Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Merry Christmas

This excerpt was taken from a commentary delivered by Ben Stein about the observance of Christmas, in an interview with Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning, December 18, 2005.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto . In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Here's to you Ben!! Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Destination - Angel Fire, New Mexico

Up early, it's hard to believe that it takes us nearly 8 hours to cover the remaining 90 miles, but in this "crew," is both a ghost town enthusiast as well as a nature/scenery aficionado, and to make matters worse, I get us lost at least twice. Not that I don't know the way to our destination, I just couldn't remember the way to the old coal mining camp of Dawson. And more, the drive from Raton to Eagle Nest, New Mexico is beautiful and darn it, just requires a bunch of stops. After getting "unlost," we check out the old ghost town town of Colfax and drive towards the historic Dawson Cemetery that holds the remains of more than 300 men who lost their lives in two coal mine disasters early in the 20th century.

Finally, we're on our way to Cimarron, one of the wildest Old West towns in New Mexico history. Built as the headquarters of the largest land grant in American History, the old settlement along the Cimarron branch of the Santa Fe Trail, was once visited or called home to such historic characters as Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill Cody. This historic old town continues to boast a number of historic buildings, including the extremely haunted St. James Hotel, which continues to display some two dozen bullet holes in its antique tin ceiling. Also here, is the Aztec Mill, built in 1864 by Lucien B. Maxwell and today serves as a museum, the Immaculate Conception Church, which also dates back to 1864, and a number of other buildings that we visit on the "walking tour."

Then we're off again through Cimarron Canyon, where as children, we spent a lot of time hiking, wading in the extremely cold Cimarron River, and stopping at the long gone Clear Creek Store. Some of the most wonderful memories in my life, we again visit an ancient spring, are awe-inspired by the Pallisades, take photos of huge carved out log that part of the creek runs through, and are excited by the fact, that though it's a little early, there is already Fall color in the canyon.

Only after my concerned brother, John, calls do we finally make our way through Eagle Nest and continue on to his home in the Moreno Valley. Garnering the keys to my mother's Angel Fire condo, we finally land for the evening. Alas, it will probably be the last time, as it is up for sale and she recently got an offer. This; however, will not stop me from returning to this wonderful valley year after year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Onwards to New Mexico

Shoot, we aren't out of Ulysses, Kansas ten miles before I've got to stop again. Yes, I've been to Wagon Bed Spring lots of times, especially as a teenager when it was the "party place" and I had no interest in its history. Times have changed; however, and now I want to know about this place that was such a popular watering hole along the Santa Fe Trail. Much to my surprise, it is actually a National Historic Landmark and has been since I was two years old. Obviously, they didn't do anything with it for years, as in the late 1970's, there were no markers or "reconstructed springs" as there are today - just a big ole' dry riverbed. In any case, it was a cool stop, except for that portion of the landmark was behind an electrified fence. Huh??

We're off again headed to Oklahoma and taking a detour that truly takes us off the beaten path through Kenton, Oklahoma, more into the northwest part of the Oklahoma panhandle than the way I've always traveled it in the past. It comes as no surprise that this isolated piece of the Oklahoma Panhandle is mostly a ghost town. Though there are still folks that live there, only one business is in operation and it was closed on our visit. Just north of Kenton is a place called Robber's Roost, which was the hideout of such outlaws as Captain Coe and a whole bunch of more derelict characters. Just east of Kenton is also the Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve. I could only say to my travel partner, "Reletta, I don't think we're in Oklahoma anymore," as we were surrounded by black lava rock and high sandstone mesas such as I've never seen in this state before -- it was beautiful.

We continue on to the Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway, most of which is along the Cimarron branch of the old Santa Fe Trail. After winding through more beautiful red and sand colored buttes and mesas, we come to yet another almost ghost town -- Folsom, New Mexico. This old place has a couple of claims to fame, one being that it was a popular place for outlaw, Black Jack Ketchum, to hang out and he had a habit of robbing the local trains. The second, and more importantly, near here is an archeological site where the "Folsom Man," was discovered, which confirmed that the area was occupied as long as 10,000 years ago.

Though I've visited Folsom one time previously, I looked forward to visiting the museum, which was closed on my previous visit. Unfortunately, my anticipated expectations were severely dashed when the slovenly woman "manning" the entrance was unfriendly and unhelpful. Not to worry, I paid the small admittance fee and began to look around, that was until I was at the back of the museum and I hear a loud bellow, "you can't take pictures." I ask, was that posted somewhere? She says yes, but I couldn't find it, and questioned her rudeness. I had walked in with a huge camera around my neck. Seems as if she was more interested in the admission price than in upkeeping the museum or providing information. Unfortunately, the museum was dusty, run-down, and didn't have a lot to offer. I suggest you pass on this.

