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Monte Cristo Hike

July 15, 2017

In July, I went on another hike I’d never done before, an 8 mile round-trip hike over a relatively flat route to a gold and silver mining site.  The ghost town of Monte Cristo.

Between 1890 and 1907, Monte Cristo experienced a huge boom, growing to over 1,000 people at its peak, with 13 active mines and 211 active mining claims.  It was the first mine site on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range.  John D. Rockefeller took an interest in the site and for a period of time Frederick Trump, grandfather of President Trump, operated a boom-town hotel and brothel there.

At first the town and the mines were profitable, but over-estimates of the ground’s ore potential and frequent floods took their toll.  Most of the ore was near the surface; it was rarely profitable to go more than 500 feet down below the surface.  The river also flooded several times, requiring expensive repairs to the road and the railroad line in order to keep the ore flowing out to the smelter.

After mining operations ceased in 1907, for several decades there were attempts to keep the town going as a resort destination, with only limited success.  The county road to Monte Cristo was flooded in 1980 and not rebuilt, and the only remaining business, a lodge, burned down in 1983.  Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few original buildings and relics remain, as well as several more cabins from the various resort town efforts. The forests have grown back, so it is tough to imagine the bare hillsides with tramways and men bringing ore down from the steep mountains.

The route follows most of the old route taken by the miners over a century ago.  Floods over the years have washed out the road alongside the South Fork of the Sauk River.  The hike starts at the Barlow Pass trailhead on the North Cascades – Mountain Loop Highway and travels along the road for about 4 miles. You have to cross over the river on a large fallen tree at one point, but it is wide and flat enough that it doesn’t feel treacherous.

A view of the mountains on the hike in

There is a slight incline the entire way, with a total elevation gain of 700 feet to a final elevation of 2,800 feet.  The scenery is stunning, with the shallow river showing its rocky bed, and the craggy mountains above.  The 8 miles are pretty easy miles as long as you can handle the distance.

A Wiggin’s Lily at Monte Cristo

Once in the town it was fun to just wander around, seeing the old cabins and reading the signs showing where other buildings used to be.  There has been some remediation done in the area, in order to clean up the heavy metals that still exist in the mine tailings.  There is still a lot more work to be done, so they recommend you don’t drink the water there, or at a minimum filter it.

There is a pack-in campsite; it looks like a fun place to stay the night and explore the town.  I wonder if there are ghosts!

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West 2016: Grand Teton Tidbits

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart is located within the boundaries of the park at the south end of Jackson Lake.  It was originally built in 1937 outside of the park, but Grand Teton’s boundaries changed after that and now include the beautiful log chapel. 
 
It seats about 115 people and is open 24 hours a day from May to September, with a Sunday mass.  The chapel is closed in the winter.  It was worth a stop to see the interior with its stained glass windows and icon of Mary with Jesus. 
 
Signal Mountain is a mountain within the park that has a total elevation of 7,720 feet; it rises 890 feet from the valley floor.  There is a 5 mile drive up the mountain and two different viewpoints at the top; from there you have a great view of the valley below, as well as Jackson Lake.  You can also hike up Signal Mountain via a 6.8 mile hiking trail.
 
 
And who could resist a photo of the signage we saw all over Yellowstone and Grand Tetons on the pit toilets!  Well, perhaps you could resist, but I couldn’t…  Even though it is not historic, it is definitely going into my toilet archive!  Sit don’t squat!  I am a firm believer that signs exist because somebody doing it wrong created a need to clarify…  I don’t even want to imagine what happened when that went awry… 

Oh the ways to do it wrong!

 
And with that folks, my West adventure was nearly concluded.  All that remained was to make the long drive back to Billings, MT and stay there one last night before our flight home.  We turned in the rental car without further incident, and were relieved when no one noticed anything from the run-in with the curb and wall at Wind Cave, or the collision with Jelly 
 
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, and was glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my mom.  Until next time! 

Me with the mountains

 

Me with the moose at the Visitor’s Center

West 2016: Menor’s Ferry

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

The Snake River is generally a wide multi-channeled river as it flows through Grand Teton National Park.  There are only a few places within the park boundary where the river narrows to a single channel.  It is at one of these spots where Bill Menor settled in 1892, and established a ferry to cross the river, as well a General Store.  His brother Holiday settled on the other side of the river and operated a limekiln.  Bill Menor used this lime to whitewash his General Store.

The ferry was a reaction ferry, which used the current of the river to propel the ferry.  In the winter, when the river was low, he used a cable car to transport passengers.  Menor operated the ferry until 1918, when he sold the store and the ferry to Maud Noble, a Philadelphia women who came to Jackson Hole looking for adventure.  She operated the ferry until 1927, when the state of Wyoming built a bridge nearby.

Maud Noble was significant for another reason too.  She was instrumental in the movement to create Grand Teton National Park.  She hosted Horace Albright, then the Superintendent of the National Park Service, along with several local ranchers and farmers, at a historic meeting in her cabin to talk about the creation of the park.

The Menor’s Ferry history area contains the Menor General Store, a replica reaction ferry, the original well, a replica barn and Maud Noble’s cabin, which was moved to the site when she purchased the store and ferry in 1918.

