Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Ghost Towning with Albert - Helena Region, Montana Day 5
Waking up Thursday morning at Albert's mountain cabin was a great change to the endless hotel rooms with crappy coffee and thin walls. Climbing down from the upstairs bedroom, then into the den where the open glass picturesque windows give way to an incredible view of the mountains surrounding us...in the kitchen, finding fresh ground espresso in a funnel filter, and a kettle of water ready to boil, and Kathy already up blogging about the past days adventures, relating her early morning viewing of the mule deer just a few feet away from the cabin at the salt licks laid out in the yard. I challenge anyone to find that at a Super 8.
Albert is a night owl of sorts, so it was expected that he would sleep in. Perfect for Kathy and I as we needed the time to geek and prepare for the days travels. Albert was up earlier than his norm, playing the excellent host and cookin up breakfast. After visiting for a while, and burning off some of his dog Zach's abundant energy, we loaded up in his Jeep and headed back into Marysville. This ghost town is not dead, and in fact has some active mining operations in the area. But there are plenty of abandoned homes and history to take in. We spent some quality time there roaming the hillside and talking to some guys restoring one of the historic buildings in town before pushing off south around Helena.
Our next stop was Remini just off highway 12, again not really a ghost town as several residents live there. Although the drive in through the canyon was beautiful and the town had some picture qualities, we didn't stay long. Saw a cool ladder that had hung on wall too long and bowed without breaking a rung (didn't know that wooden ladders would do that) and read the locals rhetoric about the EPA and a superfund cleanup gone wrong, splitting the town folk into a feud of sorts. By that time we were ready for lunch, and Albert had the perfect place up the road in Elliston. Stoners Saloon is a local favorite for good hometown greasy cheeseburgers and a little flare. Posters on the wall of a 1991 Weekly World News story about how the owner captured Big Foot right before the annual Big Foot hunt still attracts visitors attention today, and makes for a good chuckle while soaking in the atmosphere.
With bellies full we move back toward Helena then down I-15 toward the Boulder area, cutting off north at Fuller and landing in our first real ghost town of the day...Comet. This place was the best stop of the day. It's not protected by BLM, State or National Forest. Privately owned by several different residents, Comet has many building standing from the late 1800's and early 1900's, and was an active mining camp as late as the 1940's. Old abandoned cars still sit off the streets of town, and there are only a few areas marked off as private property. We were careful to respect the area, but unfortunately ran into someone who is not.
Rules of Ghost Towning are pretty simple. Respect the property, don't leave anything and do NOT take anything. If it says it's private property, don't go there, and if it warns you of risk, heed the warning. It's those who disrespect the ghost towns of America that take away the history, forever removing the memory of what once was there. That was the case with the guy Albert and I ran into by an old mechanics garage near the edge of town. An area resident, who obviously see's this old stuff every week, and doesn't have the appreciation we do for the history there. He was proud to tell us about taking away the scrap iron to make money, and even talked about cutting up one of the old cars by the road. Once again it made me realize that what we see today may not be here tomorrow, especially in unprotected areas.
We spent a lot of time in Comet, including crossing the small stream over to the old mining buildings. They were in good shape, and stepping carefully, we stepped through the halls viewing the history and some quirkiness along the way. Like this boulder that seemed to have come from no where, crushing the floor underneath. No angle from the hillside to explain it rolling into the building, and the only hole big enough in the side wall, where outside it was downhill, not up. Did someone throw it through the wall somehow? Weird anyway.
It was starting to get late, and Albert and I were both concerned that we wouldn't make our final destination of Elkhorn on the other side of I-15. Practically had to drag Kathy from Comet, then on the road again, reaching Elkhorn, part of a Montana State park with little time to spare. This area is protected, and several residents live there. A couple of buildings are kept up for viewing and the rich history of the ghost town is documented well. We took the time to go up the road a bit more to the Elkhorn cemetery, where reminders of just how rough life was back in the 1800's shown in the grave stones of many children, who died within weeks of each other in the epidemic of 1889.
Paying our respects and remembering the pioneers of Montana, we loaded up and headed back to Albert's cabin, not arriving there until after 9. The sun was just going down as Kathy wrapped up some email and headed off to bed. Albert and I stayed up again, both of us on our laptops enjoying the peace and tranquility of the mountains. It was a great way to wrap up a wonderful day, and I was thankful for our new Montana friend and his hospitality.
Next Blog: Back on the road, Marysville to Missoula and Prison along the way.