I'm more than a little bummed about yet another poor customer service experience, but my spirits rebound as we head westward on Highway 72 towards Raton. Up ahead, we see several trucks parked in the middle of the road and off to the side a bunch of cowboys and a herd of cattle. We MUST stop and visit and find they are driving the cattle Des Moines, New Mexico, rather than loading them at Raton, due to the extremely high fuel prices. By driving them almost 40 miles, they save almost $5,000! With the exception of a couple of trucks, the herds move just like they used to a century ago -- with "real" cowboys, complete with chaps and hats and several great tales. What a bonus! This was one of the highlights of the trip.

Then we're headed westard once again, climbing the grade to the Johnson Mesa, an almost eerie, but beautiful place sitting atop a high mesa. Back in the 1880's, this high plateau boasted five schools, a church and many recreational facilities for family life. However, winters were more than most of them could handle, and they moved on to "greener pastures." Today, there are no permanent residents on this high wind-swept plain, but a number of historic buildings remain.
We've covered a lot and meandered and down several rugged roads. It's getting late, though our goal was to make Eagle Nest tonight, we aren't even close. One more stop at Sugarite Canyon State Park, which is not only the site of an old coal mining camp, but also has lots of recreational opportunites and beautiful scenery.
Though we're only about 90 miles from our destination, the next stretch provides yet lots of scenery and a whole bunch more stuff that I must revisit. So, we "camp" in Raton, stretch out and plan for another great day tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Crossing Kansas

Okey, dokey, on to another “new” adventure. However, this is not an untried trip like I often take, to unknown and never visited places in the American West, but an old “familiar,” where I spent the summers of my childhood in Northeast New Mexico. My grandma had a lil’ ole’ cabin in a tiny community called Idlewild near Eagle Nest, New Mexico. There, my cousins, siblings, and I had the run of the mountains, exploring, climbing, hiking, and generally creating mischief and mahem, every summer. Ranging from ages 4-8, she’d let us loose every morning, to wander at will, sometimes with a packed lunch, we might be gone all day. One can only imagine letting as many as ten children run wild for hours in today’s world, but back in the good ole’ days, she didn’t need to worry. These many childish adventures, no doubt, led to my adventurous spirit today.

So, I’m off to Emporia to pick up my cousin Reletta, who was also one of those very same rambunctious children crawling about the mountains, and begin a trek across Kansas, stopping at every sunflower field and wind farm, as well as a few small towns for photo opportunities. Our final destination of the day is Ulysses, Kansas, about 400 miles from Kansas City, and located in the severe southwest portion of the state. Both my cousin and I grew up there and my Dad and Reletta’s brother still live there. So, we have a little family visit before we're off again.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Going Slow in the Passing Lane

Now, I know I'm not the only person this drives crazy, cuz I've ridden with too many people that go more nuts than I do while riding behind someone in the passing lane that's doing a leisurely 55 miles/hour on the interstate. I've already posted this to my forum, but suprisingly, there was no response. So, I'm going to re-post it here, plus add a few additional comments, that will, no doubt, get me blasted.

Forum Posting:

This is my very biggest pet peave while driving. Are these people ignorant or just trying to create road rage? I don't care if they're going the speed limit or not. When drivers just coast along in the passing lane like they're on a Sunday drive, while others are forced to pass them in the right lane, it creates not only the potential for road rage, but also for accidents.

I usually give these people a look as I pass on their right, and I swear, I think half of them do it to "intentially" to piss people off, as they stare back at you with a smug look on their face. In some states, they will actually ticket you for lollygagging around in the "go lane" and I notice that I don't see people from those states doing it nearly so often. "Slower Traffic Keep Right" means exactly that. If people are passing you on the right, then you need to pull out of the passing lane.

The left lane was not made because you got a little bored and needed a diversion, it's for "PASSING." Or, if you think you're being a "do-gooder' and slowing down the traffic, because you're going fast enough, well think again. In some areas of this fine nation, being a "Left Lane Vigilante" can get you run of the road or shot dead by some Road Rage Mental Case. The worst part is, it's not just you and the speed junkie trying to pass you that you're are endangering, but also anyone else that's on the road.

