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Circus Trip 2018: Bannack State Park

Day 8, Monday, July 23, 2018

After a night spent in Dillon, Montana, I departed for my day’s destination.  I was going to Bannack State Park, which preserves the ghost town of Bannack.  Bannack was founded in 1862 after gold was discovered there.  It was remote then – it was connected by the Montana Trail wagon road to Salt Lake City, but was also rough and dangerous, due to the risks posed by Native Americans and weather extremes.  Bannack is still remote now!

The Bannack Sign

Bannack is named after the local Native American tribe that inhabited the area; the Bannock Indians.  When they sent the paperwork to Washington, D.C. the agent misspelled the proposed name and nobody ever corrected it.  Bannack it remains.

The town has quite a colorful history; it was the capitol of the Montana Territory for a brief period in 1864, until it moved to Virginia City.  And here’s a story for you!  The Sheriff of Bannack, Henry Plummer, was a criminal who had served time for manslaughter at San Quentin prison.  Apparently no one found out about his history when they elected him as Sheriff.  In Bannack, he was suspected to have been leading a band of road agents who were allegedly robbing and murdering travelers.  Some claimed that Plummer’s band had committed over one hundred murders!  That’s where the story gets stranger though; modern historians believe this number is very inflated, since only eight deaths were documented during the period in the area.  People believed what they wanted to though, and Plummer and two of his deputies were hanged without trial, and over twenty more received an informal trial and then were lynched by vigilantes.

The Bannack Jail

One man named Joe Pizanthia was killed when the vigilantes turned to mob violence.  They tried to question Joe, but he refused to leave his cabin.  A large crowd gathered, and two men volunteered to bring Joe out.  Joe ended up shooting them when they attempted to enter.  That got the crowd all worked up, so they borrowed a cannon, shelled the cabin, and injured Joe.  Then they dragged him out, and shot him over one hundred times, set the cabin on fire and then threw his body onto the flames.  Wow – they didn’t mess around!

Stranger still is that many suspected the vigilantes of framing Plummer and his deputies in order to hide the fact that they were the real bandits…  Yikes…

Today in Bannack, sixty log, brick and wooden homes and business remain.  Many of the buildings are open to visitors during the day and you can wander freely through them.  It was so cool to be able to explore these buildings!

With so many deaths among the suspected road agents, and the people murdered on the road, there are bound to be ghosts there. One story in particular that stuck with me wasn’t about the men murdered here.  The Bessette House was owned by Mitty Bessette, who arrived in Bannack in 1864 and died of old age in 1919.  The house was used as a quarantine house in the early 20th century, housing people during outbreaks of influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria and whooping cough.  The house is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of children who died during these epidemics.  Some visitors hear the sound of crying babies coming from the house.

Bannack Home Interior

It was hot while I was there, but I enjoyed wandering and checking out the various places.  In a ghost town that is covered in snow each year and winter winds, it was great to see how well preserved it is. They even have some original outhouses!

I found one of the toilets!

 

The birds are plentiful there, with many birds nesting in the rafters and beams of the various old buildings.  Good from a birding perspective, but not so good from a historic preservation angle.  Birds are pretty hard on buildings.

Bannack has two cemeteries.  There is one at the top of the hill above town; it was the original cemetery.  Almost all of the stones are gone now and there isn’t much to see.  Down the road a little ways from the town site is the second cemetery.  This one has graves in various states of decay, it is always interesting to see cemeteries that are mostly rocks and sagebrush.  They are so different from the ones at home.  I spent a bit of time checking out the headstones there.

It only costs $6 to visit Bannack and it is free for Montana residents.  They also sell an informative guidebook for $2 more. I loved visiting Bannack!  Writing this makes me want to go back and see it again!

A Chipmunk!

 

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Circus Trip 2018: Old Montana Prison

Day 7, Sunday, July 22, 2018

After I visited the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, I still had plenty of time in my day.  I headed over to the Old Montana Prison.  For some reason, I have a morbid fascination with old prisons, and this one didn’t disappoint!

