Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ghost Town Side Trip - Virginia City, Montana

Dianne here -- Roger asked me to write this blog entry because -- let's face it -- he's just not that into history.   If you feel the same way, you may skip this blog entry; I promise Roger will be back next time!

From Bozeman we took a slight detour to Ennis, Montana for a two-night stay at Ennis RV Village.
We have mountain views out every window (which also means no tv signals).   The sites are spacious and the place is well-managed with a good feel to it.  

They have mowed a series of trails through the grass prairie at the edge of the park which our doggies have enjoyed. We enjoyed them, too, with views like these:
It really is Big Sky country!

The ever-present herds of cattle reminded us that we are indeed in Montana... 

The haze on the mountains is from the fire currently blazing in West Yellowstone.   We don't smell the smoke, but it makes for hazy views and colorful sunsets.

Our main purpose for visiting Ennis, Montana was to drive over the mountain (in the car) to tour Virginia City.   Virginia City was formed during the gold rush in the 1860s.  Within weeks thousands of prospectors and fortune seekers had settled into the town.  
Wooden sidewalks throughout town.

Here's a street scene as the town appeared in 1878:

And a portion of the same street today:  You can make out the cupola of the courthouse on the left in both photos. 

Virginia City was even the capital of the territory for a period of about 10 years, before the capital was moved to Helena.

As with most boom towns, it eventually fell on hard times and suffered from neglect and ruin.   In the 1940s, a wealthy couple named Charles and Sue Bovey, who shared an interest in history and ghost towns, visited Virginia City.   While there, they witnessed some of the wood being harvested from the historic buildings and used as firewood by the few remaining residents.  They began buying up the dilapidated buildings and began much needed maintenance and repairs to save the town from further ruin. 

 Virginia City is now maintained by the State of Montana, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark operated as an open-air museum.  

There is much more to see and do than just walk around the town.   Unfortunately, our schedule brought us here on a Monday -- bad planning, because several of the restaurants, shops, and performance venues are closed on Mondays (we found out after arriving).   If you plan better than we did and come on a day other than Monday, you can take in a variety of plays, music performances, and a comedic show called the Brew House Follies, which had come highly recommended to us.  (They normally do perform on Mondays but we happened to hit the day of their charity golf tournament.)

A nearby restored town, Nevada City, features costumed interpreters to narrate life as it was back in the day.   There is a short open-air train ride there from Virginia City.   We skipped it because we discovered that the interpreters are not there on Mondays.

Even on Monday, there was plenty to see to keep us busy for several hours.  My favorite shop was Cousins Candy Shop.  As a kid, whenever I had change in my pocket, I promptly blew it all on candy.   

In this awesome candy shop, you could pick from a huge assortment of unusual and/or old favorite types of candy, fill a bag, and just pay by the weight of the bag.   I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store!   One candy I did not pick was a clear yellowish-colored tequila-flavored sucker, complete with worm inside.   The worm looked a little too realistic to me (I still think it was a real worm).

One very interesting shop included authentic vintage styles of clothing that could be purchased, along with a display of dress patterns in authentic antique styles.   This brought back memories of when our older daughter, Robyn, was in high school and had a part in the play "Look Homeward, Angel."  She needed an Edwardian dress, which I sewed for her using a vintage pattern like these that I'd found on vacation in St. Louis.  

If you have a hoop skirt, I know where you can purchase a petticoat.   It took up so much room in the shop that they hung it from the ceiling!

They even sell old-fashioned bonnets.

In addition to the gift shops, there were many buildings which simply housed displays of antique furnishings and merchandise, like the buggies and fire wagon above, and the one-horse open sleigh below:

I found the old general store especially interesting:

I loved the old display bins for coffee, spices, and teas. 

 Then there were the usual canned goods....

One building housed a vintage display which had an entire inventory of men's and women's undergarments at one end of the counter....

and women's hats, bags, and old doll heads at the other end.  The curators must have come upon an entire old inventory, because they were obviously authentic goods in original packaging.

I placed my camera lens right on a display case to capture this inventory of antique hair pins and combs:

Once you've outfitted with undergarments, there is a complete store display of men's clothing...

Most of the buildings retained their original tin ceilings...

Here's another vintage photo showing a long stone  building with arched windows.

And the same building today....

One building housed an interesting display of old arcade machines, including nickelodeons...

Music machines and fortune tellers....

The mercantile contained an interesting display of fabrics and staples.   I could almost imagine shopping there in pioneer days....

 A small post office was tucked in a corner of the mercantile...

 Roger has a weakness for good ice cream, and he had read about a shop in Virginia City with homemade ice cream:

We knew we were in for a treat when we saw the old fashioned ice cream churns humming away on one side of the shop:

It was every bit as good as it looks!

The bigger one is mine, by the way, "almond joy" flavored, with lots of chocolate and coconut bits.
Roger had cookies and cream, filled with lots of Oreo cookie chunks.

After dessert we stopped for lunch at Bob's Homemade Pizza -- also delicious.   (That's where I found the old photos of the town.) 

  Then after lunch, Roger wanted to have a beer in the Bale of Hay Saloon, "Montana's Oldest Watering Hole" according to their menu. 

It sounds like we did this in reverse order...dessert, then lunch, then drinks but, hey, we're retired and we can do whatever we want!

One last stroll back down the street and we were done.  

Next stop -- Salt Lake City, where I plan to spend quality time at the Family History Library.   Roger is looking forward to several days where he'll be "free as a bird."   

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Beautiful Bella --- This girl has quite a personality.

Roger here....  Our journey has taken us from Great Falls to Bozeman, Montana for two nights.  The drive along I-15 was awesome.  
Quick photos through the window as we drove

What scenery!  But, why Bozeman?  After not seeing grizzlies at Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies, we wanted to ensure grizzly bear sightings, and sightings we had. 