So, what's prompted me to write again is a terrible experience over the Labor Day weekend. I've thought for some time, after traveling all over the American West, that Oklahoma drivers are the very worst offenders of this practice of "cruisng in the go lane." This last trip only reiterated that concept, though Missouri drivers are bad about it too. Obviously, they don't teach the purpose of the "go lane" in driver's education classes in those states. Anyway, this one Oklahoma driver was one of those smug SOB's that I spoke of before.

It's like some kind of game. Get in the go-line and ride at the same pace as the person in the right lane. When people tried to get around, and a few did, he would then pass them again and repeat the whole process. Now, up until a couple of months ago, this was fair game in Oklahoma, but the state just passed a law against "going slow" in the passing lane, but evidently, the law hasn't given enough citations, as the practice continues. The fact that they passed a new law tells me that I'm not alone in thinking this is a problem with Oklahoma drivers. (Sorry, to those Oklahomans that are not guilty.)

In any event, Mr. Game Player continued his "entertainment venue" darn near all the way to Dallas, weaving in and out, slowing down some 20 cars behind him on a busy interstate on a holiday weekend. That was until Mr. Texas (I've not seen this go-lane problem in the Lone Star State) just about mowed over his little car with his big 'ole Ford 350. Thought I was going to see "road rage" at it's best there for a moment, or worse, a crumpled little silver car. In any event, little Mr. Silver Car got humbled and stopped entertaining himself and we made it to Dallas, stressed but safe.

Come on folks, if you're bored on the road, play a verbal word game, sing a song, dream about your future, but get OUT OF THE GO LANE!

Why is it that the screaming "do-gooders" with their many protest signs, lots of time, and lots of speeches, seem to never hit those things that drive the rest of us crazy. Shoot, I just might just have to start writing letters to the powers that be or start some darn campaign. Gawd forbid!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

United Airlines

I apologize if this recent blog seems just like so much complaining. I guess I'm just getting old and cranky. But, I simply have no tolerance for terrible customer service (or big crowds, but that's a whole 'nuther topic) and, as I very infrequently add my personal opinions to the website, the blog is my outlet.

So, I stayed home all day waiting on our lost bags to be delivered -- no delivery, no phone call, no email, no nothing. I'll give them a call in the morning, but have already started inventorying what's in my bag for the claim that I feel sure we'll have to end up making. In the meantime, I also find out that our United delay on our outbound trip was very likely due to pilots calling in sick. (see news article) This is a Union tactic which is opposed to a pilot cutback which was announced last month. Ok, Mr. Union Tactics Manager, how's this working for you? The airline is already suffering financial difficulties, so let's force the airline to file a lawsuit to stop sick-leave abuse (costing yet more money), and piss of 36,000 travelers. I've a feeling that I'm not the only one of those 36,000 that have found my recent travel experience to be the last straw and refuse to ever fly United Airlines again. So, in the end, United has to rebook customers on other airlines, losing the revenue, and ultimately thousands of customers, so that they are forced to cut back more flights, more pilots, etc, etc, etc. Make sense? Maybe United's baggage handlers also all called in sick yesterday.

I'll probably get blasted for this, but I don't think there is a place for Unions anymore. Absolutely, I understand the need for unions when they were first formed, as employer's took advantage of employees and treated them badly. But, today? There are so many laws to protect employess from legitamate issues -- ranging from safety to discrimination, what is the purpose? If a company has financial difficulties, the bottom line is they often can't afford to keep everyone on board. I know from personal experience, that management is often the problem, and that tends to trickle down to the employees, which ultimately affects the customer in the form of poor attitudes and effectiveness. But, unions also protect employees that should have been gotten rid of years ago because of that very same poor attitude or performance.

Going Home

Ok, I’ll give Jackson a second chance -- at 8:00 o’clock in the morning. At this time of day, the town is “do-able” as it appears that everyone in the area likes to sleep in. We finally get a chance to see a little of the town without mobs of people and by 9:00 are parked on the town square, snapping pictures, peeking into a couple of the many shops, and picking up some souvenirs to take home. Now, this, I can handle.

Then we head a little south of town to see what’s out that way, when Dave’s lead foot almost gets him in trouble again when the Wyoming Highway Patrol finds him doing 12 miles over the speed limit. Now, I will give this officer an A+ for courtesy – one of the nicest folks we’ve met on our trip and not just because Dave gets lucky and off with a warning, he was just one very friendly man.

