MONTANA, the Treasure State

What to see

Eastern Montana landscape
Billings City Tour
Harding Little Bighorn Battlefield
Ennis center of Fly Fishing
Virginia City Ghost Town
Nevada City Ghost Town
Butte Copper Mansion - Berkeley Pit - Mai Wah - Dumas brothel
Missoula City Tour
Hamilton Marcus Daly Mansion
West Glacier the Flathead area - Glacier Park
Winter in Montana Montana humor...
Article Virginia City | the Copper Kings | the Battle of Little Bighorn
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Mountain - Part 1

In the travel series View America, West Mountain - Part 1 covers Montana and Wyoming. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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MONTANA is also known as the Treasure State, because of its wealth in ores. The name Montana comes from the Spanish word mountainous, but next to the Rocky Mountains two thirds of the state is located in the Great Plains with prairies, forests and valleys. In 1889 Montana joined the U.S. as the 41st state. Its capital is Helena and the largest city is Billings. The state is extremely sparsely populated with approximately 900,000 inhabitants, or only two per square kilometer!

Montana has a surface of 380,000 km2 and is forested for 25%. The main rivers are the Missouri river and the Columbia river. Temperature variations are extreme, with records of -70.6°F (-57°C) in 1954, and 116.6°F (47°C) in 1937!

Montana's history was rather turbulent with at first a very active fur trade, then gold mines, and finally the cattle trade. It still carries the flavor of the Old West. After the severe drought of the 1930's many ranchers and farmers went bankrupt, also due to overgrazing or from cultivating land that was only suited for pasture. Forest fires, uncontrolled deforestation, and unrestricted hunting further destroyed most of the natural wealth.

The state's economy is based on agriculture, mining, wood industry, tourism, and since 1880 the cattle industry. In 1940 the Fort Peck Dam was built, which provides water for irrigation and electricity. Gold was first discovered in 1850 but next to this oil, coal, natural gas, copper, silver, lead and zinc also abound.

Montana offers special attractions such as the Dude ranches, where city people can experience the harsh "outdoor life". There are also many popular ski resorts, such as Red Mountain Lodge, Big Mountain, Montana Snow Bowl, Big Sky and Bridger Bowl. The many parks offer spectacular and unspoiled natural beauty, but sometimes they can only be visited on horseback.

In 1876 Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer was defeated by Sioux and Cheyenne on the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Hardin. In 1877 Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce, on their way to Canada, defeated federal troops on The Big Hole National Battlefield in Wisdom. Giant Springs, situated near Great Falls, spouts some 1.5 million m3 of water every day, and it is flanked by Rainbow Falls and Great Falls, the largest waterfall on the Missouri River.

Buffalo herds can be admired in the National Bison Range, which is a federal reservation nearby Moiese. The month of June is the start of the rodeo season, and by and large, every city probably has its own rodeo!

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Billings is centrally located, which makes it an ideal base for several interesting excursions. It is not far from the Little Bighorn Battlefield, where Lieutenant Colonel Custer was defeated by Indians. Other excursions are trips to Cody, WY, where the Buffalo Bill Cody museum can be visited, or Sundance, WY, with the Devil's Tower rock formation, or even the Beartooth Scenic Byway, spread out between Montana and Wyoming. All of these attractions, however, are located in nearby Wyoming.

The Moss Mansion is located on 35th Street or Division Street. The railroad not only brought prosperity to Billings, but also Preston B. Moss. In 1901, he built his lavish Mansion, and this three-story building still has its original furnishings.

Billings : Moss Mansion 1 Billings : Moss Mansion 2
the Moss Mansion in Billings

Harding : Little Bighorn battlefield

the battlefield

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument has a most interesting museum, and it is also the starting point for a guided tour of the battlefield. Our guide was a Crow Indian, Noel Two Legs, who presented a wonderful, exciting and informative tour.

Standing on top of the hill, which now offers an unobstructed and clear view of the surroundings, we asked him how it was possible that the Indians had managed to approach General Custer's troops unseen. He told us that in 1876 the prairie grass reached to the underbelly of the horses, which must mean that the climate at that time must have been less dry than it is today.

The exact and complete circumstances of the Battle of Little Bighorn are not easy to come by, given the traditional fact that viewpoints differ, according to who wrote them. To the great public this confrontation is presented as the nearly private clash between two hardy opponents, George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull, but in reality it was the last stage of a fight to the death between two cultures.

