West Yellowstone Butte Virginia City Ennis Montana
Montana: West Yellowstone, Butte, Virginia City, Nevada City and Ennis

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Some Key West Adventures ** More Montana Adventures ** 2001 Travel Adventures


Montana: West Yellowstone, Butte, Virginia City, Nevada City and Ennis

Places Visited: Montana: West Yellowstone, Butte, Virginia City, Nevada City and Ennis

Sunday, August 5, 2001 Grizzly RV-Park West Yellowstone Montana.

We attended church services at The First Baptist Church of West Yellowstone, Montana. It reminded us of our Sunday school class back at First Baptist in Pensacola, Florida. Some of these churches are actually smaller than our Sunday school class. They do not have sophisticated music programs, they share praise items and prayer requests just like our Sunday school class and most have some kind of distractions. Today it was warm so the church had doors and windows open. A raven stationed himself outside and started squawking. Ravens do not sing. It reminded me of the "old folks" singing in the Sunday school class down the hall.

National News is reporting on a Tropical Storm / Hurricane in the Gulf south of Pensacola, Florida. It is hard for us to not pay attention to these reports. Our son is taking care of our home so we really do not have much to concern ourselves with, except for the large yellow popular tree that is leaning toward the house. One of the hurricanes several years ago forever changed this tree from a perfectly vertical position to a tree with a 10-degree list toward our home. Hurricanes are something that Gulf Coast residents pay attention to. Once you ride out a good one you will understand what the big deal is. From time to time we tune into the weather station. As we go to bed it appears that the area will get plenty of rain but the wind should not do much damage.

Since we have been touring Yellowstone NP the last few days it is time to share some facts about Yellowstone with you. Yellowstone comprises 3,472 square miles in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It is the site of the world's greatest concentration of thermal features--approximately 10,000, including more than 300 geysers. It is one of the few places in the world with active travertine terraces (look this up in the encyclopedia in your spare time). Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of elk in the world and is the location of the world's largest petrified forest. One of the petrified trees we saw the other day was standing up. It must have been covered by volcanic ash to preserve it in that position. All of the other petrified trees we have seen have been laying down where they were covered by mudflows that cut off oxygen and prevented their decay. The only petrified tree we saw was the one standing up. It has been identified as a coastal redwood tree just like the ones on the Pacific coast. It stands today as mute testimony to what this area was like millions of years ago. Where the "world's largest petrified forest" is located is beyond me. The parks literature provides that information but absolutely nothing we can locate says anything more about a "petrified forest".

A lake located atop the continental divide, between the south entrance and Old Faithful, has the distinction of draining to both sides of the continent. The east side of this small pond flows down to the Snake River and eventually to the Pacific Ocean. The west side flows around the mountain then north into a river that eventually empties into the Missouri then the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. The location of such a pond/lake that empties into both the Atlantic and Pacific would make a good game show question don't you think? I have no idea but this is probably the only place where this occurs. The lake is only an acre or so in size. I wanted to see where the water from this lake started flowing down both sides of the continental divide. The pond itself is very shallow, less than three or four feet deep. At the east end is a small (10-inches wide) "drainage channel" that leads down the side of the mountain. On the west side there was a natural outlet through a narrow grassy area. No water was flowing through the "drainage channels" when we were there, however, there was water in the lake. The level of the lake was a few inches below the "drainage channels". It was easy to see that any snowfall or rain would fill the small lake to the point that it would flow out into the "drainage channels". It appeared to me that the slightly man-made/enhanced drainage channel on the east side had been constructed at exactly the same altitude as the natural path on the west side so that an equal amount of water would drain out both sides. Does anyone know any more details concerning this phenomenon?

Yellowstone has wolves and both black and grizzly bears. We have not seen any of these although we are looking very hard. We have seen a number of coyotes. One coyote put on a show for the other day. We had the privilege of watching him as he was hunting for small mammals for around 5-minutes. Buffalo and elk are readily visible. Frequently traffic is stopped while buffalo or elk stand in the road. There is nothing for the traffic to do but to stop and wait for the animal to move. Everyone seems to love to see these big ungulates near the road even if they do cause "animal jams". Yellowstone has moose but we have not seen one. We are hearing that the ones we saw in the Tetons were probably going to be the only ones we will see.

The grizzly bears in Yellowstone are much smaller than the grizzly bears of Alaska and especially Kodiak Island, Alaska. The difference in size is attributed to the amount of protein in the diet. Kodiak and other Alaska bears eat tremendous amounts of migrating salmon while the Yellowstone bears diet consists more of berries and other plant matter.

