Southwest Montana is proud to claim several of Montana’s State Parks. These parks are scattered across the region and feature a variety of historical significance. Throughout the year, we will be featuring each of these parks on our blog, in hopes of inspiring you to find a park of interest and dig a little deeper into the history of our area. We will start with two parks located just outside of Dillon, MT. These parks – Beaverhead Rock and Clark’s Lookout – were made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s.
This point brought the Corps of Discovery hope on August 8, 1805. On this date, the expedition’s Shoshone guide, Sacagawea, observed a distinct rock formation. This formation was a sign that the expedition was nearing the home of her people. The home from which she had been kidnapped at an early age (near 12 years). The expedition realized this to be an opportunity to find aid – specifically horses – that would be used to cross the Continental Divide. Lewis wrote in his journal “The Indian woman recognized the point of a high plain to our right which she informed us was not very distant from the summer retreat of her nation on a river beyond the mountains which runs to the West.” With Sacagawea’s guidance, it was only a few short days later that they came upon the Shoshone.
This point, although first recognized for its significance in this expedition, became an icon of the western life in Montana. The trail past the rock was used by ranchers for the first cattle drives in the area and brought prospectors to settle in the area. Additionally, a stage coach stop existed near the formation as a midpoint between Bannack and Virginia City, operating between the 1860s and 1880s. The best view of the park can be accessed on a pullout on Highway 41, outside of Twin Bridges, but the park can also be accessed directly given the right conditions. The rock formation was given its name due to its resemblance of the head of a beaver. Although there are no amenities at this park, visitors can take in the scenic views and hike across the rock formation.
This point gained its significance only 5 days after the Corps of Discovery came upon Beaverhead Rock. Four individuals, including Lewis, split off from the expedition in search of the Shoshone people. Lewis and his companions took a route on land, while the rest of the expedition continued down the river. Clark’s Lookout is located one mile north of Dillon and can be accessed directly. At this point, Clark climbed up a rock formation to gain a better view of the area. At this outcropping, he viewed the region through a telescope and made several compass readings which were recorded in his journal and used to create maps of the area. This State Park is located above the Beaverhead River and features a variety of interpretive signs which explain the navigation methods used by the expedition. There is a short trail at the park that takes visitors to the spot on which the compass readings were made – this spot now features a marble monument. Visitors now stand on the same spot as Clark once did, able to survey the land and get a sense of the surrounding area and the terrain that the expedition would soon face.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition greatly impacted Montana’s history and laid the foundation for the western move of the country. Don’t miss two important sights on the Lewis and Clark trail.
No small town is complete without its quirky traditions – each tradition adds to the character of the town. The annual Townsend Fall Fest is just around the corner and this is an event that you don’t want to miss. Promoted across the area by hay bale sculptures, this event kicks off soon on September 30, 2016 and will run through October 2, 2016. (Photos from 2014.)
This promises to be a fun filled weekend for adults and children of all ages. This event is centered in a city park – leaving the slides and swings available for the entertainment of the little ones. In addition, there will be bounce castles, face painting, and more. Craft and food vendors will be on location throughout the weekend, offering a variety of high quality products.
The lineup of events includes an honorary Veterans Ceremony, Montana’s Best Car Show, a Brat Eating Contest, pancake breakfast and a line-up of live music. This event is organized and serves as the largest fundraiser year after year for the Townsend Rotary Club.
The entertainment itself is enough to bring the whole town together for a weekend celebration. Performing artists include: The Clinton’s Stephanie Quayle, The Max Hay Band, Rabbit Wilde and Ten Years Gone. Each with a slightly different style, you are sure to find a new addition to your playlists.
Join the Townsend community for this annual fall celebration.
Montana’s historic landscape has been colored by a myriad of cultural influences.For instance, as the first settlers in the area, the Native American people have contributed immensely to Montana’s history and laid the foundation for today’s society. With the Homestead Act of 1862, Agriculture became the cornerstone of our conomy and remains the largest industry throughout the state. In 1872, Yellowstone was named the nation’s first National Park, and in 1910 Glacier followed. Both of these destinations have drawn individuals to the Big Sky State for years. Each of these factors have greatly shaped Montana into the coveted state it is today, but our history is nothing without the rich mining that gave individuals hope of “striking it rich” and achieving the American Dream. (BANNACK is pictured to the left.)
Copper, Silver and Gold have been found in Montana’s rich hills, many of which can be found within the Southwest Montana region. With each strike, a town would pop up, filled with miners and their loved ones. Many of these towns hosted a variety of schools, churches, homes and saloons for the locals. Each town that cropped up in the area boasts its own story, but possibly the most interesting tales come from those towns that died almost as quickly as they were established. Scattered across the Southwest Montana region, history can be pieced together as you travel from one ghost town to the next. (COOLIDGE is pictured to the right.)
