn. Molly (originally Maggie Hall from Ireland) was a local prostitute who was beloved by the community for her efforts nursing miners during a smallpox epidemic. Here is a picture of her grave. People leave coins and jewelery at her grave site.

And here is what she looked like. I wish I could pull off a hat and stole like she did.

After the cemetery, head into town and stop off at the Sprag Pole bar and order yourself a beer. When I asked the lady behind the bar what they had on tap, she rattled off the usual suspects, like Pabst Blue Ribbon. And then she mentioned that they had Kokanee. I asked her what kind of beer it was and she said Canadian. I have to admit I was a bit perplexed. I thought she might describe it as a lager, a stout, an amber or something like that. But no, the description was just Canadian. I have no idea what that means. Back when I was in Michigan, I thought I was so fancy when I used to drink Labatt’s, imported all the way across the border from Canada. So I decided to take a gamble and go international again with the Kokanee. It was pretty tasty - there is more to Canada then just Tim Horton's and maple syrup.

Once you have your beer in hand, head to the back of the bar and check out the Sprag Pole Museum. Admission is free and you can take your beer with you. My kind of place. It is a pretty quirky and interesting place. Their tag line is “no ordinary museum” and that seems like a pretty apt description. In addition to exhibits on Molly B’Damn, mining, logging and forestry fighting, there are also collections of all sorts of things on display. Like whiskey jugs, typewriters, buttons, coins and even those trolls that some of used to have on the end of your pencil in school. I think the museum is basically a warehouse of everything that was stored in people’s basements and garages in Murray. It is a fascinating glimpse of Americana. Like these buttons.

And these keys.

And this display of costume jewelry, complete with an Elvis pin.

Did you know you could make artwork out of old shotgun shells and bullets?

After you’ve explored the museum, walk along the main street and check out the old buildings. 

Take the obligatory photo of the post office. 

Then head over to the other bar in town and check out the old gold mine inside.

Once you’ve seen all the sights that Murray has to offer, if you’re feeling brave, pull out your useless map and pick a back road at random. Keep your fingers crossed that it actually leads back to Coeur d’Alene. As you can tell, we did make it back to Coeur d’Alene in the end. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post. It was a really nice drive back and we had some great views of the North Coeur d’Alene River along the way. If you decide to take this route, make sure you keep an eye out for two things – falling rock and stray bullets. 

The road we were driving along was graveled, pretty narrow and runs along a ridge with a steep drop-off. It wasn’t too bad until we go to the signs that said “falling rock” and “road narrows”. I don’t think any of us believed the road could get any narrower. It did. And there was a lot of rock on the road. It looked fresh, like it had just dropped off of the overhang minutes before. This is the kind of place you don’t want to honk your horn in. Thankfully, we survived this stretch of road. I find keeping my eyes closed helps. 

But the danger didn't end as just before the road became paved and headed down to Fernan Lake, we saw a sign that read “no shooting”. Well, of course, there were a few guys up there shooting in exactly the same direction as our car was headed. Thankfully, the guys have pretty good aim and we made it back to Coeur d’Alene without any bullet holes in our vehicle. Or maybe they had really bad aim and were actually trying to hit us?

Drive on Wednesday, 27 August 2014


  1. I love that old post office! Murray looks like a fun town for a visit. As for the map, I think we had GPS made by the same person last time we were in Australia.

    1. Murray is a great little town. I've visited from time to time over the past 20+ years and it never changes!


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