Saturday, August 10, 2013

Missoula to Butte to Bozeman

Leaving Glacier National Park I headed south along U.S. 93 and discovered this very lovely lake that went on for 30 or 40 miles...

Flathead Lake had some picturesque little vacation towns along its shores and the lake is so large it has its own legend.  "The Flathead Monster" seems to be sighted fairly often.  I was told the creature resembles the Loch Ness Monster and, who knows;  since the lake is a hold-over from the very ancient Inland Sea, one or more of those Jurassic Era aquatic dinosaurs may have survived.

I pulled into the tiny town of Polson in the Flathead Indian Reservation on the southern shore of the lake, found a shady spot on the water (right at the foot of their main street) and did not move for two days. There were two other RVs parked nearby so I felt, at least for a few days, it would be okay.   Besides, if I got rousted, I had already spied a Walmart that had another dozen RVs in its parking lot--if I had to move at 2AM at least I knew where to go.  

From Polson I spent a day wandering around the Buffalo Refuge,  then on to Missoula where I discovered my all-time favorite restaurant, Cracker Barrel! It is the first one I'd found since leaving Arizona last March and I was thrilled.  Okay, I know, it is a chain.  But--It is the very friendliest place I know for RV travelers.  It is okay to park for the night, they put out trash cans for us, mark the places in their parking lot we can pull into, put turnip greens and cornbread on their menus for us southern women,  and supply us with stupendous Montana sunsets to complete the day.

I continued on south on U.S. 93 from Missoula.  I was determined not to get on a freeway if I could help it.  At the end of a 3 mile long dirt road I found this campground in a National Forest--with my Golden Agers Pass it was $6 for the night--and look at the view!

At Montana SR 43 I turned east towards Butte and, after crossing Chief Joseph's Pass I found another semi-remote (and cheap) campground....

Shortly after discovering and naming the Jefferson River in 1805, The Lewis and Clark Expedition encountered the river's 3 branches.  They named these the Philosophy, Philanthropy, and Wisdom Rivers in honor of President Jefferson's three 'Cardinal Virtues'.  The Wisdom River was the western-most branch.  Fur traders later renamed the Wisdom and its valley, The Big Hole.  The original names of the other two Jefferson River branches did not fare any better.  They are known today as the Ruby and the Beaverhead Rivers.

I made a stop at the Big Hole Battlefield, the location of one battle of an ongoing war between the U.S. Calvary and the Nez Perce Indians that led, eventually, to the relocation of the Nez Perce onto a small reservation in Idaho.
The following comments on display at the Site were especially enlightening:
General of the Army Wm Sherman observed, "One of the most extraordinary Indian wars of which there is a record.  The Indians displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise;  they abstained from scalping, let captives go free, did not commit indiscriminate murder of peaceful families, and fought with almost scientific skill."

When the Nez Perce finally surrendered, it was more from exhaustion trying to elude the Calvary than from defeat. Their desperation is echoed in Chief Joseph's words as he spoke to the General, "I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed...It is cold and we have no blankets.  The little children are freezing to death...My heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."


The town turned out to be much larger than I expected and the buildings mostly dated back to its very earliest years.

There are a lot of empty buildings but the town does not have that 'closed-down' feeling like so many towns this size around the country.

I love how they have kept the buildings--note this skyscraper in front of Kehoe's Hat Box.  Parked across the street is Halcyon II.

At the edge of the town on the east side lies an enormous--and now defunct--open pit mine.

It truly overshadows the entire town.

The Anaconda Company broke ground for the Berkeley Pit mine in 1955.  Five small communities were uprooted and moved to make room for the mine.  To reach the rich copper veins miners had to remove approximately 4.4 million tons of waste rock.  By 1962, production rates reached 320,000 tons of ore and waste per day.  By the early 1980s, mining The Pit had become less profitable and production was halted in 1983.  When it closed it was the largest open pit copper mine in the U.S. and 1.4 billion tons of ore had been extracted from it.

When the mine closed the hole began to fill with ground water and now there is this rather large rust-colored lake that rises above the majority of the town.

It measures 7000 feet long, 5600 feet wide and more than 1800 feet deep. (And it has filled almost to the rim!)

One local gentleman stood next to me as I gazed out at this memorial to our voracious appetite for the Earth's natural resources...

"It isn't even full yet," he said.  "and I don't know if this lake is a threat to our homes or not but I sure don't feel real comfortable about it."

Before I left he gave me a good suggestion for a place to eat...Sparkey's Garage.

It really was a garage--note the big green and yellow doors.

And the inside looked like it could still be a garage.

I had a nice lunch on this lovely balcony that looked over the town, and just to the left I could see that Berkeley Pit Lake.

That night I found a drive-in!  Wow! I couldn't resist.  It was a dumb movie but the experience was fun anyway.

And the movie started with a sunset!

I stayed in Butte two days because I wanted to see the museum dedicated to the 'Ladies of the Night' but it never opened.

I parked for the night at the Wally World Resort, found a free dump for my tanks, free potable water an excellent price for propane, and a $10 shower at the truck stop.  Life is good.

It was freeway all the way to Bozeman but the scenery was interesting.

Montana is quite lovely with Glacier National Park on the northern border and Yellowstone on the southern border with lots of variety in between.

It looked as though Sigh Me and I wouldn't stay much longer though--the heat was pushing us toward a higher altitude. 

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