Archive for the ‘Montana’ Category

Quake Lake, West Yellowstone, and ‘Snaggletooth’ – Part 3

June 11, 2016

On our way to Virginia City from Idaho Falls this past Memorial Day weekend, we stopped at the Quake Lake Visitors Center. It’s on Highway 287 about 44 miles south of Ennis, in southwestern Montana. The center sits at the site where, near midnight on August 17th, 1959, an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide. The slide moved at 100 mph and in less than 1 minute, over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake.

This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century. Twenty-eight people were killed, mostly campers along Hebgen Lake. In the Visitors Center you can read personal accounts of the event from survivors. Children who lost siblings and parents, wives or husbands who lost their spouses and children. A large boulder fell on a tent, killing a whole family, but their car parked next to the tent was untouched. Here is an arial photo of the landslide I found on the internet:


According to this wikipedia link, Hebgen Dam, built in 1917, sustained severe damage but continued to hold. The landslide, which occurred downstream from the dam, blocked almost all the flow of the Madison River. In less than a month, the waters had created what is now known as Quake Lake. Before the new landslide was breached by the quickly rising waters, a spillway was constructed to ensure erosion and minimize potential failure of the natural dam.

Eric led us on a detour off of 287 to visit two other Lakes, Cliff and Wade lakes, and coming back I shot my own distant photo of the landslide in the Madison River Canyon:

Landslide in Madison River Canyon

Landslide in Madison River Canyon

I captured these photos of Quake Lake:


Quake Lake

Quake Lake

Today, Quake Lake is 190 feet deep and 6 miles long.

Continuing on 287 toward West Yellowstone, we’re now driving past Hebgen Lake:


The town of West Yellowstone, at the west entrance to Yellowstone Park, has a Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. The Center houses a Grizzly Bear Habitat and three wolf habitats. The Grizzlies have been rescued from the wild or otherwise might have been put down due to their encounters with people. Kabuki and Nakina were out in the Habitat for us to see. (They have 8 bears they bring out at different times.) Here’s my photo of Nakina, who was the more active of the two:

Nakina, the Grizzly

Nakina, the Grizzly

Kabul and Nakina, brother and sister, were orphaned as cubs in 1998 after a landowner killed their mother and brother in Delta Junction, Alaska.

An IMAX theater is adjacent to the the Bear and Wolf Discovery Center, and across the street is another museum Eric made sure we didn’t miss, the Yellowstone Historical Center. (Here’s a link with a photo of the Historical Center and to learn more about the town of West Yellowstone, population < 1200 people.)

Inside the museum now, looking at freight wagons. Prior to 1915, almost all goods that reached the West were bounced across a trail or dirt road via freight wagons, piled high with goods such as food, building materials, feed for horses, and an infinite variety of other necessities, to stagecoach companies, camping companies and hotels in Yellowstone.

Freight Wagons

Freight Wagons

These wagons were used all over the American West.

Then you have the Sinter, an 8-passenger coach early travelers rode through Yellowstone Park:

The Sinter

The Sinter

A typical trip took five days over the grand loop. Transportation through the park in the summer evolved to the coach preferable to modern man, on display out in front of the museum:

Modern coaches through Yellowstone, okay, now we're talkin'

Modern coaches through Yellowstone, okay, now we’re talkin’

But the real reason Eric dragged us all across the street to the Historical Museum was to see ‘Snaggletooth’. Standing nearly 8 feet tall and weighing 800-1000 pounds, this giant grizzly ‘reigned as monarch’ in Yellowstone Park. His name came from a tooth which protruded from his lower jaw. Except, his favorite hangout happened to be the West Yellowstone city dump. Two poachers from Idaho shot and killed him there in May, 1970. Here’s a link to the newspaper article about Snaggletooth’s death.

Meet Snaggletooth! Megan posed first:


Then Ben and Rhonda:


Lastly, Eric:


Yeah. Be doubly afraid, Eric.

Whereas Snaggletooth is poised, in one stroke, to rip off the top of your head, are you also aware of that razor-sharp-clawed beast on your chest about to tear your left hand to shreds?

