Saturday, August 19, 2017


On the way to Butte we stumbled across the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. In 1857 John Grant began laying out a trading post in Deer Lodge Montana to carry on his trade he had learned from his father, a trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company in Alberta. But he was already too late – fur hunting was all but played out by that time, so he began rounding up open range cattle to grow and sell to all the miners moving into the area. He began building in 1862, and by 1868 was ready to move on. He sold the home and land to Conrad Kohrs, a local butcher that had become wealthy getting the cattle raised by Grant ready for the miners.

For 150 years this ranch has had only the two owners. Heirs of Conrad Kohrs eventually sold the ranch to the Park Service when their last relative died who was living in the home. Because of that, the home, with all its furnishings, is just like it looked at the turn of the century. The NPS operates it as an insight for Americans into what open range ranching was like before the influx of people in the early 1900’s. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the home and the other ranch features.
In Butte, we were reminded about the namesake of Clark County Nevada. William Andrews Clark amassed a huge number of claims on local silver mines, making him a very rich man. At one point, he owned nearly half the silver claims in the area. However, that wasn’t what eventually made him the richest man in the country at the turn of the century. That was caused by the dense presence of copper ore in his mines, and with the advent of the Industrial Age and the spread of electricity, the price of copper ore went through the roof.
His 34-room mansion built here in 1884 was austere by Clark’s standards, but was the most opulent home in Butte at the time. Given his wealth source, he naturally became the promoter of the local electrical utility, and his home was wired for electricity the day it was built. Our first home in St. Paul was built in 1913, and was not wired for electricity until long after it was built – the gas pipes were still sticking out of our walls that we often used as hooks for wall hangings.
There are 3 Clark homes in Butte. In 1898 William Clark built a home for his son, Charles, as a wedding gift. The standard 3 story mansion with a ballroom taking up the bulk of the 3rd floor, looks more like a European castle than a Victorian mansion.
The third home was another wedding gift for a child. Peter Clark got a home a bit less opulent than his brother Charles, but still impressive. It turns out that one of Clark’s business ventures resulted in the blossoming of Las Vegas. Despite the transcontinental railroad being available to transport his ore, it stopped in every small town along the way, and took too long. Clark built his own railroad that would carry his ore to its destinations in the East with essentially no stops. However, because of its route, it lacked the support services, even as basic as water. The midpoint of one of the stretches without services fell in Las Vegas, where Clark’s investments brought people galore.
We visited the Dumas Brothel, allegedly the bordello operating continuously the longest in the US. Founded in 1890 to support the exploding mining workforce, the Dumas operated continuously until the closing of the Berkeley Pit on Earth Day in 1982. Despite the fact that prostitution was never legal in the state of Montana, the bordello operated continuously for nearly 100 years.
Apparently, the Red-Light District in Butte covered two complete square blocks during the mining times. The Dumas alone had 34 cribs in which the ladies did their work. Allegedly the Madame would get 60% of the monies paid by the customers to cover the cost of supplying the building, the graft payments to the local police and politicians, and other protection. 40% of what the customer paid went to the lady performing the services.
The building has deteriorated significantly. But even without that impact, this would have been a very seedy feeling location. While the newspaper articles and personal recollections documented here would suggest this was a very upscale setting, it certainly didn’t feel that way to us. However, it was still very interesting.
We visited Our Lady of the Rockies. Conceived as a tribute to his wife with cancer, Bob O’Bill promised the Virgin Mary that he would build a statue of her in his yard if his wife recovered. When she did, he started this project which ended up in being the 4th tallest statue in the US. Only 4 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty, had they thought about it, I am sure they would have made her 5 feet taller.
Essentially on the Continental Divide, the 90-foot-tall statue hangs 3,500 hundred feet above Butte, and 8,500 feet above sea level. Begun in 1979, Our Lady was finally completed on December 17, 1985. The views of her from Butte are cool. But the views from her of the Butte valley are stunning!
We learned that due to the mining, Butte was a true melting pot of the world, where anyone with mining skills were welcome. Because of this, all nationalities were welcome, as well as cultural beliefs. This Serbian church was erected in the late 1800’s – sadly it was not open the days we were here.
This Jewish orthodox synagogue sat among the Irish Catholic, Protes
tant, Chinese and other ethnic worshiping places. Apparently, much of the renewed ethnic conflict we are seeing in the early days of the Trump presidency were never present in the Butte mining days.
We visited one site of perhaps the most polluted US industrial byproducts. As I mentioned, mining operations in the Berkeley Pit resumed until 1982 when its operators determined they could not profit by further operations. They petitioned the EPA asking to turn off the pumps that kept the pit dry of ground water. The EPA agreed, and on Earth Day in 1982, they turned off the pumps. Since then, the water in the pit has risen about one foot per month, the heavy metal laden acidic water will reach the water tables in Butte in the next 5-10 years.
The water in the pit is so toxic that when birds land on it,
they may not ever leave. On November 30, 2016, a weather inversion forced 20,000 Canadian geese to land on the water at Berkeley Pit. When they left, only about 16,0000 were able to take off. The rest never made it, due to the toxicity of the water. Locals claim the US Government asserts they have the issue under control, but few of the locals actually believe it.
We learned that motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel was born in Butte. Allegedly, when incarcerated in the Butte jail for inebriation, Robert Knievel happened to be there when another chap, Awful Knofel, happened to be in the drunk tank as well. When a joking officer told locals he’d had his hands full the night before with “Awful Knofel and Evel Knievel”, the nickname stuck for the rest of his life. We visited his gravesite at Mountainview Cemetery in Butte. While we were there, a Harley rider came up to pay his respects as well – how fitting.
Now to make our way to Jackson Wyoming for the Eclipse – you maybe have heard something about it lately.
Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


