Bayou Teche: laissez les bon temps rouler

Boiled Crawfish, Janes’ Seafood

After our stay in Baton Rouge we decided to dive deep into Cajun Country. We chose to roughly follow the Bayou Teche south to tour South Central Louisianna Cajun Country. The Bayou Teche runs from Port Barre south for 125 miles before flowing into the Atchafalaya River.

Breaux bridge

Breaux Draw Bridge

Breaux Bridge is La Capitale Mondiale de l’Écrevisse (the crawfish capital of the world). The founding of Breaux Bridge dates back to 1771 when Acadian Firmin Breaux purchased land on both sides of the Bayou which he then connected with a footbridge. The Bayou Teche was the main means of travel in this part of Louisianna at that time. For more information on Bayou Teche: https://www.louisianatravel.com/paddle/trail/bayou-teche-paddling-trail-entire-bayou

Breaux was in Louisiana after being forcibly removed along with thousands of other Acadians as part of the Great Deportation. The British deported thousands of Acadians to Louisiana from the Canadian Maritimes and land which is now Maine. So, if you ever wondered how a portion of Louisianna is populated by a close-knit French speaking population – now you know. For more information on the Great Deportation: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-deportation-of-the-acadians-feature

While poking around Breaux Bridge we met a number of friendly locals. Chief of Police Rollie Cantu greeted us upon our arrival (he was directing traffic) and provided us with information about the town. Kenny Domingue aka the Handle Bar Healer, provided us with the history of the town (first the Spanish then the French inhabiting the area). Artist Robin Guidry, owner of the Pink Alligator Gallery, broke out the wine for us while we shopped (at 11:00AM) and Jacqueline Salser, owner of Chez Jacqueline provided us with all the local gossip and lots of laughs. Lastly, if you thought that after 250 years in Louisiana the Acadians would have stopped speaking Cajun French or lost their accents, you would be wrong.

St martinsville

Eglise Catholique, Saint Martin de Tours, Mother Church of the Acadians, Est. 1765

Many of the folks living in St Martinsville are the descendants of Beausoleil Broussard. Broussard was a leader of the Acadians that fought bravely against the British in Acadia (now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick). Once it became clear that the British would be victorious, he led a group of Acadians south to safety in the area that is now St. Martinsville. Broussard is revered in Acadian history as a hero in the fight against the British.

St. Martinsville has one of the most beautiful town squares we have seen – anchored by the Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church and the Presbytere. Interestingly, if you note in the sign below explaining the reason for the five flags hanging from the porch, the last government that is acknowledged is the Confederacy.

Today the economy of St. Martinsville is highly dependent on tourism (the town sponsors a half dozen festivals per year) while still keeping its agricultural roots with a sugar cane crop and crawfish farming. For more information about the history of St. Martinsville: http://www.stmartinville.org/ourhistory.html

New iberia – Avery island

Avery Island is home to world famous McIlhenny Tabasco Company. The company was founded in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny. McIlhenny was given pepper seeds which originated in either Mexico or South America. He planted the seeds and the rest is history!

The company is still family owned and managed 154 years later – which is quite unusual in an economy where larger corporations usually devour and homogenize unique brands and products. The ingredients and process are not secret but the family’s knowledge is not replicable.

The self-guided tour is fascinating, taking you through the various buildings where the peppers are ground and then mixed with salt to create the mash. (Avery Island is a salt dome and rock salt was mined there beginning in 1791, making it very accessible). The mash is then filtered to remove the skin and seeds, vinegar is added, and finally the sauce is put into white oak barrels for aging. The aging process can take up to three years – the process is quite similar to wine making. For more information: https://www.tabasco.com/tabasco-history/

Jungle Garden

Avery Island is also home to Jungle Gardens and the Bird City sanctuary. Edward Avery McIlhenny developed the gardens and sanctuary in 1895. At the time the Snowy Egret was an endangered species due to plume hunters attempting to meet the demand for feathers for women’s hats! Touring Jungle Gardens and visiting the Sanctuary is a nice follow up to the Tobasco Factory Tour. For more information: https://www.junglegardens.org/

From Avery Island we headed southwest to lands’ end at Cypremort Point which sits on Vermillion Bay. We then continued along the Bayou Teche to it’s terminus at Morgan City.

Cypremort Point
Tour’s End – Crossing the Atchafayla River

Cajun Cooking

Crawfish Cake, Cafe Jo Jo’s, Morgan City

We spent two full days slowly making our way south from Breaux Bridge to Morgan City. We had a great time exploring and meeting local folks in the towns and, of course, some dang good food.

Be seeing you!

ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0 Alabama Part One

OTR’s only previous experience in Alabama was a couple of days driving across the northern portion of the state in March of 2020 as we were returning home prematurely due to the impact of the pandemic. So we were excited to come back to Alabama and spend some additional time exploring.