Well, that about wraps up our Memorial Day Weekend trip to Virginia City.

Uh, unless I think of something …

Don’t feed or otherwise, leave garbage accessible to bears!

Virginia City, Nevada City and Crystal Park (Part 2)

June 6, 2016

To continue the story of our trip to Virginia City, MT, Eric ran into an old friend, Roger, at the Bale of Hay Saloon Sunday evening. David snapped a photo of them:

Roger and Eric reconnecting at the Bale of Hay Saloon

Roger and Eric reconnecting at the Bale of Hay Saloon

Eric has known Roger for over 20 years, through his travels and antique dealings. They met up again the next morning on the front porch of the Fairweather Inn.

Roger and Eric chewing the fat on the front porch of Fairweather Inn

Roger and Eric chewing the fat at the Fairweather Inn

Roger is a very interesting fellow, a local. His family’s roots in Virgina City hail back to his great-grandfather who came over the hill into Virginia City back in 1862. Roger’s mother was born in the building that is now the Bale of Hay Saloon.

Roger worked in mining. He had also worked for Charles Bovey restoring the buildings in Virginia City. He now works for the state which bought the town buildings from the Bovey’s.

According to Roger, many music and other old machines were ruined by water damage in a major fire in 1983. However, a preserved fortune teller machine sits in the Gypsy Arcade, one of three in existence and the only one on public display. Roger states that David Copperfield offered to buy this machine for 2 million dollars, but the town turned him down. Here is a photo of it:

Your Fortune Told by the Human Voice!

Your Fortune Told by the Human Voice!

So of course, you have to step into the the Gypsy Arcade, across the street from Fairweather Inn to check it out! (along with the other machines mentioned in my previous blog).

About a mile west of Virginia City is another ghost town, Nevada City.

Nevada City got its start the same time as Virginia City, when gold was discovered in Alder Gulch in 1863. Numerous other mining camps sprouted out along the gulch, becoming what became known as ‘Fourteen-mile City.’

You can stay at the Nevada City Hotel/cabins:

There's Eric sleuthing it out

There’s Eric sleuthing it out

Star Bakery next door dishes up a fabulous breakfast.

Star Bakery

Star Bakery

We ate there both mornings. Behind these buildings is an open-air mining town museum. Old miners’ cabins have been moved here and preserved.

A train runs between Virginia City and Nevada City.


Okay, not the original train. Eric found out from Roger that the original Steam Engine is stored in Nevada City. To get it up and running to specs would cost 150,000. Eric spots the building:


We peeked in at the magnificent shiny-as-new train steam engine. And a steam engine tractor and other old equipment. Maybe one day these items will be on display. Anyone want to donate 150K to get the real steam engine train running this year for summer tourists?

Eric’s inner gopher (yes, Eric, you’re the only one with an inner gopher) has us itching to dig for crystals, so on Sunday we pile into two vehicles for the 100-mile drive west to Crystal Park. We stop in Bannack, the first Territorial Capital of Montana, where gold was first discovered (as mentioned in my previous blog.) Bannack is a well-preserved ghost town now. The last people left in the 1970’s. We wandered up the winding staircase of the Meade Hotel:

Bannock's Meade Hotel and neighboring saloon

Bannock’s Meade Hotel and neighboring saloon

And posed out front:

Megan, Jody and David

Megan, Jody and David

Ben and Rhonda get thrown in the town jail


Earthen roof and floor, open bars on windows, a ghastly place. Would they throw you in there in the winter?

Pulling into Crystal Park now, about 1:00 pm.


My vision at the get-go of this activity was of our whole group digging together like one big happy gopher family, in a big hole, or maybe two or three adjacent holes, chiseling crystalline treasures out of the dirt, sharing our finds, “Look at this one!” “Fantastic!” One digging, one sifting, passing our crystal finds hand to hand… great family bonding activity. And that’s how I thought we started out. With Eric heading up the trail in the lead, followed by Ben and Rhonda, then Scott, David, Megan and me. Maybe we were a little slow bringing up the rear with a gopher in the lead. I dunno. All I remember is going along happily, meanwhile coming upon a wiry middle-aged man emerging from a deep hole just six feet from the path, “Hey, find anything?” Scott, David, Megan and I pause to inquire…

He reaches into his pocket pulls out his find. “Look at this!”