Monday, August 6, 2001 Grizzly RV-Park West Yellowstone Montana.

We spent the day in Yellowstone going from one geothermal feature to the other. The only animals we saw were elk.

Since we were in the area we decided to do lunch at the Old Faithful Inn. Reservations are a must if you do dinner, but lunch is generally available on a walk up basis, at Old Faithful Inn. Virtually everything that could go wrong went wrong during our dining experience. We both laughed at each of the multiple small annoyances and tried to find the silver lining. The silver lining, we both agreed on, was how happy we were that we were not paying dinner prices "FOR THIS".

After lunch we ambled over and visited with our friends Buddy and Suzie Kisner.

Around 7:00pm we went to the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Wyoming. They have live grizzly bears and wolves on display in a natural setting. All of their bears and wolves had become "problem" animals in the wild. They were mostly destroying livestock. In several instances a mother bear was killed while feeding on livestock. The cubs could not make it on their own so they were shipped to the Grizzly Discovery Center where they are on display in a very large open area. The pack of wolves had similar backgrounds.

Later a ranger from the National Park Service conducted an hour-long discussion of the earth science aspects of Yellowstone. No matter how much I read on the geological makeup of Yellowstone it helps immensely to have a knowledgeable individual explain it. There is so much to learn that it helps to have the information repeated over and over in a variety of ways for it to sink in.

Tuesday, August 7, 2001 Grizzly RV-Park West Yellowstone Montana.

We spent the day doing everything imaginable on the north loop of Yellowstone. We got to see MANY buffalo and a grizzly eating a dead buffalo cow. There is NO WAY to write down all that we saw and experienced. Some facts to ponder: 80% of Yellowstone is forested. 80% of the forest is lodge pole pine. Yellowstone has around 160 adult wolves. At least 67 pups (21-22 litters) were born in Yellowstone this spring. There are currently 21 active packs in the park. Over 90% of the wolves diet is elk. Wolves were in introduced into Yellowstone as a natural control for the burgeoning elk herd in the park.

Wednesday, August 8, 2001 Grizzly RV-Park West Yellowstone Montana.

We spent the day doing the south loop of Yellowstone. The best part of this loop was the herds of buffalo in the Hayden Valley. Explaining all of the geothermal and geologic things we see is not an option. There is just too much. We had a 10-hour day of touring, ate lunch at the Lodge in Lake Village, met an extremely nice couple from Texas that was touring the country in their RV just like we are. We sat in the lobby of the Lake Village Inn, in front of the fireplace, and talked with them for over an hour. Our lunch at the Cafeteria in Lake Village was priced right and the food was excellent. If you want ambience and a bill to match you will probably want to do a dinner meal at Old Faithful Inn. I suspect you will be both mad and disappointed. If you want a good meal, with a good view (buffalo were grazing out the picture window) try the Cafeteria at Lake Village.

Thursday, August 9, 2001 Wal-Mart Super Store: Butte, Montana. Elevation 5,484 feet.

Around noon we said good by to West Yellowstone and started our journey toward Glacier NP in the northwest corner of Montana on the Canadian border. An RV'er working in the pharmacy in West Yellowstone told us about Lyons Head RV-Park located 7-miles west of West Yellowstone on highway 20. I think he said rates were around $18 per-night. Grizzly RV-Park, where we stayed, is a first class campground but it is fairly expensive. For those so inclined Lyons Head cost about ½ as much.

Out of West Yellowstone we took US-287 to Montana-2 to I-90 into Butte. What a wonderful and scenic route. There was little traffic and the scenery around Lake Hebgen, along the Madison River and Earthquake Lake, then along the Madison River again and through the Madison Valley were right out of a picture book. Campgrounds were scattered all along this route. An earthquake in August of 1959 registering 7.3 on the Richter scale caused a large portion of a mountain to slide into the valley, instantly damming the Madison River. The "scar" where the mountain fell into the valley is still visible 43-years later. A section of Lake Hebgen along the fault line dropped 20 feet in less than a second. When the bottom of this large lake dropped it drained other portions of the lake as the surrounding water rushed in to fill the hole, this created enormous waves in the lake resulting in tremendous damage. Over 20 individuals perished as a result of the earthquake, one of the largest to occur in North America. There is an "earthquake" Visitors Center operated by the Forestry Service, on US 287, that explains in detail what happened. The drive from West Yellowstone, Montana through here is as scenic as any in Yellowstone.

