Axel Rose belting out "Knocking on Heavens Door" on 101 The Fox, Kansas City's classic rock station...my paid for 2001 POS Chevy Cavalier rattling with the beat through it's cracked dashboard as I push it up to 80mph on I-29...my mind set on the ultimate end goal..a night on the couch with nothing to do, vegging my mind away in front of the boob tube...I'm going home!!!
The trip from the airport last night wasn't fast enough. I had just landed from three days at our Dallas office, which is a short trip, but the end to a long two weeks of travel. Kathy and I had just wrapped up our vacation Tuesday, and didn't get home until after 11pm. My flight to Dallas was the next morning at 6am, so I really didn't consider it being home...Might as well have been another Super 8 stop over. I was finally coming home though, at least for the next two weeks. As I made the exit from I-29 to 635, getting ever so closer to the Kansas border, my mind started sifting through the last few days of our Ghost Town adventures.
We got up early again last Friday, preparing to leave our new friend Albert and his beautiful cabin just off the continental divide deep in the wilderness of Montana. Our original plan was to shoot up north of there to Glacier National Park, but a couple of days at Alberts brought back some sanity and we realized we must slow our trip down for a while, and take some easy days back to Jackson Hole Wyoming. So we relaxed that morning with Albert's freshly ground espresso, chatted the morning away while Albert cooked up another great breakfast, this time fried waffles...ummmmmm.... took some pics for prosperities sake and hit the road toward Missoula.
Our plan was to backtrack down Highway 12, then down I-90 a short ways to Deer Lodge as our first stop. Home to the Old Montana Prison Museum, this was a great side trip to all the ghost town adventures, getting a good feel for life behind bars in a prison that was active for 100 years starting in 1871. Kathy proclaiming as we toured the cell blocks "Remind me to never kill you, I wouldn't want to wind up in a place like this!" Thanks babe, I know the trips been a long one, but it's nice to know you need a reminder ;).
After the prison adventure and a tour through another old west museum, we hit the road again back up I-90 with a just a few more ghost towns on the way, including Montana's first gold discovery at what's now called Gold Creek. Not a lot left there, and you really had to hunt for signs of yesteryear. After finally finding a pond with some old mining equipment in it, we set our sites for the treat of the day, Garnett.
This ghost town is one of Montana's best preserved and least visited, and is kept up by the BLM and a preservation society. On both public and private land, they won't let you drive into this town, but they have adequate parking just up the hill overlooking the town, and the short hike in is well worth the price of admission. They have plenty of buildings still with contents on display, including a large hotel and general store. We took our time going through most of the buildings that were open, and really enjoyed the history. Signs outside each building that told you about the proprietors and how the town rose then fell as most mining towns did. On the other side of the parking lot there's another hiking trail to take you to remants of the actual mining. It's only .2 miles and it was an easy hike into the past, with several interesting things to see.
By that time it was already getting later in the day than we wanted so off we went to our stop for the night in Missoula. Our last three days of the trip would take us down highway 93, west on 75 into Idaho. Saturday was full of beautiful scenic drives, but by this time in the trip it was just another mountain and trees. Lot's of historic places to see along the Salmon River Scenic Byway, including Gibbonsville Idaho. Not a complete ghost town with at least 100 residents still there, but we found the cemetery interesting. Sure it was historic, but it was a recent headstone that caught Kathy's eye. A husband and wife..each side of the stone showing when they came and left the world, each plot with a mound showing that someone was buried there, but flowers only on the husbands side. On closer inspection Kathy found that the husband died December 20, 2005, but the wife's marker showed December 20, 2008....wait, what's today? This interesting stop kept our minds occupied for a while as we moved on down the road.
The rest of our day would take us on a side trip along the Salmon river through some gorgeous country down to Shoup, then backtrack to 93 for our stop in the town of Salmon. Didn't have any hotel reservations, and there were only 3 or 4 to choose from, but we got lucky and landed at one right at the edge of town by the river. It's a crap shoot sometimes with locally owned hotels, and this one was on the edge. Good enough though for a nights rest, with the river right outside our door.