Harding : Little Bighorn battlefield 1 Harding : Little Bighorn battlefield 2
George Armstrong Custer
Sitting Bull

Virginia City and Nevada City : Ghost Towns

Virginia City

After the end of the Gold Rush, two old mining towns in the Montana mountains turned into ghost towns. After the Madison Valley, the road crawls up the Tobacco Root Mountains, exceeding the altitude of 7,000 ft (2,133 m), and just ahead lays Virginia City.

Its main street is extremely picturesque with the old Post Office, ancient saloons, hotels and restaurants. Of course, the inevitable stage coach is on display, as is the Opera House. A stroll through main street is like a tour with a Time Machine! Virginia city provides a perfect background for an extended photo session, and the local museum is certainly worth a visit.

Virginia City 1 Virginia City 2

Nevada City

At the time of our visit Virginia City's neighbor, Nevada City, was completely devoid of life. During the tourist season a few shops and one restaurant are open, but from Labor Day on everything is closed.
The main street is entirely authentic, but almost all of the other antique houses were "collected" elsewhere, and brought to this town!

Nevada City 1 Nevada City 2


the Copper Mansion

Our exploration of Butte took place a while after Labor Day, which obviously is not the best time for a visit. Everything is closed and locked up for the winter, there are no more guided tours, it is getting quite cold, and there is hardly any movement in the city.

Butte used to be the center of copper mining, and it has its own particular history with the Copper Kings.

Butte : Copper Mansion

In 1884 Copper King William Clark built a magnificent 32-room mansion. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit this once undoubtedly impressive mansion did not look too appealing anymore.

The house has not been well maintained, and only minimal repairs have been made.

Its poor state did not really inspire any confidence to also visit the interior, especially when one learned that its furniture was not even authentic. Fortunately, since then it would seem that the mansion has been restored.

the Berkeley Pit

The Berkeley Pit is a so called open copper mine. A 1,700 feet (520 m) deep hole was excavated in the mountain, with a diameter of about 5,250 feet (1,600 m). The mine was laid out in terraces, and trucks loaded the ore and transported it for processing. This ore contained 1.5% of metal. Between 1950 and 1982 the mine produced gold, silver, copper and other precious ores.

In 1982 the mine was closed, and eventually the pit filled with rainwater. The lake that was formed contains extremely acidic water, that constitutes an acute danger to the local aquifer and the environment, and eventually it will have to be completely purified. This operation will cost the local taxpayers a tidy sum, since the original mine owners have long since vanished. Nevertheless, the local tourism information praises this poison lake as "a unique challenge for researchers"...

The old mine looks really grim, with the abandoned mining installations and the decaying warehouses, and the desolate and tiny mineworkers' houses offer a dismal sight. Furthermore, a new mining pit has been dug elsewhere, and so this new "attraction" will probably be legated to the taxpayers in thirty more years...

Butte : the Berkeley Pit 1
Butte : the Berkeley Pit 2 Butte : the Berkeley Pit 3

Hamilton : the Daly Mansion

Marcus Daly, one of the three Copper Kings, started buying land in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley in 1876. Eventually he owned about 27,600 acres (11,200 hectares). In 1890 he built his summer residence in Hamilton, but unfortunately he passed away ten years later. In 1910 his wife Margaret rebuilt the mansion in its current Georgian Revival style, with 42 rooms, 25 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and 7 fireplaces. Margaret Daly died in 1941, and the mansion is now located on a property of 50 acres (20 hectares).

The mansion is listed as a historic building and it is the perfect setting for beautiful weddings, shows and all sorts of festivities!

Hamilton : the Daly Mansion 1

Hamilton : the Daly Mansion 2

Hamilton : the Daly Mansion 3 Hamilton : the Daly Mansion 4

West Glacier : Glacier National Park

Glacier Park

Glacier Park actually has two Visitor Centers, an American and a Canadian, since it is a combination of two parks, Glacier Park (USA) and Waterton Lakes (Canada). Together they constitute one large park. In 1932 the members of Rotary clubs in both countries came up with the extraordinary initiative of merging the two parks, clear across the national border. They managed to convince both governments to form the International Peace Park.

The fifty-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road runs from western West Glacier to eastern St. Mary, and it is the only way to visit the park properly. This drive takes from two to three hours to complete. Along the way it passes over the Logan Pass at an altitude of 6,646 ft (2,026 m), from where the vast panorama of the Rocky Mountains can be admired. However, all other grand views are located in the eastern part or in the northern and Canadian part.

West Glacier : Glacier NP 1 West Glacier : Glacier NP 2
West Glacier : Glacier NP 3

Winter in Montana...

In order to cope with the extremely harsh climate during the winter, the inhabitants of Montana must definitely dispose of an excellent sense of humor.

Which is why you'll find local "pearls" like this...

Winter in Montana...

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