A few miles down the road in the small town of Ennis we parked the motorhome and took the Saturn to Virginia City, Nevada City and Adobe a town that is nothing more than a memory. These were gold mining towns back in the 1860's. They were the center of Montana activity until the gold ran out. The gold mines in this neck of the woods were placer mines. Huge dredges would scoop rock out of the river bottom dumping the rocks into a sluice where the gold would settle out. The rubble would be deposited behind the barge. Gold dredges float on ponds of their own making as they navigate through the floodplain by digging the gravel ahead and dumping it in their wake, moving the pond with them as they go. Huge piles of rocks and gravel still scar the landscape for miles and miles. Big steam and electric dredges worked these gravel deposits in Alder Gulch from the late 1890s through the early 1920s. The scars this mining technique left on the 14-miles of Alder Gulch remain 80 years later. The dredges recovered 9 million dollars worth of gold at the cost of virtually the entire floodplain.

Across the continent small-scale placer miners washed gold out of stream gravels with a sluice box, a long wooden trough with cleats nailed crosswise to its floor. Miners shoveled gravel into one end of the sluice box, and washed it through with a stream of water. Gold, being heavy, lodged behind the cleats while the lighter pebbles washed through. This small-scale mining by individuals could never wreck the havoc or create the immense damage the big steam dredges did.

A pullout half way between Ennis and Virginia City on Montana 287 provides a magnificent view of the Madison Valley around Ennis. Make sure that you stop at this pullout and soak up the view if you pass this way.

Around Ennis both sides of the highway are a mosaic of cattle ranches, wheat fields, and irrigated hay. It would be hard to find a more picturesque drive.

The area around Ennis and Virginia City is a place we intend to return to. There is so much to see and do. This is obviously a fly fishing mecca. Fly fishermen virtually litter the river along this route.

A few miles before US-287 intersects with I-90 we took Montana-2 west. This is as beautiful a drive as any in Yellowstone or the Tetons. About mid-way along Montana-2 we spot an open field with hundreds of RV's and tents in it. It looks to us that something interesting is about to happen and we want to be part of it. We pull up to the entrance and inquire about what is going on. As it turns out a group of rock bands are scheduled for the weekend. There is going to be 3-days of head butting rock music. The cost is $100.00. The place was filling up fast and this was just Thursday. From the looks of things they are going to have another Woodstock. We asked who some of the bands would be because this place looked like it was going to rock. We did not recognize any of the bands and from the sound of the names they all had purple hair and multiple body piercing. This just was not us so we passed up the opportunity. As we continued along Montana-2 toward I-90 we witnessed a "ton" of travel trailers and other RV's heading to the rock music pasture. This drive takes you through several miles of canyons where the rock cliffs are as close to the road as any we have seen. For the adventuresome this stretch of Montana-2 is a "must drive".

On I-90 just east of Butte we pass over the continental divide again.

Using our GPS and SA-8 software Joyce guided us straight to Butte's pride and joy, their brand spanking new Super Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has done us proud, they have installed 110-volt outlets for their overnight RV-friends. How much better can it be to boondock with 110 volts? Does it get any better? Thank you Wal-Mart. In Wal-Mart's expansion to a Super Store they actually went out of their way to accommodate RV's. They have an enormous parking area on the side that is designed for RV's. It is located far from the entrance so that the RV's will not interfere with other vehicles. The automobile service center manager explained that the 120-volt outlets serve a dual purpose. During the summer they are for RV'ers and during the winter they are for store employees to plug in their private automobiles since temperatures get down to minus 20 and minus 30 degrees.

Friday, August 10, 2001 Wal-Mart Super Store: Butte, Montana. Elevation 5,484 feet.

Butte is Montana's fourth largest city with 33,000 people. Between 1882 and 1890, this mile-high mining town grew to the world's greatest copper producer and the largest inland city in the West. The telephone and light bulb came on the market about the time rich copper ores were discovered here. In a sense Butte owes its existence to the telephone and light bulb. In 1961 the Secretary of the Interior designated a portion of downtown Buttes historic district as a National Historic Landmark stating "Butte the town that electrified a nation". "The Richest Hill on Earth" has described Butte for more than 100 years due to the vast wealth of ores beneath the town.

Like other western mining towns Butte was a melting pot of immigrants. At the start of World War I Buttes 100,000 residents spoke a dozen different languages. Of the 100,000 residents 90,000 were men, the 10,000 ladies, well you know, serviced the men. As new immigrants migrated into town they settled in communities that spoke their language and had things in common. Today the original ethnic communities are nothing but a memory as the new neighborhoods became a melting pot.