It’s now time to turn in our rental car. Another darn “zoo” at the Dollar Rent-A-Car, which is as unorganized as it was when we picked up the car. The same people who service the in-bound travelers who are picking up a car are also servicing those that are returning one. No one waiting outside with one of those slick little hand-held gadgets that automatically provide a receipt. No -- must stand in line with everyone else to reach the clerk at the front counter, who then goes outside after every customer to check the car and sometimes physically moves it, before returning inside to provide a receipt and wait on the next customer. Later, I pick up a local newspaper where I see pages of want ads, so apparently Jackson has a shortage of people to fill positions, which probably explains some of the poor customer service. Anywho, it was an unfortunate experience and you can bet I won’t be using Dollar Rent-A-Car on future trips.

Then, we’re back in line at the United Airlines to pretty much find more of what I expect from this problematic carrier – yet another delay. However, at this point, it shouldn’t affect our transfer in Denver to Kansas City, so we settle in to have some lunch and watch the planes take off. At the same time, American Airlines, whose performance has also fallen dramatically, cancels a flight and half of them are booked onto our flight which, when it finally takes off, is completely packed. But, we’re still ok as it looks like we will still make our connection, though we may have to rush a little. Nope, about the time we make it out to the tarmac, the pilot decides that the plane is overweight, so back to the gate we go and 80 bags are unloaded from the plane. Whose bags, nobody knows.

Sure enough, we miss our connection in Denver, which was supposed to take off at 3:29 p.m. United will be happy to book us on their next flight at 8:40 p.m. – more than a four hour delay. No, after our 5 ½ delay in the Denver Airport ten days ago, I remember a little known airline delay policy, referred to as “Rule 240.” Most airlines have this rule and I have since looked up United’s, which provides for rebooking on another carrier when the flight is delayed more than two hours. So, I just simply bring up the delay time and ask to be booked on another carrier. No, problem -- we quickly have reservations on a Frontier flight to Kansas City, and though we still have to spend a couple of hours waiting, it’s not as bad as it could be. When you’re traveling, do a “Rule 240” check on your airline before you go and this may alleviate some problems and frustration. The agents will not bring this up unless you ask.

Then we’re off on Frontier – should have booked with them to begin with – nice folks, good customer service, nice plane, etc. Finally, we arrive in Kansas City about 9:30 p.m. and stand watching the baggage carousel go round and round. Surprise, surprise, no bags. And, we’re not the only ones. Seems as if there are others who were on that original United flight from Jackson whose bags are also floating somewhere between Wyoming and Kansas City. United didn’t get our bags transferred to Frontier and one bag is coming in on a United flight in about an hour and the other in several hours.

Thankfully, there’s nothing we have to have from our bags tonight and Frontier promises to deliver them tomorrow.

Falling into bed about midnight, we’re both exhausted and I can only feel terrible for Dave, who unfortunately, has to catch another flight out early in the morning for his “real job.” I, on the other hand, will be happily geeking away in my home office, in my pajamas for probably the entire day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Back to Jackson, Wyoming

Today’s an easier day – we only have about 150 miles to go from Arco, Idaho to Jackson, Wyoming , plus a few more miles as we make a detour into the Teton National Park, as we didn’t do it justice on our way out some nine days ago.

From Arco to Idaho Falls, there’s a part of me that feels as if I’m back in western Kansas, with large expanses of flat lands, and wheat growing in the fields on both sides of the road. However, these thoughts are interrupted by lots of lava rocks here and there, bigger hills than belong in western Kansas, and crops of potatoes in between the fields of wheat. And, there are numerous barns of a type that I’ve never seen before, half buried in the hills and covered with sod on their sloping roofs. At this point I can only surmise, and research later, that this style must have something to do with the long, cold, and snowy winters.

After having a great lunch in Idaho Falls, washing all the dust off the rental car, and replacing the radio antennae that some jack*!s stole from our rental car, we head to Wyoming via the Teton Scenic Byway. The views immediately begin to change as we climb in elevation along the Snake River and spy several old homesteads on our way to Victor, where I must make a short side trip to Driggs. Why? Because there is a large potato on the back of truck that I just gotta see at the Spud Drive-In. It’s a great stop and a good addition to our “Quirky Idaho” stops.

At this point, though I’m enjoying the views, the traffic is getting heavier and heavier and I’m beginning to feel my neck grow more tense by the minute. Both Victor and Driggs have some history and a few historic buildings, but they can barely be seen between the real estate developers and agent offices. Yes, I know and understand that business is business and there are lots of people that want to visit these beautiful places, but it’s out of my comfort zone – I hate crowds! Not so much that it makes me avoid beautiful places, but enough to make my interest wane.

