Category Archives: Travel

A collection of posts about the random trips I’ve been on- near and far.

The Black Hills [Mount Rushmore &The Needles Highway]

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Last spring I ran home for my brother wedding in the Black Hills. The Sexy Master Electrician has never spent much time in the Hills and we’ve never really spent any time at my parents, just quick trips through. We still didn’t spend much time at my parents but we did do a little afternoon trip in the Hills. (There was a misunderstanding that made us think everything was set up for the wedding, not that were were overtly excited to spend the day doing that anyway.) We did a drive from the Deadwood area down to Mount Rushmore, through the Needles Highway and ended back up in Deadwood to meet TSME’s parents for dinner.

One thing I recommend for traveling around the Black Hills, most gas stations, tourist stops, etc. have this 11x 17ish sized paper map that has all the big places to stop and ways to get there and it’s free. They’ve been doing it forever and they still are. If you’re going to run around the Hills, I highly recommend it as a go to reference. You may also want some Dramamine depending on your route, there are some pretty winding roads. We tried to avoid main tourist roads if we could and still see all we wanted. It has been probably about 10 years since I had last visited these places. It was a great little afternoon. 

Black Hills map overall

Our drive from Deadwood through Lead to Mount Rushmore took us along Lake Pactola. It is a man made lake that is named after the town that lies below it. It’s also the place we went cliff jumping way back in the old days.

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We made it to Mount Rushmore late in the afternoon. There was hardly anyone there. It was perfect for a quick stop. We watched the little video and went through the exhibit about how they made the sculpture and the creator, Gutzom Borglum, and the politics behind it. For the record, I know it is a massive carving in the rock, but it does not seem that big. Especially when you see Crazy Horse. However, it is impressive.  We were pressed for time, so we didn’t do any of the longer walks up closer to the heads, but there are trails you can take through the hills that are lovely if you have time.
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After that we took off to go along Iron Mountain Road toward the Black Hills Playhouse and the Needles Highway. This was basically a short cut to get to the Needles. On top of that, it is this windy, barely two-lane road that goes through a few tunnels that purposefully frame Mount Rushmore. I don’t know why, but I have no pictures of this. I don’t know what happened. It’s really cool though to drive and beautiful.  I recommend it.
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Via Kimon Berlin, user:GribecoOwn work, CC BY 2.5, Link

Once you get to Highway 87, you have to get a park pass to Custer State Park. There are lots of things to see in there, including Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, but we’ve saved those for another trip. The needles are these amazing rock formations. Back when I was a climber, I’d been up there to do just that. It’s a beautiful area and one of my favorite drives. We also missed taking pictures of this area too.
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The Eye of the Needle via
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The road ends at Sylvan Lake, also the starting point of the hike up to Black Elk Peak, (formerly Harney Peak), highest point east of the Rockies in the US and and easy hike if you need one.
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That concludes our little afternoon in the hills. We headed back through the cute little town of Hill City and back to Deadwood for dinner. While this post may have been focused on Mount Rushmore, I fully encourage you to explore the Black Hills beyond it and other touristy things. They are a beautiful little area filled with lots of surprises.

 

A Road Trip to Tahoe

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I managed to find myself in California again just two weeks after attending Iris’s wedding. I went on a road trip with Dr. K to her home town of Tahoe City for a long weekend.  And it was nothing like the California I had just visited. I have been to the northern part of the state and seen the redwood forests, but that was over 10 years ago and I kind of forgot that California has mountains and forests, so it was nice to be reminded they exist there. Oh, and Lake Tahoe is beautiful.

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The drive down was pretty uneventful and uninteresting. The best part was the moon rising over the Tetons. We left after work on a Thursday and drove to Massacre Rock State Park in Idaho where we camped for the night.
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The next morning we stopped at Twin Falls to look at the bridge and hopefully catch someone base jumping.
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We just missed someone and a crew that was setting up to go was taking forever, so we didn’t, but the bridge is beautiful and the canyon kind of comes out of nowhere as you drive up to it. All of a sudden, there is just a big gap in the landscape with the Snake river below.

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We made it to Tahoe in the late afternoon after stopping in Reno for some In-N-Out milkshakes. (I still think Shake Shack is better, but maybe that’s the New York talking.)
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Sand Harbor

Most of my time there was spent paddleboarding on the lake, alternating between moving and napping. Best thing ever. I need to get one here. One day we went about six miles on them from Sand Harbor past Thunderbird Mansion.

