Monday, June 30, 2014

Exploring a cave, Butte and Helena

We took a weekend trip to see some new Montana sites. We left West Yellowstone bright and early and drove two hours to the Lewis & Clark Caverns to do some spelunking (I love that word so I had to make sure I used it). This cave was nice, but not spectacular, and would have been better if people weren't allowed to take out souvenir stalactites for many years in the early days of tours. It was worth the time.  (link to info: Wiki ).  

Headframes line the hillside of Butte
When we departed the caverns we headed to Butte. Butte began as a mining town when gold and silver were discovered in the later half of the 19th century. However, copper was abundant in the area so when the demand for copper skyrocketed the copper mines became dominant. Butte became known as "the richest hill on earth". The minerals have played out now but the city is rich in historic buildings and the surrounding area is beautiful with mountains all around. We stopped at the visitor center and got a map of historic buildings and enjoyed driving around viewing the well maintained historic town. Not surprisingly the older architecture reminded me some of Houghton, Hancock and Calumet Michigan, which lost their copper producing rank to Butte, as the same types of people were attracted to Butte. Here are two links so you can read more if desired: Butte's site , Wiki.

Copper King Mansion in Butte
We next headed up to Helena. Helena was the territorial capital before becoming the Montana state capital in 1889. I love the story on how Helena was originally established. Four weary and discouraged prospectors stumbled down a gulch and grimly dubbed it "Last Chance Gulch" only to find gold where the city's main street now runs (the street is named Last Chance Gulch Street).

We loved Helena. It is in a beautiful setting in the mountains, it's clean and the old downtown is well maintained and pretty. As an added touch the mansion district is amazing (obviously some people made a lot of money there). Reeder's Alley is a neat little alley of the oldest buildings in town. The capitol building is fairly new (completed in 1902) but done in an old style so we were pleased.  Links: Helena's site, Wiki

To wrap up this post I just want to say that western Montana is simply beautiful. The drive from West Yellowstone to Helena and back (we didn't come back the same way we went up) was as picturesque as anyone could ask for. If you were to pick one Interstate highway to drive from end to end, drive I-15 from Nevada to Canada. Over the years we have now driven most of it, section by section, and it is hands-down the prettiest.  It makes sense, it goes up the Rockies!

Helena - Pioneer cabin - 1864

Reeder's Alley - Helena

Montana State Capitol

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Back in West Yellowstone again

We entered Yellowstone National Park through the east entrance from Cody Wyoming and drove across the park. The climb over the pass in the Absaroka Mountain range was beautiful through the snow (this was May 21). Here are a couple of pictures.  (Reminder: you can click on pictures to view them larger).

Crossing the Absaroka Mountains on
May 21
Yellowstone Lake still ice covered
on May 21
 We arrived back to our camp site on the Gallatin National Forest Ranger station compound and were greeted with a pile of snow. We didn't think to take a picture before getting to work with shovels to move snow, and after backing in, to level out ruts in the mud. At least the pile wan't too bad, the mud was a bit more discouraging. After that welcome, we are all settled for another summer of adventure.

Our hiking options were limited because most trails were still closed due to snow until recently. We have had a few hikes now as the snow is quickly disappearing other than at higher elevations. The wild flowers are starting to pop out in numbers and the birds are arriving back.

Whits Lake - an alpine lake in the
Gallatin National Forest

Western Tanager

Field of White Mule Ears
Glacier Lilys

So I go on an 8 mile hike in the back country hoping to see wildlife and all I see is one deer and the normal ravens and small birds. Lots of scat, but no critters.  Then while driving home along the Madison River there is a pair of Bald Eagles just hanging out. Go figure.