Graces High Falls

Little river canyon national preserve (LRCNP)

As we were preparing to leave Chattanooga and looking at potential points of interest on our way to Birmingham, we discovered LRCNP. The LRCNP was a great find – it provides a scenic drive along the canyon rim and a number of hikes on top of the canyon as well as down into the canyon.

Hawks Glide Overlook

The Little River flows across the top of Lookout Mountain and has carved a canyon as deep as 600 feet along the way. A river flowing across a mountain top is unusual but has helped keep this area much as it has been for centuries. There is no development within the canyon. The drive to get to the mouth of the canyon is an eleven mile steep, winding and narrow affair which limits the number of visitors to the day use area.

Little River

If you find yourself in Northeastern Alabama for any reason the LRCNP is a terrific place to spend a day driving the rim and taking a hike. https://www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm

Birmingham

We were interested in visiting Birmingham to better understand the history of this city that was so critical to the advancement of civil rights in America. However, our first stop in Birmingham was a visit to the city’s botanical garden.

We knew the gardens would not be at peak this early in the season but the grounds were still beautiful and provided us with a peaceful afternoon walking the paths.

Sloss furnaces

The following morning we commenced our tour (after fika at Seeds Coffee) of the city. We started at the Sloss Furnaces. The Furnaces is a historic landmark which both represents the industrial might that made Birmingham so prosperous and the racism that made Birmingham so notorius.

Sloss Furnaces

Birmingham is known as the Magic City due to its rapid growth and prosperity. Birmingham was just farmland until the mid 1800’s when it was discovered that the three items needed to make steel – iron ore, limestone and coal were all abundant in the area. Combined with the arrival of the railroad, the path forward was set.

The Sloss Furnaces operated from 1872 until 1970, helping to make Birmingham a prosperous city with culture and arts for the white residents. Black workers made up 70% of the workforce but provided 100% of the back-breaking labor in the mines and the furnaces. All managerial positions were held by white workers. The city was not so magical for African-Americans who were paid low wages for working in intolerable and unsafe conditions. To make the situation even more obscene the companies utilized “convict labor” in the coal mines and paid their wages to the city. Ninety percent of the convict laborers were blacks and many were falsly arrested on vagrancy charges, jailed and then leased to the city. This practice continued until 1928 – that’s right – 1928. So much for emancipation.

The workers at Sloss as well as the other furnaces were strictly segregatedBlack workers had separate showers, time clocks and entrances. The segregated workplace was not abolished until the 1960’s when the civil rights movement forced the company to abolish the policy.

The Sloss Furnaces as a physical artifact of our history are a superlative piece of history showcasing the rapid and impressive technological advances of the United States. It is an outdoor museum like few others and we think it merits a visithttps://www.slossfurnaces.com/

Birmingham civil rights institute

Martin Luther King, Jr – Birminghan Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institue (BCRI) was opened to the public in 1992. The BCRI is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. In addition to serving as a museum chronicling the civil rights movement in Birmingham, it functions as a research and educational organization .

BCRI

The museum staff has laid out the story of the civil rights movement in a compelling and dramatic fashion. There are many significant artifacts on display but it is the videos, photographs and recordings of the actual events that give life to the history. We found ourselves struggling emotionally a number of times as we watched and listened to the events that demonstrated the cruelty of the segregationists and courage of people fighting for equality in the face of jail, physical harm or even death.

16th street baptist church

16th Street Baptist Church

The 16th Street Baptist Church is across the street from the BCRI. We took a tour of this church that figured so prominently in the fight to end segregation in Birmingham. This church was a central rallying point for the protests that took place in Birmingham.

As a result, white segregationists targeted the church and on Sunday, September 15, 1963, segregationists placed dynamite under the steps on the side of the church. The explosion killed four young girls and seriously injured another young girl.

The 16th Street Baptist Church is still an active and robust parish. The tour of the church is conducted by members of the parish. They are knowledgable and engaging. Several of the elder tour guides were parishioners at the time of the bombing. If you are visiting the BCRI most definitely walk across the street for a tour at the church.https://www.nps.gov/articles/16thstreetbaptist.htm

Fika with fiona: Best of birmingham: Seeds coffee

Seeds Coffee: https://seedscoffee.com/about/

We will be publishing a second post covering the remainder of the Alabama portion of OTR 8.0 in the near future.

Be seeing you!

OTR 8.0: Virginia (but first, Maryland)

Headwaters Presbyterian Church, 1890, Headwaters, VA (pop. 113)

Cumberland, Maryland

Savage Mountain, GAP

With a cool but dry forecast in front of us we decided to delay our arrival in Virginia and head to Cumberland for a couple of days to take advantage of the forecast and do some cycling. Cumberland is the terminus for two exceptional bike trails. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland providing 150 miles of cycling. The trail roughly follows the course of three rivers from west to east: the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny River and the Casselman River.