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Thunderbird Mansion


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We tried to not be too lazy and did some hiking up to Eagle Lake and around her parents neighborhood, but we ended up on the beach one way or another. Untitled Eagle Lake

We had some fun driving her Corvair around the shore to Emerald Bay and paddleboarding. At one point with the paddle boards I almost said, “I feel like we should be in California!” Then I remembered I already was.

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The only disappointing thin about the trip was the bears. Black bears wander through the neighborhood frequently at night, and typically wander right behind or beside Dr. K’s parent’s house. Two nights in a row, the dogs woke us up around one AM as they rushed to the backyard because the bears were passing through. We could hear the cubs and mamma bear calling back and forth, but we couldn’t see them either night. They were in the next line of trees. The third night, if we couldn’t see them, Dr. K was going to take me to the dump to see them up close. They never arrived and the dog never woke us up, so I never saw them. Since then, I have seen them here in Montana, but I still wanted to see them just wandering down the street. Dr k pics sand harbor

I flew back to Montana on Monday from Reno. Dr.K had to stay for work. I was suppose to tell her that Tahoe was way better than Bozeman. That I didn’t know why she wasn’t moving immediately. I didn’t tell her that. Tahoe was beautiful, lovely and I could lay on the beach all day. I couldn’t live there, it was a bit too small. And to me, it wasn’t that different from Bozeman, except there isn’t a lake right here. But we have rivers and hiking and skiing and lakes a little bit away. And it beautiful here too. Though, I won’t hesitate to go visit her if she decides to move back, I’m going to stick with Montana. For now.
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Moon rising over Lake Tahoe

The California Academy of Sciences

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California Academy of Sciences from the De Young Tower

Let me geek out here for a bit. It’s goin to happen. It has in the past. While I was in San Francisco I was able to visit the California Academy of Sciences and it was AWESOME! I may be a bit of a science nerd and this place is just cool in terms of design too. Michele was happy to go check it out one morning so we headed over just before the doors opened to get in line.

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We started with the lower level aquarium. The snakes were right at the base of the stair and freaky as usual. Never my favorite. The anaconda was following people.
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not an anaconda, but still following people. By Michele

The coral reef and tropical fish were beautiful. I think I could have sat in front of one of those windows for quite a while. The jelly fish were cool and I had to touch a starfish.
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The most interesting character down there was an albino alligator. He just hung out while people took picture after picture of him.
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Meet Claude

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Next we went up to see the penguin feeding. So damn cute.  This was Michele’s favorite part I think. Being the polite adult that I am, I allowed those with kids to sit up front and listened to the biologist talk about the what was happening, facts about the colony and individual penguins, etc. I should have become a biologist. Next life.
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I am a huge fan of planetariums, so we grabbed tickets when we arrived for a showing of Fragile Planet. It was one of their older films, so it wasn’t loaded with new information, but it was still interesting. I need to go to the local planetarium more often.

We briefly wandered through the dioramas, though they have never been a huge draw to me. We also checked out the exhibits on color in nature, earthquakes and whales. The Whales exhibit happened to be the same one I saw in New York a few years ago before moving.  Small world.

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Our last major exhibit was the rain forest. We had a short wait in line before being admitted into a large, sealed, climate controlled biosphere. It is full of trees, birds, butterflies, frogs and fish in the water below. It was gorgeous and our main focus became trying to catch a picture of the beautiful butterflies with blue on the backs of its wings.
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Can you see the blue butterfly!?

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At the top where you exit, we went out to the native rooftop garden. The garden is lovely and has a great view. It is here that I will switch into architecture mode. The spheres of the planetarium and biosphere  pop up and help create the undulating hills that cover the roof top. They are spotted with round skylights, some of which open to help regulate the interior climate.  It’s just a really cool space. The interiors too. There is a ton of natural light and space was planned well. I really enjoyed wandering through it.
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If you are in San Francisco, I highly recommend checking the academy out. Give yourself at least a half a day, if not more. It is so interesting and  worth the time and cost. I would get there early if you can, we were told it sells out sometimes. Plus our first hour or so, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it became later.  I fully intend to check it out again.