In any case, we travel on and make a short tour through the southern portion of the Teton National Park. Gorgeous views, though we have once again caught the sharp peaks at the wrong time of day for the best photo opportunities. Snap, snap, snap anyway. We try to avoid the major crowds, the people who stand in the middle of trails with a group taking pictures for ten minutes, the 50 cars that stop to look at a baby moose that left 10 minutes ago, and the inconsiderate folks who stand right in the middle of the path having personal conversations and blocking foot traffic. In any event, we do enjoy our short tour of the Teton National Park and will have loads of new photos to show soon.

We're now on our way to Jackson, though I’m already dreading it. When we came in 9 days ago on a Saturday, the place was an absolute zoo – bumper to bumper traffic, people standing in lines outside every restaurant and saloon, no stop-lights where there should be ones, no place to park, etc, etc. But, it’s a Monday – surely it will be better. Nope, it’s the same thing. I visited here about ten years ago and it was wonderful. It was June, rather than July, so perhaps not as crowded. But, I have no memories of these kinds of crowds, nor of buildings being spaced 10 feet apart in every single nook and cranny that exists in this valley. We thought about having a dinner out tonight – nope, it's pizza delivery, as neither of us have the energy to face those mobs again. This, of course, is only my opinion, but I would suggest avoiding this town, unless you love congestion, traffic, crowds and extremely expensive everything. However, if you’re determined to see the Tetons, you have little choice but “losing your wallet” in Jackson or any of the surrounding small towns.

Unfortunately, I may have to avoid these types of places in the future, though I know I will miss some beautiful views. As a rule, I don’t write about cities, due to their congestion, crowds, too often “poor customer service,” and because they have the resources to promote their cities to such a degree that they need no help from me. The Teton Valley, and unfortunately, the area National Parks, have become to me, no different than driving through a congested large city. Next time, we'll pass.

Last night we stayed in a little Mom & Pop Motel in Arco, Idaho (D&K Motel) that was very clean, had friendly folks working there, parked in front of the room for easy access, included a refrigerator and microwave and was a two bedroom suite with a kitchenette. It was $56.00. Yes, it was a little dated, but it had great internet, a comfortable bed and great hot water pressure in the shower.

Tonight, we check into a Super 8 Motel in Jackson, which we stay in a lot, with few problems. This place isn’t terrible, it's decor is nice, it is outside the mobs of people on the square in town, and it’s one of the cheapest places at $214.00/night. It looks ok and the rooms are clean and acceptable, but we have a third floor room. Where is the elevator? I ask. There’s not one. Problematic when you’re traveling with luggage for ten days. Who builds a 3-story hotel without an elevator?

I'm really going to rethink my whole idea of staying in "name brand" places and start giving the mom and pop lodging places more of a chance. My priorities are friendlieness, internet, cleanliness, and price and though I know these small motels can vary as much as their owners, I think it's worth a shot.

Tomorrow, we get back on a plane to Kansas City, with hopefully, not the typical United Airlines problems that we so frequently encounter. It’s been a terrific trip, but we are tired and it’s been too long.

Yankee Mining District & More

We’re up early as we are planning to cover about 450 mountain miles in the next two days. We continue on the Salmon River Scenic Byway eagerly anticipating beautiful views and historic tours through the Yankee Mining District. We’re relieved to see a visitor center (the first we’ve seen in Idaho) just west of Challis that gives us all the information we need to travel through the Yankee Mining District. Maps and information in hand, we head first to Bayhorse, Idaho, another old mining camp.

Bayhorse got its start when gold was first found here in the early 1870’s, but within no time, the mine failed and Bayhorse was almost a ghost town before it ever got started. However, when a rich vein of silver was discovered, Bayhorse began to thrive, populated by numerous businesses, homes, mines and kilns. As we check out this old town, we pass by the saddest little cemetery - only a few graves surrounding by tumbling fences and no markers. Sadly, when these fences decay, the lonely little graveyard will be lost in nature. Today, the ghost town has ambitions of becoming a state park, but not before an EPA clean-up. Due to this, we were unable to explore the town itself, but much of it could be seen from the road and we took the opportunity.

