After settling into my Mill Creek Campground site I returned to Virginia City the next day. I meander up the Alder Gulch Road south of Virginia City looking for evidence of the old mines. A lot of the land was marked private but the further I drove the ”Private – No Trespassing” signs diminished. It looked to me that the hills are filled with old mines with remnants of old roads dug into the hills. With a gps and hiking boots one could spend days exploring. I was aiming for Union City located at the end of the road. But I didn’t make it to the old city, to keep going it looked like four-wheel drive was required. More adventure than I wanted traveling with only my dogs.
I was off to the Mill Creek Campground east of Sheridan to explore that area. On the way I ran into a cattle drive; using the road as the cattle drive path. The locals were probably annoyed, but I pulled out my camera and enjoyed it. Cattle on both sides of me and crossing in front of me. Plus real cowboys on horses. All made for a tourist like me.
My plans had been to go to the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. I had been diligently watching the weather forecast. The forecasts weren’t promising. Would I make it to Red Rock? A cold front was coming at the time I wanted to go. Would the road turn to gumbo with rain? Could the place get an early snow and make driving there risky? The Bannack State Park ranger didn’t know about the road and suggested I ask at Lima. I left Bannack driving in snow and hail. Thirty-two degrees was the outside temperature my truck indicated. I believed the snow would stop soon. The weather forecast was for a high of 54 degrees.
It was time to move on. I had been at Maiden Rock for four days. I arrived at Bannack early in the afternoon and found no one in either campgound. I had my pick of all the campsites. I found the camp host site and made it mine. There were a total of three of us in the two campgrounds that night. I visited the town and wandered around looking at the building, the wood textures and the outhouses. All the doors are kept unlocked which encouraged me to pause and feel what was the past.
I had stopped at the Wise River Ranger Station to ask about the condition of the Melrose to Dewey road via the charcoal kilns. The road condition was good the ranger reported. But… how did I feel about being on a single lane road with a shear drop off and potentially lots of backing up if I met someone else driving the road? She described everything I feared. This was a short section of road from the valley floor by the kilns to the high plateau called Vipond Park. She thought there wouldn’t be much traffic on the road, but it was bow season now so?
Off I drove the next morning from my camp site at Maiden Rock (west) fish access site to the charcoal kilns.
On another day I moseyed over to the town of Coolidge and Elkhorn mine. I made the one mile walk into Coolidge keeping my eyes searching the woods to discover evidence of the past. At times I saw evidence of the old railroad line to Dewey.
At Coolidge I lingered. Looking at what remained of the past. How did the people live? How did they keep from freezing? I noticed rusty cans everywhere. Did they heat their food from the can and then just open the door and throw the can out?
I noticed the outhouses too. I decided to photograph the outhouses. Family humor. My father worked in the wastewater industry and it is also my profession.
From the camp site I wandered to Butte. I hadn’t planned to visit Butte but it had rained and I wanted time for the back roads to dry. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the city. The city embraces its past and has left a number of head-frames standing. And Oh My! – I knew mining tunnels were under the city but I was shocked when I saw a map of the tunnels. Tunnels are everywhere under the city.
I left on this trip with no clear itinerary. I had identified more things to do and see than I had time for. I would watch the weather and make decisions as I went. My only rule was that I would stay south of I-90. That rule would keep me somewhat focused and stop me from chasing shiny objects when the world’s wonders were close; they just might take a bit of effort to uncover. I left Georgetown Lake and moseyed on to the Maiden Rock (west side) fishing access spot and set up camp.
I have a hard time accepting that towns die and are abandoned. People pour their hopes and dreams into their homes with families and friends. They marry, have children, and live their lives. Then the town slowly dies and they walk way leaving everything. On this trip I’m visiting some of these remnants of the past in mining towns. I can’t explain to myself what intrigues me about the abandoned towns. But I go and walk the old streets and see what remains. Many times it is only stone foundations that remain and a hollow in the ground, a little reminder of the people that lived their lives at the place.
I went to Georgetown Lake to camp and explore the area. Northeast of the lake is the abandoned town of Southern Cross.