I recently visited the beautiful state of Montana. It had been nearly six years since my last vacation. It was quite challenging finding someone willing to watch our large menagerie at home. Happily, an amazing family offered their services. Thank you, Amy, and your seven wonderful children, for making our vacation dreams a reality!
So we began our trip in my husband’s hometown of Butte Montana. I had visited, once before, in the month of December… many years ago. It was a winter wonderland, gorgeous and freezing. It’s so cold, in the winter, that a yearly ice sculpture contest takes place in Main Street Uptown Butte. The sculptures are on display for several weeks out of the year. They don’t melt! Can you imagine?
This ice sculpture was created by Frank Tadaro at Headframe Spirits 21 S. Montana Street. He took the grand prize at the 14th Annual ice Sculpting Contest in Uptown Butte.
Have I mentioned that I was born and raised in California? Brrr…it’s really cold in Montana during the winter…but it’s great fun!
I witnessed my first snow fall in Montana. I was in a Costco parking lot when it happened. I stopped in mid-stride, pointed to the falling flakes, and yelled,”It’s snowing!” I grinned maniacally, waved my hands, and gestured frantically for all to come and see. Let’s just say people gave me a wide berth in the parking lot. I guess they’d seen snow before. Who knew? Well, anyways, it was pretty darn exciting.
But the summertime in Montana was an entirely different experience. We enjoyed lightning storms the first few days. The weather was spectacular! And yes, I did stop and holler, “Lightning!” every time the sky lit up. This was very different compared to my California summers. It was quite thrilling to see the dramatic flashes darting across the sky. The heavens were on fire, glowing scarlet and deep purple, a velvety blanket of stars at dusk. There were glorious sunrises in the morning, dazzling streaks of copper and maroon flecks dotting the landscape. Montana is called big sky country for a reason.
We stayed in my husband’s hometown for over a week. I learned many important facts during our vacation. For example, Butte is pronounced “byoot” not “butt”.This is is very important to remember…seriously. I’d like to begin by mentioning that Butte is the friendliest town that I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. I immediately fell in love with everyone. People would actually smile and say,”hello” when passing by on the street. I was ready to move to Montana by the end of my vacation. I’m still trying to figure out how to transport all of my chickens, ducks, geese, goats, horse, and so on, across state lines.
Butte is a charming town full of history and colorful narratives. Along the city’s Historical Districts, you will find traces of a fierce mining town: copper kings, frontier families, and many brave souls that survived the most difficult circumstances imaginanble. Sadly, there were some heartbreaking disasters that took place over the years. The Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine Disaster of 1917 was one of the worst. One hundred and sixty-eight men lost their lives in this tragic event, making it the most deadly underground mining accident in the history of the United States.
An electric cable was lowered into the Granite Mountain mine, it fell approximately 2,500 feet below, and was quickly damaged in the process. A foreman was lowered inside to investigate. He brought along a carbide lamp to light his way. The oil-soaked cloth on the cable quickly ignited when the flame from the lamp connected. A fire spread, climbing along the cable, igniting the wood in the shaft. Some miners died immediately, while others were overcome by asphyxia, some surviving up to two days in the pitch black tunnels. Several notes and letters were left behind for their loved ones. You can read their touching last words at the Memorial in Butte. A few miners were able to barricade themselves inside the bulkheads. Some were rescued, but many waited up to fifty-five hours to be freed.
The community rallied together during the mining years, helping in rescue attempts, supporting the victims’ families. The residents of Butte are strong and resilient people. Their heritage made sure of this.
So we began our journey on the Historical Butte Trolley Car. We booked passage the night before. Our group loaded onto the colorful trolley, eager to begin our journey. The car left the station at the Butte Chamber of Commerce. We made our way over to the Berkeley Pit, travelling past impressive gallows frames, the Copper King Mansion,the Dumas Brothel, and the Historical District. We were lucky to be given a tour by an incredible teacher and local historian, Chris Fisk. Many residents honked and waved as we made our way down the roads. It was evident that Chris was a town favorite.
A trolley is available for tours throughout the week. You can sign up in the Chamber of Commerce. http://www.cbchamber.com/about/
Call to book your reservation on the trolley! 406/723-3177
Be sure to drop by and check out their visitor’s center. It’s a full of fascinating artifacts, vintage photos, books, historical resources, and great gift ideas
My husband, Dale, and my amazing mother-in-law, Roberta, accompanied me on this impressive journey. We enjoyed hearing many vivid narratives as we made our way through town. We were all enthralled by the impressive history of the copper kings, early immigrants from various countries, and nationalities, and even a few savory stories concerning brothels and frontier life. We quickly learned that Butte was established as a mining town in the late 19th century in the Silver Bow Creek Valley. The town sits high in the Rockies. Gold and silver were mined in the early years. However, a great demand for copper, necessary for the growing need for electricity, created a market for the metal. And Copper was very abundant in Butte. The area would soon be called “The Richest Hill on Earth”. The city attracted people from all over the world, including: Ireland, The United Kingdom, China, Syria, Croatia, Mexico, Lebanon, Finland, Canada, Austria, Italy,and many more. There were clusters of neighborhoods populated by similar nationalities and interests. Butte would soon be one of the largest cities in Montana, populated by diverse people from around the globe.