A Whimsical Wedding

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I had the pleasure of returning to San Francisco in July this year for the third time to celebrate a wedding. One of my very first New York friends, Iris, invited me to her wonderful whimsical wedding. I was able to catch up with some of my other “original” New York friends and hang out in beautiful city for the weekend.  Here’s a quick recap. Untitled
The majority of our time was spent on Haight Street, or close by in Golden Gate Park. Since I have done the majority of touristy activities, I was happy to just explore one area and spend some time in museums that I had been wanting to visit. Haight Street is an interesting area with all kinds of characters and shops. We found some amazing coffee, enjoyed some great jazz, got our nails done, laughed as a man lying on the sidewalk told police, “I don’t know who I am!” and did some thrift shopping all within blocks of our hotel.

I wanted these so much.

I met my friend Michele at our hotel/hostel/B & B, the Red Victoria. It’s a quirky little place. They have a full kitchen guests can use and a large event/lounge space that people rent out. The rooms are adorable and clean. We were in the Redwood room with a private bath. We had looked into and AirBnb but they were all a bit expensive or not in the area we wanted. I’m glad we went with our friends advice and tried the Red Victoria instead. I loved it. Untitled
Our adorable room

Just down the street that evening was the welcoming party at Club Deluxe. This is one of the couple’s favorite spots. There was a great group of old men playing Jazz music the whole night. It was so fun. I don’t think the couple expected so many people to already be in town. We filled the small place. We met people from all over the world that Iris and Booth had befriended.
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The club had some amazing Italian style pizza. Let’s take a moment to talk about all the amazing food. I forgot how good food is in places like San Francisco. Bozeman’s good, but damn its got nothing on a big city. I completely forgot that I was going to get to eat such good food again and I think my excitement may have scared Michele a bit after the first bite of pizza. I think I tried three different pizzas and had fried okra. From that point on, I was on a mission to make sure we went to places that I couldn’t get close to at home. The next morning we went to Bacon Bacon.

Yes, I drug my vegetarian friend to a cafe dedicated to bacon and her meatless sandwich was still delicious. I had to restrain myself from ordering a bouquet of bacon and stick to a breakfast sandwich. We had lunch at the de Young Museum Cafe. Pricey? Sure. Amazing? Yes. Untitled You can sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather while nibbling on your macaroons. We ventured over to Oakland to meet a friend of mine for dinner that evening at Burma Superstar. I miss great Asian food. I admit it. It’s hard to come back to limited variety, but I guess that’s the trade off for amazing mountains in a small town. Untitled
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Okay. back at it. The day before the wedding Michele and I explored the de Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences. I had been to the tower and outdoor sculpture garden at the de Young before but not in the actual space. It is a pretty awesome space. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overly excited by any of the exhibits. I know they get some great ones though.
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After a day of education we went to an Athletics game against the Twins.
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The poor A’s tried, but failed to take the Twins. While I don’t care much for baseball, I do enjoying going to the games from time to time. Untitled
Especially now that I can’t go to the them unless I get on a plane to do it. It’s always entertaining to watch the fans and to see whatever “entertainment” happens between innings.

Bobble head race between innings…

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The next day was perfect for a wedding. That morning Michele and I participated in a tradition ceremony with other girl friends of the bride where the groom had to bribe us for his bride. We hid her and her shoes in the apartment for him to find after he answered our questions a paid us all an agreeable sum of money. We made him sing and moved Iris around as he was looking for her. We had a good time before being sent off to get wedding ready.

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The wedding was held in Golden Gate Park. It was so lovely. After the ceremony the band lead us to the conservatory steps for a huge group photo.    Untitled
Everyone sunbathing also took our picture before we headed back to the reception. The food was delicious, the photo booth was a mini Polaroid and there were dogs jumping after the bubbles people were blowing. Whimsical attire was encourage.
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I wasn’t entirely sure how crazy to go, plus I didn’t want to drag my derby hat on the plane, so my outfit was tame compared to some peoples. It was so fun to see the outfits that people came up with and had the balls to wear. I’m just not that cool.
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Hanging in the tree

After the park, we headed back to the couples home were there was a bonfire to warm up by.
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Virginia City [and The Brewery Follies]

UntitledAfter visiting Butte, K and I took a drive down to Virginia City and Nevada City. Both are old mining ghost towns a few miles apart in the Ruby Valley. Virginia City has a few residences but Nevada City is a true preserved ghost town. They an hour and a half from Bozeman and two from Butte. Everyone has said they are one of those places you just have to go see, so we did. The drive from Butte was beautiful. We could have hopped on the interstate for awhile and dropped south, but instead we went on Highway 2 through the mountains. It was beautiful. I had never been back there. We need to see if there is any hiking back in there to check out next.

