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Friday, August 5, 2011
RV DAY 34: GHOST TOWNS AND COLLEGE TOWNS
Welcome to Montana, campers! If you have never been to a ghost town, it is quite an eerie experience, like walking on a set of an old western movie. The ones we found in Montana are as good and haunting as any: Virginia City, Nevada City, and Bannack. These are all old mining towns that once flourished in the goldmine days but have been abandoned since the gold dried out. Virginia City has both old stores no longer in business but you can still peer inside and find dust-covered merchandise exactly as they sat a century ago ($2 ladies boots!) interspersed with new operations with the original storefront still intact. We stopped by the ice cream parlor and I could not believe they turned my favorite combination - chocolate orange into an ice cream flavor! (Of course Justin got vanilla because he always gets vanilla.) Nevada City has a museum and many old log cabins, but we didn’t bother paying for the tour to walk through the gated ghost town. You can even stay at the lodge there that is still in business. Bannack is the largest and most haunting ghost town of all, where you can meander through the old church, tavern, schoolhouse, and cabins. Close your eyes and see the drunken miners dancing with decked out ladies (or prostitutes) in the bustling tavern and cowboys riding through town with tumbleweed rolling around the dusty ground.
After a day visiting ghost towns, we spent the night at the Rombo campgrounds in the Bitterroot National Forest where we went fly fishing. Dressed more like a jungle camouflage soldier than a fisherman, I helped catch a couple of cutthroat trout (the operative word being “helped”). But it turned out my waders we got from Craigslist had tiny holes in the “waterproof” neoprene feet so the river water immediately seeped through my boots. Believe me, it is not a very good feeling hiking around in soaking wet boots. The next day, we made our way to Missoula, a very cute college town with tons of breweries and pricey boutiques. We stayed at the Goldsmith’s Inn B&B which was just a few blocks away from historic downtown proper and served excellent breakfast of huckleberry French toast and eggs and fruit and yogurt. We were also able to get a replacement RV door lock which I broke – that $100 is coming out of my nonexistent paycheck.
We concluded our week in Whitefish where we visited Justin’s college buddy, Matt, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years and is a dead ringer for Nicholas Cage, his lovely wife Gretchen and their adorable 3-year-old son Reed. They built their own house on 10 acres that can only be reached via miles on a dirt road, with a commodious carport housing every mountain-man toy imaginable – raft, skis, mountain bikes, snowmobile, tractor. We spent a fun couple nights as Justin and Matt reminisced about their wild college days where their house parties were sponsored by High Times, while Reed regaled us with his stories like beating up a black bear that frequents their backyard by karate chopping the thousand-pound beast in the stomach and kicking him up in the air, and strangling a black mamba with his bare hands in Africa when he was 18 years old. Oh the imagination of precocious 3-year-olds (or perhaps a past-life memory?) We also picked fresh huckleberries off the bushes in their backyard, which up to this point I didn’t know were a real fruit. (Side note about hucks: Since we arrived in Wyoming and Montana, we have seen huckleberry by-products everywhere like jam, honey, mustard, chocolate, ice cream, pie, taffy, lotion, bath gel, lip balm – pretty much anything that comes with a flavor. But I have never seen the actual fruit before until now. Huckleberries look like blueberries but less mushy and taste far better, a little tangy but sweet at the same time. They are my new favorite berry!)
All in all, Montana was definitely a surprisingly fun, diverse place to visit and an outdoor enthusiast’s playground! In Arnold’s words, we’ll be back!