The Old Montana Prison was in use from its construction in 1871, all the way to 1979.  Much of the present facility was built using convict labor, and the sandstone walls are 24 feet tall and extend 4 feet down into the ground to prevent prisoners from digging their way out.  Construction of the exterior walls began in 1893.  The oldest buildings currently standing at the prison are the original women’s building from 1907, and a 1912 prison building.

 

The prison is huge, and you can wander on a self-guided tour to see the cell blocks, cafeteria, women’s block, exercise yard, warden’s office, workshops and more.  I don’t think I would want to visit at night though; I’m sure the place is haunted!  The exhibits in the prison included information on the 1959 riot there, which resulted in the death of Deputy Warden Rothe and the murder-suicide of the two inmates who initiated the plot.  Several guards and other staff were held hostage for about 36 hours, before the Montana National Guard stormed the prison and ended the riot.  The inmates were rioting over the poor conditions at the prison, which got worse after the riot ended.

 

Another notable story is that of “Turkey Pete” Eitner, who was convicted and sentenced to life for murder in 1918. He became a model prisoner and was eventually put in charge of the turkey flock, which he proudly cared for.  His mental illness led to him believing that he owned the flock, which he then “sold” for a profit.  More entrepreneurial ventures followed, and he soon “owned” the prison.  Prisoners were permitted to humor him, and they printed checks on the prison printing press to pay for various things, and Turkey Pete “paid” for all the expenses at the prison.  When he died in 1967 after being incarcerated for 49 years, he received the only funeral ever held within the prison, and his cell was retired.

Turkey Pete’s Cell

The Old Montana Prison site also has four other museums on the site, and your admission fee of $15 (you get a discount with AAA) gets you into all of them.  The Montana Auto Museum has over 160 cars ranging from the invention of the first cars to muscle cars and sports cars.  Many of them are very unusual, including historic campers, and a replica of an 1886 Benz, which had one of the very first internal combustion engines.  I am not that into cars, but it was fascinating!  I was also impressed that they could get them all crammed into the building.  That would take a lot of planning to determine in which order they needed to be moved in, as well as some very good three-point turn skills.

 

The Frontier Museum has artifacts of items that were used by ranchers, farmers and frontiersmen during the Old West period.  There are firearms, saddles, spurs, a wagon, and Native American artifacts.  The Powell County Museum has artifacts that include mining industry items, and a local wood-carver’s collection.  Lastly, Yesterday’s Playthings has exhibits on model railroads, and dolls and toys.  Outside, you can explore an Old West Town, with homes and businesses that have been moved to the site.  None of these other museums take too much time, but are worth peeking into!

 

The museum complex also has a very unique museum shop.  The current prisoners in the Montana State prison system have the ability to make an assortment of arts and crafts, which are sold to the public through the museum store.  There are some very beautiful and intricate items, including paintings and tooled leather bridles.  I was in awe of their talent!

 

 

Soon though, I had to be on my way.  I drove to Dillon, Montana and found a KOA campground for the night.  I wanted to be close to my destination for the next morning!  I got there in enough time to enjoy the swimming pool and sit listening to the creek that ran alongside my campsite.  It was a nice place to park for the night.

Me at the Pool!

 

The creek at my campground, Dillon, Montana

 

Circus Trip 2018: Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS

Day 7, Sunday, July 22, 2018

Near Deer Lodge, Montana, there are a lot of working cattle ranches.  There is also the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, a working cattle ranch that dates back to 1857, and is now a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Johnny Grant came out west and began grazing cattle here in 1857, decided to stay permanently in 1859, and built a home in 1862.  Despite that “permanent” intention, Grant found that once gold miners arrived in the area, life became a lot more difficult for him because he spoke French and the miners spoke English.  He decided to sell the ranch in 1866 to Conrad Kohrs and head back to Canada.

Kohrs was born in Germany, moved to the United States at the age of 22 and earned his wealth following the gold rush to different areas and selling beef to the miners.  Back then, cattle were grazed on the open range, but the winter of 1886-1887 was devastating to cattle ranches across the west, as the brutal cold and storms killed off more than 50% of all of the free range cattle.  Many ranchers went bankrupt, but Kohrs was able to secure a bank loan to keep him afloat.  He modernized his ranch, building fencing to contain the cattle and growing hay and other fodder to feed the cattle during the cold winters.  These changes meant success for the ranch and he was able to pay off the $100,000 loan in less than four years.