Wow. That’s really gorgeous! “Can I take a photo of it???” I ask. “Sure….”


A Yuuuuge chunk of amethyst. Holy shit, you’re kidding.

We chat with him a bit. ‘Jack.” He lived 100 miles away to the west. Had risen at 3:30 am to get here and had been digging since 6:30 am. Hadn’t found much in his first two holes but had been lucky in this hole in the past so decided to dig here again. He comes about twice a year – late spring and early fall, and digs from sunrise to sunset. His wife makes and sells jewelry, and she will be thrilled with his find!

“Nice visiting with you, Jack! Thanks for sharing!” Hey, where’s the rest of the group? Eric, Ben and Rhonda have disappeared. No worry we’ll find them, just follow the path up and around and keep an eye out for them. We hike up, and with no sign of them we literally start yelling for Eric. We’ve made it to the top now. Oh well, I’ll capture the view:

Crystal Park Summit view

Crystal Park Summit view

Megan and I park ourselves on a bench, while David and Scott wander further, calling for the others. Finally David comes back. “Scott’s going to keep looking …” Megan protests. “I don’t want to dig! I want to go back to the car!”

So the three of us wander back down the trail – there are lots of folks digging in holes, but none that we recognize. We make it back to the truck. David says he’ll stay with Megan. “I’ll just dig next to Jack!” I say.

So, I find a hole sandwiched between Jack and another boisterous family, doing exactly what I had pictured for our family. Dad, mom, mom’s sister, with two kids, all digging in a big hole, sharing the duties, and the joy, “Found another one!” “Oh, here, I’ll rinse it off!” “Wow, look at this large smokey crystal!” I started hopping out of my hole to witness their finds. After a half hour, I do find a little quartz crystal, about 3/4 inch long, the width of a colored pencil. Keep digging! Jack is digging like a maniac just below me, conspicuously quiet. I’m thinking that at least I’m digging just a few feet from the hiking path, surely the others will miss me and come looking for me!

Not. I’ll show them! I’ll find a big hunk like Jack’s and then they’ll wish they had found me! I dig by myself for the next 2 HOURS, finding little bits to keep me hopeful, listening to the exuberant yelps of the family in their big hole just feet away. Maybe they hear my groans, because at some point the dad comes over to me and drops a nice quartz crystal in my hand. “You can have this.” “Are you sure? Thanks!!” No problem, they have plenty. I check out their spoils … a large amethyst cluster, and about 20 other clusters and large crystals.

Eventually I hear Scott coming down the trail, whistling. “Scott! Did you find the others?” No. Scott ended up in his own hole digging by himself. Then Eric wanders out. “Is it time to go?” What the heck, Eric? Where were you?

Eric had started out digging with Ben and Rhonda, but then they had wandered off and Eric too had been digging by himself the past two hours. We had all dug alone, and none of us had found much. We were still waiting on Ben and Rhonda, so Eric finds a hole about 10 feet away from where I’m digging. His inner gopher gets to work. “Here’s a nice one!” The first crystal he finds is bigger than any of mine. “Oh, found another one!” A good-sized amethyst cluster. Jeez, Eric! Ben and Rhonda show up – they hadn’t found much but isn’t it time to go? It’s going on 6 PM. Yes. Megan and David show up – time to go!

Meanwhile Eric keeps uncovering crystals. We gotta go Eric! We’re all standing over him watching every scoop of dirt he lifts out of the inner crevices of his hole. Dump, sift … there, another one! You’re kidding! Over the last fifteen minutes Eric found about 10 crystals. Crystal whisperer, where were you?

In the parking lot Eric gives his amethyst crystal to Scott. Gives another crystal to Ben and Rhonda. Later I found out, he gave all his crystals away.

