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Jan Boles Interview

Jan BolesJan Boles went into the White Clouds in 1969 with a friend, Jim Marshall, and a camera, to document the mining activity near Castle Peak. His photos gave Idahoans their first look at what ASARCO was doing on their patented mining claims at the base of Castle Peak. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.

What was your motivation for hiking into the White Clouds in 1969?
The general atmosphere in Idaho and the nation was this growing awareness of wilderness issues; and once the word got out that there would be a potential open pit mine at the base of Castle Peak, it really sort of galvanized a lot of people. We had been in touch with Sam Day at the Intermountain Observer, and when I volunteered to submit pictures and a piece from the location, he was all for it. That's what got us going on that particular trip.

There had been one story in the Idaho Statesman in the spring of '69 and a reporter had been in there who wasn't familiar with mining. He said in his story that there's no problem up there, but I knew from my experience in Colorado and the Climax molybdenum mine that the big problem was yet to come.

We went in and found that the core sample drills were dumping their effluent into the Boulder Chain lakes. That had already become an issue, because the Boulder Chains are a tributary of the East Fork of the Salmon River, and the Salmon was regarded as a pristine river system. So what we reported was the first evidence from on-the-ground that there was a lot of displacement back in there.

Mining apparatus at Little Boulder Lake [Credit: Jan Boles]The pictures we brought out showed the bulldozer had been in there at work; the clear lake water was turned a milky grey-green; the red spray paint blazes on trees showing where roads were intended. And it was all right at the base of this incredible mountain that was out of sight. You don't get a view of Castle Peak from any major highway, and so it takes a photograph to show what is going on.

We were not at all certain of what we would find. You come up the trail and the first thing we encountered was the ASARCO camp at Baker Lake, which was set in deep woods. You couldn't see much. But then we worked on out toward their claim, and all of a sudden here was a big clearing for the helicopters; a lot of timber had been cut down. Just beyond that was the drill rig at Little Boulder Chain Lake #1, which showed the effluent being dumped right in the water. In order to do a drill core, you pump in a substance called bentonite; that helps lubricate the bit, and that's pumped out with water. It has to go somewhere, and it's this talcum powder-like heavy mineral they were putting right into the lake. It wasn't clear anymore. It was that milky, clouded look that was just undeniable evidence of serious change.

Was it difficult to get the photos?
I had experience with mining claims. You could walk across a claim, but you couldn't pick anything up. A claim didn't entitle them to exclude you. We did stay away from one encampment — in fact, where the bulldozer was — because there was a big Doberman guard dog, and discretion was the better part of valor there! We did have telephoto lenses, so we could still get pictures. The miners were essentially technicians, and they weren't talkative. They gave us the cold shoulder.

So you brought the photos back to Sam Day of the Intermountain Observer?
The Intermountain Observer was a weekly, and it didn't have a wide circulation; but it was influential in that other journalists read it. And Bill Hall at the Lewiston Tribune got in touch with me and asked if he could use one of the photos. Within a short time of the publication in the Observer, a picture and an account appeared on the editorial page of the Lewiston Tribune. So that started to get the message out.

"I couldn't get away from the idea that here were two backpackers heading into what was supposed to be pristine wilderness with these enormous dynamite blasts echoing down the canyon. I wrote that we felt more like two hobbits approaching the dark citadel of Mordor than walking into a high alpine lake."Then a few months later, some of my enlargements from that Little Boulder Chain locale appeared on the Today Show on national television in conjunction with Earth Day. There were a lot of other wonderful photographers at work by that time. In fact, Ernie Day had done aerial photos of Castle Peak early on — actually before we made our trip — and that was very influential. His pictures were widely distributed because they were wonderful pictures; and he had been the Idaho Parks chairman and famously resigned his position when Governor Samuelson refused to regard the White Clouds mining claims as any kind of an issue.

In the article that you wrote, you paraphrased J.R.R. Tolkien and his Ring Trilogy.
I had just read it, and I couldn't get away from the idea that here were two backpackers heading into what was supposed to be pristine wilderness with these enormous dynamite blasts echoing down the canyon. I wrote that we felt more like two hobbits approaching the dark citadel of Mordor than walking into a high alpine lake.

Photocopied page of Intermountain Observer from August 16, 1969 with story and photos about ASARCO mineWe had hiked in on a trail; that trail would be replaced by a road. It would just take an entire drainage and wreck it as far as hunting, fishing, recreation, and backpacking was concerned. It would be the difference between the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and what happened to the Coeur d'Alene River in the Silver Valley.

When we reached the area where the helicopter landing pad was, it didn't take any exercise in visualization to realize that a pristine alpine environment would be altered into an industrial site; and that noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution — all those things would replace what had been a John Muir-type environment.

It was potentially heart breaking. I did a lot of head shaking.

You must feel good about playing a role in this important battle.
There was a feeling of solidarity about it. There wasn't a lot of ego involved with authorship. When one of my pictures appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, it was attributed to Ernie Day, and that didn't bother me at all.

Here was the Christian Science Monitor and a full page above the fold devoted to the White Clouds. That showed that the story extended well beyond Custer County, well beyond Idaho, to the nation at large. And that was a gratifying feeling.