Kohrs also modernized and added onto the house that Grant originally built.  Kohrs added a large wing in 1890 and built many outbuildings, including a bunk house, blacksmith shop, horse barns, etc.  In 1970, descendents of Conrad Kohrs were still running the ranch, and struck an agreement with the Park Service to sell the ranch, provided that it remained a working cattle ranch.  The site was opened to visitors in 1977, and 17,095 people visited in 2012.

The ranch is free to visit and you can sign up for a ranger-led tour of the ranch house – there are no self-guided tours.  From the outside, the home looks simple and unadorned, but I would certainly recommend the tour, as the home is lavish inside!  Conrad Kohrs had the finest of furniture and housewares shipped to Montana for his wife, and no expense was spared.  When the home was no longer being lived in as the children and grandchildren wanted something more modern, all the furniture was left inside and sold to the Park Service with the ranch.  You can see exactly how the Kohrs lived!  The home had all the modern amenities of the time, including electric lighting and indoor plumbing, and beautiful Victorian furniture.  I really enjoyed the tour, but sadly, no photographs are permitted in the house.

 

You can also wander the grounds at your leisure, and taste cowboy coffee at the chuck wagon.  I enjoyed talking to the woman at the chuck wagon, and she was very interested in hearing about the details of my trip.  The coffee was actually pretty decent too, but leave the last swig in the bottom of the cup, because it can have coffee grounds in it!  The method of making cowboy coffee is interesting.  You boil the water, and add the ground coffee directly to the kettle, then use cold water and/or eggshells to get the coffee grounds to settle to the bottom after it steeps.  You don’t strain the grounds out, so you have to be careful about pouring the coffee to make sure you don’t end up with grounds in the cup.  It was interesting to see and taste!

Chuck wagon and cowboy coffee

I saw the blacksmith shop, and the horse barn where they have a collection of historic carriages and wagons.  Mrs. Kohrs also kept a beautiful garden, which has been restored and maintained.  I saw Texas Longhorn cattle, horses and chickens; the ranch has many more cattle out on the 1200 acres of the ranch.  When you visit, you may see the ranch hands hard at work, doing things the way they did in the late 1800s; harvesting hay, feeding cattle, rounding up cattle, branding them, or taking care of the other animals.  I didn’t see much activity when I was there, but I’m sure spring and fall are busier times.

 

 

 

 

 

At first I didn’t know what I was looking at, but after talking to someone, I learned that the ranch used (and still uses) a beaverslide to stack hay.  The beaverslide was invented in Montana, and allowed ranchers to stack hay up to 30 feet tall.  In this arid climate, hay could be stored outside in the weather, without having to worry about it getting too wet and rotting.  I had never seen a beaverslide before; what an interesting invention!

Beaverslide

It was a great visit, but I still had more sightseeing to do that day!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Philipsburg, MT

Day 6, Saturday, July 21, 2018

I slept in a little that morning – maybe because it was Saturday, maybe because the early morning sunshine finally warmed me up enough to sleep well.  I had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.  Camping tip – I brought an electric kettle on this trip and it was one of the best items to have!  Even if I didn’t have electric at my campsite (which I usually didn’t), I could still tote that little kettle into the bathroom, plug it in and have hot water in 90 seconds!  No need to heat up water on the camp stove – it was a great morning time saver!

I read a bit during breakfast and enjoyed the morning sun.

My destination for the day was Philipsburg, Montana.  Philipsburg was a mining town founded in the late 1890s; after the mines and the lumber mills went dead in the 1980s, the town rebranded itself as a tourist destination.  It capitalizes on its historic downtown main street, as well as the sapphire mines nearby.  There are a couple of shops where you can “mine” for sapphires, sorting through bags of gravel and finding the valuable stones.