The C&O trail begins in Washington DC and follows the C&O Canal for 185 miles to its terminus in Cumberland. Based on a recommendation from some local bicyclists we rode west on the GAP. While the GAP has a better surface than the C&O, riding west is all uphill out of Cumberland. Of course the ride back takes about half as much time.

The scenery along the trail is spectacular as the trail ascends into the Laurel Highlands of Virginia. We definitely plan on going back in the future to ride additional sections of the trail.

Skyline drive

Skyline Drive sits within Shenandoah National Park (SNP). The road winds its way (north/south) along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. Skyline is the only through road in the entire park. Additionally, you can only enter or exit Skyline Drive in four places. We accessed the road at the Northern entrance in Front Royal.

Driving South – Skyline Drive

While the highest elevation on the road is 3680 FASL the views are none the less spectacular. You are witness to broad green valleys reaching across to more ridgeline, and are able to view the Shenandoah River meandering through the valley to the west.

We had hoped to camp overnight at Great Meadows, which sits approximately 51 miles south of the northern entrance at Front Royal. We would then complete the remainder of the drive the following day. We also planned on hiking from the Great Meadows that afternoon. Alas, the campground was gated and we were unable to camp on the ridge.

We also had planned to hike to Lewis Fall from the campground. We still wanted to hike so we pushed on to a trailhead about five miles further south based on a recommendation from a park rangers.

The Rose River Trail is a loop trail that descends from a trailhead at Fishers Gap. The Rose River is just 8.8 miles in length but flows down from one of the highest points on the Blue Ridge until it converges with the Robinson River.

After descending to the valley floor,the climb back up to the trailhead was steep and a bit arduous as you regain the 1000 feet of elevation lost on the way down. The sights and sounds of the multiple waterfalls and cascades that are your constant companions on this hike more than compensate for the effort.

Highland County

After finishing the hike we made our way south completing the drive and heading west to stay in Staunton (pronounced Stanton). We had stopped in Staunton in March, 2020 on our way back to Connecticut after the pandemic cut short that trip – looking for coffee and food. We found an excellent coffee shop and roaster (Crucible Coffee) and an excellent restaurant (Table 44) that were both still operating. We have fond memories of our stop in Staunton as we had limited option in March 2020 – the excellent news is that our memories had not failed us and we again had a great dinner and excellent coffee and tea before heading west to Highland County.

The trip west to Highland is a spectacular ride on Route 250. The road is a twisting up and down affair as you climb up and over the crest of Shenandoah Mountain.

Hankey Mountain Highway -Route 250

Highland County is the least populated county in Virginia. While the county is 416 square miles the population is a mere 2200 people. The economy is dominated by agriculture – mostly in the form of beef cattle as the mountainous terrain and narrow valleys are not conducive to growing crops at scale.

Eastern Continental Divide, Allegheny Mountains

The Western border of the county is formed by the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains (see photo above of Allegheny Mountains as viewed of Shenandoah Mountain). The Allegenies at the western edge of the county also form the border with West Virginia. There are just three communites in the county; McDowell, Montery and Blue Grass. You may find other places designated on maps but they are just remnants of towns.

Beulah Presbyterian Church

We are drawn, as you know, to more remote locations to enjoy nature and solitude but must confess that part of our motive for this segment of OTR 8.0 was the Annual Highland County Maple Festival. The Maple Festival has been taking place for two weekends in March for the last 52 years.

Maple Dounts

What can we say – donuts, pancakes, pretzels, etc. – all made fresh by local residents with pure maple syrup from Highland County. The money supports local churches, civic organizations and businesses. More importantly it is all gosh darn delicious and the people are happy you made the trip up to ”Little Switzerland” from down in the Eastern lowlands!

The Curly Maple, Monterey, Virginia (pop. 130)
Blue Grass Mercantile, Blue Grass Virginia (pop. 144)
Episcopal Church of The Good Shepard, Blue Grass, Virginia

We enjoyed touring the valleys of Highland County and chatting with some of the local folks we met in the towns (even if one of them called us Yankees!) but we knew it was time to move on when we awoke to snow and howling winds.

Be seeing you!

P.S. As you may have noticed if you follow our blog on a regular basis our posts are not published on a strictly chronological basis.

fine art tourist: oklahoma city —- national cowboy & western heritage museum (ncwhm)

CAUGHT IN THE CIRCLE, 1903 —- Charles Marion Russell

The NCWHM was founded in 1955 as the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum with a focus on honoring the cowboy. Today the museum is a smorgasbord of history, culture and fine art. The museum has over 200,000 square feet of display space with twelve galleries including a replica of a western frontier town and a significant collection of firearms in addition to cowboy and Native American art and artifacts. https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/all-galleries/

This post will focus on three painters whose works are in the museum collection, and are well known for their depiction of western life and Native Americans.

Federic Sackrider Remington (1861 – 1909) is undoubtedly one of the most widely recognized artists of the Old American West. As with many of his compatriots, Remington was an Easterner sent to the West to create illustrations for books and magazines which were focused on the romantized West of cowboys and indians.

PONIES PAWING IN THE SNOW, 1888 — Frederic Sackrider Remington

Unlike many of his fellow artists, he lived in the West for a period of time, owning a ranch and a saloon at different times (neither of which was successful). Remington’s start as a professional artist was actually the bartering of drawings to pay some of his debtors during the period of time he owned the saloon.

RAY’S TROOP, c. 1903 — Frederic Sackrider Remington

While he had very little formal art training, Remington became highly proficient at drawing cowboys, indians and cavalry officers (who paid him handsomely for portraits in uniform). He was quoted as saying “Cowboys are cash with me”.

The
THE HUNTERS’ SUPPER, 1909 — Frederic Sackrider Remington

Remington became quite successful financially, moving back East and taking up residence in a large mansion he had built for his family. Unfortunately for him, he adopted an oppulent life style and essentially ate and drank his way to an early death due to complications from his immense size.

THE CHARGE ON THE SUN- POLE, c. 1890 — Frederic Sackrider Remington
IN FROM THE NIGHT HERD, 1907 — Frederic Sackrider Remington

Charles Marion Russell (1864 – 1926was born in Saint Louis, but from an early age was enamored of the West; by the age of 16 had left home to work as a ranch hand in Montana. He made Montana his home for the rest of his life, marrying Nancy Cooper and building a home in Great Falls.

WHEN TRAILS WERE DIM, 1919 — Charles Marion Russsell

Russell had no formal art training. He drew scenes from his life on the ranch as a way to record his experiences. “Between the pen and the brush there is little difference but I believe the man that makes word pictures is the greater.” —- Charles Marion Russell

WHEN MULES WEAR DIAMONDS, 1921 — Charles Marion Russell

Russell’s wife was influential in marketing his sketches, painting and drawings – as his work became popular he devoted himself full time to his artistic endeavors. By that time, he had spent eleven years ranching and had even lived for a time with a Native American tribe. His first hand knowledge of the West provided him with the ability to portray the West in a manner that other artists could not achieve. It is no wonder that Charlie (as he was known by his friends) is considered America’s true Cowboy Artist.

THE CALL OF THE LAW, 1911 — Charles Marion Russell

Russell is considered by many to be an early conservationist. ”A pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water, cut down the trees, killed the Indian who owned the land and called it progress.” —- Charles Marion Russell

As an acknowledgement of his recognition of the need to preserve the environment, a 1.1 million acre national wildlife refuge stretching along a remote portion of the Missouri River in Montana bears his name. We visited the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge during the summmer of 2021 as part of OTR 6.0 ( see post – Montana Prairie…Sun, Heat, Wind and Beauty). The land within the refuge is much the same as it was during Russell’s lifetime. See photographs below. https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Charles_M_Russell/about.html

Russell had great respect and admiration for the Native Americans of the Plains and their way of life. Of the 4000 works that he completed during his career, 1700 featured Native Americans as the subject of the work.

THE SIGNAL GLASS, 1916Charles Marion Russell

“The Red man was the true American. They have almost all gone, but will never be forgotten. The history of how they fought for their country is written in blood, a stain that time cannot grind out. Their God was the Sun, their church all out doors. Their only book was nature and they knew all the pages.” —- Charles M.Russell

BEFORE THE WHITE MAN CAME, 1897 — Charles Marion Russell

Walter Ufer (1876-1936) was born in Germany in 1876, although he spent most of his youth in Louisville, Kentucky where there was a sizable German immigrant population. Unlike Remington and Russell, Ufer was a trained painter, having returned to Germany to study at the Royal Academy in Dresden. He returned to the United States and began work as a Commercial Artist before returning again to Germany to study in Munich.

In 1914, the mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison and his business partner, Oscar Meyer (yes, that Oscar Meyer), both admirers of Ufer’s work, helped finance a visit to Taos to provide Ufer with new environment to continue his development as an artist (and, of course, sell his paintings back in chicago).

JIM AND HIS DAUGHTER, c. 1925Walter Ufer

The brilliant light, landscapes and Native American culture of New Mexico captivated Ufer. Ufer very quickly abandoned working in the studio and began working outdoors in order to capture the brilliant light of the southwest and the daily activites of Native Americans and Hispanos.

AT REST, 1926 — Walter Ufer

Ufer’s depictions of the Taos Pueblo Indians were rarely romanticized. He was a committed socialist and soon came to believe that the Euro-American settlers were largely responsible for the destruction of Native American culture and identity that had occurred in America.

“The Indian has lost his race pride, he wants only to be an American. Our civilization has terrific power. We don’t feel it, but that man out there in the mountains feels it, and he cannot cope with such pressure.” —- Walter Ufer

SLEEP, 1923 — Walter Ufer

Ufer realized both critical and commercial success from his depictions of Native Americans and the southwestern landscape. The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression were diasterous for Ufer. The public fascination with art depicting Indians and the West diminished significantly as the financial crisis deepened and endured.

Sadly, as the sale of his work evaporated and his financial burdens mounted he turned to alcohol. He died in 1936 at the age of 60 as the result of a ruptured appendix.

At one time, the images of the West that were shared via the work of these three artists and others were viewed as illustrative of how the white man won the West and conquered the savage tribes of Indians. The winning of the West was considered a noble and necessary precursor to American greatness – our Manifest Destiny.

None other than Theodore Roosevelt said it is  “our manifest destiny to swallow up the land of all adjoining nations who were too weak to withstand us.” Many of the Western artists were, as such, unwitting propagandists for the conquering of the West through their depiction of Native Americans as savages who murdered innocent white settlers. Today it is commonly acknowledged that Native Americans were in fact fighting to remain on their sacred lands and maintain their way of life.

This post is not about villifying the featured artists – they painted the West as they saw and experienced it. Both Russell and Ufer were sympathetic to the plight of the Native American and Hispano peoples. Neither is the post meant to be critical of the museum – the NCWHM is a wonderful museum and we highly recommend a visit when your travels take you to Oklahoma City.

This is the final post from OTR 7.0. We will back on the road in early March. Be seeing you!

Ctsprinterlife: Mammoth cave national park

The cave

Mammoth Cave, located in southwestern Kentucky, was officially designated as a national park in 1941. The park is approximately 53,000 acres (small by national park standards); its main focus is the cave system which lies under the surface.

Mam Cave, as it is called locally, is the longest cave known to exist in the world at just under 400 miles. The 400 miles of cavern are not linear, but exist on six levels which crisscross and extend out in multiple directions, fitting inside a seven square mile area under the park.

We took a ranger led tour during our visit, venturing down 250 feet below the surface and then through a series of rooms as we gradually climbed back towards the surface to exit the mine.

The park offers a wide range of tours differing in time and the level of physical activity required to complete the tour. We took the Domes and Drips Tour where you are brought through some of the largest domes in the cave system and also to a wetter area where stalactites and stalagmites are still forming.

The lower two levels of the cave are underground rivers – with water draining down from the Green River and the numerous sinkholes in and around the park. In the past visitors could tour the lower cavern by boat but the practice was stopped to protect the environment.

Auto tour

Green River Ferry

A brief History of mam cave

As we mentioned above, Mam Cave became a national park in 1941. What we did not realize until we visited the park and spent time touring the scenic backways of the park was how the park came into being.

Road to Good Spring

The caves were originally mined for saltpeter which was used in the making of ammunition.The caves in the area were privately held and operated by the owners as tourist attractions from the early 1800s until the park became a national park.

Good Spring Baptist Church

There were many people in government, science and business who, for various reasons, wanted to see Mam Cave designated as a national park and thus be protected. The federal government would not buy land for the creation of a national park but would accept donated land for that purpose. As a result, a private organization was formed for the purpose of buying the privately owned land and donating the land to the federal government.

Over a period of several years the required amount of land was purchased (in some cases through eminent domain). There was also a land donation of 8,000 acres made by a single family.

The photographs above and below show the only remaining structures from three of the communities (Good Springs, Flint Ridge, Joppa Ridge) that ceased to exist as the residents moved to other towns outside of the park boundary. Some of the families and their descendants lived in theses communities for 200 years before they were displaced.

The park service has preserved these churches and the adjacent graveyards, providing a peak into life in early rural America. All other structures from these communities were razed when the National Park was established.

The families of the descendants are still able to use the churches for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. The cemetaries bear witness to this use as we observed newer monuments in each of the graveyards.

Conclusion

We enjoyed our two days at Mam Cave. The cave tour was well organized and interesting. We would have to say that from a persective of the cave only that Carlsbad (New Mexico) and Wind Cave (South Dakota) are more dramatic from a visual perspective.

Having said that, Mam Cave offers a number of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as a paved bike path. Additionally, the Green River which flows through the park provides the opportunity for kayaking and canoeing.

If you are a national park fan and have not yet visited, we recommend that you include Mam Cave in an upcoming park itinerary.

Be seeing you.

The high road to taos – scenic byway

The High Road to Taos is a scenic drive that connects Taos and Santa Fe. We drove a portion of the route while staying in Taos. Leaving from Taos heading south, the first 30 miles take you on a winding route up and over mountains within the Carson National Forest. The scenery as you might imagine is quite spectacular.

While the views are impressive we found the cultural aspects of the trip even more impressive. The villages, architecture, churches and food reflect the Old Spain of the early Spanish settlements.

Each of the small villages has a Spanish style church – many have been continuosly operating for over two hundred years. We traveled through the villages of Penasco, Chamisal, Trampas, Truchas, Cordova and Chimayo. These villages still maintain the wood carving and weaving expertise and traditions that came from Spain with the first settlers.

SANTUARIO DE Chimayo

We followed the byway as far as Chimayo where we stopped to visit El Santuario de Chimayo. The intial construction took place in 1813. Long before the Spanish arrived Pueblo Indians considered this ground as sacred with healing powers.

The Catholic Church carried forward the belief that the earth under what is now the Plaza del Cerro is sacred and has miraculous healing powers. As a result, the Santuario is a major pilgimage site drawing over 300,000 visitors annually.

The Santuario is considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the southwest. The evidence of the woodworking skills of the Spanish settlers is on display throughout the plaza – from the carved figures to the beautiful doors. The plaza is the sole remaining Spanish fortified plaza in New Mexico.

Arthur LowLow Meidna’s Low Low Ride Museum, Chimayo, New Mexico

Ranchero de chimayo

Any worthwhile pilgramage deserves to be rewarded with an excellent meal. Fortunately, while the total population of the small plazas that constitue Chimayo is only 3200 people, one of the best New Mexican cuisine restaurants is located here.

In fact, the Ranchero has been serving food here for 50 years to locals and travelers alike. Interestingly, for our fellow Nutmeggers, the owner, Florence Jaramillo was born in Hartford, Conneticut. Florence moved to Chimayo after marrying Arturo Jaramillo, who was a native of Chimayo. The site of the restaurant is Arturo’s ancestral home.

Espanola

We returned home via Espanola and the River Road (runs along the Rio Grande River).

The Espanola Chamber of Commerce and the McCune Foundation are sponsoring youth mural projects and we stopped in town to see some of the murals. We are glad that we did – as you can see from the photographs these are, without exception, excellent murals.

El Sembrador – Victor Joseph Villalpando

Be seeing you.

Butte…..the Big Hole

We spent two hot days in Butte as we traveled south from the Sweet Grass Hills. Butte is a town we wanted to visit more from a historical perspective than because of its beautiful scenery or recreational opportunities.

Headframe, Orphan Girl Mine, Butte

Butte’s origins are exclusively related to the mining of silver and copper. The land area that is now Butte was nothing more than a scattering of mining camps on “the hill”. Of course, once silver and copper was discovered in 1870 the boom was underway.

The town grew exponentially for a number of years until a fire in 1879 leveled the town. The town was quickly rebuilt using only stone and brick which is why so much of the Uptown Butte (downtown) area remains intact today.

All of the photos above are from the Orphan Girl mine. We toured the mine and were able to walk down (with a guide) to tunnels about 150 feet under the surface. The mine ultimately operated at 3000 feet under the surface.

The mine operated from 1875 until 1950 and produced 7.6 million ounces of silver as well as lead and zinc. In 1965 the mine was repurposed as a mining museum and opened to the public for tours. The mine is also utilized by students at the Monatana Technical University School of Mines and Engineering as a hands on laboratory for their Mining Engineering students. The campus sits adjacent to the Orphan Girl site and the school has its own entrance into the mine from within the campus.

While the Orphan Girl produced primarily silver, it was copper that drove the growth and prosperity of Butte. The introduction of electricity on a widespread basis created an insatiable demand for copper wiring. World War 1 added to the demand as military rifle ammunition used copper jackets.

Mine Elevator

Butte, unlike many other mining towns, continued to prosper well into the 20th century owing to the massive deposit of copper and the demand for copper for use in modern electronics. Over time the various copper mines were purchased and operated by the Anaconda Mining Company.

In the aftermath of all of the acquisitions, Anaconda sought to reduce expenses through the 1930s and 1940s which led inevitably to labor disputes and costly strikes. Ultimately, during the 1950s the company responded by beginning to strip mine for the copper.

Berkley Pit

All of silver and copper in and around Butte had been conducted as underground hard rock tunnel mining until 1952. The area around the mines were dotted with neighborhoods and small towns. The strip mining completely destroyed the area as people and businesses were forced to relocate. The photos above and below are of the flooded portion of the Berkely Pit.

The strip mining continued until 1982 by which time the pit was 7000 feet long, 5600 feet wide and 1600 feet deep. Two entire towns, Meaderville and McQueen as well as much of the east end of Butte were ultimately consumed by the pit.

When the mine ceased operations, the water pumps were shut down and the pit began to fill with heavily acidic water, resulting in the leaching of heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the water in the pit. The water level is currently at 900 feet.

