96. Dillon, MT

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.

And then it seems as soon as I put the phone down, I crest another rise to a prettier greener vista.

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.

Southside Park entry
Beaverhead River RV Park


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.

Both were as good as I’ve had. The cheese on the soup was properly crusted, the cornbread served fresh, soft and warm and the ribs plentiful, meaty and soooo tender. Four leftover ribs for tomorrow’s lunch.👍


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.

The actual residents here in Virginia City have some very pretty homes. There’s obviously money in tourism. If you ever want to see nearly a whole town with housing and commercial ‘dolled up’ like this and more, visit Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Montana seems to be filled (when off the Interstates) with Historic Turnoffs and information boards such as this.
And this one. This immense rock provides its name to the county, the area and to many many businesses including my second RV park. It also was one of the compass points used by Lewis & Clark. See below.
As referenced above, this is the Beaver Head Rock. I can see the resemblance. I really can’t describe the scale but it’s not hard to understand why in years past this became a landmark, meeting place and stagecoach station area. The huge lake (it’s so big that without binoculars you can’t see the large flock of Sand Cranes on the far shore) was filled in many decades ago and used as a field for producing hay etc. In more recent years/decades, the entire area was purchased by a wealthy couple as a homestead and they set about to restore the entire area as it was shown in drawings etc from the Lewis & Clark era including restoring the fields back to a lake. Though still privately owned it is now managed/controlled by the State of Montana.
Can you imagine a more beautiful site for a home? This is where the benefactor couple lives.
Hay is big business in Montana. Great caches of hay are littered along the landscape. The large herds of cattle and horses will be fed over the winter.

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.

Rattlesnake Cliffs, one of the three compass points, is to the right of the black peak in the center
Zoomed in to a second compass point, Beaverhead Rock. The third point, Wisdom River, was not visible to me.

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?

Having shared a photo of a great dinner out, I thought I’d share another of a great dinner IN —homemade pea soup!

4 thoughts on “96. Dillon, MT”

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