Saturday, July 26, 2008

Helena Region

I’m up early with everyone still sleeping and step outside to see a mule deer in the meadow –beautiful. Then, out here in the middle of nowhere, I have the opportunity for a little catch up work, utilizing the internet. Albert then makes us a fine breakfast – no “continental serve yourself cereal version" here and I plan our day. Soon, we’re off getting a personal tour and history of the once busy mining camp of Marysville. The camp got its start in 1876 when a rich vein of gold was discovered and developed into the Drumlummon Mine, which produced some 30 million in ore over the years. Like other camps; however, the prosperity wouldn’t last and as mining expenses outweighed the price of gold, the large mine closed and the vast majority of people moved away. Today, Marysville displays a number of historic buildings and has seen a small revival as people have developed new cabins in the area. This; however, could be just the beginning, as, with the increased price of gold, the once silent Drumlummon Mine has reopened.

Then, with Albert driving and acting as our guide, we head westward to the old mining camp of Remini, just south of Highway 12. This community has also developed into a summer retreat with both new and restored cabins dotting the hills. While there are several historic building worth the stop for a photo, we are somewhat disillusioned, as this community appears to be in some type of Hatfield-McCoy type feud (though I doubt guns are involved, just "killin' words") over politics, the EPA naming the town as a “Super Fund Clean Up Site,” lack of follow through from the EPA, and a federally imposed sewer and water development plan. Some of its citizens seemingly want to maintain the town’s independence from the government and posted all throughout town are posters insisting on independence and a newsletter that is at best, mostly a rambling commentary on independence and includes many specific “digs” at other residents. Left a bad taste in my mouth.

We then make our way to Elliston, which Albert says has a saloon with one of the best cheeseburgers in the area. And, he’s not wrong. At Stoner’s Saloon, we not only get a great burger and a beer, but also the hilarious story of “Big Foot Captured,” a hoax that took place in the early 1990’s and made news worldwide.

Backtracking to the southeast, we make our way to Comet, yet another 1800’s mining town. But, Wow, Wow, Wow – this is one of the best non-restored, non-preserved old mining camps that I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit. The town got its start in 1885, booming to about 300 people but by the early 1900s had been deserted. However, it developed another boom in the 1920s and 1930s as the mine reopened bringing numerous people back to the small community. In the 1940s it died again and people moved on. Today, the townsite provides glimpses of more than two dozen buildings in various states of disrepair, along with the still intact mine and operation buildings. I’m on a “super-high” making my way through the weeds and exploring this great site, but am appalled when Dave and Albert say they have met a man who is loading the back of his pickup with scrap iron. The man says he comes out every weekend to help “clean-up” the site.

This town is privately owned and it’s amazing that it isn’t entire fenced. However, this kind of wreckless activity by this man, could easily make it so. There is one remaining resident left in town and Albert calls upon him to let the resident know of the theft taking place by this irresponsible man. Though the resident does not own that particular property, he does know the owner and will report both his activities and license tag. Hopefully, this might save the site from more plundering and keep it open for future visitors. Boy, oh, boy, do people like that just make me madder than hell!

Anyway, we’re off to or last stop – Elkhorn, Montana, parts of which are now a Montana State Park. Two buildings remain in excellent shape and are open to the public. Very cool. The rest of the town is privately owned and many of the cabins have been turned into permanent or summer retreats. However, the mine and cemetery can also be viewed, along with a variety of buildings in states of disrepair.

On back to the pristine cabin, for another restful night before heading out in the morning again, alas, without our helpful guide and great new friend, Albert.

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