Sunday, June 28, 2015

Circumnavigating the Flathead

It's another hot, weekend day, and my bride has been working on yet another client crisis for the past several days. So, today, I put her into the car (along with the dogs) and we went for a Sunday drive.

Charlie has only seen a bit of local scenery since we got here. We drove through Polson (which takes about 25 seconds!) and headed down the eastern shore of Flathead Lake. Charlie was sporting a huge swollen hand, courtesy of a mosquito, so she complained a lot, even after taking a Benadryl, soaking the hand in anti-itch goo, and resting it against a zip-loc filled with ice cubes. Like I said yesterday, this place is pretty, but it is teeming with insect life...all of which Charlie is allergic to.

Highway 35 hugs the eastern shore of the enormous lake all the way up to Big Fork. It's very woodsy on the east side of the lake. There are lots of orchards and properties with small cabins lining the highway. On the right side, the land slopes steeply up to adjacent mountains that are many thousands of feet high. It took us a good part of one hour to get to the far end of the lake.

We then decided to head up to Kalispell, so Charlie could get a glimpse of the "big town" in the area. After going up through it, and then back again, we both feel that the town plus outlying suburbs is probably the size of Murrieta. There are lots of businesses here, thus plenty of opportunities for Jonathan and Misty to find new clients.

We talked on the phone with Jonathan while we were driving. They will be leaving their home in Wildomar on Wednesday, and will be driving two days to get here. They will be staying with half-brother Paul for a few months, until they get themselves squared around.

Paul lives about 15 miles south of Kalispell off of Hwy 93 in a pretty place called Lakeside. We passed it on the way back to the RV park. Misty's dad and wife Pam live in a place called Big Arm, which is also accessed from Hwy 93, maybe a dozen miles north of our current location. We passed that place on our way home, and it looks nice there, too.

We also talked to granddaughter Autumn while we were on the road. Apparently, she is hoping to join the U.S. Army sometime soon, and will be staying with Misty's dad and wife in Big Arm for the time being.

I am hoping that we can help Jonathan and Misty unpack their stuff this week. They will be pooped from the long drive, I'm sure.

Charlie's passed out now. She took another Benadryl when we got home...and crashed, in bed, with Booger.

Jay Jay is rolling around on the floor, trying to solve some itching problem of his own. Good luck with that, Son.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Glacier-less National Park

We're in Polson, Montana, now, camping at a KOA that overlooks Flathead Lake. It's very nice here...but it's a bit warm. Thank goodness for a nice breeze, our awnings, and our fans.

Booger and Jay Jay are on a diet, but they still beg pretty hard.

We've been hanging around here for a couple of days, so I decided it was time to make the big trek to Glacier National Park and see what all the hullabaloo is about.

I left camp at 6:40 a.m., hoping to get to the Park by 9:00 a.m. and get back home by 3 p.m. It's about 45 minutes' drive up to Kalispell, and another 40 minutes to West Glacier...without traffic. Actually, it was a very pleasant drive. That Flathead Lake is a big one, for sure; it makes Lake Tahoe look petite. Kalispell surprised me; it's much bigger than I had imagined. I was expecting a couple of gas stations, a bar/casino, a couple of thousand beat up mobilehomes, and some hillbilly dudes racing around in the General Lee. No way, Jose! It's a good sized town, maybe comparable to Hemet (?). It's got oodles of commercial, a neat old downtown, and an international airport just outside of town!! It also had a cool eagle statue that Austin Casson would be proud of.
I am beginning to feel much more confident about Jonathan and Misty's prospects up here in this beautiful country. Besides, things are cheaper up here. Good luck you guys!

I got to Glacier National Park in 1 hour and 40 minutes, and headed up the "Going to the Sun Road". It is basically a two-lane road that snakes its way along Lake McDonald and McDonald Creek, then heads up and over Logan Pass and ends up at Lake Mary. Without traffic, it might take 1-1/2 hours to traverse, one way. However, there was construction delays along the route, so I lost about 30 minutes each way.