Backing out, we then make our way Clayton, Idaho, which once served as the center of silver mining activity in the area. A large smelter was located in this small town as the area produced a variety of ores through 1902. The town once again got a boost when silver prices rose in 1935 and the region became southern Idaho’s primary silver producer for the next 50 years. The Clayton Silver Mine finally shut down in 1986. Today, Clayton is a semi-ghost but still has a few open businesses and a wonderful museum located in the restored L.B. Worthington Store. There, we ask about the mine, as we know it is on private property -- can it be visited. The courteous volunteers say that there is sometimes a chain across the road blocking access, but we can see the mine for photo opportunites. As we travel a few miles northward, we never come across a chain and are pleased to arrive directly at the mine. It is clear that this mine operated much longer than most mines in the area as it displays more modern buildings and equipment. Respectfully we snap a few photos and make our way back out.

We’re then moving forward again destined for our primary objective of the day – the historic ghost town of Custer, and along the way, a peek at the old cemeteries and what’s left of the Bonanza Mining Camp and the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Making our way up Yankee Fork Road, our first stop is Bonanza, which at one time, was larger than nearby Custer. The town got its start in 1876 when gold was discovered and the town was laid out the following year. It’s population peaked in 1881 at about 600 people. The town suffered two major fires in 1897 and 1889, which destroyed much of the town and most of the merchants relocated in Custer. Though there is just a few buildings left in this old mining camp, they make for some great photo opportunities, and up the hill are two cemeteries. The Boot Hill Cemetery includes just three graves – that of Richard King, Elizabeth King Hawthorne and Robert Hawthorne. Richard King dies in 1870 and Elizabeth and Robert Hawthorne die on the same day in August, 1880. According to the tales, after these three were buried in the cemetery, other townsfolk refused to be buried there and another cemetery was built. There’s a mystery here that we will try to uncover.

Next we explore the main cemetery for the entire Yankee Fork area which was utilized up until the 1950's. Seventy people who have been buried in this graveyard have been identified and their names recorded.

Next stop is the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, which operated from 1940 until 1952, digging out rock and recovering gold by washing and separating the stones and dirt from the gold. During its active dredging years, which left both sides of the road lined with rocks, the dredge recovered some $1,200,000 in gold.

Just a bit further down the road is Custer, founded in 1878 as another gold mining camp. During the 1880's it was second in importance to Bonanza, reaching a peak population of about 300. However, after the Bonanza fires in the late 1890's, Custer superceded Bonanza as the most important town of the Yankee Fork. However, Custer’s heydays were numbered and by 1910 it had become a ghost town. Today, the ghost town is operated by the National Forest Service and the Friends of Custer Museum, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This once bustling miners camp continues to feature dozens of buildings and interpretive sites.

Continuing westward to Stanley, we turn south onto the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, through the way to busy and so glad we didn’t stay there area of Sun Valley, and continue on until we turn eastward again on U.S. 20 along what was once the Jeffrey-Goodale Cutoff of the Oregon Trail. We soon come upon the bizarre, lava encrusted landscape of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and can only wonder how in the world a wagon train could have possibly traveled through this area. Continuing northwest, we finally settle down for the night in the small town of Arco, Idaho.

Though this has been a wonderful trip, it has been long and exhausting. I just try to pack too much into our trips and we are looking forward to our last day of travel tomorrow, winding up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the night and flying home the next day. And double Arghhhhh on Jackson -- I knew it would be expensive - but $220 for a Super 8?? Can't imagine what the price of dinner might be.

Onwards to Idaho

Before leaving Missoula, we stop at Fort Missoula. Built in 1877 to protect area settlers from Indians, the soldiers saw an almost immediate engagement at the Battle of the Big Hole in August, 1877. The next several years, they saw little action, only dealing with minor Indian harassments. During World War I, the fort was utilized as a training center. Later it became the headquarters of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1941, the fort was turned over to the Department of Immigration and Naturalization and in 1947, was decommissioned.

The majority of the land is now in the hands of non-military agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Missoula County. However, a portion of the military reservation continues to serve as an Army and Navy training facility and reserve center. Though some of the buildings were dismantled and moved. However, there are still many sites to be seen including the parade grounds, officer’s row, the Alien Detention Center, and numerous other buildings. The Historical Museum of Fort Missoula features yet more buildings that have been moved from various areas in the county that interpret local history.