We only stopped in Bigfork as it was on an angled path from Glacier NP toward Jackson. We’re heading to Jackson to meet Ron and Teresa and to take in the once in a century total eclipse. Hoping for a clear sky!

Established in 1911, Bigfork lies where the Swan River flows into Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is the largest naturally formed lake west of the Mississippi River. As you would imagine there are watercraft everywhere. The lake even had a few other amenities that I found particularly pleasing.
The Woman was hit by a gastro bug, so I took the pooch for a stroll along the Swan River Nature Trail. Originally built in 1914, this road linked the young Bigfork with other communities in the Swan River Valley. In the 40’s, a new higher speed highway was built on the other side of the Swan River and this road was essentially abandoned. It fell into disrepair and became essentially unusable.
In the 90’s, it was cleaned up a bit and became a multiuse trail. Starting just outside downtown Bigfork, it leads walkers and bikers to the start of Swan Lake above the dam. The trail is even open to equestrian use. Along the trail I came upon this memorial tree locals seem to be caring for.
Given the Woman’s condition she holed up in Colectiva most of the day and just did the white trash thing. It seems she was in good company in the campground we stayed at. Just exactly how many RV’s and how many cars and how many handmade structures are on this one site?
Talk to you soon!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Glacier II

The Woman impressed me. I picked a hike of just under 3 miles one way to Ptarmigan Falls. It had a pretty steep grade, gaining 800 feet on the way. I packed a lunch and figured we’d eat at the falls, and then head back.

Well, we got to the falls, and the Woman wanted to continue on to Iceberg Lake. That was another 2 plus miles, making our round trip well over 10. But she had seen some pictures of the lake in the Park brochure and really wanted to go.

So, we slogged our way up, and had our lunch looking out over a lake filled with icebergs. And it’s mid-August! The lake is still filed with icebergs in mid-August – how cool is that (actually, it’s quite cold)! I was impressed by the Woman’s stamina. We walked 10 miles daily in Spain, but didn’t generally climb 800 feet in the process!

The next day I assumed there would be no hiking. I was wrong. Not only did the Woman hike a couple of miles to St. Mary Falls, but she hiked a mile past it to get to Virginia Falls. Again, I am totally impressed by the stamina!

We have managed to bypass all the major forest fires ablaze in Glacier – all around in the West actually. But the Woman is getting totally fed up with the no campfire bans!