 

 

 

Nearby is also the Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal Church that was built in 1925 on land donated by Maud Noble.  Services are held weekly between May and September, and the chapel can be booked for weddings with the stunning backdrop of the Tetons through the window.

 

 

 

Be sure to visit the area when you are in Grand Teton National Park – it is worth a look around!

West 2016: Cunningham Cabin

Day 10, Sunday, August 14, 2016

In Grand Teton National Park, I visited the Cunningham Cabin, which is a homesteader’s cabin that was built sometime between 1888 and 1890.  J. Pierce Cunningham arrived in Jackson Hole from New York in 1885, and spent his first years in the valley trapping.  He got married and then decided to try his hand at homesteading, staking a claim for 160 acres.  The cabin was constructed in the dogtrot style, with two small cabins joined with an open breezeway – it was a style common in the eastern states.

The Cunningham cabin with the mountain view

Unfortunately, ranching was difficult on 160 acres in the West, due to the fact that ranchers had to supplement feed for their cattle in the winter.  They needed enough land to grow enough hay to last the winter, which could be up to 6 months long.  Cunningham purchased an additional 140 acres in 1897 at $1.25 per acre.  In 1918 he increased the size of his ranch again by purchasing 240 acres from a neighbor’s property to the north.  Cunningham had to produce and store 200 tons of hay each winter.

The cabin has a dark side too…  In fall of 1892, two wranglers showed up at the cabin to buy hay for their horses.  Cunningham struck up a deal for them to stay over at the ranch for the winter.  However, rumors began spreading that the men were horse thieves.  A man who claimed to be a U.S. Marshal arrived in April 1893 with three deputies from Idaho, and convinced several local men to join their posse.  The cabin was surrounded and the men were gunned down when they left the cabin.  Although Cunningham wasn’t directly involved, he admitted that he felt that the brands on the men’s horses had been altered.  Interestingly, neither the allegations against the men nor the identify of the supposed U.S. Marshall was ever proven…

The view of the mountains from the cabin window

After World War I, beef prices dropped a lot, and many ranchers were no longer able to make a living. Cunningham and his neighbors proposed a petition for the federal government to purchase the valley’s ranches for inclusion with the new Grand Teton National Park.  He wasn’t successful.  Luckily John D. Rockefeller had fallen in love with the area, and he created the Snake River Land Company to purchase private land and donate it to the park.  Rockefeller ultimately purchased and donated 32,000 acres in the Jackson Hole valley, including Cunningham’s ranch.

To get a close up view of the ranch, you just have to walk a short, flat trail.  The entire loop is 0.3 mile, if you want to explore all the areas where there were once outbuildings, but the remaining cabin is the only structure that remains.  The day that I visited there was a herd of horses on the other side of the fence, so I went to say hello to them too.  They looked so beautiful with their stunning mountain backdrop!

This view! Horses and Mountains!

 

Horses near the Cunningham cabin

 

A juvenile mountain bluebird at the Cunningham cabin

 

This cabin is well worth a quick visit!

That evening in Jackson, Wyoming, we had dinner at King Sushi.  The food was fantastic!  The kids at the next table whose parents were paying no attention to the fact that they were kicking me – not so fantastic!  We also wandered around downtown Jackson for a bit, getting photos at the famous elk antler arch on the main square (each corner of the square has an arch).  We also poked around in some shops, and found lots and lots of taxidermy animals.  The dressed up critters!

 

 

Just. So. Much. Wow

 

Costs and Fees: $30 per vehicle at Grand Teton National Park (free with a National Parks Pass).  Many areas of Grand Teton do not require you to pay the fee.

Distance for the Day: Cody, WY – Jackson, WY (3 hrs, 58 min, 177 miles)

Hotel for the night: Motel 6 – Jackson, WY

 

Grand Teton NP History

Grand Teton National Park is one of the 10 most visited National Parks in the United States – approximately 3,270,076 people visit each year (2016 stats). It is about 310,000 acres, and it is located 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming.  The park protects the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Mountain Range, along with parts of the Jackson Hole valley.  On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge established the park.

Human habitation within the park boundary goes back about 11,000 years, when hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians used the land in the summer for food and supplies. In the early 19th century, when white men first arrived, the Shoshone tribes lived there.  It was popular with fur traders between 1810 and 1840, because of the beavers that lived in the rivers there (before they were almost trapped to extinction of course).  Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, which is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range at 13,775 feet.  The mountains were named by fur trappers coming through the area, who called them les trois tétons (the three teats), and of course it stuck, and we Americanized the name.

The first view of the Teton Mountains

Geologically, the rocks in the park are some of the oldest in the United States; dated at 2.7 billion years.  The Teton range has several glaciers too, and the park contains the upper main stem of the Snake River, which flows north, and eventually flows into the Columbia River.

The area was isolated for so long that the ecosystem is much better protected than some other areas of the U.S., so some of the same species have been found there since prehistoric times.  Animal species that are found there include bison, moose, elk, mule deer, marmot, pika, Grizzly bear, black bear, osprey, coyote, cutthroat trout, beavers and river otters.  The Teton range is also home to the threatened whitebark pine tree.