All over the city of Butte mine frames dot the landscape. These mine frames look similar to an oil well drilling derrick. These mines feature a vertical shaft that drops straight down from 1,000 feet to over 5,000 feet. From these vertical shafts the mines would move horizontally along a rich vein of oar bearing rock. The oar bearing rock had to be hauled back to the vertical shaft and loaded into large steel buckets that were hauled to the surface. This is where the large mine frames that dot the landscape came into use. At the top of these frames was the pulley that the cable rode on that went down into the shaft. Large mining operations had huge frames stout enough to support several thousand feet of 1" steel cable plus the load of oar the cable would pull to the surface. Smaller mines that were only 1,000 feet deep did not need nearly as big a mine frame. These smaller mines would use smaller diameter cable and smaller oar containers.

Deep underground, in the horizontal mine shafts mules were used to haul the oar to the vertical shaft for its ride to the surface. These mules lived their entire adult life underground. Their only way up was for burial after they were dropped down into the mine. Imagine in you mind how these miners transported a mule several thousand feet down a vertical shaft. It was not easy. We examined a series of pictures that explained in detail the procedure for lowering a mule into one of these vertical shafts. The first thing was to tie the mule's head tightly to a hitching post. Next a rope was placed around one of his front legs and the leg was then pulled up and tied where the mule now only had 3 legs. From there a heavy leather strap was put around the three remaining legs and his eyes were covered. In the next step the mule's legs are tied like a calf at the rodeo. In the last step the mule appears to be virtually in a large bag with only his head protruding. At this time the mule is loaded into the container for his ride down the vertical shaft. From this time on the mule never saw the light of day. Thousands and thousands of mules were utilized in the Butte mines in the late 1800s.

In 1955 the Anaconda Mining Company purchased the homes, businesses, and schools of two working-class communities including a number of deep shaft mines. Anaconda began to dig an open pit mine utilizing large trucks. By 1980 this pit was 7,000-feet long, 5,600-feet wide and 1,600-feet deep. When mining was ceased in 1982 1.5 billion tons of material had been removed from the pit, including more than 290 million tons of copper ore. Gold, silver, lead, and other valuable metals were also recovered. State and federal legislation requires current and past owners be responsible for environmental cleanup. The cleanup is ongoing. At this time the pit is full of toxic water leached from the thousands of miles of tunnels through metal bearing oars. A number of new technologies are being demonstrated in an effort to mitigate the environmental damage.

Once the oar was transported to the surface it had to be processed. Large rocks were crushed in stamp mills that pulverized them into a sandy dust. One large stamp mill, located at the corner of Granite and Arizona Streets in historic downtown Butte, is emblematic of the era when Butte was the most heavily industrialized area in the world at the height of the Industrial Revolution. This particular stamp mill consisted of 10 stamps. Each of the 10 stamps would support the lives of 250 miners. Smelters extracted copper and other metals from the pulverized rock.

Joyce and I spent more hours than I want to admit touring the "World Museum of Mining and Hell Roarin' Gulch". Joyce allowed me to examine in detail a host of mining equipment including the complete headframe of the once active Orphan Girl underground mine. Hell Roarin' Gulch is a recreated mining town with a Chinese laundry, sauerkraut factory, funeral parlor, ice house, school, general store, saloon and many, many other businesses that would make up a "hell-on-wheels" mining town. Each of these businesses was decked out in 1889 appurtenances. The saloon had a working orchestrion (an automatic piano/drums/cymbals/woodwinds and a variety of other instruments all contained in what looked to be a large upright piano). What a super instrument especially since it was working.

Joyce reveled in the businesses and associated paraphernalia that made up the old mining town and I got lost in all of the old mine machinery. My brother-in-law, Van, would go wild in a display like this. I would love to tour it with him.

Included in this museum is the spectacular Roy Garrett Mineral Collection, containing over 1,600 mineral specimens expertly displayed and identified. Anyone interested in rocks and such could spend hours and hours in this exhibit. Even for a novice it was hard to move on.

This is probably the best museum we have visited in the four months we have been traveling and we have seen some good ones. We could spend several more days in the 12 acres of items on display. This is a "must see".

A trolley car tour of Butte leaves the Butte Visitors Center several times a day. It takes you on a tour of many of the older places in the historic district. This one and one-half hour tour is a very worthwhile thing to do.

Saturday, August 11, 2001 Wal-Mart Super Store: Butte, Montana. Elevation 5,484 feet

I got up bright and early and took the Saturn to get 4 new tires and an alignment. It was time for the new tires so took the laptop and cell phone with me while the Princess got an extra hour or so of beauty sleep.

Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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