Because we came from Butte, we ended up in Nevada City first. We stopped for just a bit. You can wonder down the open shops that are on the main road, but everything else is gated off. If you like can pay to see the rest of the town and reenactments. On top of that you can take the little train ride between the two cities. We were a bit over the ghost town after touring the one at Museum of Mining earlier that morning  and we were short on time so we passed on hanging out and headed to Virginia City.

Most of the little town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As you walk down the street you can read the plaque on each building explaining what it used to be and why it is important. It’s also very much a tourist town. Most buildings have operating shops, restaurants or bars in them. Some are just historic displays, set up as they would have been in the 1860’s. We wondered up and down the street checking out the different shops, galleries, and historic buildings. Untitled
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We found some delicious ice cream. It’s made right there, you can watch it being churned in the barrels. K insulted the owner by saying that she was not a fan of his new flavor, but there were plenty of others she did like and the guy behind her liked the new one, so we made it out alive without spit on our cones. Untitled
 Ice Cream in the making

One of the main draws for us to head to Virginia City was the Brewery Follies at the old brewery. The brewery is tucked down by the creek, off the main road. They left the interiors as is and only modified to add a little stage. Twice a day you can head down for the four person cabaret show. We were told that it was hilarious, a main reason for a “local” to go to Virginia City if you didn’t have kids. We were a bit apprehensive about how good it could really be, but it was hilarious. It was so good, we are planning on returning with a big crew of friends to see the other cast before the season ends. Untitled
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Follies Bar
We were seated right in front of the little space and they serve you drinks before and during the intermission. The actors are your bartenders, so you can’t get anything during the show. We had a great time. The small cast of two guys and girls were really funny. The musician was great as well. It was fun to sometimes watch him to see what was cracking him up this round. For the most part the skits are rehearsed, but there were spot here and there where they were clearly improving. For the most part, it was 2 hours of laughing.

I’m really glad we decided to swing through Virginia City on our way home. It is definitely one of those you gotta see it places. And I highly recommend the Follies, though not if you have kids, unless you use earmuffs.

 

Natural Bridge

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Back in Mayish a friend did a little solo road trip over to the Natural Bridge on the Boulder River about two hours away.  She posted beautiful pictures of the back road she drove instead of the interstate. K, J and I decided we should do the same trip. The bridge itself had been on my to do list for awhile and after showing people images, it was easy to get them to go along too for the day.

We went in June to make sure everything was green. Swingley Road was absolutely gorgeous. The mountain views were amazing. I have done the interstate route time and time again and it has become a bit boring. It was good to travel a new route and renew my appreciation of those mountains. We did the road both ways, both times it was different and amazing.
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Once we arrived at the bridge, we walked all over the place. There is a beautiful wood bride in place now to cross the river.
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View from wood bridge of water disappearing below ground.

We went on the trails, but then we ventured down into the canyon and got as close to the opening as we dared.
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From the far rim of the canyon.
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Climbing down was pretty fun, there are climbing routes set up too!
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We walked along the top of the canyon until we were cut off by private property.
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Of course we wondered down on the bridge itself.
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This is the side the water comes out, you can’t see much, but it’s still cool.

The bridge as it is now will end up with water flowing over it when the water is high enough. There used to be another section of bridge that collapsed that was the original land bridge. That would have been pretty cool to see. Even so, for just being a hole in the wall where water comes out, the natural bridge is still a sweet site to visit.

Butte [And the Montana Music Festival]

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Butte, Montana is an interesting place. In its glory days it was on par with New York and San Francisco and now it is home to one of the largest superfund sites. It has a crazy mining history and beautiful historic building district begging for someone to save it. Once a year it hosts the Montana Folk Festival.  My friend K and I had never been to Butte, but had been told time and time again we needed to visit it just once. So the weekend of the festival we packed a car and went on a little adventure.

We started with and underground tour of the historic uptown. We learned all kinds of interesting facts about Butte, here are a few that I remember weeks later:

  • it had electricity five years before New York
  • it  had over 100,000 people living there in the 1920’s and had the second largest red district in the US
  • It had an “underground city.”  Below street level was a second sidewalk with store fronts all along it. Most of these have been filled in sadly. You can see find areas of glass block in the existing sidewalk, it was used to get light down to the lower level.
  • the prison was open until the 1970’s where it was finally shut down by the Federal government and deemed a dungeon
  • There are hundreds of miles of mining tunnels under the city. This is an amazing graphic representation.

It was about an hour and a half tour that took us down to one of the old store fronts that first a shoe store and then a barber shop.
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We then went back above ground to the city’s first skyscraper and another building that was the sister hotel to New York’s Waldorf Hotel. My little brain was going crazy with all the detail and buildings that were there that were just empty and all the things you could do with those buildings if you had the population to support them again. It’s amazing.

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The Finlen Hotel, complete  with copper railing

Anyway, we continued to the jail, also below ground. It was in operation until the 1970’s and had many tripping features designed in to make sure no one going in came out unbruised. The stories of corrupt police made you cringe a bit as I was the tour guest picked to sit in the interrogation chair.  Hands and feet tied down, in the dark with an old salon hair dryer over your head (what was it for? not sure…) in a basement is no where I care to end up again.
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Metal beds below steam pipes
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Interrogation chair- photo by K

After the jail, we crossed the ally to a forgotten speak easy that was found in 2004. It had a door in the bathroom so that the city mayor and police chief could sneak out when the fed arrived. The flooring and walls were beautiful stone with a heavy wooden bar. I think K was probably ready to kill me with all my architecture talk and picture taking.UntitledUntitled Untitled Untitled Untitled

Our friend, Dusty, was heading through town and so we headed to a coffee shop to meet him called the Hummingbird. To be fair, we headed to said cafe because the yelp reviews said the food was good, but people kept complaining about the staff’s “hipster attitude.”  We needed to see what this meant in Butte terms and we are still unsure. Was it a place that would probably be more at home in Bozeman? A little hippy and alternative in style? Yes. It was delightful and delicious and the staff was perfectly pleasant. We enjoyed our lunch and returned the next day for coffee on our way out of town.

After this we went to check out the music. There were several stages set up all over uptown as well as vendors. We would stop at one, listen for a bit and head on to the next. The best stage was the main stage or “Original Stage” set up under a headframe near the top of the hill.
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Surrounding it were old mining buildings you could go in and see all the equipment that was used. Pretty cool.  I will say that the music was fine, but none of it really wowed us. This may be because none of us are super into folk music, but I was kind of excited for a Cajun band that was playing and they were not as energetic or as exciting as I expected. It was still fun to hang out on the hill side and watch all the different people.

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We are still not sure what Dusty is doing here.

K and I were staying the night, continuing our adventure the next day in another mining town. From the way people spoke of the festival, we didn’t think we would be able to get a camp site at the park near by, but we had no trouble at all. We could hear the last of the music drifting down the hill as we hung out in our tent and watched Our Lady of the Rockies light up. We wanted to hike up or drive up to it, but the only way is on a 3 hour bus tour. No thank you.
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That little light on the top of the hill is the statue. It’s the 3rd largest in the US and was lifted in place by helicopter in sections.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Cafe at Park & Main. We split a huge caramel roll while we waited for our egg dishes. All was delicious and we were able to sit outside, though the weather was not fully cooperating that morning.

We wanted to try and do the underground mining tour as well at the World Museum of Mining but the morning tour we could make was full. We went the the museum anyway.

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And once we were past the bizarre doll collection, we we fascinated by the replicated town and the Orphan Girl mining yard. There are thousand of artifacts all over and you can just walk pretty much where ever. They have installed a stair on the headframe so you can walk up the top and see the old elevator that brought the ore and miner up and down. It was another day of sensory overload for me, but I still want to go back and take the underground mine tour as well.

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The last thing we did before heading out of town was check out the Berkeley Pit.
Most of the mining in Butte was underground until the 1950’s. The Berkeley Pit was opened in 1955 and was in operation until the 1980’s. It is a huge hole in the earth, around one mile by a half mile wide and 1700 feet deep.  At that time they stopped pumping the water away from the pit and let it fill. This water is toxic due to all the heavy metals and chemicals that have leached out from the rock. It’s a massive superfund that will eventually reach the level of natural ground water and start to pump it’s toxic water into the ground water instead of vice versa. It’s amazing the kind of damage we can inflict on the earth that eventually comes back to harm us.
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Butte is a very interesting place. Although, if the festival had not been in full swing, I don’t think we would have hung out for as long as we did. You could easily do it as a day trip. It was a sensory overload for me both days though. Not sure I could do both the underground uptown tour and mining tour in one day. But I’m not normal, so most people would probably love it all in one go. I highly recommend stopping to check it out instead of blowing right past on the interstate if you have the time.