Montana – The Treasure State

Montana is known as “Big Sky Country” and “The Treasure State”. More interested in the later of the two, Pam and I headed to Virginia City and Nevada City, two gold rush towns that are now just tourist attractions containing treasures past.

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The buildings were all kept as they were and the stores stocked and made to look as they would have in their heyday.

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We spotted a two story outhouse behind the old hotel. There were noticeable gaps in the ceiling when you looked up from the first floor. I was glad no one was above me then.

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We made our way south and camped for the night at Ruby Reservoir, along the Ruby River. This is in the area, give or take 1,000,000 square miles, of where I think Forest Fenn’s treasure is hidden. This river was called out in his book in reference to another book he read as a kid, “Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell. I also read Russell’s book and it gives a factual account of what his life as a trapper was like in the northwest during the second half of the 1800s. It’s an interesting read if you want something new to read. It puts our current daily inconveniences in perspective.

The BLM campground there provided an incredible view over the reservoir and the American Pelicans on the water. A storm blew through just as night fell and our alcove sustained another structural failure, it bent and snapped in the wind. It’s the same alcove that went airborne at Hovenweep NP in May, snapping then around a juniper tree. It is still usable, given enough duct tape, until we can order more replacement parts – lol.

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We then headed through the back country towards the Madison River and West Yellowstone. We passed this old national forest sign along the road.

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We missed a turn among the intersecting dirt roads and ended up seeing more of the back country than intended. It was a beautiful drive so there was no great loss since we have no schedule.

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When we realized our navigational error we also realized that the route we were on would get us back to pavement – until we hit this sign.

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Back country bridges are always a concern when your rig is over 5 tons. I’m always thinking if a fire truck or cattle trailer would need to get down this road then it’s probably ok to cross. However, a 2 ton bridge limit is a definite no-go. We didn’t even waste our time to look at the bridge (probably 2×4 construction), but just turned around and drove the hour or so back to where we had missed the turn.

We saw some really healthy pronghorn in the fields, and this male decided to give up a pose in the middle of the road.

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We camped next to the Ruby River that night near the missed turn and did a little fishing. If you have to be lost it’s nice to have a beautiful sunset.

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The next day we found the right road and headed over the mountains towards West Yellowstone.

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Our truck’s navigation system was a little confused where we were driving – “Driving on Hwy 357” – seriously? Montana’s definition of a highway must be a little different than most states.

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We climbed to about 9,000 feet into the low morning clouds only to find more Montana Angus bears grazing all around.

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We camped the night at Beaver Creek CG, along Earthquake Lake. The lake was formed in a 1959 earthquake that caused a landside at one end, blocking the Madison River, and tilted the local Hebgen Lake at the other end. The landslide and resulting lake wave from Hebgen Lake killed campers that were along the river. We camped a little higher up after reading the account.

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We drove into West Yellowstone to restock and saw the smoke from the forest fires in the park.

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We hiked Beaver Creek, looking for Fenn’s hidden treasure. There were some beautiful camping spots along the creek that we’ve put in our plan for the future.

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The hikes along the trails were beautiful.

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We have now eliminated about 10 square miles from the 1,000,000 square miles where the treasure could be in the Rockies. We’re closing on it!

Next stop is to check out Bozeman before we start our migration south for the fall.

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