I recently returned from a road trip to Montana – where we visited some of western Montana's ghost towns and old mining communities. It was like taking a trip back in time to the days of the "Wild West."
In three days we covered just over a thousand miles – it was a great opportunity to see some of the splendid natural beauty of Montana. On our way home we passed within a quarter-mile of a forest fire. We were so close we could see the flames devouring sagebrush on a nearby hillside. The magnitude of the fire was both frightening and awe inspiring. (I was so captivated by the sight that I didn't think to take a picture – very uncharacteristic of me.)
On our photo safari we visited six locations: Garnet, Comet, Elkhorn, Bannack, Virgina City, and Nevada City. Some of the places we visited, like Garnet and Comet, were true ghost towns. They were eerily quiet, hidden deep in the mountains, and as we wandered through the ruins it seemed like we were the only living souls for miles around. Then there were the tourist traps, like Virginia City and Nevada City, which were much busier, but no less fascinating.
In addition to all of the interesting things we saw on our trip, we also enjoyed the opportunity to learn a little more about Montana's history. Every place we visited had a story – real life tales of bravery, scandal, murder and mayhem. You see, when gold was first discovered in the Montana territory many mining towns sprung up seemingly overnight – and often they where abandoned just as quickly. It was in these boomtowns that the American West earned its reputation as an untamed and lawless land.
For example, the town of Garnet had just one school…and at least 13 saloons. In Bannack, the townspeople hung their corrupt Sheriff on his own gallows for conspiring with road agents (stagecoach-robbing bandits). In Virginia City, the site of one of the country's largest placer gold strikes, vigilantes took matters into their own hands. If troublemakers found the numbers 3-7-77 written on their front door it meant they had 24 hours to get out of town (3+7+7+7 = 24) or they'd be buried in a 3 foot wide, 7 foot deep, 77 inch long grave. Interestingly enough, the numbers 3-7-77 can be seen today on the badges, patches, and car door insignia of the Montana Highway Patrol.