Sunday, July 28, 2013

Virginia City Montana

We saw some neat historic buildings and towns on the east coast last summer but our time in Virginia City, MT rivals any of that.  This was a mining boom town in 1863 and served as the territorial capital from 1865-1875. Over 150 original (yes, original) buildings still stand.
Street view

Street view
 What is really interesting about a lot of the buildings here is that many haven't been overly restored, they've just been maintained, so you get a true feel for the life and age of the building. Like most towns of that age, there have been many fires over the years. Some buildings show the black, burnt scars left from fires that didn't totally destroy them.
The sign says "hastily built". No kidding.
It's amazing it is still standing.

When the gold ran out people slowly left, but the town was never completely abandoned. There are a number of stores that were abandoned over time and when the proprietors left they just left the goods that were left on the shelf. These stores were preserved with goods intact creating fantastic, perfect little museums. On the flip side, the oldest continuously operated store in Montana still exists and thrives in town. 

As I review my pictures I see that, like scenic views, the pictures just don't do justice. They don't capture the charm and feel of the scene. If you are ever in the area and like history, I suggest you plan time for a stop and enjoy the experience first hand.

Territorial Governor's Mansion (on left)
That's a humble mansion.

Grand Tetons

View from Jackson Lake Lodge
We made a weekend trip down to the Grand Tetons National Park and Jackson Hole. Alex and Dana are near Jackson at Teton Village for a couple months working at the Grand Tetons Music Festival so we stayed with them for a couple nights.

Cascade Canyon

They call it Hidden Falls because people
are always standing in your picture
blocking the view.
We had a basic touristy weekend just seeing the sites, hiking to Hidden Falls and riding up the gondola.

We drove down through Yellowstone National Park and came back to West Yellowstone via the Idaho side of the Tetons. The Idaho side looks a lot different as it is open farmland versus the Wyoming side being more mountainous as more (smaller) mountains continue to the east of the Tetons.

The Tetons off in the distance across
potato fields in Idaho. This is zoomed some.
Taken just north of Ashton about 35-40
miles away as the crow flies.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Weekend Road Trip

View from Fire lookout tower
We love beautiful country and we love visiting historic places. We made a 3 day road trip this weekend (in the car) that satisfied both of these passions. We headed out early Friday crossing Yellowstone National Park from our home base in West Yellowstone to the northwest entrance (exit) to the park. This entrance is connected directly with the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byway
(, ( If you are not familiar with National Scenic Byways following this link for general information:

View from Fire lookout tower
Numerous people recommended the Beartooth Mountains to us so we looked into it. As we were looking at the map we realized that the other end of the drive would put us near Billings which, in turn, put us near some things that were on our wishlist.  Next thing you know a plan was formed.

View from lookout at 10,954 feet
As you exit Yellowstone onto the Beartooth Highway it starts as a bit underwhelming. The drive across the north side of Yellowstone is so beautiful it is really hard to beat. That being said, the Beartooth Highway did not disappoint. After we got past Cooke City the drive slowly became more and more scenic. We took a side jaunt up to a fire lookout tower that provided almost a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges. As we continued on each mile took us higher than the last until we reached 10,954 feet. At this point we were above treeline so there were no issues with trees blocking our view.
View from another pullout. Can you
see the lake?

The slow decent down was a continuous, amazing view.  The switchbacks with many hairpin turns gave an excuse to go slow and enjoy. There are many turnouts that we utilized to stop and soak it in. By the time we got to Red Lodge the descent was complete and we had gone down about 8,000 feet.  We went on to Billings to a hotel, poised for some history the next day.

Last Stand hill with memorial on top
The next morning we headed out on a loop with the first stop being the Little Bighorn Battlefield about 60 miles from Billings right off of I-90. This battle is probably next only to Gettysburg in American History fame. It was interesting to see the location of the battle and hear (a version of) the story on why (historians think) Custer did what he did and why he never stood a chance. There are tons of books out there but that's not my kind of reading.  Doing the ranger led interpretive walk while on location is much preferred for us. Here is a link to more info:

Battlefield in one direction 
Our next adventure for the day was to visit Pompey's Pillar. We first heard about this while visiting Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery sites and museums in Montana 2 years ago. It was too far out of our way on that trip but it went onto the future must-see list. We decided this weekend's road trip was the perfect time to make the visit. I can probably safely assume you have never heard of Pompey's Pillar so here is the story in a nutshell. On the return trip of the famous expedition Lewis and Clark had split up to explore two different areas of interest to them. William Clark's route took him down the Yellowstone River.
William Clark's engraving.
Protected under glass.

Pompey's Pillar
One day he climbed this big rock to get a view of the surrounding area and he saw some ancient Indian carvings on the rock.  He decided to carve his name and the date on the rock and noted that he had done such in his journal. He named the rock after Sacajawea's son who he had nicknamed Pomp. This is the only physical evidence that still exists on the entire Lewis and Clark expedition. It is the only place you can be absolutely certain that you stood where he stood.  One of those chill up your spine moments. Here are some links to info:

We stayed at the same hotel and returned home the next day by driving west on I-90 to Bozeman and then south on Highway 191 back home. That section of I-90 runs next to the Yellowstone River so you can let your imagination go thinking about what Clark saw 210 years ago as he traveled that route. One thought I had was that he was only 60-100 miles from what is now called the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. I wonder what he would have written in his journal had he seen those formations.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Earthquake of 1959

Hilgard lodge fell into Hebgen Lake
About 35 miles northwest of West Yellowstone is the site of a huge landslide in Madison Canyon. The great earthquake of 1959, between 7.3 and 7.5 on the Richter scale, caused 80 million tons of rock and debris to break off one side and slide at a speed of 100 mph into, and across, the canyon in 20 seconds! The slide buried everything in its path and the hurricane force winds it caused tossed cars and campers around. The slide hit a campground burying 19 people and injuring many more. Further up the canyon other people were injured and killed from falling debris, collapsing roads, and literally being blown away by the wind.

Earthquake Lake natural dam
See slide area on left
The slide blocked the Madison River creating Earthquake Lake, or as they call it here, Quake Lake. The water backed up rapidly causing fear of what would happen to the Hebgen Lake dam upstream as well as what would happen to the slide area as pressure from the backed up water became greater. These fears forced one of the largest-ever mobilizations of the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly cut a spillway to release water in less than 3 weeks. 
Highway 287 fell into Hebgen Lake
Today, there are a number of interpretive signs and pullouts along highway 287 which runs along Hebgen Lake. There are still remains of buildings that fell into the lake and you can walk along the old highway to the point where sections of it also fell into the lake.  

Right on top of the slide that formed Quake Lake there is a visitor center, interpretive signs and lookouts where you can take in the magnitude of what happened.
From top of slide to other side where
it came from. Look in lower right corner
to see where the two large boulders in
the next picture came from

Quake lake from top of slide.
Two large boulders carried across at
100 mph now rest here
During our touring of Yellowstone National Park we have seen a number of references to thermal activity stopping or starting when this earthquake occurred.

Below are a couple of links that give a few more details.

See the right side of this sign for
a pictorial description of the slide