"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beautiful, Busy Butte, Montana

Butte, MT
Beaver Creek NF &
2 Bar Lazy H RV Park

On a previous drive through Butte while we headed to Idaho and Glacier, we were quite taken with Butte.  I didn't really know much about it, but as we drove through I madly googled things to do in the area and found some very interesting things to do.  So on our way to Arizona, we planned to stop back through for a long weekend of fun.

Our first night found us wanting to check out Beaver Dam National Forest Campground.  After the busy season, it's free to camp here.  Basic only.  Just outhouses, tables and fire pits.  It's a rather small campground more suited for smaller rigs, but our 40' 5er made the turns in the campground and there were a few larger sites.  We chose #3 at the front of the campground.

One of the somewhat downsides is that it's a few miles down a dirt road to get there.  Not a bad ride, just a bit dusty.  Internet and ATT was limited, Verizon was a bit better.  The next morning we combined some hiking with some geocaching.
Our target is the top.                         Steep climbing with no trail.

I just had one more ledge to climb around but then I noticed this below it on the back side.
There was a tremendous amount of bear scat.  LOADS of it that oozed through openings in the rocks above.  I figured there must be a bear den above.  Well so much for finding the cache.  It was a very freaky feeling.  We quickly and quietly climbed back down and decided to take a drive through the area instead.

Some old cabins and a sign that read Watch for Donkeys.  And there they were.  So friendly.  We stopped for a picture and they came right up to the truck so Steve could pet him.

The temperatures were not cool enough for us to stay here without air conditioning for Hurley, so our back-up plan was to move to a campground in town.  We stayed at the 2 Bar Lazy H RV Park.  This was a very plain park, right off Hwy 15, but would work for a few days for us to tour Butte.  A little noisy, but long, level sites with very fast internet and cell.  We paid $25 a night.  Not free like the Natl Forest, but not bad for FHU.

It wouldn't win any awards for prettiest campground.

A little about Butte, Montana summarized in part from this site (go there to read more):
Butte began as a bunch of mining camps back in the early 1870’s when silver and copper were  discovered which brought many new companies and people to Butte. By the late 1870’s, Butte became a busy city.  A fire in 1879 burned down the entire central business district. A law required all new buildings in downtown (known as "Uptown Butte") to be built from brick or stone – most of which still stand today and make it such a beautiful city.

While silver and gold were mined in Butte, it was copper that truly put Butte on the map. Following the development of electricity, the demand for copper mushroomed. The demand for copper continued to increase – and really spiked during World War I, where copper was used in every single rifle bullet (much of which came from Butte). Indeed, it is estimated that Butte supplied around 1/3 of the copper for the United States in the late 1800’s and the early part of the 1900’s.
The World War I era was truly the boom time for Butte – as demand soared for its minerals. The city of Butte claims in one of their signs that right after World War I, Butte was the most prosperous town in the whole United States!

The first thing we were interested in doing was taking a Historical Tour which also included an underground tour.  So after a delicious breakfast at Annie Café which is family owned & operated,

Annie's Café
we headed to Old Butte Historical Adventure Tours on Main St.  We took the Butte City Underground Tour with Dick. A great deal at $15 for 2 hours and a great way to learn about the history of the city.

                 The tour starts here.                   Very interesting brick buildings and murals.

This is the sidewalk.  These colored glass squares allowed light to shine below to provide a little light to the underground areas.

First we headed to the old City Jail.  It was built in 1890 to house about 40 inmates. Robert (Evel) Knievel received his famous name here in 1956 while serving time with William (Awful) Knofel.  The jail was closed in 1971 and is now a museum.

See Robert Kneival's name in the middle?
And what was he in for?  Reckless Driving of course!

Steel bunks, no mattresses.                Thick cell doors.

Some torture items.

a torture chair

The Rookwood Hotel was built in 1912 and had 45 rooms, a marble entryway and a tiled facade. During Prohibition alcohol still flowed in the mining city as the bars were moved underground.  As they were refurbishing the building they came across a hidden Speak Easy in the basement complete with a hidden peephole behind a picture.  Much of the room as well as the original contents were left exactly in place. 

In the backrooms the old still and barrels can be seen.
We had a great time on the tour.  I had no idea of all the rich history Butte has.  We really wanted to see the Piccadilly Museum (automotive related) and the Mineral Museum but both were closed.  It was warm so we headed over to the Quarry Brewing Company.

Steve enjoyed a flight of craft beer for $10.  I don't drink beer but they had a homemade root beer that was delicious.  On the wall behind the bar, they had special beer mugs hanging.  Apparently there is a waiting list to get a mug which entitles you to specials.  It turned out that our Underground Tour Guide that recommended coming here has a mug.  The owner mentioned sometimes customers buy tokens to put in the mugs.  We enjoyed our tour guide so much, we bought some tokens for beer and left a note in his mug.

It turned out they had a huge pile of hops that were just cut and needed the hop buds picked off.  We helped for a little bit and it was nice talking to the owner for about the historic building and the town.
We walked around town and enjoyed looking at all the gorgeous brick buildings.

The Copper King Mansion built in 1884. 

I was in the mood for a coffee so we wandered into the Venus Rising Espresso House.  What I really liked about this coffee shop, besides my delicious café mocha, is that it is owned and operated by the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation (BSBAF). All profits made at the Venus Rising Espresso House are used for BSBAF operational expenses, activities, and events. Awesome to see such a generous community. 

Interesting, quirky buildings.


Old Stamp Mill at the park.

One of the largest hotels back in the day.

It just so happened that once again, we came across a wedding at the hotel.  Beautiful!

Across from the Berkeley Pit was a touching field of flags as a memorial to war veterens.

The Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand is quite amazing.  $2 to get in.
The Berkeley Pit, started in 1955, was a large truck-operated open-pit copper mine until mining ended in 1982. The pit gave Butte its claim the title The Richest Hill on Earth. 
Approximately 320 million tons of ore and over 700 million tons of waste rock were mined from the Butte Hill. Put another way, the Berkeley Pit and Butte mines produced enough copper to pave a four-lane highway four inches thick from Butte to Salt Lake City and 30 miles beyond. Today, the Pit is filling with highly contaminated water, and managed as a federal Superfund environmental cleanup site.
The pit is 7,000 feet long, 5,600 feet wide and 1,600 feet deep from the high wall on the north side just below the Kelley mine. Visitors can view the mine from a platform above it. The Pit, is still filling with water.
The tunnel leading to the Pit viewing area.

The sheer size of this pond is deceivingly huge! 

The amount and depth of the mines is mind boggling!  You'd think the entire city would just cave in.  For more information, check out the website HERE

One of the huge earth movers.
At the other end of strange and interesting things in Butte is the Dumas Brothel.  From the museums website:  The Dumas Hotel is what remains of a once-thriving area of "commerce" in old Butte that was almost as lucrative as the mines. Authorities turned a blind eye to gambling and prostitution in this district. It allowed miners a place to vent their enthusiasms and empty their pockets, keeping them broke enough to apply themselves to their work during their shifts in the mines.

There are two young brothers who are refurbishing the building which seems to be pretty run down.

Some of it is downright creepy and doesn't seem safe to be walking around.  It was $6 each to walk around on your own.  They have room that has some very interesting, old, err, "toys" of the day.  Keeping in mind this was back in the 1800s.  Some things I wasn't even sure what they were.  Others just made you go Eww!  Overall, I guess it was somewhat interesting in that these brothels were quite a big part of Butte back then.

Much more info about the Dumas Brothel HERE and HERE.
Besides museums and local businesses, there was a lot to drive around and see.

This memorial is quite moving.  It's got stations and stories of the miners.


On the way back down the mountain from the memorial we noticed a bunch of coffee mugs on a chain link fence. No signs, no idea what they represent.  I wish we had asked someone.

On our way to see one last interesting stop, we were about to pull into this intersection when I noticed the street names.  STOP I told Steve.  I have a friend, Rita, who LOVES the Beatles.  I just had to get a picture!  Can you see the name of both streets?

So what was the last thing I wanted to see?  I heard Evel Knievel was buried here in Butte.

Here in a rather typical cemetery, amongst many others, is his final resting place. 
On our final day in Butte we wanted to see Our Lady of the Rockies. It's a 90 foot tall statue that sits above the town of Butte. The statue, a nondenominational tribute to all women -- but especially mothers -- took six years to complete.  It weighs 80 tons and sits on a 425 ton base, situated along the Continental Divide, 3,500 feet above Butte.  Bob O'Bill, the man who made Our Lady of the Rockies was a welder. In Butte, there were no sculptors. Bob originally planned to build a five-foot-tall Mary in his yard, fulfilling a vow he'd made when his wife recovered from cancer. The idea of building a giant Mary quickly caught on as a way to boost the town's spirits when its copper mines were shut down.
We weren't able to get on the tour and that is the only way you can see it up close as the tour crosses private property to get to the top.  There are only a couple tours and they fill quickly, so if this is something you are interested in, call them ahead of time at 406-782-1221.
I definitely recommend spending some time in Butte instead of passing by!!
We enjoyed our drive down to Utah and were surprised at the fall color along the way.

This post is way too long, so goodbye for now!


  1. Butte looks like a really neat town. That is scary to think you may have been crawling around a bears lair!

    1. It really is a great place. So much to see and so interesting too!

  2. So fun to see all the Butte sights again. However when we were there we missed the George Harrison signs. We also couldn't get on the tour up the mountain. Butte is one day going to just collapse. It isn't called the armpit of Montana for nothing. But you really need to be there on St. Patrick's Day. That place knows how to party.

    1. We did so much but we'd like to come back through and see more!

  3. Great insight on Butte. You just never know what you'll discover in these small towns.

    1. There really is a lot of great history and fun things to see and do. We'd like to go back some time.

  4. Boy, I'm really showing my age here. I remember the 1970's movie about Evel, which starred George Hamilton. They mentioned something about the mining in Butte, and how every so often a random collapse would occur. That same thing happened in Negaunee, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Whole sections of the town had to be abandoned as the mines collapsed. Fun post, Deb!

    1. Interesting Jim. In Michigan? How is that town now? They say the underground is so stable, there is no chance of collapse.

  5. You should get a commission from their chamber for this great post on their little town! I love the brick building with the green "trim" - I love details like that on old buildings. Too funny that Evil was in for reckless driving :-) Bill and I went to school in a mining town so we'll have to make a stop here to see all the history they've restored. Some of our "less than pretty" campgrounds have yielded the best areas to explore :-))))))

    1. Definitely loved this city and will come back again. Great history!


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