Salmon—Spotlight City

The Quintessence of Rugged Individualism

By Tom Lopez

IDAHO magazine published a Spotlight City feature on Salmon in our November 2002 issue. Now, almost two decades later, here’s a second profile of the town.

I was an interloper when I arrived in Salmon in 1978. While it’s natural to feel that way any time you move to a new town, for me this was a move into a whole new world. I felt self-conscious, as out of place here as my Gremlin subcompact was among the pickup trucks, jeeps, SUVs, and flatbed trucks. I didn’t realize then that Salmon and I had something in common: we both were approaching inflection points. After five years of moving from job to job, state to state, and even country to country, my inflection point was that this relocation began my permanent settlement in Idaho. At the same time, Salmon was about to embark on something new as well: the fulfillment of its destiny as a gateway for the future management of our magnificent public lands.

Before moving to Salmon City (which is what it often is called, although the official name is City of Salmon), I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan. As the end of the winter semester approached, I was running out of money, but it was too late to apply for a summer job with my first choice, the National Park Service. A friend suggested the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Since visiting my great-aunt six years earlier, I had wanted to move to Idaho, which my mother had deemed the middle of nowhere [see “The Middle of Nowhere,” IDAHO magazine, March 2022]. My first phone call was to the BLM’s Idaho state headquarters in Boise.

Surprisingly, my call was almost immediately transferred to the BLM’s Salmon office. Even more surprisingly, after several brief interviews, I was offered a temporary position with the Salmon office. At that point I had no idea what type of work it would be or, for that matter, exactly where Salmon was located, but I was broke. My head spinning, I heeded the words of the Wizard of Oz concerning the start of his occupation: “Times being what they were, I accepted the job.”

In a daze, I hung up the phone and headed to the library. The 1938 Idaho Encyclopedia and an atlas told me all I thought I needed to know. Salmon had a population of thirty-three hundred and was located on the Salmon River in the middle of the mountains next to the Idaho Primitive Area. The word “idyllic” floated through my thoughts as I finished my final exams and packed. I was finally moving to Idaho.

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Tom Lopez

About Tom Lopez

Tom Lopez is the author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide and the website In the last fifty years he has climbed more than a thousand Idaho peaks and completed a total of 3,500 ascents across the United States, including several first ascents. His writing has appeared in the Idaho Statesman, Summit, Rock and Ice, and Climbing magazines, among others. He strongly believes that the secret to successful aging is to keep moving ahead, “Otherwise, you’ll fall behind.”

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