The ghost towns in the area are rich with history, promising intrigue and adventure with every step. As you walk down what was once the main street of the town, imagine yourself living in a time when the town was thriving. Granite, Elkhorn and Bannack are all ghost towns in Southwest Montana that are recognized as State Parks, while Garnet is known as Montana’s best kept ghost town. Other towns, like Virginia City (Pictured to the left) and Nevada City thrive on tourism, offering tours, living history days, and countless opportunities to immerse yourself in the story of the town. Some of the towns may host more of the mining paraphernalia than town buildings, like Rimini or Charter Oak Mine and Mill. Still others, Pony and Marysville, remain inhabited to this day. No two towns are alike, and none of them offer the same stories. It is in these towns that we recognize that Montana was born on the boom and bust cycle.
A road trip that encompasses many of these historic sites is the perfect way to spend a summer weekend. Whether you just have a few days, or you are looking to truly dig deeper into the Montana landscape, the ghost towns in the area will not disappoint. A few weeks ago, a friend and I jumped in the car to trek across the region. We planned to spend time in the towns themselves, camping along the way, driving across scenic byways, and stopping for a delicious meal in some of the more populated towns. The map pictured below shows the route we took from Bozeman for the weekend.
Our first stop was in Ennis at the Ennis Cafe for a wonderful warmed cinnamon roll with honey butter. Then we took off for Virginia City. As we tramped through town, we took time to peer into each of the historic buildings. Our next stop was Alder Gulch at Robber’s Roost (pictured below), a historically significant link between Virginia City and Bannack, the two territorial capitals. We then drove out to Bannack State Park where we immersed ourselves in the lives of the Vigilantes, Henry Plummer, and ordinary town members. We then made our way up to Butte for the evening. The next day we got lost on our way to Granite Ghost Town, and stopped at the Philipsburg Brewery. Finally, we wound our way up to Montana’s Best Kept Ghost Town, Garnet for a final blast from the past.
It was a crazy and perfect weekend spent in Montana, and the Ghost Towns never disappoint. I highly recommend taking the time to immerse yourself in the History of Montana. There is no better way to do that than through the Ghost Towns which serve as a concrete – though somewhat decrepit – reminder of the founding days of our beautiful state.
One Last Summer Outing
With summer quickly drawing to a close, it is time to decide on that final excursion. The kids will be heading back to school in the next few weeks, and the weather – knowing Montana – is about to change drastically. Living in Montana, our summers are filled with camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and road-trips, all surrounded by family and friends. These moments, memories, and getaways are what make saying goodbye to the beautiful summer months so difficult. That being said, I have put together my five favorite weekend excursions in the area. Hopefully this will help you get the wheels turning, and allow you to create your own list of favorites.
1. Lewis and Clark Caverns
This site is one of the 10 state parks located in Southwest Montana. Located along the Jefferson river, the park offers an oasis off MT Highway 2. When visiting the park, you first drive up to the campground. If you are interested in spending the night, you can reserve a spot here (http://stateparks.mt.gov/lewis-and-clark-caverns/). If you continue up the road, you will reach a visitors center from which the tours depart. Each tour lasts about 2 hours, and takes you deep inside the bowels of the mountain. Lined with stalagmites, stalactites, pools, and columns, the caverns offer some of the most amazing views, all of which are hidden from sight. This is the perfect summer outing for people of all ages! Even the kids enjoy themselves – as they take in the natural wonder.
2. Camping at Cliff Lake
Tucked in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Cliff Lake is a beautiful oasis and perfect camping spot. Although there are only a few sites available, there are several other campgrounds in the area. I can think of no better place to be than on a paddle board in the middle of this beautiful lake. This is the perfect place to go camping, layout a picnic, or put the kayak in the water. This is a must on any Montana bucket list.
3. Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site
When visitors think of Montana, many picture days spent on the farm. Grant-Kohrs Ranch will take you back to a simpler time marred by hard work. While visiting the Historic Site, you can take a tour of the main ranch house, watch as the employees continue to run the farm, or participate in a variety of ranger led activities. There are also seven miles of walking trails for visitors to dig deeper into the ranch and have the experience of a lifetime.
4. Fly fishing the Madison near Ennis, MT
Whether this is your first time out or you are a seasoned professional, the Madison River offers some of the best fishing in Montana. If you have your own equipment, there are countless fishing access points along highway 287 in any direction out of Ennis, MT. If you don’t have your own equipment, are new to the sport, or are looking for a guide, there are countless options for outfitters and guides in the area – take a look here. (http://www.southwestmt.com/listings/410.htm?c=thegreatoutdoors&t=fishingguide) There is something calming, something that heals as you cast your line into the calm water. Fishing the Madison is a day well spent in anyone’s book.
5. Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour
Named by Meriwether Lewis in 1805 on the historic Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Gates of the Mountains are located 17 miles north of Helena, MT, on I-15. The boat tour lasts about 2 hours and features a stop at the Meriwether campground, history of the area, a description of the Mann Gulch Fire, pictographs painted by Indians, and a variety of wildlife. This relaxing activity is the perfect way to spend a day in the sun with the whole family. Read more here (http://www.southwestmt.com/specialfeatures/lewisandclark/gatesofthemountains.htm).
Any way you spin it, take this opportunity to go on one more trip in the area before the summer comes to a close.
As far as plants go, camas is rather famous in Montana, despite the fact that it is not very widespread. http://fieldguide.mt.gov/RangeMaps/RecencyMap_PMLIL0E040_FS.jpg
Bread made from camas root was essential in the diets of Western Montana’s Indian tribes, and saved the Lewis and Clark Expedition from starvation. Like the buffalo, the grizzly, or the bitterroot, the delicate blue flowers of the camas plant hold a certain mystique, evoking romantic ideals of the Rocky Mountain Northwest. Part of the beauty of the camas must be its scarcity. Maybe it used to be more common, but as the above link shows, there aren’t many places to find camas anymore. Part of the mystique comes from the short life of the camas flower. Generally any field of camas will only have a week or so of ideal viewing before the flowers start to die. Because of, not despite, its fragile nature, the camas flower evokes Montana pre-history like few other plants.
Camas plants are “glabrous perennials from glabose bulbs” that prefer deep soil in low subalpine meadows. Each stalk grows a series of star-shaped flowers with pale blue petals and yellow anthers. In Southwest Montana, camas can be found in the mountains around Butte, Deer Lodge, and Philipsburg. The most famous place to find camas in Montana is Lolo pass, where it usually blooms in June.
As Montana is home to some of the most famous mammals in North America, it can be easy to overlook the birds. But that would be a mistake, because Montana has safari-level birdwatching opportunities, and for some reason, the really amazing birds (eagles, vultures, swans, cranes, etc.) are way easier to find than the famous mammals.
Today I’m thinking in particular of the Great Blue Heron. The four-foot tall shimmering gray-blue bird is one of the most impressive sights Montana has to offer, and the river-bottoms and marsh-lands of Southwest Montana are the perfect places look for the bird.
Blue Herons live in Southwest Montana year-round, wading on the shores of rivers and lakes, hunting fish with their spear-sharp beaks and lightning reflexes. In general they hunt fish, frogs, and the occasional small rodent, and use their long legs to wade deeper into the water than other birds can. If you spot one hunting it will probably be alone, but they live in large colonies called heronries. Somewhat surprisingly for such a massive creature, they frequently nest high in trees, their
giant stick nests clinging precariously to the branches. Although various sorts of creatures will eat the eggs and fledglings, adult herons don’t have many natural predators, and can be vicious when provoked—they’ve been known to kill eagles with their beaks.
From a distance, Blue Herons might be confused with Sandhill Cranes, especially in flight. However, while Sandhill Cranes fly with legs and necks fully extended, Blue Herons extend their legs and tuck their necks into an S curve. Blue Herons can also be mistaken for pterodactyls. An easy way to tell the two apart is that pterodactyls have been extinct for a hundred million years.
Spend five minutes in Montana (or even on this site) and you’ll figure out that rocks are crazy important. The rocks of Montana have shaped the last two centuries of the state’s history. The gold rushes in Bannack, Alder Gulch, and Helena were some of the most important episodes in Montana history. The copper mines of Butte were some of the most famous in the world. Oh, and Montana’s Yogo Sapphire is the only North American gem featured in Great Britain’s crown jewels. But the best part about Montana’s rocks? You can participate in the long history of Montana rockhounding. There are few better ways to interact with the history of Montana than to plan a rockhounding trip, and Southwest Montana has some of the best rockhounding sites in the state.
Most people would agree that some of the best rockhounding in the state can be found at Crystal Park. Located along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, Crystal Park is set aside specifically for rockhounding. The outstanding beauty of the Pioneer Mountains, combined with the thrill of digging up amethysts and crystals makes for a perfect day in Southwest Montana. Crystal Park is open during the summer, and there is a $5 fee per car, bring your own shovel and screen.
If you head up the beautiful Ruby Valley looking for rubies, you might be disappointed. That is because the shimmering blood-red stones in the gravel beaches of Ruby Reservoir are garnets, not rubies. But garnets there are, and plenty of them. Although most of the Ruby River is privately owned, the reservoir is relatively easy to access.
New to the whole rockhounding thing, don’t have the equipment, or just want a bit more structure? Philipsburg sapphires are famous around the world for their quality, and two businesses in Philipsburg cater to the aspiring rockhound. Montana Gems and the Sapphire Gallery will both supply you with everything you need (including the gravel!) to pan for Montana sapphires. You get to keep what you find and they’ll even turn your favorites into pieces of original jewelery.