We then head south on U.S. 93, making our way to Idaho through a number of small towns. Once in Idaho, we travel the Salmon River Scenic Byway, through some of the very same areas that Lewis and Clark made their expedition in 1805. We soon come to the old settlement of Gibbonsville, which got its start in 1877 when gold was discovered in the area. By 1895, the area had been developed to such an extent, that a 30-stmp mill was built and the mine employed some 600 men. Today, Gibbonsville bears little resemblance to the boisterous mining camp of the late 1800’s. Sporting about 100 residents, the town is filled with both new and dramatically restored old cabins. However, there are still a few remnants left of its mining days and a nearby cemetery that we found to be an interesting stop.

Beyond Gibbonsville, we continue south to North Fork before turning west and traveling along the Salmon River in search of the old mining camp of Shoup, Idaho. This is a very active recreation area as we spy canoes, kayaks and river rafts bobbing along the water, as well as numerous fisherman, and a lively boyscout camp. The actual town of Shoup, that once boasted a population of over 600 people and businesses and homes that lined both sides of the roadway, has been reduced to only a general store and the mine. Up until recently, it appears that mine tours were offered, but this too, was closed on our visit. However, we were still able to get some shots of the mine and rusting equipment before making our way back to the highway.

We are pleasantly surprised when we come upon a small group of young bighorn sheep and they still enough to accommodate a couple of photographs. We’re then back on the scenic byway and looking for a place to eat and a pillow for our heads in Salmon, Idaho.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Onward to Missoula

Sadly, we say goodbye to our friend Albert and once again make our way westward. Backtracking along U.S. 12, we make a side trip at Deer Lodge, Montana, the second oldest town in Montana. Today, this quaint little town boasts a population of about 3,500 and is best known for its Old Montana Prison Museum, which is actually a complex of museums which also include the Frontier Museum along with Desert John's Saloon Museum and the Powell County Museum, all of which transport the visitor back to the era of cowboys and the Old West. The Montana Auto Museum features over 120 vintage vehicles and Yesterday's Playthings is Montana's foremost doll and toy museum. Cottonwood City displays the Snowshoe Creek School and the Blood Cabin. It is this museum that draws us to Deer Lodge.

I am most interested in the Old Montana Prison which began operations on July 2, 1871. During its 100 year history, it held thousands of prisoners including at least one member of Butch Cassidy's "Wild Bunch." Over the years, the prison was expanded with the help of inmate labor, who built 1.2 million bricks and erected the 1896 cell house and several other buildings. A self-guided tour today leads visitors through the Cell House, Maximum Security, the “Hole,” and provide information and exhibits on original schedules, rules, prisoner artwork, and even moldering blankets on many of the iron cots in its prison cells. More lurid displays show a “Prison Life” photo exhibit, contraband items and homemade weapons; and guns, shackles and restraints utilized on the convicts. We also visited the other museums in the complex, but my morbid mind was most fascinated with the prison museum.

Then we’re back on U.S. 12 and looking for the Montana’s first gold discovery at Gold Creek in 1852. This little town provides a peek at just a couple of old buildings but appears to primarily be an agriculture town today. We wind through, looking for glimpses of its former mining days and find an old pond filled with mining equipment, but little in the way of ghost town type buildings. Was still a pretty drive, but we make our way back to the highway and head west again to the ghost town of Garnet, Montana.

Garnet got its start in 1862 as a gold mining town and over the years the Nancy Hanks Mine produced some ten million dollars in gold ore. The rich veins of ore continued to produce off and on up until the 1950s, when the mines closed forever.

At an elevation of some 6,000 feet, Garnet today is one of Montana’s best preserved and least visited ghost towns. The townsite is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Garnet Preservation Association and is located on both public and private land. The old mining camp features some two dozen buildings including Kelly's Saloon, the Dahl Saloon, a blacksmith shop, a school, the jail, stores, numerous homes and miner’s cabins, and most impressively, the 1897 three-story J.B. Wells Hotel. An absolutely wonderful stop and you can be sure we will be digging up the history and writing all about Garnet in the near future.

We finally land in Missoula for the night, eagerly anticipating glimpses of Idaho tomorrow.

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.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Butte to Marysville

We’re off to Marysville via a round-about way westward from Butte taking the Pintler Scenic Route north, which features not only beautiful scenery, but yes, you guessed it -- a couple of ghost towns -- then hitting Highway 12 eastward to a cut-off just before Helena, to make our way to the old mining camp of Marysville, and our final destination of a remote cabin in the wildnerness that belongs to our “old/new” friend Albert Hall.

Before leaving Butte, we explore the city’s historic district, its array of historic mining buildings, headframes, large open mining pit atop Granite Mountain, and the Granite Mountain Memorial.