Chris Fisk described the town’s legacy effortlessly. He kept us mesmerized with detailed historical accounts without the use of notes or assistance. Our guide drew a mental picture of the city’s inner workings and unique history from memory. That’s not an easy feat. Trust me. The years rolled by in impressive time. We were all quite educated in the history of Butte by the end of our ride. And what a journey it was!
The Berkeley Pit was a our first stop along the tour. This fascinating landmark is over seventeen hundred feet deep and nearly three miles in diameter.
The Pit was created over a 30 year period. Enormous trucks and loaders were often seen carrying tons of ore across the dramatic landscape. It was the largest open-mine pit in the country, officially opened in 1955, by Anaconda Copper. It was later taken over by the Atlantic Richfield Company, (ARCO). The mine was officially closed on Earth Day, 1982. Soon after, the underground pumps were shut off, leaving the abandoned Pit to slowly fill with water, tainted by acidic chemicals. The lake contains forty billion gallons of acid water. Various treatments have been applied to treat the lake. It is an ongoing project, currently being tackled by chemists and engineers. The site is spectacular, deadly to wildlife, but beautiful to view from a distance. The Pit fascinates tourists and locals alike. The Berkeley Pit is open May through September. Call 406/723-3177 for hours and information. And be sure to check out their gift store!
After our viewing of The Pit, we made our way to the fascinating Historical District. Here we witnessed numerous buildings and other vintage treasures.
One of my favorite buildings,The Copper King Mansion, captured my imagination immediately. The 30-room red brick mansion is a Victorian gem. It was built by William Andrews Clark in the 1880s.
He was one of the wealthiest copper kings living at that time. The mansion is opened seasonally and is available year round as a bed and breakfast. Some residents even suggest that the building is haunted! I will definitely be visiting this historical site on our next visit.
We enjoyed viewing numerous buildings and landmarks on the tour. I’ve only highlighted a few. I urge you all to experience this firsthand for yourself. If you get the chance to visit Butte Montana, you must take a ride on the Butte Trolley Car. Feel free to post about your visit and experience in the comment section at the end of this blog.
Thank you, Chris Fisk, for bringing us an amazing glimpse of the rich history of Butte Montana!
An Rí Rá Montana Irish Festival.
Our adventures continued throughout our stay in Montana. We soon discovered that the An Rí Rá Montana Irish Festival was taking place during our visit. I happen to love everything Irish. My Celtic genes run deep. So I couldn’t wait to attend the festival. And I wasn’t disappointed. There were talented Irish dancers and musicians, tents and booths displaying incredible Celtic souvenirs and merchandise, and a wonderful selection of food and drink.
Be sure to check out the An Rí Rá Montana Irish Festival Facebook page for more information!
The festival offered free admission this year. It ran from August 14th-16th, 2016. We were all very excited to celebrate the one hundred year anniversary of the Easter Uprising. Several bands and musicians, including The Elders, performed music and songs honoring this historical event. It was history in the making. This was definitely one of our favorite experiences during our visit.
Before I say goodbye to Butte, I’d like to give a few shout-outs to some fabulous restaurants and Casinos that we happened upon during our visit.
Let’s start with the world-famous Pekin Noodle Parlor. It’s on the list of Butte’s historical landmarks. There is a bit of confusion concerning the date of its actual opening. Some people believe that the dining establishment opened in 1909. Others insist it began as early as the 1880’s. Hum Yow, his wife Bessie Wong, and their three children, are the current owners of the Pekin Noodle Parlor, making it the oldest family run restaurant in the state of Montana.
Visiting the Pekin Noodle Parlor is like stepping back in time. The building offers a rare glimpse of the Chinese noodle parlors popular in the 19th century. It’s important to mention that Butte was home to one of the largest Chinese populations during the mining era. There is no lack of charm, including the curtained booths, which provide a comfortable and private dining experience for the guests. The sound of metal carts, rolling down the long corridor, is reminiscent of an era long since passed. Colorful lanterns hang from the ceilings, adding to the mysterious aura of the building.
I was incredibly pleased by their vegetarian options and impressive wine list. The portions are more than generous, the food delicious and unique. The Pekin Noodle Parlor is my favorite restaurant in Butte. Make sure to stop by during your visit!
Nightlife in Butte Montana
I really enjoyed the nightlife in Butte Montana. There are great restaurants, stores, and casinos available on every block. Be sure to check out my favorite casino, Chances R, if you have the time. The modest building reminded me of the television show ‘Cheers’. Everyone was friendly and welcoming inside. Our bartender, Stacey, was very attentive and eager to share entertaining stories about her town. She also make a fabulous Dirty Martini! I played their slot machines for about twenty minutes, winning forty dollars in the process. It was an awesome night.
Lucky Charm Casino is another great stop. The service is lovely, the drinks quite pleasing. We were offered free snacks during our game playing. I was not very lucky gambling on this particular evening. But we still had a wonderful time. Our hostess was friendly and welcoming. I also enjoyed their adorable leprechaun mascot!
My final shout-out goes to my favorite fast food restaurant, El Taco. This place is a true gem. My husband and I ordered cheese enchiladas with their world-famous spicy spuds with cheese. The food is delicious and affordable, the service spectacular, We decided to go back for an encore performance later in the week. It was simply divine!
Well, I’ve talked about a few our favorite highlights from our trip to Butte Montana. I can’t wait for our next visit. We already have plans to take a closer look at Our Lady of the Rockies and The Copper King Manson. There was just not enough time to see it all. I’d like to invite all of my readers to visit this amazing town, ride the trolley, and explore everything Butte has to offer!