As I said, the road borders water for quite awhile. There are some nice views of the creek.

The road up to Logan Pass is very windy and tight, with dramatic drop-offs in most places. There are a number of turn-outs so that you can take a photo without endangering yourself and others. The views from the road are breathtaking.

There aren't many glaciers in Glacier National Park, at least visible from Going to the Sun Road. Must be global warming...but, I did find some un-melted white stuff next to the road.
I'm sure that will be gone by August.

I did see a number of beautiful waterfalls along the way. Here are a few:

As I said, there is still some snow high up on the ridges, like Logan Pass, but nothing glacial. I saw some snowboard optimists, lugging their snowboards up from the Logan Pass parking lot. They are going to have to hike a long way to find something worth schussing down.

There are quite a few nice vistas along the Going to the Sun Road. I stopped and caught a few of them. I can only imagine how regal they would look with a lot more snow on them. We should have been here in May!

All in all, it was worth the drive. Some very nice scenery, indeed, but I was hoping for more...honestly. I mean, it's called GLACIER National Park, for gosh sakes. Maybe there were glaciers here when the Park was first established? Without the glaciers, the Park is scenic, but not as dramatic as Yosemite or, even, the backside of the Sierras as seen from Hwy 395.

I guess I'm just jaded at this point. But, it's nice to have seen so many beautiful places. They're all wonderful in their own ways.

After spending another day driving through millions of pine trees and following miles and miles of lakes and streams, the thought occurred to me that we're lucky that we can visit these places...but, I wouldn't want to live in a place like this. For one thing, it gets f-ing cold in the winter. And, secondly, the whole area up here in Montana is a playground for fleas, ticks, gnats, mosquitos, and other unusual flying insects. We don't see them where we live, and are quite used to that. Later in our trip, we will be spending two months living right near the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts. Beautiful to look at, but the cold, foggy conditions can be a bummer, especially in the Summer.

Picky, picky, picky!!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mining Boomtown to Gambling Mecca

We're in Butte, Montana, folks. It's at the crossroads of I-15 and I-90, about 3 hours drive from West Yellowstone. We enjoyed a trouble-free ride through some beautiful country. In the process, we massacred approximately 1,000 mosquitos against our windshield. Sorry, Fellas. "It wasn't personal, it was business".

Butte is an historical western town. For well over 110  years, it was maybe the most famous mining town in the United States, at one time producing over 85 percent of the copper used in our country. The mines that underlie the old town site were also rich in gold, silver, and numerous other valuable minerals. Over 100,000 people lived in Butte during it's heyday; now, maybe 30,000. The historic old town area has hundreds of buildings still standing that were built at around the turn of the century. Dotted amongst these buildings are a number of headframes that were the means by which ore cars and miners were lowered and raised from the hard rock mines that underlie the city.

We took a trolley ride today to have a look. For $15 each, we got a 1-1/2 hour narrated look-see. Our driver/local expert was an old guy in suspenders and jeans named Bill, who has lived in Butte for all of his years.
Gold was first discovered in Butte in 1864. When the placer deposits were worn out, hard rock (underground) mining began. From about 1880 to 1950, hundreds of mines honeycombed the Butte "hill".  Our guide Bill said that there are ten thousand of miles of tunnels under the city. Each mine had a headframe, and old photos give the appearance of a hill peppered with oil wells. Today, there are fourteen left, but they are impressive.

Over 2,000 miners perished in accidents working these mines; who knows how many died from dust inhalation and other mine-related maladies. Mules were lowered into the mine shafts and spent their entire lives hundreds or thousands of feet underground hauling ore carts.

Our guide, Bill, mentioned that the temperature down deep in the mine was around 100 degrees. Men worked long, hard hours in that heat. Air was pumped down the shaft so that the miners (and mules!) could breathe fresh air. In the winter, that air being pumped down might be 21 degrees below zero, because winters are pretty rough in Butte, Montana. When the sweaty guys were brought up to the surface in the winter, it wasn't unusual for their sweat-drenched clothes to freeze right on them before they could walk a few hundred yards to their hovels.