Entrance to Montana Grizzly Encounter
A little background information...  A couple of years ago Dianne and I stumbled upon a program on the National Geographic Channel entitled America the Wild.  (Click link to learn more).  The premise of this real-life documentary centered around outdoorsmen and wildlife advocate, Casey Anderson, and his drive to rescue grizzly bears that would not be able to survive in the wild.  He also studied grizzlies and other wildlife in their natural settings.  I added it to our itinerary when I discovered that Bozeman would only be a little bit out of our way.

Casey Anderson's Montana Grizzly Encounter - More Info

Ten-Year-Old Brutus (foreground) with Bella 
 Casey's first bear, Brutus (which he refers to as his best friend), was rescued from an unethical breeding facility at the age of two months.  When Casey and his friend Ami acquired Brutus (who now weighs just under 900 pounds), they created  a large, outdoor, bear-friendly enclosure complete with ponds, hills, shade, and boulders.  Since grizzlies can bond with humans before the age of two-years, Brutus views them as his parents.  Unfortunately, we were only able to get one decent picture of Brutus, who has done movie roles with Casey.  Just after we arrived, he lumbered over to a spot behind a shady boulder where he remained :-(.

Bears on the other side of this wall
Back to our visit...  We arrived at the Montana Grizzly Encounter mid-morning, paid a very reasonable $6 admission fee and parked next to the rustic enclosure.  

Cool Little Souvenir Shop
A trip through the gift store was necessary in order for us to get to the bears.  Dianne bought a t-shirt and I bought a hat on the way out.  We did not feel guilty spending money that goes directly back into the rescue center.  This is my kind of place.

A photo-op next to a couple of giant teddy bears was also required --- not really.

When we turned a corner, we entered the viewing area where Brutus and Bella were wandering around inside the enclosure.  A docent greeted us, answered questions, and provided great information about the bears and their backgrounds as we watched their every move.  After a few minutes, I realized that I had been smiling since seeing the two bears.  

The bears (five in all) are released from their dens into the enclosure two at a time.  Brutus is almost always released with Bella.  We had just missed the two of them playing.

Two-Year-Old Bella Posing by the Pond

Bella was abandoned by her mother in Alaska before learning the necessary skills of survival that the mothers must teach to the cubs.  Survival techniques are not instinctive to grizzlies.  

Bella Modeling Her Paw

These pictures of Bella posing in front of the pond (and she did act like she was posing for the cameras) were taken less than 10 feet from Bella.  There were no walls or bars between us, to speak.  It almost seemed as if we were in the enclosure with them.  We were totally safe, however, since a moat and an electric fence protected us.

The view of two-year old Bella (320 pounds) below gives a better perspective of the enclosure.  They evidently love to play in the ponds.

During our morning visit, Bella provided all of the entertainment.  While Brutus lounged behind his rock, occasionally raising his head.  Bella wandered all around.  Bella stopped to look at us.  Bella picked up a log and tossed it and climbed up on a boulder.  Her twitching nose was working constantly.  Grizzlies can smell food from three miles away!   The staff always hides treats in various locations in the enclosure before each outing.  What a ham!

Look at me!  I can sit down just like you humans.  (I can also stand up on two feet, but an extra donation is required for me to show you that).

In the photo below Bella picked up a small stick between her four-inch claws, held it for a while, looked at it, then threw it away.

Look!  I found a stick.

Look how scary I can be!
Clown that Bella was, Dianne was able to get one serious shot of her as she advanced straight toward us.  She was not really being aggressive, but had we been hiking, my hand would have been on the bear spray.  

We spent quite a bit of time entranced by Bella and her antics before deciding to drive into Bozeman for lunch and then returning in the afternoon.  

Outdoor Seating at the Bacchus Brew Pub
Bozeman is a very inviting college town (Montana State University).  The Bacchus Brew Pub just off the lobby of an old hotel had tasty food and microbrews.

Our $6 admission (for seniors) allowed us to return to Grizzly Encounter without charge that same day or the next.  We knew we'd see different bears in the afternoon, so back we went.

Maggi and Jake were in the enclosure when we returned for our afternoon visit.  They were both rescued from an unethical breeding environment where they could not be properly cared for at a young age.  This is their third home.  They are currently five years old.  Since they were older when they arrived at Montana Grizzly Encounter, they are not fully bonded to Casey and Ami.

Maggi and Jake

Maggi says, "I just turned in a circle, now I'm going over here."
It was very interesting to watch how their personalities differed from those of Brutus and Bella.  Maggi was not an attention-seeker like Bella, but she was every bit as active.  She did not stop moving the entire time we were there.  

Maggi says, "Now I'm going over there."

Jake moved around more that Brutus, but his movements were not constant.  He seemed to lumber from point to point before plopping down for a rest.

Jake says, "Check out my claws."

Jake says, "That ten-yard walk was exhausting.  I need to lay down."

I wish that this picture of Maggi and Jake nuzzling was clearer.  It brought a round of aaaahs from the viewing area.

Montana Grizzly Encounters is a wonderful place. We were able to closely and leisurely observe the bears in a natural setting.  We know due to the young ages of the bears when they were rescued, that they would not be able to survive in the wild.  It is not a zoo for the frivolity of people.  It is a rescue center for the bears.  We know that the bears have a lifelong home at the center.  We know that our purchases and admission fees help to maintain the facility.  I am still smiling.

Our day in Bozeman was capped off by an awesome sunset:

We are in Ennis, Montana right now.  Tomorrow we plan to visit the original state capital of Montana (now a ghost town), Virginia City.

The pet picture of the day is our two buddies already in their place for the next leg of our trip.  They can always tell when it's time to pack up.
Where we goin' now??