Talk to you soon!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Glaciier National Park

We’ve been to Glacier National Park long ago, but only saw the main scenic drive – Going-to-the-Sun Road This time around with our newfound passion for hiking, it is a different experience.
I have to admit that, while pretty majestic, I liked Waterton Lakes National Park more. It has all that Glacier has to offer (minus the glaciers of course) but is in a very compact area. Also, with the quaint servicee based village in the center, Waterton is very compelling. All the trails and attractions are within 10 or 20 minutes of Colectiva. In Glacier, its 3 hours from end to end. However, in Waterton, we nary caught sight of a moose!
While it’s called Glacier National Park for a reason, the present-day Park is a far cry from when it was established. In 1850 the Park boasted 180 glaciers. Today there are only 25. And Park scientists indicate that in a little over 10 years, that number will be zero. I wonder what they might change the name to!
You really can’t reach the glaciers to explore them – all 25 are now just hanging glaciers on very high peaks. We managed to hit all the overlooks to be able to take in the main visible ones. They don’t look much larger than the sections of snow pack still left over from winter. There is really only one difference between a large snowpack and a glacier – glaciers flow. If the ice isn’t thick enough and heavy enough to move, its snowpack. If it moves (flows), it’s a glacier.
I think we hiked to pretty much every waterfall in the Park. The Woman likes her waterfalls a great deal, so they end up being high on the list of possible destinations.
But the Woman might just put waterfalls into a second-place status when it comes to historic and famous trails. We knew that the Continental Divide Trail went through Glacier National Park, and spent our day on the Going-to-the-Sun Road looking for it, but were skunked. Who knew that when we set out to find Red Rock Falls that we would stumble into it. The Woman was ecstatic as we ended up hiking over 5 miles of it.
We didn't plan particularly well. It turns out that the folk in St. Mary Montana, the Eastern entrance into Glacier National Park, are very dedicated to the local native American nations. August 10 - 17 is the Heart Butte Indian Days celebration. In deference to the event, local retailers have voluntarily banned alcohol sales for 4 retail days. Ouch!

We’re glad we paid a return visit here. While we attempt not to hit the same destinations over and over, I really don’t think you can ever get too much Glacier National Park. Even if there were no glaciers left, it would still be totally awesome!
Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waterton Lakes National Park

With their 150th birthday, the Canadian National Park system offered free annual passes to anyone who applied, so we decided to take them up on that. Waterton Lakes is an interesting park. It lies in a valley filled with glacially created lakes, with immense rocky peaks surrounding you in every direction. In the center lies Waterton Townsite, a hub of activity with shops, restaurants and plenty of rooms if you don’t bring your own.

There are thousands of miles of hiking trails in the Park. While we aren’t carrying 25-pound backpacks here, we are pleased that we are at least hitting some of our daily distances we were used to in Spain. The last few days we put on over 10 miles in our various adventures. We had become so out of shape in our idleness while in Minnesota that we weren’t sure how long it would take us to achieve that. Not too long as it turns out.
We witnessed a new record for both the Park and the Park Service. In the summer months in Canada they have Monday national holidays just because. This Monday is what the locals call “August Long Weekend” national holiday. Between that and the free annual passes this year, we witnessed the largest crowds in Waterton Lakes National Park in its entire history. We were heading out of the Park to see a bison herd when we saw the lines of cars waiting to enter – appeared more than a mile long – so we turned around and just stayed in the Park. It turned out that Rangers were at the entrance and had to turn people away who wanted to visit because the roadways and parking areas could not handle the crowds!
Waterfalls were prolific in the Park. We found all the trails to the falls that we could find, and sought out the reward. All in all, I think we managed to hike to 4 different falls, each pretty spectacular on its own, but together was really special!
Deer are everywhere in the Park, roaming the campground sites as well as just nibbling on the lawns in town. Spring must be baby time, because there were lots of Bambi’s running around being carefully protected by their mothers.
We weren’t blessed with any moose, but we did see bears galore. We even saw a bear one morning crossing the car bridge in the campsite that crosses the creek.  We saw mostly black bear, but we also saw one huge brown bear on one of our hikes to Lake Crandell. It just ignored us and foraged among the trees, which was just fine with the Woman.
We got one additional bonus that we thoroughly enjoyed. Unlike Parks in the US, Canadian Parks embrace geocaching. US Parks prohibit the placing of caches, but in Canada, Park Rangers set up their own series of caches and provide a passport to visitors. We managed to find the 5 caches that Park Rangers hid as a special 2017 150-year anniversary hunt. 3 of the 5 caches took us to places we might not have otherwise seen. Each cache had a unique paper punch in it, and when we collected all 5 punches on our passport, we were awarded a wonderful geocoin – bonus!
Talk to you soon!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Havre Montana