Not surprisingly, the pit was declared a superfund site and is the largest such site in the United States. The site has been remediated and a water filtration plant is in operation to remove the metals and toxic chemicals that continue to leach from the sides of the pit.

The land adjacent to the Berkely Pit is still rich with copper – yes – strip mining for copper resumed in 1982 right next to the Berkely Pit. Let’s hope the environmental regulators have stayed on top of things with this mine.

P.S. We took the photos of the Berkely Pit from the viewing stand on top of the pit. Just three dollars per person to see the largest superfund site in America in person – yep, the pit is a tourist attraction – exit through the gift shop!

Berkely Pit, 1972, Courtesy Montana Standard

Mining is the reason for Butte and is still a major part of the local economy. The Berkley Pit will always be there as an ugly reminder of the decision to switch from tunnel mining to strip mining in order to lower labor costs. In the end, labor costs were minor in comparison to the initial cost of remediating the pit and associated ongoing costs.

Butte certainly has a colorful history as a mining town and a tough legacy as the location of the largest superfund site in America. A lesser claim to fame is that the longest continuosly running brothel in America was located in Butte, closing – you guessed it – in 1982 when the Berkely Pit shut down.

There is beautiful country and plenty of recreational opportunities all around Butte. Butte proper is not an attractive city but worth a quick visit if you have an interest in seeing and better understanding local history and the impact of large scale mining.

Be seeing you!

Southwest Montana

Pioneer mountains scenic byway

Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway
Wise River

The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is a spectacular drive. The route follows a paved road from Wise, Montana to its end near Dillon, Montana. The Pioneer Mountains have an eastern and western range. The drive winds through the meadows between the ranges providing incredible views all around. Interestingly, the two ranges are very different in appearance. The eastern range has tall, jagged peaks (think Grand Tetons) while the western range is more rounded. These are big mountains with several peaks above 11,000 feet.

We were not familiar with this range before a gentlemen in Shelby told us about this drive – thank you! This is one of the biggest ranges we had never heard of before. The range is within national forest – largely unspoiled – just mountains, forests, meadows and the the byway bisecting the range.

About 25 miles along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway we came to a five mile dirt road that climbs up to the site of the ghost town of Coolidge and the defunct Elkhorn Mine and Mills. The road is fine for 2wd vehicles if it is dry.

Photo Courtesy of Western Mining History

The former mine and town sit at an elevation of 6601 feet. The mine produced zinc, lead and silver from 1875 until it was decommissioned in 1899 when the ore load was considered to be played out. The Elkhorn was the last mine in Montana to produce silver.

Work to reopen the mine under new ownership began in 1918. The tunneling work brought people back to Coolidge and a school and post office were established. The town even had electricity – no small feat at that time in such a remote location. Unforunately, by the time the tunneling was completed and the mine was actually ready to begin producing in 1923, silver prices plummeted and the mine went bust.

Subsequently, a dam collapse wiped out several sections of rail line and the town lost rail service marking the beginning of the end. The school and post office closed soon after.

The remains of the town are mostly collapsed at this point – not much to explore in that regard, but we think it is worth the visit – the scenery from the mine site is gorgeous and you walk away with a real sense of the what conditions must have been like when the mine and town were operating.

Bannack….Gold rush

Bannack School House and Masonic Lodge

After completing our drive on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Highway we continued south through the Grasshopper Valley to visit the ghost town of Bannack. The town sits on the bank of Grasshopper Creek and was founded in 1862 after gold was found in the creek. The town is named after the Bannock Indians that inhabited this area at that time – the spelling with an a instead of an o was the result of a clerical error in Washington.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition first documented the creek in 1805 and named it Willard Creek. When the population swelled in 1862 after the discovery of gold, the miners renamed it Grasshopper Creek due to the abundance of grasshoppers in the area.

Bannack Methodist Church, 1877

In addition to the influx of miners (many from Colorado) prospecting for gold, the town became a haven for Civil War deserters and outlaws (in part due to its remote location). Within a year there were approximately 3000 people inhabiting Bannack. Almost all of the inhabitants were men. The handfull of women in town were mostly “saloon girls” who worked in one of the four saloons.

Saloon and Barbershop

As the population continued to swell (10,000 people at its height), the outlaws took full advantage of the opportunity to relieve miners of their gold. Miners frequently went back and forth between Bannack and the mining camp at Virginia City. By this point the outlaws had organized into several large gangs and routinely robbed and in some cases murdered the miners.

The town hired a sheriff (Henry Plummer) to stop the violence but he turned out to be the leader of the largest and most violent of the gangs. Dang!

As this fact became well known, folks of Bannack and Montana decided to take matters into their own hands, forming the Montana Vigilence Committee. Between December 1863 and February 1864, 24 men suspected of crimes were lynched by the Vigilantes. There were no trials! One of the most notable of the men hanged was Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was suspected of being a gang leader. Montana State Police still wear a shoulder patch with the numbers 3-7-77. The numbers supposedly represent the dimensions of the graves of ths suspected outlaws killed by the vigilantes. Three feet wide, seven feet long and 77 inches deep…and now you know.

