This is the sixth post about our family's 2021 travels to Idaho and Montana. I suggest starting with the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts about this trip. Because I blog about educational travel, I received admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and similar benefits from some locations. Other attractions are free to everyone, and I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything that I share is something that I fully recommend.
Family Fun in Butte, Montana
Butte can be summed up in one word: Mining.
Everything about the town relates in some way to mining. Everything. Take, for example, the fabulous Stodden Park. All of the playground equipment is mining-themed.
Growing up, I knew that my family had a connection to the early mining in Butte, but it wasn't until recently that I learned anything about that history. My great-great-grandfather, George Farlin, and his brothers William and Joseph, were among the earliest miners in Butte. William arrived first, then George and Joseph followed. They established several mines, including the Emma Mine, named after George's wife, my great-great-grandmother. Here is Trevor at the grave of his great-great-great-grandfather George at the Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Butte.
All sources agree that, after the Farlin brothers' initial success, William A. Clark, the "Copper King," foreclosed on their mines. What is unclear is whether or not that was a shady, underhanded move by a man famous for cheating at everything he did. Clark was a very ambitious man, who stopped at nothing to get his way. His dream of serving as a US Senator erupted in scandal in 1899 when it was revealed he'd bribed members of the State Legislature for their votes claiming, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale." The Senate refused to seat Clark. The corruption lead to the passing of the 17th Amendment, which established the direct election of US Senators. Clark's second campaign for the Senate was successful and he served one term from 1901-1907. In 1907, Mark Twain wrote that:
"[Clark] is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time."
Suffice it to say that family lore agrees with Mark Twain. As my mom put it, "Clark was a bad word in our family."
After paying our respects at the cemetery, we headed to Montana Tech (mascot - Charlie Oredigger) to tour their Mineral Museum.
The Mineral Museum boasts the "finest examples of rock and mineral occurrences from Montana, the world, and even outer space ... on display for the general public to examine and enjoy at no cost." The museum started as a teaching collection and has grown to over 13,000 specimens, of which over a thousand are on display. There are also exhibits about the geology and mining history of Montana.
My favorite part of the museum was the "Ultraviolet Illumination" display.
See that Montana design at the top right? Here's how it looks under regular light vs. ultraviolet light.
Outside the museum, we paused at an overlook. That's the Diggers' stadium to the right. Note the headframe holding the scoreboard. If you look just above it in the distance, you'll see another headframe. That was our next destination...
... the World Museum of Mining.
The museum sits on the Orphan Girl Mine and is one of the few museums in the world located on an actual mine yard. There are two main features to the museum: the streets of Hell Roarin' Gulch and the depths of the Orphan Girl Mine. We didn't have time to do the 1.5 hour underground tour and still see everything in Butte that was on our list, so we opted to focus on the recreated town first, then the above-ground portions of the Orphan Girl.
The museum's southwestern boundary is at Enda the Road.
There is a lot to see.
I'm pleased to report that we were in no danger, despite numerous signs to the contrary.
We learned a lot during our visit to the World Museum of Mining, but we had to rush out sooner than I would have liked. We only had a short time to grab lunch before our next appointment, and there was no way I was missing the food for which Butte is most well-known. Any guesses what we ate? Here's a hint. Everything in Butte has something to do with mining.
That, if you don't recognize it, is a Cornish pasty, the hand-held meal of choice for miners in Cornwall who brought it to Butte. We are big fans of pasties, but it's been awhile since we'd had one. The last time was in London in 2019.
I'd asked a bunch of locals for the best place to get pasties in Butte and the unanimous answer was Joe's Pasty Shop. They didn't steer us wrong! We split two delicious pasties before rushing off. We had a trolley to catch!
The Butte Trolley Tour took us on a 2-hour adventure through Butte. We heard more about that scoundrel Clark as we cruised the streets to see the many sites within the National Historic Landmark District.
We also made a stop at the Berkeley Pit, an open-pit copper mine operated until 1982, and now one of the largest Superfund sites. It was depressing.
After the trolley, we went to the Piccadilly Transportation Memorabilia Museum.
It houses a huge collection of transportation-related items.
While there was a lot of super interesting stuff to see, there was almost no information about what we were seeing. Typically, a museum has an educational component to it that I really miss when it isn't there. This is less of a museum and more of a large set of curated displays.
Here are some of Montana's earliest license plates.
I challenged Trevor to a race to be the first to find our respective age on a sign. He won.
As noted on numerous signs, the restrooms were indeed clean.
Another note: While Trevor and I enjoyed our visit, Steve had to step outside after about 5 minutes because the gasoline smell bothered him significantly. He's not normally very sensitive to smells, but this really bothered him.
Our final destination in Butte was the former site of the Emma Mine. Emma Park sits directly across from the mine. Right now it's just grass with a gazebo, but my uncle is looking into donating something that tells the story of our Farlin ancestors.
We said goodbye to Montana and drove 231 miles to the tiny town of Arco, Idaho. Originally named Root Hog, Arco is famous for being the first city in the world lit by atomic power (1955). But that wasn't why we were there. We were there to see a place that had been on Steve's bucket list for years.
But that was for the morning. That evening's order of business was to find dinner, after we checked in to our accommodations, a cozy cabin at the Arco KOA.
I've never stayed at a KOA, but it ended up being a good option for us.
The cabin was comfy, the nearby bathrooms were clean and well-maintained, and the neighbors were quiet.
Ordinarily, this is where I'd tell you what we had for dinner that evening. I'm not going to, as the restaurant we chose can best be described as 'adequate.' It's definitely not a place I would go so far as to recommend. As soon as we walked in, Trevor whispered that Robert Irvine would hate the place. The service and food were mediocre. Indeed, it is a good candidate for Restaurant Impossible to visit.
We went to bed, excited about what the next day would bring. I'll tell you all about it on Monday.
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