Our first time to Havre brought us to several gems. Fort Assinaboine was built near present day Havre in 1879 – 108 brick buildings were built in about 6 months – and for the next 30 years was the largest military installation in the US. After the Civil War and the US Government’s continued encroachment on the lands promised the native nations, the military believed that the various nations that dodged US control by moving back and forth between Montana and Canada would amass and launch a thunderous attack on US forces. Accordingly, this Fort with over 700 soldiers and at least as many civilians, was built and maintained until early in the 1900’s. It was eventually abandoned as it never in its history had a single skirmish with any of the native nations.

Of the 108 original buildings, only about a dozen remain – a noncommissioned officer family duplex, an officer non-family residence, an officer family duplex, the original guard house, the officers club, the brig, and several Calvary stables and related housing. We got what might be the best personal tour of the old fort by Kirt, a local music teacher that conducts tours when school is out. Kirt did his research and told us dozens of stories about the times when the Fort was occupied and drove the economy for this part of the state. He told us how the Buffalo Soldiers occupied the Fort as its importance was winding down, and even got out his banjo and sang us the Buffalo Soldiers song he had found in doing his research.
It’s impossible now to grasp the magnitude of this military installation given that only around 10% of the buildings remain. According to our guide, the parade grounds between the officer and enlisted quarters was over a mile long. As an example of the scale, when the base had to communicate with all its members, they had to run flags up a 50-foot-tall mast near the end of the parade grounds. That mast still exists today.
We learned about underground Havre. In 1904, a massive fire destroyed nearly the entire downtown of Havre Montana. As in our travels to Alaska, the early buildings were all wood construction. The town passed an ordinance that any buildings from that time forward had to be made of brick or stone or concrete to reduce the chance of destruction by fire. Accordingly, it would be many years before any significant buildings in downtown Havre would exist.
Due to local custom, all existing buildings had basements, and most basements survived the fire devastation. So, while the slow process of replacing the downtown was undertaken, most businesses set up in their basement until a permanent alternative was available. We toured barber shops, butchers, saloons, opium dens, and brothels, all connected by underground passageways as the buildings above ground were being constructed. The city operated underground for many years before resurfacing.
Finally, we visited the Wahkpa Chugn Archaeological Site. 1,300 years ago, native Americans harvested buffalo by herding them into a bowl, and then killed them in large numbers using arrows and atlatls. Then the natives would process the buffalo, hides for clothing and shoes, meat for eating, bones for boiling and then skimming the residue to make 
The excavations show the extensive remains of the buffalo bones in layers. As the natives processed massive amounts of buffalo, the sediment would cover the existing base of bones. The next layer would then develop. In addition, the soil would redden as a result of the saturation of buffalo blood into the soil layers.
Apparently, the last inhabitants of this site left in around 1,500 – around the same time as Columbus was flirting with the East Coast. A 14-year-old kid, John Brumley, discovered this site in 1961, and has dedicated his life to excavation and documenting its history. While several hundred “buffalo jump” sites have been discovered in Montana alone, this remains one of the more notable.
Talk to you soon!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Makoshika State Park

We visited part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail in Makoshika State Park. Located in Glendive Montana, the park is a fascinating geological wonder.

Long before the dinosaurs roamed Montana this area was an ocean floor between two tectonic plates that eventually collided to form the North American continent. Because of that, the park is littered with oceanic fossils. Just about every rock you pick up has a scallop shell fossil embedded in it.
As the plates moved together the earth’s crust rose, creating a wet tropical climate where Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex flourished. While most of the fossilized bones are in universities and more prestigious museums, some of the local dinosaur remains are on display in the nice and compelling visitor center.
An ice age descended on this area after the dinosaurs became extinct. Therefore, glacial carving exists, as well as gulleys created by the water from the glaciers as they melted. The effects are multicolored gulch walls and well-balanced cap rocks. While being August and really too hot to hike, we managed to get out early in the morning and get up close and personal with the geology. What a treat!
Talk to you soon!