Originally, the hundreds of mines were owned by individuals. But, over time, a trio of greedy bastards gained title to the mines, and then they ruthlessly fought each other for dominance. Probably, the most famous (or infamous) of the three was William A. Clark. He gained ownership of many mining properties through foreclosure on loans he made (as a banker) to mine owners. Clark became one of the richest men in America during the time of the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Mellons, etc. He helped the Montana Territory become a state, and then became one of its first Senators (by bribing members of the State Legislature). He built a 34-room mansion in Butte for himself.
And another nice one down the street for his son.

Clark was a "player" in mining, banking, railroads, and politics in the early 1900's. Clark County Nevada, home of Las Vegas, is named after him. He is considered one of the 50 richest Americans ever, but probably not one of the 50 most honorable citizens. Mark Twain once wrote of Clark: "He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time." In Clark's defense, he innocently proclaimed, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale".

Eventually, it became too expensive to mine underground for the precious minerals. Beginning in about 1950, some very big players in the mining industry began open-pit excavation in Butte. The biggest of such mines was the Berkeley Pit. In thirty years, a hole 1,700' deep with a 3-mile circumference was excavated. It was closed down in 1982. Since that time, it filled with 900 feet of water and is now considered the largest toxic waste site in the United States. ARCO and American taxpayers have yet to find a way to clean up the poisonous soup.

We only had today to inspect Butte, but what we saw was quite interesting. It's old downtown area is one of the largest historic landmark districts in America. My sister, Kellie, who is a photographer, would love this place. Lots of old brick, distressed wood, faded paint, and cool Victorian architecture.

Also, in the historic district, there is an authentic 19th century brothel that is considered America's longest running bordello. It operated 92 years, from 1890 until 1982. Forty-two rooms of sin and debauchery, from posh suites and parlors to small, underground "cribs". The city once had an entire "red light" neighborhood, located just a minute or so from the mines.

Many of the old, turn-of-the-century buildings are being converted to modern uses. This is a church converted into a theater.

Another store front business has been re-designed into a glass brick love nest.

This one is a warehouse built in 1900 that has been converted into a restaurant called "Casagranda's Steakhouse". We had an excellent dinner there.

In the converted warehouse/steakhouse, the owners have hundreds of old invoices stapled to the walls. Here's one:

It's dated 1938. Interstate Lumber Company is providing the following: 28 qty 11 1/3 x 36 shingles, 12 qty 3/8 x 2 (4'-10') maple flooring, and 24 qty 3/8 x 2 (2-1/2'-13') maple flooring. The total bill is $4.61 cash.

Our dinner cost us $72.00.

Other things are changing, as well. In a town where there used to be 400 mines, there are now probably that many casinos. That's the God's Honest Truth. It seems that there is a law in Montana that every establishment with a liquor license can also operate a legal gambling house. Well, sure, get a guy drunk and, then, fleece him. Now, THAT, is some good lawmaking. As a result, "Casino" signs are everywhere.

At the intersection near our RV park just west of Butte, there are businesses with casino operations on all four corners. One of the biggies is Town Pump, a truck stop. Hey, I think that's the company that my daughter-in-law, Misty, is going to work for when she and our son, Jonathan, move back to Montana in a few weeks. "Madam, give me $5.00 on Pump 1 and $10 on all the Hard Way bets!"

So, mining is still alive in Butte. Working class guys used to dig money out of the ground, but nowadays bar and gas station owners use their gambling licenses to dig dollars out of poor SOB's wallets.

A positive aspect of this depravity is that Montana has no sales tax!

We definitely want to come back to Butte when we have the chance (maybe next year). We would like to spend some time walking the old streets of downtown, visiting the World Museum of Mining, taking the tour to the 90' tall "Our Lady of the Rockies"statue on a mountain 3,500' above Butte, and checking out the Clark mansions and the whorehouse, up close and personal.