Some Pure Escapism


For some pure escapism from Trump and Brexit, here is a small piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times about Montana’s ghost towns.

Montana’s ghost towns a mother lode for nuggets of Western history

Bannack State Park Ghost Town, Dillon, Montana. (Richard Cummins / Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image)
Bannack State Park Ghost Town, Dillon, Montana.  (Richard Cummins / Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image) 

Montana ghost towns 

The route:  Start at  Butte, heading southeast on Interstate 90, then head  to Virginia and Nevada cities by way of Norris on U.S. and Montana 287. At Twin Bridges, take Montana 41 to Dillon, then take  Montana 278 to Bannack and then to Wisdom, where you take Montana 43 back to Butte .

Miles:  210, round trip

Best times:  Mid-May to mid-September. You may want to avoid forest-fire season in August.

Why:  The story of the West is partly the story of precious metals — gold, silver and copper – and their booms and busts, and you can follow the history of Montana   by ghost-town hopping. (Kids, by the way,  like hearing about the hardships endured by their counterparts in the 1800s. “You would  have been down a mine 150 years ago!” is a great way to get them to hurry up for school.)

Wandering through  Bannack Ghost Town  ’s 60 structures is like being an extra in an old western. (Bannack was the state’s first capital before gold was discovered; then Virginia City became the capital.)  .

Highlights:  Tours of Butte’s historic uptown and the must-see Berkeley Pit. Panning for gold and watching for ghosts in  Virginia City . Bannack Days (the third weekend in July), which includes activities as diverse as hat making and quilting, shoot-outs and wagon rides. Intimate  Norris Hot Springs  has  live music and cold craft beer.

Memorable stay:  A Victorian Suite in the  Nevada City Hotel and Cabins  .  In Butte, the historic  Hodgens Ryan Mansion  carries on the Victorian theme. Or you can choose Butte’s  Hotel Finlen  , where both Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy stayed before they were president.

Memorable meal:  The Fiesta Mexicana food truck in Dillon where Austin, Texas-style food meets small-town Montana. The buttermilk pie at the  Crossing Bar & Grill  at Fetty’s in Wisdom is well worth a stop.

Tourist trap:  Elkhorn Hot Spring. Don’t bother.

Plan to spend:  12 hours for Virginia and Nevada cities and Bannack. But if you want to soak in a hot spring, explore the thrift stores of Butte and catch a show in Virginia City, then two days is best.

— Joanna  Pocock