Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chapter 32 - Missoula to Butte, Montana

Friday, July 24th: 
The 2-1/2 hour drive down to Butte, Montana was easy and enjoyable.  Not only were we driving again on the interstate system, I-90 in this case, but the traffic was light, we were in no hurry, and as always out here in the western mountains, the scenery was beautiful.  The City of Butte was not one of our originally planned stops but as any seasoned RVer knows, sometimes when you call ahead to make your reservation for the following night, the campground is full. Rather than spending several days in Bozeman as we had planned, we ended up a bit further north, although perhaps in our favor as the City of Butte, Montana might very well be a very interesting place to visit.  We thought you might enjoy this photo taken at a rest stop that shows little brother next to big brother.  We have finally gotten used to be the smallest and we are no longer intimidated.

Unfortunately our second choice for an RV park proved to have a few deficiencies. Not only did we not have a sewer hookup (I know, we have become spoiled), but also our particular space within the park could not pickup the internet. If I wanted to go online I needed to go over to the other side of the park where the WiFi signal was stronger. Even considering these two negatives, the park was attractive and its location was close by the city of Butte.  We knew nothing about Butte before this visit but once we parked our travel trailer and we could see off in the distance on a large hill the entire city, we knew that this might be quite an educational experience.

What we could see in the distance above the city was what looked like oil wells. We learned soon later that they were not oil wells but the tops of old copper mine towers called "Headframes," that contained wheels at their tops to lower the miners, mules, equipment, and supplies down into the deep mine shafts.  From what we read there were 14 of these old black steel towers in the city and we knew immediately that at least one of our stops in Butte had to be at an old headframe.

Butte's began as a mining town in the late 1800s and although copper became the dominant mineral pulled out of the ground, gold and silver mining started in the area as far back as the early 1860s.  It was copper however, that made the city famous and gave it the title of "The Richest Hill on Earth."

In 1882, 9 million pounds of copper were removed from the ground.  A year later production increased by 250% and then in 1896 the mines in Butte produced 210 million tons of copper or about 26% of the entire world supply and 51% of all copper mined in the United States. 

In 1890, the area around Butte had around 24,000 people.  By 1920 in the peak period of the mining the population had increased to 100,000. After World War I copper prices started falling and by the mid-1980s copper mining had all but ceased to exist. The city's history is woven around the copper mining industry and it should not be surprising that much of Butte's current tourist industry revolves around mining.  The above photographs show Kathy and Cabo at the entrance of the closed Berkeley Pit and at the viewing platform that allows visitors to view the largest open copper mining pit in the city.

We ended our afternoon by driving to one of the highest points above the city to check out the view of the city down below and take the above photograph.  Tomorrow we plan to further explore the copper mining industry and check out the downtown area of Butte.  Incidentally the City of Butte refers to the downtown area on all street signs as "Uptown" for obvious reasons.  We did learn that one happening this weekend in Butte explains why our  RV park was full and why some of the streets in the updown area are closed. This weekend in Butte is "Evil Knievel Days."  As it turns out Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel was born and raised in Butte and this weekends festival is likely to draw 50,000 visitors to the city.  Not good for us. Kathy made me sell my only motorcycle before we were married.

Saturday, July 25th:
When we walked around the RV park this morning we found that there were at least thirty or more motorcycles parked out in front of tents. It is doubtful that on any other weekend we would find any motorcycle campers but this particular weekend motorcyclists were everywhere.  Kathy said it reminded her of the old movie "Easy Rider" but all I could think of was a collection of aging hippies from the 1960s - not in a negative way of course. In any case, our plans were NOT to be downtown, excuse me, Updown, this afternoon. Crowds are no longer fun.

One of the many problems that helped lead to the eventually collapse of the copper mining industry in Butte was the horribly unsafe conditions deep down in the mines. In 1917 the worst hardrock mining disaster occurred in the United States at one of the Butte mines that took 168 lives.  The United States Bureau of Mines stepped in and created many of the safety laws and mine regulations still in affect today.  Kathy and I (and Cabo) visited a memorial to these 168 men who lost their lives.

One observation that we made that we knew was a direct result of the earlier mining industry was the number of older small homes in and around the area of the mining headframes.  Many of the residential buildings clearly were meant to house several or more families.  It seems apparent that these older homes many of which had been upgraded, were the homes of the miners. We also noted that the larger and fancier homes probably owned by the mine owners were closer to or in the uptown area. 

After our final inspection of Butte former mining days, we decided to venture "uptown" which in this case was down below us. It was still before noon.  The first activity that we encountered was an antique car show which seemed a bit odd as today was a celebration of motorcycles.  We walked by many of the antique cars before it suddenly occurred to me that many of the cars were twenty years or so younger than I am. Disturbing as was this observation, I was very pleased with the many old buildings (older than I am) that we passed by during our walk.

After passing through the antique car show we ended up on the next street below that was lined on both sides for two blocks with vendors selling everything from junk food to tee shirts and other Evel Knievel souvenirs.  It was completely maddening to think that any of these hundreds of vendors could make money on such junk considering so much competition. Here again though and it's perhaps my old contractor upbringing, but I loved the old buildings that lined both sides of the street.

Were it not for the anticipated crowds it might have been interesting to watch the motorcycle jumping that was scheduled for this afternoon and evening.  But since we had already decided not to attend these functions (and we later determined that Cabo was not invited), we decided to be satisfied with visiting a statue of Butte native son Robert Craig Knievel that was temporarily erected in the center of Butte's main uptown street.

We retuned back to our campground by early afternoon well satisfied with what we had seen in the City of Butte, Montana.  Tomorrow we head southeast to the town of Gardiner.  Our RV Park, the Rocky Mountain RV Park is situated about one mile from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Another one of our dreams is about to come true.


No comments:

Post a Comment