Here’s my spoils after my 2-plus hours of solitary digging, notice the fattest one at the bottom:


Thats the crystal gifted to me from the family digging in the hole next to me. Here you see a closeup:


Scott sent me a photo of his spoils, with the large amethyst cluster Eric dug up as his centerpiece:


Driving back to Virginia City all dirty and exhausted. I snap photos of the back seat:

Rhonda and Ben

Rhonda and Ben

Megan, you were so patient waiting for us all those hours, letting us discover our inner gophers.


Thank you, Megan! You’re tired too.

Thank you, David, for driving!


I caught this weird abstract photo of the front driver’s side seat where I was sitting.


Put a wrap on it, Jody. You don’t have to post every photo!

Okay. Crap! And I haven’t told you about Quake Lake and the Grizzly Bear … one more blog???

Oh, and when we got back Eric shared a photo of his crystal collection:

Eric's crystal collection

Eric’s crystal collection

That rascal. No wonder he gave all his crystals away.

Next time we go I’m digging with Eric, and whoever else goes along – in one big happy group. I want that gopher family digging bonding experience.

Yeah, with the crystal whisperer.

Virginia City, Territorial Capital of Montana

June 2, 2016

This past Memorial Day weekend we traveled to Virginia City, Montana. It’s 168 miles from Idaho Falls, about a three hour drive. We hit the the road late Saturday morning, May 28, on Highway 20 north toward Island Park. But hey, we have to check out Mesa Falls on the way! So an hour into our drive, at Ashton, we hang a right onto Highway 32. Here we are now at Upper Mesa Falls. Beautiful!

Upper Mesa Falls

Upper Mesa Falls

Especially with the spring run-off.


We pose for a family photo:

Jody, Eric, Megan, David, Ben, Rhonda

Jody, Eric, Megan, David, Ben, Rhonda

Our son, Ben, and girlfriend Rhonda flew up from Boulder, CO, to be with us (David, Megan and I). Plus my brother Eric, a.k.a. ‘Cuddles Cutes,’ and his friend Scott came along too. (Scott took the family photo…)

We just can’t do a trip without inviting Eric along. He plans the itinerary and knows every lake, fishing hole, historical site, ghost town, mountain peak, hike, hot springs, dirt road, campground, monument, and antique store within every 250-mile radius of Idaho Falls.

Plus his t-shirts are great conversation starters …

Lunch at the Trout Slayer in Island Park.

Lunch at the Trout Slayer in Island Park.

As in, “Where in the freak did you get that shirt, Eric?” or “So, uh, exactly what’s the scene with that cat on your shirt?”

Grey tabby cat riding a Bengal tiger with  x-ray vision handling a two-headed axe leaping away from a raging forest fire under snow covered peaks .... Wuh?

Grey tabby cat riding a Bengal tiger with x-ray vision handling a two-headed axe leaping away from a raging forest fire under snow covered peaks …. Wuh?

We have arrived in Virginia City. Checked into five rooms at the Fairweather Inn.

David's truck adds so much charm and authenticity to the photo

David’s truck adds so much charm and authenticity to the photo


That’s us hanging out on the front porch.

Check out this link for some history of Virginia City. Also this wikipedia link on Virginia City.

Perched high in the Rocky Mountains in a bowl along Alder Gulch, Virginia City got its start when gold was discovered in Alder Gulch in 1863.

We drove to the spot where gold was initially discovered – about 1/4 mile from Virginia City Center:


On May 26, 1863, Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar discovered gold near Alder Creek.

They wanted to keep their discovery secret. However, when they traveled 60 miles southwest to Bannack to purchase supplies, sharp-eyed prospectors spotted their bags of gold. 200 prospectors followed them back to Alder Gulch. News spread quickly and before long the area was flooded with prospectors living in makeshift shacks, tents, caves, or simply sleeping beneath the trees. Within a year, some 10,000 people were living in a number of mining camps lining the gulch.

In 1864 Congress created the new territory of Montana, separating it from Idaho Territory. Bannack, the site of the first gold strike in the area, became the territory’s first capital. However, just a year later, because of its bustling prosperity, the territorial capital was moved to Virginia City. Virginia City remained the capital for about ten years, until April 19, 1875, when it moved to Helena, Montana (Montana’s current capital). Virginia City was home to Montana’s first public school, newspaper, and telegraph.