First I checked out the Montana Law Enforcement Museum.  It was a small museum; just one small room in a storefront.  They had artifacts and exhibits on the various Montana police, including information on officers killed in the line of duty, old uniforms and equipment used by departments, and even an old jail cell.  The museum is free to visit, although they do request donations.

A Police Call Box and Uniform

 

Police Patches, including Tacoma, Washington

I was getting hungry for lunch at that point, so I found the Philipsburg Brewing Company.  They are located in downtown Philipsburg, in an old bank building that was built in 1888.  They have maintained the historic flavor of the building too!  They don’t serve food, so I got takeout from the UpNSmoking BBQ House down the street and brought it back to the brewery to enjoy.  I ordered a Gonk Ale – it was delicious!

After lunch, I went to Gem Mountain.  I bought a $30 bucket of gravel to sort through.  They set you up at a table and show you how to go through your gravel to find the sapphires hidden inside.  It was fun digging through the dirty gravel!  It was certainly a good way to spend a couple of hours, even if I didn’t find “the big one”.

Sapphire Mining!

 

My Sapphire Haul

On the way back to camp, I drove the Pintler Veteran’s Memorial Highway; it passes through the town of Anaconda at the base of the Anaconda mountain range.  Anaconda was once the home of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, and this mine produced from the 1880s all the way until 1980.

Anaconda is an interesting story in itself, also holding mines in Chile which were seized by the Chilean government after socialist President Salvador was elected in 1970.  I was interested in that connection since I lived in Chile for a time during college.  It’s a small world, and things have a tendency to all be tied together.  But back to the Montana story – after the Atlantic Richfield Company purchased the mine in 1977, it turned out that ARCO just didn’t have the experience in hard rock mining, and the price of copper had dropped enough to make the mine unprofitable.  ARCO closed down the mine in 1980.  The site is currently listed as a Superfund site, due to the incredible amount of toxic waste that resulted from the years of mining.  ARCO and British Petroleum (BP), which later bought out ARCO, have spent millions decontaminating the site, but the work is far from done.

You can still see the 585 foot tall Anaconda smokestack, which was once the tallest masonry structure in the world.  When I was there, there was a herd of deer grazing; I saw 10 or 12 in the few minutes of my visit.

I headed back to the campground to have some leftovers for dinner.  Then I blogged and chatted with a few people at camp before bed.  A relaxing day on the road…

Me in Deer Lodge, Montana

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Last Day in Glacier

Day 5, Friday, July 20, 2018

On my last day in Glacier I got up early and left the campground about 7:30 am.  I was going to be driving up the Going to the Sun Road one more time and exiting out the east entrance of the park.

Since I had already seen some of the sights along the west side of the park, I just drove until I got over to the east side.  I stopped at some of the viewpoints and did a short hike from there.  On that hike, the trail ended up narrowing sharply and going through quite a bit of tall shrubbery and I was completely alone; I got a bit nervous that this might be prime bear habitat so I ended up turning around.  I did find a beautiful creek coming through a gorge near there though and took some photos.

 

 

 

I passed by St. Mary Lake and stopped to take in the view and take some photos.  St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in the park, at 9.9 miles long and 300 feet deep.  It has a small island, Wild Goose Island in the lake.  There are boat tours of this lake too, and it would be fun to go on one someday!  Interesting, the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was shot at St. Mary Lake.  In case you want to refresh your memory, here it is.  The views are stunning.

 

On the east side of the park I stopped at the Visitor’s Center for my stamp and to check out the exhibits on the Blackfeet tribe’s use of the park’s land as part of their traditional homeland; they call the area the Backbone of the World.  The park and the Blackfeet have a partnership now that allows the tribe to continue to use the land.

Also on the east side of the park is a 1913 Ranger Station; it was used as a ranger station until the 1930s, when it became ranger housing.  They restored it in 1976.  The site also contains a barn that was originally built in 1926, and was later moved to this location.  There are a few hikes that depart from the Ranger Station through the grasslands on the east side of the park.

