Yes, we recently took to the highways and byways of the West, and we went BIG. 2300 miles and 13 days = an epic road trip. In keeping with the classic American "vacation," we hit some of the hot spots. Yellowstone. Grand Teton National Park. And what would a vacation be without some lesser known attractions, such as the Museum of Clean in Pocatello, Idaho? And we were blessed to visit family along the way. Most people would schedule such a journey in the summer, but we are not "most people" and these are not ordinary times. So, buckle your virtual seatbelt and come along for the ride as I recount our adventure in several installments.
October 13: A Drive Back in Time
When I was young, we did not take many family vacations. But I remember distinctly my father deploring the major highways. In his view, a drive on the nation's byways revealed the true nature of the country and its people. In college, I was also deeply affected by the book Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon. Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, the book is an unforgettable journey along the nation's backroads (which were denoted by the color blue on maps at that time). Both of these memories coursed through my mind's eye as we skirted the eastern edge of Flathead Lake on Highway 83, a two-lane that is squeezed between the Mission Mountain and Swan Mountain ranges. It was a misty morning and I shivered in anticipation as we passed Seeley Lake and began to roll through countryside that was new to us.
It might have been the gloomy skies, or maybe the rain had washed off the dust, but either way the aspens, larches and sycamores shone through like an army of yellow torches. Numerous bald eagles perched majestically in the sycamores, pumping my heart with pride near to a bursting point. Along Highway 12, I observed loaf-shaped haystacks as tall as a house, each one surrounded by a fence. Curious ...
Ever since we got to know our neighbors with the farm, I pay more attention to farm affairs, and I was fascinated that this method is so different than the round bales and rectangular bales we see in our part of Montana. I sent a haystack picture to Dear Neighbor Friend, and in turn she sent me the link to the video below. According to Wikipedia, these haystacks of loose, unbaled hay are intended as fodder for livestock. They are made with a beaverslide, a frame supporting an inclined plane up which a load of hay is pushed to a height of about 30 feet before dropping through a large gap. The device was invented in the early 1900s and was first called the Beaverhead County Slide Stacker after its place of origin, the Big Hole Valley in Beaverhead County, Montana. Once I read about it, I realized I had seen one or more of these structures, but didn't know what it was!
As we planned our trip, it was easy to slot in the big puzzle pieces such as Yellowstone. We could have a little more creativity as we traveled to those places, and I reveled in the chance to research options. One of them? "Drive west on Highway 43. When you come to the fork, go south to Wisdom or north to Opportunity." How cool is that?!? Unfortunately, we could not build that into our itinerary, but when we saw the sign for Opportunity, we just had to take a photo! (By the way, the video of the beaverslide is from Wisdom!)
After passing this exit, we quickly reached Butte, with its massive tailings from gold, silver and copper mining. On the eastern side of the fifth-largest city in Montana, fascinating rock formations dazzle the highway driver. Definitely an area I would like to explore, but alas, no time on this trip! My research yielded an extensive list of possibilities that would have filled a decade of vacations; for our first day of travel we narrowed it down to two ghost towns along Highway 287.Nine booming gold camps sprawled along remote Alder Gulch in 1863. Nevada City and Virginia City were the largest. Dozens of stores and cabins extended back six blocks, but by 1876, only a few residents remained at Nevada City. The gold dredges later came through, leaving piles of tailings as big as barns, and by 1920, the highway had cut the town in half.
Charles Bovey began collecting buildings in the early 1940s. Acquiring Nevada City from Lester and Mary Stiles, he began to place buildings here in 1959. Nevada City became a haven for endangered structures; today more than 90 buildings from across Montana line the streets. The state of Montana now maintains the historic resources at Nevada City.
On the day of our visit, Nevada City was padlocked for the season, but we could still see quite a bit.
The railroad never made it to Alder Gulch, but that didn't stop Mr. Bovey from establishing a railroad collection at Nevada City. In fact, the Virginia City Shortline Railroad was built by Mr. Bovey in 1964 to connect Virginia City and Nevada City, a mile and a half away. Today the 20-minute ride is an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and learn about the surrounding area (May - September only).