Another lovely blue sky day. We have been really fortunate with the weather. On the road from our wild camp by about 1030. After a short ride we turned left on Hwy 200, heading for Missoula.
Stopping at a historical marker, we learn about Bob Marshall’s Wilderness Country. Marshall was a forester and pioneer conservationist from the 1930’s. Years ahead of his time in recognising and campaigning for the value of wilderness. He secured protection for over 5.5 million acres. Someone once asked him how much wilderness does America need. In reply he asked ‘How many Brahms symphonies do we need?”
North of the sign lies the second largest wilderness in the lower 48 states, abutting Glacier National Park. This provides a continuous corridor of mountains and valleys harbouring grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolverines, moose, deer and wolves.
As we drove along Hwy 200, we came across a sign for Garnet Ghost village and thought we would venture up into the hills to have a look. The town is located high up in the Garnet Mountains, so named for the semi-precious stone found here. The Bureau of Land Management, and some private individuals, have restored and maintain this old gold mining town.
A small winding road climbed up into the hills and soon turned to a gravel track. I thought we might see some wildlife, particularly bears. Both seeing a black body in the undergrowth, we were disappointed on closer inspection to see it was a cow! A few vehicles passed us coming down the track but when we reached the car park at the top it was heaving and we found almost the last parking space. Montana is so vast its seems to absorb people. You mistakenly think there is no one around.
Nearby strikes of gold in the 1860’s bought prospectors to the area. They worked their way up the creeks and gulches into the nearly inaccessible Garnet Range. Placer mining was the preferred method. This only requires a gold pan, sluice box and items that can easily be hauled into a remote area. Water is used to wash the sand and gravel away, leaving the heavier gold. Small dams coupled to a network of hand dug ditches fed water to the various mining areas. A good winter of snow meant plenty of spring run-off water for pacer mining, but dry years took its toll on mining activities.
By the 1870’s placer mining was becoming less profitable. It had been recognised that the area was rich in gold-bearing quartz. A lack of roads to bring in heavy equipment prevented any hard rock mining. However, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1895 panicked the silver industry and forced many unemployed silver miners to turn their focus to gold. Many came to Garnet and road construction and improved mining techniques led to a rich vein being discovered.
A boom began which resulted in the building of a substantial town. 4 stores, 4 hotels, 3 livery stables, 13 saloons a school of 41 pupils, numerous shops and miner’s cabins. Garnet was unusual for a mining town. Family oriented. The jail only ever had one occupant. Jailed for killing a cat while inebriated.
The boom was short lived and by 1905 many mines were abandoned and the town’s population had shrunk to 150. There was a brief revival in1934 when President Roosevelt raised gold prices from $16 to $35 an ounce. This was short lived once more. The onset of war in Europe in 1939 drew the population away again.
In the car park at Garnet we met a lovely young Belgian couple, Ulrich and Lot, on a year’s honeymoon. They had shipped their 4X4 Mercedes Sprinter?, painted matt black and called Ritchie, to Halifax and driven all around Canada and the US. Like us they are heading down to Mexico and Central and South America. Hopefully, our paths will cross again.
We headed back down the mountain to Hwy 200 and into Missoula. a lovely drive by the Blackfoot river. There were numerous rafters and people in canoes and kayaks, as well as fishermen. Everyone out enjoying the long weekend.
Missoula is a very pleasant town. Green and leafy suburbs and a thriving centre. Lively with cafes and restaurants. Having done the usual fuel and food shopping we set off to find a camp site. We are now set up at Lolo, not far out of Missoula, at the Square Dance Center (American spelling) and Campground. A very strange sounding mixture. The lady owner/manager was very welcoming and it’s a nice camp. Maybe a little close to the road, but it has smart, clean facilities and washing machines. She did also mention that the next campsite down the road is closed. There was a bear attack on a tent there yesterday!