Fairmont RV park, Anaconda, MT
Had a great visit in Yellowstone and it was time to move on. Packed up and went up and over the Continental Divide once again and then down through Butte and 15 miles further west to the Fairmont RV Park near Anaconda, MT. This RV Park is right next to a pricy resort where hot springs were their claim to fame. I was located in a nice valley surrounded by mountains. The first week I was camped there had very heavy smoke lying in the valley and surrounding area from large forest fires in western Montana and eastern Idaho.
The smoke was so heavy that I decided to wait it out before I did any exploring. Went into Butte to do some shopping, visited the Berkeley Pit and could not even see to the other side of the pit. The pictures I took were not good because of the smoke.
Forest fire smoke
berkeley Pit, Butte
Found a very interesting mining museum in Butte and I took several hours to see it. They have set up a small mining town on the museum grounds called, Hell Roarin’ Gulch which showed many of the businesses found in a mining town. Each business was full of artifacts from that type of business like a Doctors office, blacksmith, dentist, grocery store, Chinese laundry, drug store and others. The balance of the exhibits on the grounds of the museum were mining focused as it was located right on the site of the Orphan Girl Mine.
The big hill/mountain on the back of Butte had about 14 head frames from all of the many mines located on the hill.
In the museum, they said that there were 14,000 miles of mine shafts and tunnels under the hill. The open pit mine (Berkeley Pit) came after the underground mining had pretty much played out economically. Berkeley Pit is one mile wide, one mile deep and one mile across. It is huge and is filling with very polluted water which has made it one of the biggest super fund sites on the EPA. Mining in the pit stopped in 1982 and water from all of the underground tunnels immediately started to fill it. The water has so much copper dissolved in it that a company has developed a method of recovering the metals from it. The pollution in the area is so huge that the EPA has elected to just control further spread of it because to clean it up is impossible. Came back to visit it when the smoke cleared a week later and got some better pictures of the pit then. Beside the Berkeley pit is another one that is currently in operation and I was there when they blew up some rock. It was a big boom.
Berkeley Pit, Butte, MT
On 8/15, I drove up to the small town of Anaconda where I first stopped at the visitor’s center.
Got information about sites to see in the area and then went down to the viewing area for the “stack” This is a huge brick chimney which has been left over from the copper smelter that was in operation in the early 1900’s. Anaconda was founded in about 1883 when the copper baron, Marcus Daly decided to erect a processing plant there to handle all of the ore mined in Butte. They transported all of the ore by train with hundreds of railroad cars traveling the 25 years from Butte. Three smelters were in operation at one time or another. The wastes from the “Old Works” smelter has been covered reseeded and a beautiful Jack Nicklaus golf course has been built on top of the contaminated wastes. This construction was approved by the EPA with specialized design. The latest smelter in operation in Anaconda was on the site of the standing smokestack. It is 585 feet tall and is higher than the Washington Monument.
It was erected in 1918 and is still the largest free-standing masonry structure in the world. The inside diameter of the stack at the top is 60 feet and at the viewing site they have a circle showing how big it is. Near the stack are a couple of waste piles. One has been reseeded and covered while the other is a huge black mountain of black waste. I had just seen a History Channel Boneyard show about the Butte/Anaconda area. The pollution of the past has made the whole area a Super Site on the list of highly polluted areas of the country. Later I visited a town which is down wind from the smelter locations and the deaths from the polluted smoke were very high from lung related problems. The vegetation is only now recovering from the poisons deposited from many years ago. One lady told me that the hill behind her house was totally bare for many years and now has brush and some trees growing. The poor workers lived down wind while the owners and managers lived up wind out of the smoke plume.
The size of the top of the Anaconda stack
Leaving Anaconda, I continued on the road to Phillipsburg and discovered a gorge where a smaller stream exits a hole in the cliff and plummets down into the gorge.
Phillipsburg is a small neat mining town with one main street. Most of the buildings have been renovated and are busy with the constant stream of tourists. Had a nice lunch, huckleberry ice cream cone and a visit to a candy store that had hundreds of different types of candy to pick from. It was tough to pick out what you wanted.
North of Anaconda
On the outskirts of Phillipsburg is a ghost town (Granite), and I decided to see what it was like. It is situated way up a very rough road that had me shift into 4x4 for part of it. The visit was very interesting and I took a hike along a trail through the woods which had many of the old buildings and foundations left. Up high was the mine and processing plant. The mines in operation from 1882 to 1903 produced upwards of $45,000,000 worth of silver and gold. As they dug deeper and deeper the cost of operating rose and a drop in price of the gold and silver brought an end to this thriving community of over 3000 people.
In 1892, Granite had no fewer than 17 saloons, numerous restaurants, a weekly newspaper, brewery, hotels, bank, four churches and others. A very interesting but hard to get to visit.
Granite Ghost Town
On another day, I invited my neighbor, Rosemary to go on a road trip and off we went. Past Anaconda and before Phillipsburg, we turned and traveled up and over Skalkaho Pass. The road turned from paved to dirt and it was a beautiful ride through the forest. We came down to Hamilton, MT and were very disappointed to find the beautiful views of the Bitterroot Mountains were all socked in with forest fire smoke. Continued south on RT. 93 to Chief Joseph Pass (7264 feet) where we stopped for lunch.
Turned east on Rt. 43 and made a stop at the Nez Pierce National Historic Park. This is also called the Big Hole National Battlefield. It is the site of one of the many battles the soldiers had with the Indians. The loop took us through the town of Wisdom and then back to the campground for a trip of 235 scenic miles.
Nez Pierce Battlefield
Because the smoke had finally cleared up, I drove up to Deer Lodge and toured the Old Montana Prison. Got very lucky and got a great lady tour guide who took us all through the prison and told us many interesting stories about living in the shadow of the prison.
It was established in 1871 and closed in 1979. In the 1970’s they had a riot in the prison and she had friends and relatives who were working there then. She was the person who told me about living down wind from the smelters in Anaconda and how the barren hills were only now recovering. Connected to the prison was one of the best automobile museums I have seen. They have about 120 vehicles on display from classic Chevys and muscle cars to older ones back to 1903. It was very difficult to get good pictures because they were parked very close together only inches apart. The quality and condition of the cars was outstanding.
Old Montana Prison
Summary: Elk RV Parking; 53; Escapee RV Parks: 26; Public RV Parks: 48; National Parks: 62; Ships: 17; Forts: 29.
Expenses: 49 months on the road with an average of $1964 per month.