The Montana gold mining days lasted from 1863 to 1935. The buildings were abandoned and people were dismantling them for firewood. In the 1940s, Charles and Sue Bovey began buying the town, putting much needed maintenance into failing structures. The ghost town of Virginia City began to be restored for tourism in the 1950s.

The population of Virginia City today is about 200 people, by definition, a ghost town. Most of the city is now owned by the state government and is a National Historic Landmark operated as an open-air museum. Of the nearly three hundred structures in town, almost half were built prior to 1900.

We ate dinner across the street from the Fairweather Inn at the Wells Fargo Restaurant.


The food was delicious. Great atmosphere. Eric appreciated the ceiling tin:

Ceiling and crown moulding made of tin

Ceiling and crown moulding made of tin

While Scott (in light blue shirt) hammed it up with a complete stranger on the piano:

Scott plays the blues

Scott plays the blues

Virginia City is hoppin’ with afternoon and evening entertainment. Check out the live music at the Bale of Hay Saloon! The Opera House, with the Virginia City Players, offers the longest continuously operating live summer theater company in the western United States. Also, all summer long the Brewery Follies offer 2 hilarious adult live comedy shows a day. (We attended the 8PM show Saturday night.) We also heard during our visit that the Rock musician Dave Walker (a singer and guitarist for a number of bands; notably Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac) will be playing at the Wells Fargo Restaurant on Friday nights through this summer.

Here are my photos of town, which consists of about 2 blocks:




We explored the Gypsy Arcade across the street from our motel.


The Gypsy Arcade contains all kinds of crazy old machines – fortune teller machines, music machines, adult flip movie machines…

For a quarter you can find out your fortune by the color of your eyes!

For a quarter you can find out your fortune by the color of your eyes!


Get a palm reading!


Watch a movie for 5 cents! A double row of flip movie machines were stationed in the center of the arcade:

Adult entertainment at its best!

Adult entertainment at its best!

I put my nickel in to watch an adult flip movie, OMG! The women exposed their petticoats, calves and ANKLES!

Music: The other Non-addictive, Mood-altering Non-substance … (sign hanging by the music machines)


Ask your Doctor if music is right for you.

I inserted a quarter into this music machine:


Took a video of the musical performance from beginning to end. Almost 2 minutes! You can watch the whole thing for free! Are you ready??? Here goes: (you’ve just put your quarter in…)

Waltz, anyone?

And to think you have to pay i-tunes a full 99 cents to download a song!

Well, crap. I still have lots more to tell you about our trip this past weekend. We also visited Bannack, the first territorial capital of Montana. We dug for crystals at Crystal Park. Then there’s Quake Lake … and the Grizzly Bear…

Uh, Part 2? ….

Goin’ to Jackson, uhhhh, Bannack, and we’re….

September 1, 2012

We made a trip to Jackson a couple of weeks ago. Jackson, Montana, that is. My brother, Eric, talked us into it.

“There’s a hot springs there.” He told us. “Plus some really interesting historical landmarks to explore nearby.” We invited him to come along with us – and left him in charge of planning the agenda.

“No death marches.” We told him. (You have to bind Eric to this ultimatum every time you agree to spend more than half a day in the outdoors with him.)

We booked two nights at the Jackson Lodge – where they have a pool fed by a natural hot springs.

David, Eric, Megan and I hit the road in Idaho Falls for the 3-hour drive to Jackson. It was pretty smokey due to fires raging to the east – over by Salmon, Idaho.

But still a beautiful drive.

About 40 miles outside of Jackson we pull into our first destination- Bannack, Montana. Population: Zero. (It’s a ghost town.) But back in the day (1864) it was the first Territorial Capital of Montana. I could write two pages about its rich history, but in a nutshell:

Bannack was founded in 1862 when John White discovered gold on Grasshopper Creek. Grasshopper Creek’s gold was 99-99.5% pure, compared to most gold at 95%, attracting miners, businessmen, deserters of the Civil War, and outlaws, hoping to strike it rich. In 1864 Bannack became the first Territorial Capital of Montana.