Grand Teton National Park is really an outdoor-person’s paradise.  There are over 200 miles of hiking trails, many of them back-country trails.  There are over 1,000 car camping sites.  A paved trail through the park provides easy access to the valley areas by bike or roller blades.  You can boat or float the rivers, fish, mountain climb, and cross country ski or snow shoe in the winter.  There is enough to keep you busy for awhile…

The park has also preserved a lot of the history from the days when homesteaders lived in the valley and built ranches and small communities.  There are several historic buildings throughout the park that you can visit.

Mom Sign Posing

We spent two days there, and we did and saw a lot in those two days!  I will tell you more about my visit coming up!

 

West 2016: Fort Yellowstone

Day 9, Saturday, August 13, 2016

Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States, created almost 45 years before the National Park Service was created.  In the early days of the park, poaching and vandalism were huge problems so the U.S. Army, most specifically Company M of the 1st U.S. Cavalry, was sent in to restore order and get things under control.  Between 1891 and the early 1900s, Fort Yellowstone was established and grew, with 35 buildings still surviving today.

The Fort is in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, along with the Mammoth Hotel, which is one of the lodging options in the park (with hot springs!). The area also boasts the Mammoth Terraces, which are terraces created from travertine stone.  The stone is originally limestone, but becomes travertine due to the precipitation of calcium carbonate from the hot springs waters.  So in case you wondered where are those floors in public buildings came from, it wasn’t Yellowstone.  But the same kind of stone…

We visited in order to check out the terraces, as well as to see the historic buildings at the fort.  And, of course, to see elk.  Let me explain…  Back in the 1880s, the Army planted grass at the fort, to spruce things up and to cut down on the dust.  Well, as it turns out, the elk LOVE this grass! The ranger described it as ‘elk candy’.  You can’t beat elk candy!  We saw about a half dozen elk during the course of our visit, including a calf, and a couple of yearlings.  And, of course, we found tourists being dumb and getting way too close to the elk…

Mama elk with her baby! With spots!

 

Yearling Elk – with crazy Tourists (FYI – I was in a car, with a high zoom…)

Mom and I stopped in at the Visitor’s Center, which has a museum downstairs that has specimens of the animals found in the park, as well as an exhibit where you can compare the various types of horns and antlers of these animals.

We also toured around with a walking tour map and looked at the various historic buildings.  It was a cool place!

Yellowstone NP History

Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park – it was established on March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.  Yellowstone is a unique environment, with features that are really rare in other areas of the United States.  Early advocates knew that it should be protected for generations to come.

Yellowstone is 2,219,789 acres, and about 96 percent of the land area of the park is within the state of Wyoming.  Three percent is within Montana and about one percent is in Idaho. The park is 63 miles from north to south, and 54 miles from west to east, as the crow flies.  In 2016, 4,257,177 people visited Yellowstone.  That’s a lot of people!  It is also designated as a Unesco World Heritage site, a designation by the United Nations for sites which have cultural, historical or scientific significance.

The park contains the Yellowstone Caldera, which is the largest volcanic system in America – it has been termed a “super-volcano” due to its size.  The current caldera was created by an eruption 640,000 years ago, and was 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State.  Which, if you were around for it, you know Mount St. Helens felt like a pretty big eruption.  That wasn’t the only eruption though, and each of the several that have occurred over millions of years at Yellowstone have created the rock formations, the depressions where the lakes sit and have coated large portions of the Americas with ash.  Thousands of small earthquakes occur each year within the park, most of which are unnoticed by human visitors.

Yellowstone is know for it’s thermals and geysers – hot springs of liquid that often contain brilliant colors due to the bacteria that make their home there, and erupting fountains of water.  The park contains over 10,000 geothermal features – and 1,283 of those are geysers that have erupted.  About 465 are active geysers on average in a given year.  Yellowstone is named for the Yellowstone River; the headwaters of the river are within the park, and the Continental Divide runs diagonally through the southwest section of the park.

Human habitation has existed in the park for approximately 11,000 years; evidence has shown that Native Americans began to hunt and fish in the area then.  Clovis points have been discovered in the area, and obsidian found in the park was used to make cutting tools and weapons.  Arrowheads from Yellowstone obsidian has been found as far away as the Mississippi Valley, indicating there was a rich trade among the Native Americans in this area with other tribes.

About 60 species of mammals make their home in the park, including bison, elk, moose, deer, mountain goats, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, gray wolf, coyote, lynx, and grizzly bears.  About 3,000 bison are in the park; their numbers fluctuate depending on how harsh the winter is.  Wolves thrive there now, after being hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s and eliminated from the park.  However, since the next largest predator, the coyote, cannot bring down large mammals, there was a big increase in the number of lame bison and elk, as well as an overall increase in their numbers, which throws the ecosystem out of balance.  A healthy ecosystem needs the apex predator.  Wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, and are estimated to number at slightly more than 100 animals within the park.

Me – Sign posing – As usual!

I visited Yellowstone as a child, but it had been a long, long time and I was so excited to go back!  Next up will be Yellowstone posts!