I'll attempt to brief this up on the next two day and just say "welcome to Idaho". Oh there was beauty, but there was also desolation. After a side trip just south of Challis on scenic highway 75, into the Yankee mining district and several more places of yesteryear, which by the way includes a wonderful information center that is a must stop for any ghost towner, we started getting into area's of the state that you could tell were no-mans land. It stayed pretty much mountainous around us as we traveled more of a valley through Ketchum (lots of highway traffic this Sunday as people must of been coming home from the Salmon River recreational areas), finally hitting more flat roads and feilds as we turned onto Highway 20 to our next overnight stay in Arco. Along the way you run into Craters of the Moon National monument. This area home to a lava field that covers thousands of acres and made for some interesting stories of pioneers trying to make their way through. It was an unexpected site in western Idaho, and a nice change of scenery to wrap up the say.
After a great stop in Arco it was finally Monday, our last day of travel. This day would take us through the farming areas toward Idaho Falls, then out to Swan Valley and back north a bit on highway 31 into Victor and Driggs. Our main goal of the day was the Grand Tetons, since our first day 9 days ago didn't provide the time needed to explore the area. Quirky Kathy of course was also on the search for one specific photo opp that she had seen on several post cards. A giant potato on the back of a flat bed truck. Yep, that's my wife, and I love her dearly. I was convinced she was crazy until just outside of Driggs I saw the truck. It was the Spud Drive In theater. Of course it wasn't a real potato, but it made Kathy happy that we found it. I'm sure she will be selling the fruits of our search soon on her Rocky Mountain General Store.
We were definitely through with the flat lands by this time, and going up into the mountain range just east of the Tetons, coming into Wyoming on highway 33. Incredible drive that finally brought us to a point overlooking Jackson Hole. Coming down the mountain we ventured off on to highway 390 toward Teton Village, then up into the Grand Teton National Park. It was a beautiful day and there were plenty of vacationers venturing the same way. This entry is a gateway not only into the Tetons but also Yellow Stone if you had the mind to keep heading north. Our goals weren't that lofty though so we targeted Jenny Lake as our deepest point into the park.
Along the way there are several pull outs and trail heads for visitors to stop and soak in the incredible views. It was at the first major pull out that we saw first hand how absolutely rediculous we humans are when it comes to animals. Cars and RV's packed the pull out, and several people, cameras in hand and kids in tow were running across the road in front of traffic to a river bridge. My immediate thought was that it was a bear maybe? I mean, why else would people risk life and limb, leaving their children behind them as they run to catch a quick pic of nature. I was duped into the frenzy, so I carefully pulled into one of the few remaining parking spots and joined the crowd at the other side of the road. At least 50 people by now pointing to the river bank, I draw up our new video camera thinking I was about to get something spectacular on film. Panning left to right as the gawkers pointing fingers moved I see it...a young moose drinking from the river. Hmmm...is there a bear or mountain lion about to eat the moose...no, it's just a moose. I guess I should have been more excited, but come on people, all this for a moose?
After soaking in the tranquil water of Jenny Lake and taking plenty of footage of the thousands of year old Ice still on top of the Tetons, we made our way back through the now even larger crowd at the side of the road still watching the moose almost an hour later, and into the bumper to bumper traffic of Jackson Hole. When we finally reach the Super 8 in Jackson, choking on the $200 dollar a night bill, we settled in for our last night before heading home.
I've already written about our experience with United Airlines the next day, the only thing I missed was that by the time we reached Kansas City on Frontier airlines, one of our bags was still in Jackson Hole, the other somewhere in Denver International Airport. Fine, I didn't need my deodorant anyway, despite the fact I was up at 4am Wednesday morning to hop another flight to Dallas on business. Luckily the Hilton Garden Inn up the road from the Dallas office had what I needed to get by.
No ghost towns on my agenda for quite a while. Finally home for the next two weeks before making business trips to Brazil, two trips to Dallas and Amsterdam all in a 4 week period. For now I'm enjoying the memories of a wonderful vacation and incredible adventure through yesteryear. Be sure to read all about the old west towns we visited on Kathy's blog and of course Legends of America. In the meantime I'll snap a few while out of the country and share, but it just isn't the same as this incredible nation we call home.