The Ranger Station – 1913

The 1926 Barn

 

Upon leaving the park, I stopped to visit the Blackfeet Memorial, a memorial consisting of metal tipis constructed by the tribe.  There are signs at the viewpoint explaining where the Blackfeet traditional lands once extended to, as well as information about their culture, way of life, origin stories, and Blackfeet names of the mountains visible from the viewpoint.  This area was burned by fire in 2006; the Red Eagle fire consumed over 34,000 acres within the boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park.  It was an interesting stop!

 

The rest of the day was spent on a long, meandering drive through rural Montana towards Philipsburg.  I had about a half a tank of gas, and told myself that I would get gas when I next saw a gas station.  I had enough for about 30 more miles by the time I finally saw a gas station!  This is big country, my friends, and a lot of it is very sparsely populated.  Get gas when you have a chance!

An abandoned home

 

A very strange rest area sign – do they really want trucks to the right, where there is no road?

I rolled into Deer Lodge, Montana that evening for two nights at the Indian Creek RV Park.  They welcomed tents, but they weren’t really well set up for them – $45 for 2 nights.  They parked me in the middle of a grassy lawn, and I felt a little bit like I was living in a fishbowl, surrounded by all the RVs! I was the only tent camper there.  They didn’t have any picnic tables set out, just a small gazebo on the lawn, which I ended up setting up my cook stove in – you do what you have to do.  For dinner, I had rice, polenta and turkey sausage – yummy!  That night was the first night I set up my tent; it would have been awkward to sleep in my car because it was just parked on the road alongside the grassy area.  I learned that even though it was hot during the day, it got really cold at night!

A bunny at my campsite

 

Sunset at my campsite

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Avalanche Lake Hike

Day 4, July 19, 2018

Today was day 2 in Glacier National Park!  I got up at 7, and got ready quickly and skedaddled at 7:30 am after accidentally setting off my car alarm…  Oops!  Sorry campers!  You know you wanted to be up early to hike!

That morning I went to do the Avalanche Lake hike – it was 4.8 miles round-trip.  This is a busy hike, for good reason, because it is beautiful, so go early and pack your patience to get a parking spot.

For me, the hike to Avalanche Lake is very much like the hikes at home, a dirt trail with roots and big rocks along the side of the trail.  It is a moderate hike, mostly in the shade – which was perfect on a hot day!  At many points along the trail you can see evidence of past avalanches and landslides that have taken down more than a few trees.  It is not unusual in these mountain areas.

The hike is fairly popular and I could see and/or hear other hikers at most points on the trail.  I was surprised by the number of people that didn’t have bear spray – given that Glacier National Park is heavily populated by grizzlies and given the fact that the bear I saw the day before didn’t seem scared of humans AT ALL, I felt more comfortable carrying it, even with the people around.  I also have a bear bell on my backpack, which jingles to warn animals I’m coming.  If you hike alone, they say you should talk or sing to yourself, but let’s be real, who wants to do that for several miles in the wilderness?  My bear bell seemed to do the trick – which was apparently to get the attention of every man within a half mile radius, many of whom commented on it or asked what it was.   So there you go – if you want to meet a man, consider getting a bear bell?  Don’t hike?  Maybe just wear it around the office!?  Or at the grocery store?  I digress.

The lake was gorgeous!  It was so clear and you could see the fallen trees at the bottom from past avalanches.  I walked at the edge of the lake for a bit and sat and had a snack and just enjoyed the scenery.  Even though I wasn’t alone, it was very peaceful just sitting alongside that lake.

After I got back to the car, I made a peanut butter and honey sandwich and walked over to the creek near the parking area and sat on the stone wall to eat.

After lunch, I drove down to the Lake McDonald Lodge and wandered down to the lake shore.  Lake McDonald, at 10 miles long and 500 feet deep, is the largest lake in the park.  It is beautiful with the colorful rocks on its bottom, and the mountains rising above.  The valley where Lake McDonald sits was carved by the glaciers that existed here, and the valleys between the mountains are also evidence of glacial activity.  The lodge itself was constructed between 1913 and 1914 in the Swiss Chalet style.  I love these old lodges!  I parked myself in the shade, and even dozed off on the shore until some bratty kids came along and were knocking down all the cute little rock cairns that people had built.  I watched the boat tours go by – one day I would like to take one, but I just wasn’t feeling in the mood that day.