Meanwhile, in 1863, gold was discovered about 80 miles east near Virginia City. Many prospectors fled Bannack in hopes of finding the mother lode in Virginia City. The Territorial Capital moved to Virginia City too. However, some people stayed in Bannack and explored the use of further mining techniques.

At its peak, Bannack had a population of about ten thousand. Extremely remote, it was connected to the rest of the world only by the Montana Trail. There were three hotels, three bakeries, three blacksmith shops, two stables, two meat markets, a grocery store, a restaurant, a brewery, a billiard hall, and four saloons.

This link: mt-bannack.html fleshes out many details about Bannack, one of the most lawless ‘wild west’ towns in America’s history, home of ‘soiled doves’ (prostitutes) – where it’s own sheriff (Henry Plummer) was hung on the gallows by vigilantes, going after the “Innocents” (road agents with inside information robbing travelers between Bannack and Virginia City of their gold. About a hundred men were murdered in 1863 alone). Vigilantes hung 24 men (although it became questionable as to whether the vigilantes were, themselves, robbing and murdering travelers).

From the late 1860’s to the 1930’s, Bannack continued as a mining town with a fluctuating population. By the 1950’s most folks had moved on. At that point the State of Montana declared Bannack a State Park. The last residents left in the 1970s.

Today, over sixty structures remain standing, most of which can be explored.

Which is what we’re doing now on our way to Jackson. We have just pulled into the parking area.

“Bingo!” Megan has a quick eye for it. A yellow car. That’s the game we play whenever we are driving. Or parking. Or whatever. As soon as you spot the slightest sliver of a yellow car you yell “Bingo!’ and the first person to yell “Bingo!” over the sighting of a ‘bingo’ wins.

A ‘Bingo!” in the parking lot at Bannack

“You win, Megan.”

I snapped a few photos of Bannack with my i-Phone.

Main Street ahead!:

The original Beaverhead County courthouse:

that later became the Hotel Meade. Entering the front foyer now:

Back onto the front porch:

Across the street is the Schoolhouse and Masonic Lodge (upstairs):

Grades 1-12:

Walking north through the edge of town toward the gallows now –

alongside the Meade Hotel

toward ‘bachelor row.’

What luxury! An outhouse!

Yeah, like that’s going to impress a woman (in light of seven months of winter- tromping out there to answer nature’s call in minus-40 temps and 6′ of snow?).

At the gallows now.

“They didn’t knock a stand out from under you. You just sat there and they lifted you up off the seat, and you hoped they had the rope tight and snapped your neck…” David explains.


The Bannack jail:

Megan and David are incarcerated.

Walking into town again,

through the back door of Skinner’s Saloon:

Where the “Innocents” hung out. (“Nice people did not wander into Skinner’s”)
In 1869, after the Road Agents’ reign had ended, Skinner’s Saloon became a mercantile

and remained so for nearly 60 years.

In the hill south of town sits Hendrick’s Mill.

We’re driving toward Jackson now. We’re coming into Jackson …

yes, we are…

What’s the population? Unincorporated. Uh… looks a lot like Bannack.

There’s the lodge…

the Mercantile:

a couple of really old deserted log cabins behind the lodge:

a barn …

and a few houses.

Maybe 35 people live here?

Thank goodness the lodge has a natural springs pool, bar, and food.

I snap a photo of David and Eric at dinner.

“How is it that you two are wearing matching yellow t-shirts?”

Megan and I are out on a walk in Jackson, Montana, with the “Bingo-bros”- in their matching ‘bingo’ yellow t-shirts.

Except, Eric has some strange and demented-looking person plastered all over the front of his shirt.

“Who is that, Eric?”

“Hunter S. Thompson.”

“Didn’t he kill himself? With a gun? Blew himself in the head or something?”


Well, that about puts a wrap on our day. Even though we were confronted with a ghost town, the gallows, another near-ghost town, and Eric’s demented t-shirt, at least we were spared a death march.