Butte got its start in the late 1800s when gold and silver were mined in the area. But, its most prominent ore was copper and when electricity began to be used in abundance, there was a soaring demand for the red ore. The town soon began to mine copper almost exclusively and by the turn of the century the town was buzzing with miners and large mines. When World War I began, the demand for the precious metal soared and the small town became one of the most prosperous cities in the country, often referred to as “the Richest Hill on Earth.” During this time, more than 14,000 miners were working on the hill, and down below the town was prospering with numerous saloons, brothels, and every other imaginable business to support the many men and their families.

Butte's happy heydays were interuppted however, when, on June 8, 1917, a large fire was sparked some 2,000 feet below ground, which spewed flames, smoke and poison gas throughout the underground tunnels. Though immediate rescue attempts were made, 168 men lost their lives. The Granite Mountain Mine disaster is the worst hard-rock, metal mining disaster in U.S. history. The mining boom continued in Butte up to the 1950s when the ore began to decline, putting the many mines out of business. Today, these many relics of more prosperous times sit silent atop Granite Hill.

We pass by a few more mining remains as we travel westward on Highway 1 and turn northward to the Pintler Scenic Route. We pass by Georgetown Lake and begin to look for the road that takes us to the old mining camps of Georgetown and Southern Cross. Alas, Georgetown is right below a ski resort and virtually all signs of any mining activites or historic views have been replaced by new cabins, fully restored old buildings, and new condos – progress! That’s ok, cuz we continue to make our way along the road and are rewarded with several remnants in what was once Southern Cross. There appears to be a large boarding house or hotel, along with a mine building and a few scattered cabins. However, the area is buzzing with bulldozers and other equipment that show strong signs of more development for the nearby ski resort and lake. Could be these building are in for a short life span.

Backing out, we continue along the scenic route passing by a number of picturesque homesteads and barns before nearing the quaint little town of Phillipsburg and the turnoff to the ghost town of Granite. Driving along a rugged road upwards we come to the townsite and though I am surprised that it doesn’t have more remains than it does, as the town was quite large at one time, there are still lots of photo opportunties.

Back-tracking once again, we head north, before turning onto Highway 12 east towards Marysville, where we are meeting Albert at 4:00. Arghhhhhhhhh!! We come upon highway construction and it’s bad. We are forced to travel 20 miles behind a pace car whose spedometer never climbs higher than 30 miles per hour. This continues through several small towns and I am fussing loudly. Where we come from, road construction is done in smaller chunks, stopping and starting before and after small towns. Oh, we are going to be so late!!! Frantically, we try to call Albert – no phone reception. Double Arghhhhhh! Well, we can only hope that our “old” friend who we’ve “met” through the website, but have never “met” in person, won’t become disillusioned and leave. An hour late, we finally arrive in Marysville and lo and behold he’s still there.

Albert has been a long time reader of our newsletter and last year graciously invited us for a visit if we were ever in his direction. When the Montana trip planning began this year, I contacted Albert, and yup, his offer still stands. His quaint and fully modern cabin sits some six miles southwest of Marysville in a quiet little meadow, surrounded by mountains and filled with wildlife. It is great to finally put a face with a name as we meet Albert at the Marysville House and after enjoying a beer, we follow him up a rugged road that crosses the continental divide and twists and turns within a mass of trees as we slowly make our way deep into the Helena National Forest. His beautiful little cabin (the only one we’ve seen for miles) finally comes into view and we step out to take a look at this pristine abode in the wilderness. No old miners shack here, but a modern, fully equipped cabin that inegeniously uses the resources of the surrounding land to provide electricity and water. AND – he has sattelite internet!

Albert says the folks “in town” call him a hermit, and the remoteness of this place would seem to make it so, but, though he loves his solitude and peaceful surroundings, he’s not a “hermit” in any sense of the “generic description” in my mind. He’s smart, well-educated, witty, articulate, social, and one of the best hosts we’ve ever experienced. (I love my job! -- We meet the greatest folks!) He entertains us with tales of his life before retirement as a California detective, an art teacher, and a walk-on extra in several movies. After retirement, he then traveled the nation in an RV for a couple of years, looking for that perfect place to spend the rest of his life. In the meantime, he’s barbequing us an absolutely perfect steak, opening his well-stocked liquor cabinet, regaling us with regional tales and promising to play “personal guide” for tomorrow.

Five star B&B Albert!! Thank you so much!!