Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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I hit the road before it was fully light. Unfortunately, I didn't get anywhere fast - there was road construction a few miles from my camp site, and the time it took for the pilot car to arrive, and then for me to follow it at a moderate pace through the construction zone meant that I wouldn't be anywhere interesting for sunrise. By the time I left the road construction and the forest behind me, the sun had already climbed a bit, and the light wasn't so great anymore.

Bannack ghost town

The school house in Bannack Ghost town It wasn't far to Bannack, my first destination for the day. I didn't know what would await me in this ghost town - while I had done some research in advance, I hadn't brought any notes along and as such knew only little more about the "ghost town" destinations on my route than their names. Which maybe wasn't such a bad thing, since that meant there would be an element of surprise involved, and that I wouldn't get everywhere and think, "I've seen this before". Bannack, as it turned out, was "Montana's first territorial capital". Designated as "Registered National Historic Landmark" in 1935, it had been transformed into a State Park and was kept in much the same state as the more famous Bodie Ghost Town in California - that is, while the buildings were being actively maintained to prevent them from falling into further disrepair, no efforts were made to "beautify" them. The end result of that is a large number of buildings that allow a glimpse into the past, without the touristy tackiness that surrounds ghost towns that are exploited for the financial interest of a few individuals or companies (and I try to stay away from those).

There were two very striking differences to Bodie, however: visitation at Bannack was much lower - even though it was a Sunday in the middle of summer, there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot and I mostly was able to enjoy the various buildings all on my own without anybody rushing me to get out of their pictures, or getting into my pictures. The second difference was that a lot of buildings weren't locked, and while the inside was often devoid of furniture it still allowed a closer look at how buildings were constructed in that area in those days. As a consequence, I was able to take a lot of time into exploring the different buildings, and I ended up with a lot of pictures, both inside and out.

Nevada City / Virginia City

After spending the entire morning in Bannack, I had a quick lunch (a few slices of bread with jam), and then hit the road again. The next two ghost towns on my list were Nevada City and Virginia City.

Nevada City was a small train depot on one side of the highway, and a bunch of buildings on the other. And that's what was wrong with it already - a ghost town with a highway going through it isn't really a ghost town in my book, anymore. Mostly, there doesn't seem to be much left of the genuine Nevada City, instead it has allegedly become "a haven for endangered structures", with more than ninety buildings from across Montana having been moved there. While I'm sure that's not such a bad thing as such, it felt incredibly fake and Disney'ish to me after experiencing Bannack all morning long, so I quickly drove on.

Virginia City proved to be less appealing (to me) than Nevada City, still. I only very briefly stopped, decided that I didn't care much for the place, and moved on

Butte, Montana and Berkeley Pit

Random street shot in Butte, Montana My next stop, after a couple of hours of driving, was Butte, Montana. I distinctly remembered reading negative opinions on it, mostly saying that it was only a shadow of its former self, and that a lot of energy had left the city along with the decline in mining in the surrounding areas. While the streets were pretty empty (it was a Sunday, after all), I didn't get that impression though - Butte seemed like a nice place, much more alive than fornlorn. I got a Snickers bar in a gas station, and bought a book in a store, and then drove a mile or two to Berkeley Pit, a former open mining put that was now mostly filled with ground water that had become heavily polluted by all of the metals in the rock: aluminum, copper, cadmium, cobalt, iron, manganese, zinc, arsenic and sulfate. Efforts were underway to clean up, but the colour of the water alone was proof enough that this was one of the last places on earth you'd want to go to for a swim.

The entrance fee was two dollars (contrary to what my guidebook had said), and was asked by a woman if I was "with the press" - I suppose it's not every day that a tourist shows up with two big cameras on his shoulders to photograph a giant hole in the ground that's filled with dirty water. Still, maybe my description sounds more negative than it should be - Berkely Pit is definitely a spot that should be visited, even if just to see how much damage mankind can do (even if mining these minerals, and the industry it feeds, is what has largely been responsible for much of the technical advantages of the last few hundred years.)


After a short while, I left Berkeley Pit and hit the road again. My next (and last) destination for the day would be Granite, yet another ghost town. I first stopped at what remains of a wooden tower of the "Bi-Metallic Aerial Tramway". The 9,750 feet tramway was the longest of its kind when it was built in 1889.

By the time I arrived at the townsite, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains already, and everything in proximity was in shadow. I only briefly walked around without taking many shots, and then made my bed in the back of the Trailblazer. While I didn't know if I was allowed to camp at this spot, I decided to take my chance.

Miles driven: 253mi (407km)

Campground Accommodation: Primitive camping in Granite ghost town (Deerlodge National Forest): $0

Written on Saturday, April 21th 2007 in my apartment; finished May 2th 2007.