On my way back to camp, I stopped by the Alberta Visitor Center and checked it out.  Glacier National Park is so close to Canada it makes sense for them to have a Visitor’s Center there!  I have said it before, but I really want to see the Canadian parks north of Glacier!  There is never enough time to do everything though.

I also visited the historic Belton Train Station.  Belton was one of the stations where trains came to deliver visitors to the park in its early days.  It was constructed in 1910 by the Great Northern Railroad and enlarged in 1935; the same railroad also built the Belton Chalet Hotel across the road.  It would have been so cool to have the experience back then!

Belton Train Station

 

Ground squirrels at the Belton Station

I went back to camp and relaxed that evening.  I deserved to take a break since I had logged over 20,000 steps!  I also spent some time talking to the young guys at the campsite next door to me.  They were from Savannah, GA and Kansas and had met there for a guys trip to Glacier.  It was nice to have some social interaction and I enjoyed my time sitting around their campfire.  And apparently both of them slept through my car alarm that morning – whew!  It was a nice end to another great day!

 

 

 

 

Glacier National Park History

Glacier National Park was created in northwestern Montana on May 11, 1910 by Congress and President William Howard Taft.  There are over park 1 million acres (4,000 square kilometers) within the park’s boundaries, and parts of two mountain ranges (they are part of the larger Rocky Mountains).  The amazing scenic beauty and recreation make it one of the country’s most visited national parks, with 2,965,309 visitors in 2018.  I was just one of them!

The mountains of Glacier National Park, called the Lewis Overthrust, are over 170 million years old; they contain some of the best early life fossils on Earth because the sedimentary rocks here are so well preserved. The mountains show evidence of massive glaciation, with the peaks and valleys, and studies of early maps and photographers led researchers to conclude that during the late 1800s there were about 150 glaciers here.  Sadly, only 25 active glaciers remained by 2010.  Scientists predict that all the active namesake glaciers may disappear by 2030 if we continue with current climate patterns.  Glacier is one of the places where scientists can study the impact of climate change in real time.

Glacier National Park has been lucky though, it still has almost all of its original plant and animal species; it hasn’t had the same habitat loss issues that so many wild lands throughout the United States have had.  There are grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolverines and Canadian lynx, and hundreds of bird species within the park. Fish and a few species of amphibians are also common here.  Trees include western redcedar and hemlock, and the landscape ranges all the way from forest to alpine and tundra areas.  The elevation change within the park boundaries is over 7,000 feet!

Archaeological evidence shows that Native American habitation within the park stretches back about 10,000 years.  More recently, the Blackfeet tribe inhabited the eastern portion of the park; they ceded a part of their treaty lands in 1895 to the federal government.  The Flathead tribe occupied the western portion of what is now park land.

The Great Northern Railway provided access to the park in the early days, and a number of hotels and chalets were quickly built to accommodate park visitors.  Over 350 locations remain on the National Register of Historic Places today. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, considered to be a crowning achievement of the park, was completed in 1932, and is now designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  Sounds pretty fancy, doesn’t it?

Glacier National Park is unique in that it borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada—the two parks together make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  They were the first International Peace Park, designated in 1932.  They are also a jointly designated Dark Sky Park.  I didn’t make it across the border on this trip, but it would be fun to see Waterton Lakes!

There is a lot for visitors to do within the park.  Hiking (both day hiking and backpacking) are popular, and there are lots of back-country trails.  There are several campgrounds and also lodges within the park.  The scenery is stunning from the park roads too!  You can take a boat tour or just hang out at one of the 130 names lakes within the park.  You will likely see a lot of wildlife if you venture off the main road at all (yes, that is a spoiler alert for when I tell you about my visit!).  Fishing is also popular and you don’t need a permit, but you have to release any bull trout you catch, because they are a threatened species.  You can also rock climb if you are so inclined.  In the winter you can snowshoe or cross country ski, but don’t take your snowmobile – that’s not allowed.

I have been wanting to visit Glacier for years, and I was finally going to see it!