We thought we had traveled back in time!
Butte, Montana is a jewel. The U.S. government is so impressed with Butte that it has been awarded the designation of “National Historical Landmark.” It should be a National Park.
Heading west on I 90, driving at lightning speed, we came around a corner after crossing the Continental Divide, to a stunning, puzzling, and overwhelming view of the Berkley Pit and a strip-mined mountain! Gasp! Follow this video for about five minutes until you reach Butte, keep watching for what appears to be a yellow mountain. Here is the link.
Tom parked the motorhome at a Walmart and we headed straight toward the yellow mountain in our rented vehicle. We really did not know what it was. Tooling up Harrison Street to Main Street and then to the top of the mountain can not be described. We passed at least eight mining rigs spouting their ironware throughout the neighborhoods. Who builds a mine in the middle of a bunch of houses? Now I know that there are 40 mining rigs still standing in Butte.
Butte used to be the proud owner of the largest copper mine in the world, Anaconda Mining Company. Both silver and copper made many rich and brought people from all over the world to work and live in this community. One local told us about the Chinese who ran opium smuggling underground in the more than 10,000 miles of shafts below our feet. Really?
Having passed through ghost towns, ranches, and crumbling infra-structures of other western towns, we were shocked at the beauty and architectural wonder of Butte. We could have been in Ghent, Belgium! or any other smaller European city. All of the late 19th century buildings in the main part of town were built out of stone and brick. They were gorgeous! (There was a fire in the 19th century and the town decided to build everything out of stone or brick.) And we could see Asian influence in the designs!
Yet, only steps away was the Berkley Pit, the largest superfund site in the United States. Measuring 1.5 miles wide, and 1780 feet in depth, it contains carcinogenic chemicals including arsenic and sulfuric acid. By 2020 the liquid in the pit will begin polluting ground water in the whole area. At the moment they are draining off millions of gallons from the pit, but it is not enough. For $2.00 admission you can stand and stare at the Berkley Copper pit!
And while I would recommend that everyone visit Butte, how could I recommend living there? Only about 30K residents live south of the pit and a few downtown! Mining operations have resumed and I presume that this has brought people back into the area!
Reflections on Our Trek Toward Glacier National Park!
Gorgeous Montana blue skies reflect valleys surrounded by dark and snow-capped mountains. It is everything that you see in photographs, but, it is more. In the process of preparing for our recent adventure, I read several guide books on Montana. Their romantic descriptions beckoned to me. The poetry dripped of adventure, historical reconstruction, and the wilderness. It reminded me of the books written by Christian missionaries (Jesuits) that lured thousands of people to a mind-altering adventure to the WEST!
Now that I have visited Montana, I know that I was duped. Those books painted a rosy and idealistic picture of a very harsh landscape. Montana is rugged and mostly wild, even in sophisticated towns. Gravel is the mainstay of every campground and parking lot. Not only did we have to contend with smoke from burning forests (They happen every year!), we were covered in dust all day long. Nothing could be kept clean. It crept into the motorhome (on the walls, dishes, floors) and car and rested on every surface. Our white canines turned gray (grey).
Tonight we are staying in a hyped state campground that needs a lot of scrubbing. (The description must have been written when the writer was in an altered state.) There is no telephone signal. We drove 10 miles just to check our emails. We are planning the next few days but cannot do it without WIFI. It is like we are isolated from the rest of the world in a place where the earth ends.
I listen to NPR whenever we are traveling. I found NPR on the radio until we reached Bozeman. After Bozeman, the airwaves could not find NPR. Most of the stations were religious and when I did find a public station, it was playing classical music. Huh?
Guidebooks do not mention that the largest “big” business in Montana is religion. There are signs in yards, fields, on fence posts, on counters in restaurants, on maps, in restrooms, and flying in the sky. Just outside of Hungry Horse (Glacier National Park) there is one entire acre of billboards about religion. I was going to take a photo, but I thought, how do I capture this? Who would want to see this? Why is this here? Have I been transported to another planet or captured by aliens?
The largest and best-built buildings in towns and prairies were religious structures. Sometimes out in the middle of nowhere there would be four structures in the same area representing different religions. (Where are the people who attend these services?) It made sense to me that there were so many religious organizations after I realized that the strongest radio stations in the area were religious. And it reminded me of Buddhist and Hindu temples that are laced with gold in Cambodia, Vietnam, and India, while the people live in grass huts or worse!!! just outside the walls of the temples!
A couple of guidebooks invited us to visit the Bitterroot Valley. We bought the tale and toured the missions, mansions, and the towns of Hamilton and Stevensville. There were a few good moments but the trek was long and difficult. Along the way, we saw yard after yard with old not-wanted and forgotten stuff that was piled up all around the houses. (But many of the homes did not really look like houses. I call them dwellings!) Most people had at least one rusting car and RV somewhere on their property. These homes reminded us of homesteaders in Alaska who save everything because they just might need it. Old rusty pickup trucks were the norm! My Uncle Homer was a sort-of-homesteader in Kentucky. He saved everything and even had a toilet to greet you in his front yard.
When you tire of the flora and fauna its time to take a break. Many people gamble. If you want to gamble, Montana is the place to visit. Casinos can be found in the most unlikely places. Want to get a haircut? You can gamble while you wait. Need some gas? You can gamble while you fill your tank. Are you hungry, just pull up to a restaurant that will show you to the casino first. Bring some cash to lose and the business owners will love you!
I don’t often write such critical notes of places we visit. We are both city-folks who like adventure but are really not built for the wild west. While I spent my summers on a farm in Kentucky, which I thought was a pretty wild place, it does not measure up to the challenges of living in Montana.
But, still, visit Montana. You will never forget it!
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge