After exploring West Yellowstone we point our wheels toward Glacier National Park, located on the northern border of Montana and Canada. To get there we pass through a few well-known towns, all starting with the letter B: Big Sky, Bozeman, and Butte.
Big Sky, Montana
Montana is known as the “Big Sky State.” On the road from West Yellowstone up to Bozeman, we visited the town of Big Sky, which is famous in its own right for having some crazy huge awesome ski slopes! A windy road takes you up the valley to several beautiful lodges and ski resorts surrounded by slopes, and lifts to take you practically from your front door to the top of the hill.
We dropped our fifthwheel off at the Visitor Center at the bottom of the hill so we didn’t have to drag it up the mountain. We drove up into the touristy valley and stopped at Lone Peak Brewery for a couple of burgers and microbrew beers before exploring the maze of rentals and lodges.
We dreamed of returning someday in the winter to enjoy the snowy peaks and soak in one of the hundreds of hot tubs on our rental balcony as the snow fell around us… I think I was more excited about the hot tub.
Big Sky was also known to me prior to my visitation to Montana because back when my mother was young and a traveling free spirit she found herself in Big Sky for a summer working at one of the big lodges. It was neat to think of crossing her rambling path while making my own.
While traveling in Montana you notice white crosses on the sides of the roads. These are markers of where people have died in car accidents, and are maintained by the American Legion of Montana. They are strong reminders to travel carefully, and that the Montana mountain passes can be very unforgiving to the negligent driver.
The motive to visit Bozeman was simply that we had heard of it. We didn’t really know of anything there that was worthy of visitation. We grabbed ourselves a spot at the local Walmart and biked into town to find out what our second “B” town was all about.
We happened upon an Art Walk in progress. This was such a stroke of luck – food and drink were being provided at each of the towns art galleries, of which it turned out there were quite a few! We ended up touring the town well-fed and hydrated and saw lots of really cool western art.
Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest
Between Bozeman and Butte we stopped at Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest for a few nights of boondocking on BLM land. This was a lovely stay, but be warned! You might step outside to find a few cows in your front yard. We discovered them one night letting the dogs out and they just about scared us to death! Not to mention we almost had some stampeded puppies.
Our final “B” town was the home to one of my father’s old college buddies and his wife. He worked at Montana Tech. He was able to tell us what the huge “Ms” on the side of the mountains were. These “Ms” are located in Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula and denote that each town has the presence of the University of Montana, of which Montana Tech is a part. Butte’s claim to fame was that their M lit up at night.
We parked down the street from their place and used our bikes to explore the town. Butte is a big mining town, and it is known for having the Berkeley Pit, a former open pit copper mine that is now one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation. It is filled to a depth of about 900 feet with water that is heavily acidic (2.5 pH level), about the acidity of cola or lemon juice. As a result, the pit is laden with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals that leach from the rock, including copper, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. The acidic water in the pit contains so much dissolved metal that some material is mined directly from the water.
When the pit water level eventually reaches the natural water table, estimated to occur by around 2020, the pit water will reverse flow back into surrounding groundwater, polluting into Silver Bow Creek which is the headwaters of Clark Fork River.
There is mining everywhere in Butte, and the head frames leftover from lowering men and equipment into the mines are scattered throughout the town.
The “B” Streak Ends
After Butte we continued on our path to Glacier National Park with our next stop being Missoula. Missoula is the second biggest city in Montana has an estimated population of 71,022 while our B cities were 33,922 (Butte), 43,405 (Bozeman), and 2,308 (Big Sky). We had put on quite a few miles and were realizing that this was a big piece of country yet there really weren’t a whole lot of people! Lots of land, and even more sky.
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