One Night in Butte Is Enough

Tracy wanted to see the famous Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana (he’d seen it years ago and was impressed), so we parked at an odd little boondocking spot off the interstate, tucked Banjo inside the trailer, and went exploring.

Butte seems to be like Helena (but smaller): a shrinking, strange little town. It used to have the highest population in Montana, but now it’s like one of those many abandoned little downtowns we’ve driven through across the country: most everyone has left.

Berkeley Pit

There’s some unusual architecture in town though, I’m guessing from the 1950s when the Pit was at its peak. The site has been mined with various methods since forever, but when it became a pit mine for copper, it hit its hey day. It was closed in 1985, and now the EPA is requiring a serious clean-up. You can pay $3 to walk down this cool tunnel and survey the toxic water below.

When Tracy was here a couple of decades ago, the water was much lower, so the pit seemed more impressive. Of course the day we arrived a huge cloud of wildfire haze had moved in, so the surrounding mountains were obscured, as well. If you’re interested in this mine, I recommend you read up on it: it’s something like a mile long and 1,700 feet deep, and the water is an eerie green. Students from Montana Tech did find life in there, some kind of acid-eating algae.

Saved by a Brewery

That was a bit of a let-down for Tracy, I’m thinking, but the Butte Brewing Company, a mere few yards away, totally made up for it. Outside we got a view of abandoned mining machinery that’s sprinkled around the town, and we had excellent beers and crispy, oily pizza. If only we’d brought Banjo and our laptops: they even have wifi.

I eavesdropped on a couple of professors from Montana Tech whom I guess teach some kind of ecology, and they were both excited that their students this year actually cared about The West.

The Campsite

I don’t even know what kind of land Tracy had us parked on (edited to add: he guesses it’s Forest Service), but when we pulled up, a guy jokingly told us that we had to leave: our Airstream was ruining the standards there. “Your trailer can’t be younger than 15 years,” he shouted. That’s funny to campers (like him, at least), because some private trailer parks require your camper to be relatively new, which is an attempt to ensure that riffraff don’t move in. We were crashing the riffraff here, for sure.

The cows added to the atmosphere, though. Banjo was alarmed when we turned a corner and ran almost right into several on our morning walk, but as soon as she figured they would ignore her, she ignored them. I was all excited to show Tracy my cow photo (the one up top) when I got back to the trailer, but I was upstaged by the cows grazing right at the trailer.

Okay, that was enough Butte. We’re off to a dammed part of the Missouri River near Helena to hang out with my friend Tom again, woohoo!