Thurs., August 6, 2020
I got to sleep in this morning in that I have a short travel day and can’t check into the Dillon campground until after noon. I plan on staying there 2 nights and perhaps more if there’s availability and if I can’t find something nice further down the road for the weekend. Dillon is a decent sized city and is home to the University of Montana Western.
The drive through western MT is amazing. Lots of mountain driving not only easy on the eyes with the views but easy driving as well. Uncrowded Interstate and 80 mph speed limits (I set the cruise at 70 mph.) The following video is pretty bad. It’s really not that bumpy and what bumps there may be are smoothed out by the motorhome (Roughing it Smoothly) but holding my iPhone at arms length causes jiggling with every breath and at higher elevations like I’ve been at for the last week+, I tend to breathe quicker with some deep intakes. Anyway, FWIW, here’s 1 1/4 miles of what I see at 70mph.
I am situated at the Southside RVPark. It is a good place to stop. Reasonable sized commercial sites with well placed full utilities. The gravel sites are very level. The park is divided in two by a nice running creek. They have an interesting half picnic table at each site. I was hoping that they might have a cancellation such that I could extend longer than two nites. That didn’t happen so Sat I moved to another local park for 3 more nites (trying to fill some time between now and next Friday when I’m scheduled into the general Jackson Hole area).
This second park, (Beaverhead River RV Park – more on the name later) is a former KOA in which the ‘former’ probability occurred because the park franchisee didn’t modernize enough. The sites are typical KOA sites meaning level, gravel, long enough but probably a couple feet narrower than today’s comm’l standards. Full utilities and amenities including pool (closed due to COVID19) however their electric service is only 30 amps and via shared pedistal. Guessing that was the ‘modernization’ issue. Not a problem, just attach the adapter to my 50amp cord and I’m 30 amp.
Though I eat dinner out most nights, I rarely mention it unless there is something memorable and such was the case here. A 3 short block walk from Southside Park was a place called Sparkies Garage. Though the location at one time may have been a garage, it is now a newer building made to look like a (large) garage complete with memorabilia. But the food! Must not be a cook in the kitchen but a chef. I ordered two appetizers for dinner…a crock of French Onion soup with cornbread and a honey sauced baby back rib appetizer.
I took the Jeep on a drive east towards, but not to, the western border of Yellowstone National Park. (Yellowstone was 20 miles away as the crow flies or mountaineer climbs but 90 more miles away by road). My destinations were the sister “ghost” towns “of Nevada City and Virginia City some 60 miles away from Dillon. These are two of the many 1800’s mining towns in the area (gold, silver, garnets etc). Virginia City is a well preserved, very much alive, ghost town which is frozen in time. Both towns are on the National Historic Register.
They quickly became boomtowns of thousands of prospectors and fortune seekers. This remote area of what was then Idaho Territory had no law enforcement except for the miners courts. It is estimated that “road agents” were responsible for up to 100 deaths in the area in 1863 and 1864. These “road agents” would ride out from Robbers Roost and terrorize stagecoaches, miners and travelers in the area. The locals were afraid to do anything about it because the road agents had spies everywhere and would soon find out who was working against them.
The county Sheriff was suspected to be the leader of the road agents gang called “The Innocents”. The suspicions about the Sheriff and the increasing number of murders in the immediate area prompted the citizens to form the Vigilante Committee. After obtaining confessions from some members of “The Innocents” the Vigilante Committee ‘arrested‘ the Sheriff and hanged him without a trial. Many recipients of the Vigilante Committee justice reside atop Boot Hill. (These actions and others became the genesis of the historic Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, see previous blog post). One of the notables, who at one time lived there, was Calamity Jane. When mining died, so did the towns.
In the 1940’s a private couple started buying Virginia City and doing maintenance. In the ‘50’s the town began to be restored for tourism. Most of the city is now owned by the state government, is a National Historic Landmark and is operated as an open air museum. There are nearly 300 structures in the town with almost half of them having been built prior to 1900. Many of the buildings are in their original condition with Old West period displays and information plaques.
This same couple undertook a restoration of Nevada City moving many historic cabins there. A narrow gauge railroad operates between the two towns. Below are some pics from the area.
About in the middle is a buffalo robe, one of many displayed. Also shown is a masked road agent member of The Innocents gang who arrived in town today to wreak havoc.
About five miles from the campground is the Clark’s Lookout State Park. It’s located above the Beaverhead River and is a place that provided the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a view of the route ahead. On August 13, 1805, Captain William Clark climbed the hill overlooking the Beaverhead River to get a sense of his surroundings and document the location. His written record of the three compass readings triangulate to show the exact location where he stood. That location is commemorated with a large compass monument complete with directional readings so one can see exactly his data points. It’s a small, 8 or 9 acre park complete with a small parking area and two gravel trails climbing to the site. Not too bad of a climb for an old man.
The hill, the climb and some flora.
My plan for Monday failed. Dillon has 2 block long section with a former rail depot converted into a museum featuring a Lewis & Clark diorama occupying one block and a wooden boardwalk with log cabins, old schoolhouse etc museums. The big sign showed it closed on Saturday and Sunday so I planned to take a look on Monday. Unfortunately, everything was still locked tight on Monday. Maybe they have trouble recruiting volunteers during the pandemic?