Big Sky country is truly a beauty! The valleys are much larger than the valleys where I grew up. The mountains are so tall that they can be seen in all directions. The wind can whip through so strong that highway advertising signage breaks in half. Ranching seems to be the common commodity in this region.
We explored a few historical sites, Bannack State Park and Coolidge City. It was mining gold that brought the early settlers to this region. At the time of our visit of Bannack, a group of volunteers were reenacting what life was like when Bannack was established. An added bonus for our visit. Bannack was the first capital of the Montana Territory after it succeeded from the Idaho Territory in 1862. To my surprise, Bannack still had some of the original erected buildings available for site seeing. It had a main street equipped with your shopping needs, a mercantile, a blacksmith, a motel, schoolhouse, a carpenter, a livery, a motel, etc. It even had a jail for when people became too rambunctious and rowdy. The houses were sporadically built on and around main street. And the tent city, those who came to Bannack but didn’t have enough money to build a home, was established adjacent to the creek. The main gold mine was a few miles up the hill and the surrounding hills were dotted with evidence of attempts to finding other gold veins. Bannack was a bustling exciting place at one point in time and it continued to stay alive until the last residents left in the1970s. A true gem to see!
Coolidge City had a slight different vibe for me than Bannack. It was nestled within the forest of the Pioneer mountains down in a narrow valley right next to the river. The Elkhorn mine and mill (mining for silver) was a mile or so up the mountain side. Coolidge City was established in 1914 to accommodate the mine. We parked our car a mile from the City and while hiking into it, the fragrance of the pine forest was spectacular! Upon approaching the City, we saw dilapidated remnants of a once vibrant city. It was hard for me to envision what life would have been like during its prime because of the desolate vibe that lingered among the remnants. The mile or so hike up to the mine and mill was well worth it. Towards the top of the mountain, the trees disappeared opening up to the breathtaking scenery of the adjoining mountain peaks. Of course, there was a closed locked metal gate at the entrance of the mine to keep the public from entering it. The mill was also carved out on the mountain side that was about a mile from the mine. All that is left of the mill today is the concrete skeleton frame that once held a massive wood exterior. Indeed, a ghost town that is worthwhile!
Visiting both historical sites allowed me to have a sense of what life was like back in the early days. I do have to say that they both gave me a deep appreciation for modern life of today. I don’t have to worry about being shot. Yes, if a nefarious person knew that you had a nugget of gold, they could shoot and kill you for it. They might enter your home and take anything and everything they wanted. I truly like the comforts of utilities and technology of today. Even though I have to conserve water (especially when boondocking) in our studio apartment on wheels, I like being able to turn on a water facet. Oh, my, its wonderful to have a machine to wash and dry my clothes. Also, its great hopping into my car rather than rely on Mr. Ed for transportation. Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to have Mr. Ed, but only on a want basis – not a necessity basis. Today, I have access to lots of different kinds of foods, fruits, and veggies. Lack of nutrients was very common back in those days. And most importantly, I’m so very grateful for the sanitary sewer system and the ability to flush the toilet. Rather than use the traditional out house. On the same token, we are truly a fortunate society to have a sanitary sewer system.
To me, life seemed simpler back in those days. People didn’t have much as far as materialistic things. The way of life, however, was much more physically challenging compared to today. The early settlers of Big Sky Country really were determined and tough to make it in this part of the country. A place where the sun is intensely hot but the ferocious winds can be bone chilling. And the mountains can be blanketed with snow, even in early September.
Thank you early civilization for enduring a rugged life such that I can enjoy and appreciate the modern amenities of life today. I truly respect your endurance and for that – I tip my hat to you!
Have you visited Bannack and Coolidge City? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.