Of course those three locations are just stratching the surface of all of the great rockhounding opportunities in SWMT. So make sure to include rockhounding in your next vacation itinerary!
Christmas is over. New Years has passed. What do we have to look forward to? Why Butte’s Chinese New Year, of course! The shortest, loudest, coldest Chinese New Year Parade in America kicks is next month: February 13, 2016. The parade usually starts from the Butte-Silverbow Courthouse around 3:00 pm and ends at the Mai-Wah museum. 2016, the Year of the Monkey, will mark the 24th
year of the parade, which started in 1993. It will also mark the 18th
year that the dragon, a gift from the people of Taiwan, will be the centrepiece of the parade.
Butte’s Chinese heritage stretches back to the 1880s. Butte’s Chinatown was never very big—it only covered a few blocks on Mercury Street, centered around the Mai-Wah General Store—but at its height, Butte Chinatown had between one and two thousand residents. Forbidden from staking claims, and excluded from most of the mines, Butte’s Chinese mostly took on periphery jobs. They ran laundries, grocery stores, apothecaries, and restaurants.
By the mid-twentieth century, Butte’s Chinese population had mostly disappeared. To this day many of the buildings in old Chinatown are abandoned. However the Mai-Wah museum and society celebrate the city’s Chinese heritage. The museum offers tours and had fascinating displays of artifacts recovered from around Mercury Street. The museum also offers cultural events throughout the year, the most impressive of which is the New Year Parade, a not-to-be-missed spectacle, and hey, now you have plenty of time to plan your visit. Also, if you happen to be in Butte before January 23, the Carle Gallery is hosting a Mai-Way display, including posters from previous parades and the silk dragon. Be sure to stop by.
"Is that…is there…is there a giant lady on the top of that mountain?"
Yes, yes there is.
She always startles first-time visitors to Butte. You're letting your eyes wander along the stark Eastern Ridge, and then you notice that there is something strange about one of the peaks. You look closer and realize there is a statue up there. She is far away and high up, and surrounded by the highest peaks around, so at first you assume she must be quite small. But then you realize that she is far away, and high up, and surrounded by the highest peaks around, and if you can still see her-when you can't distinguish individual boulders, let alone trees on the peak-she must be giant. A giant concrete Lady, watching over Butte.
Our Lady of the Rockies is indeed a giant concrete Lady. At 90 feet tall, she is the third tallest statue in the U.S. Only the Statue of Liberty, and the Pegasus and Dragon (in Hallendale Beach, FL) are taller. In 1979, welder Bill O'Bill's (honestly, that's his name) wife was ill with cancer, and he made a vow to the Virgin Mary that he would build a five foot high statue of her in his yard. The vision spiraled out of hand quickly. What had been a small personal act of devotion turned into a massive enterprise that engulfed the city. It came at just the right moment too. Butte's mining industry had been foundering for some time, and by the time the Berkley Pit officially closed in 1982, the city was in a major recession. Building a massive concrete statue on of an absurdly inaccessible peak on top of the Continental Divide was just the sort of project that Butte needed. They built the statue in chucks in Butte. In September of 1985, they poured the foundation, and Montana's senators managed to wrangle the use of an Army National Guard CH-54 Tarhe helicopter to airlift the chunks into place. Her head was finally attached on December 17, 1985.
Our Lady of the Rockies is "entirely non-denominational" and "dedicated to women everywhere, and especially mothers," but I think that it is worth noting that Butte is famously Irish-Catholic. I can't quite imagine a town full of Scotch Presbyterians or German Lutherans building a similar monument…It is such a wonderfully Butte story, I can't imagine it happening anywhere else.
"Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise."~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
The opal pools and emerald riffles of the Blackfoot River
have run through the collective imagination ever since Norman Maclean's 1976 novella A River Runs Through It.
The story elevated the Blackfoot from a simple trout stream to a literary masterpiece. The river begins its journey near the Continental Divided, a few miles northeast of Lincoln
. The upper half of the Blackfoot cuts across Southwest Montana from Lincoln to Ovando
before running into the Clark Fork
near Missoula. From Lincoln to Ovando, the Blackfoot flows at a leisurely pace through scenic valleys and narrow, twisting canyons. The distance from Missoula ensures that this stretch of river doesn't get overly heavy use. Don't let the smaller crowds fool you, the river is superb. The river swirls with holes and riffles full of very hungry twenty inch trout. Fewer people also mean that an abundance of wildlife-elk, moose, bighorn, osprey, and eagles-populate the area. The state land on the banks gives ready access to camping along much of the river, and the calm, but often twisting, waterway caters perfectly to canoeists and kayakers. No better occupation could be found than plying the banks of this classic blue ribbon trout stream, fly rod in one hand, Maclean's book in the other.