Salmon River Caveman's Legacy
"Dugout" Dick Zimmerman's death raises questions about the fate of his caves along the Salmon.
"Dugout" Dick Zimmerman was the last of his breed. An Idaho loner who settled in the Lemhi Valley in 1947, he found what he was looking for and never left.
He filed mining claims on BLM ground along the Salmon River south of Salmon and soon realized that the caves he dug in search of gold and silver were fit for living. So he stayed—for over 60 years.
Built into the side of the towering basalt columns, his caves attracted attention and he found he could make a living renting out and giving tours of his caves.
For several years, I rented a "vacation cave" for $20 a month, a timeshare actually. After all, how many college kids can afford a "vacation cave" of their own?
It was equipped with a wood stove, bed, tables and chairs, and the views through the old car windshields serving as the windows were breathtaking. The Salmon River, sagebrush-covered hills and hot springs down the road provided a peaceful escape from the bustle of city life in Missoula.
As a result of Dugout Dick's death on April 21, 2010, the BLM is now faced with managing the caves. Based on an agreement with Dugout Dick (that expired upon his death), current residents must find alternate accommodations. The BLM will close the caves for safety and to conduct an inventory. The BLM will also solicit public comments about what they'd like to see done.
While some view the caves as an eyesore, there is little doubt that they hold cultural and historical significance and should be preserved in some way for future generations.
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