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Traveling Southwest Montana

Southwest Montana is not about the glamour of National Parks, its more about ghost towns of days gone by from the mining days of the late 1800s.

These miners were more interested in extracting riches from below the ground than building structures to withstand time; however, remnants still stand today, giving us a glimpse back in time to the miner's dreams of striking it rich or the saloon girl's hopes for better days. Now the remaining buildings and mines in these towns tell a story and holds a place in Montana's history.

Garnet ghost town high in the Garnet Mountain Range is Montana's most intact ghost town wherein the 1860s gold-bearing quartz was discovered. Being in such a remote place, the miners faced many challenges without the use of heavy equipment.  

Southwest Montana Rivers. Image source bigskyfishing
Southwest Montana Rivers. Image source bigskyfishing

Even getting there today, using the route the miners took can be on the challenging side, for the Cave Gulch road is a steep one-lane bumpy dirt road up the side of the mountain with switchbacks; however, the beautiful scenery of the valley below makes the drive worthwhile.

In 1862 gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek; as a result, the town of Bannack was founded. As the word spread miners and businessmen flocked to the townsite hoping to strike it rich. Due to the growth and sudden wealth, Bannack was named the first

Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864; however, a short time later the capital was moved to Virginia City. From the 1860s to the 1930s Bannack thrived as a mining town, by 1950 most people had left, leaving Bannack a ghost town with over 60 structures from the late 1800s for future generations to see what a gold-miners' life was like.

The deepest pride and affection for Virginia City, the most colorful pioneer mining camp with dramatic tales of the early days that ever existed is shared by all of Montana.

The area was so rich in gold that small communities sprang up everywhere with Virginia City and Nevada City being the main hubs for trade. For ten years from 1865 to 1875, the town of Virginia City was named the Territorial Capital of Montana, but like most things, the gold ran out leaving just enough to keep the homes and business occupied; as a result, the town froze in time as an old west Victorian town. Today Virginia City and the surrounding area is rich with natural beauty, recreation, and history.

Montana's history isn't all about fame and fortune, a form of justice had to be upheld for the bands of outlaws that roamed early Montana Territory leaving a trail of destruction.

On July 2, 1871,the stout iron bars slammed shut for the first time in Montana's Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge, now the Old Prison Museum displays a chilling glimpse of what life was like from behind bars, a sentinel of law enforcement dedicated to justice.

Behind the turreted stone towers and iron gates is the intimidating main cell block, built by prisoners using 1.2 million self-made bricks. Walking the isles in the cell block with the slide bar cells and black box used for maximum security will send chills down one's spine.

After the Prison Museum takes a stroll down memory lane through the Automobile Museum where over 160 classic vehicles are on display. One will see cars from the late 1800s with an amazing eight horsepower engine to the 1970's muscle cars, with millions of miles of stories to tell.

Since my wife and I started camping we have discovered that camping is one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors and to experience what mother nature and North America have to offer. One of the joys of camping is having all your home essentials with you. explore north America with us Besides, what better way to meet new and exciting people than by camping. (Larry E West -

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