As with many gold rush towns, the bust comes just as quickly as the boom. By 1870, the easy gold was dredged out of the creek and the population began to quickly decline. Bannack’s population dropped from almost 10,000 to just a few hundred by 1870, only eight years after its founding.

The town carried on until the 1940s due to several small gold booms, but they were not enough to sustain the town. The majority of the remaining population moved on during the 1930s and by the 1940s the one room schoolhouse and the post office closed. The town was effectively non-existent, although a small number of residents hung on into the 1970s.

Today Bannack is managed by the state of Monatana as part of Bannack State Park. The state has done an excellent job preserving the remaining structures as they were but is not restoring the buildings

The history of this short lived town is deep and fascinating. The town physically has over 60 structures remaining – the majority are open for exploration.

If you enjoy western history, Bannack is a fun and interesting place to visit. The Grasshopper Valley is beautiful but remote, so give thought with combining a visit to Bannack with other destinations in southwestern Montana and perhaps Idaho.

Darby rodeo

Bull Riding

Friday night rodeo is a weekly event during the summer in many ranching towns in the west. Kids begin competing at age six. Most high schools have rodeo teams and there is a collegiate circuit as well. Towns take great pride in their rodeo stadium.

The video below is of Cole Trexler, age 18, Montana high school all-around rodeo state champion. Cole will be riding at the collegiate level this fall. His brother Cash, 14, is also a budding rodeo star. He is the high school state champion bull rider. We met Cash and his mom. She told us that Cash “sat” his first horse at age three!

Cole Trexler, Covering on his Bronc

The Senior Professional Rodeo Association was in Darby for the weekend while were camping up the road a piece in Victor. On a gorgeous Friday evening we enjoyed watching the cowboys and cowgirls compete in bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping and barrel racing (cowgirls only). The senior circuit is for cowboys and cowgirls forty and over.

The local rodeo is a big deal. The whole town turns out to support the riders. It is also deeply imbued with patriotic and christian themes. The opening ceremony includes prayers for the safety of the riders as well as the servicemen and servicewomen who protect our freedom. The prayers are also for our political leadership – that they make the hard decisions necessary to protect our way of life.

Bitteroot valley

Bitteroot Mountains

The photos below were taken at the Little Smith Creek Ranch where we camped for several nights. We were the only campers at the ranch during our stay. To say that the setting was idylic is an understatement. The ranch is located at the base of the Bitteroot Mountains on the western edge of the valley and our view to the east extended across the valley to the Sapphire Mountains. Plenty of deer wandering by as well. Wow!

Biking and hiking Bitteroot

Kootenai Creek

The Little Smith Creek Ranch, while remote with spectacular scenery, is only minutes from a good number of spectacular hikes into the Bitteroot.

The photos above and below are from our favorite hike. The Kootenai Creek Trail follows a fast flowing creek with waterfalls and pools up to the North Kootenai Lake – a distance of about ten miles to reach the lake, and no – we did not make it all the way to the lake!

Soothing Sound of Rushing Water, Kootenai Creek, Bitteroot Mountains

Clark fork of the columbia river

The Clark Fork of the Columbia River is a 310 mile long river originating as the Silver Bow Creek in Butte. It carries water from a substantial portion of the Rocky Mountains into the Columbia River Basin, which makes the river an excellent choice for white water rafting.

We ran a number of rapids which were mostly class 3. Early spring produces the biggest rapids -class 5- due to snow melt while by August most of the rapids are class 1 or 2 due to the reduced flow of water.

I am not sure if it was due to our senior citizen status or not but we had three guides on our raft! Regardless, were glad to have the two additional paddlers when we went into the bigger rapids.

Fika and art: Missoula style

After our stay in the beautiful Bitteroot Valley we drove north to Missoula. We had hoped to do some more bicycling in addition to river rafting but the heat was too much for us to manage the cycling side of the equation.

We did stay for a couple of days and spent some time at two local coffee shops and visited the interesting (but small) Missoula Art Museum (MAM).

Southwestern montana…hidden gem

Southwestern Montana did not originally factor into our initial planning but after conversations with several Montanans we decided to vector to the region and we are pleased that we did. The southwest corner of Montana is well known to fishing and hunting aficionados, but it’s not found on the standard tourist itinerary.

We had a piece of the planet to ourselves (well, at least regarding other humans) for stretches of time as we drove through the Pioneer Mountains and the pristine Grasshopper Valley. We will definitely return to the area for a more extended stay in the future – lots of hiking, ghost towns and backroads to be explored and dispersed camping under the dark sky.

Be seeing you!