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Old 01-07-2014, 02:19 PM   #1
Wansfel OP
50 yrs on 2 wheels
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Location: Bitterroot Valley
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Montana Ghost Town Tour 2013

Day 1 minus 1 - July 2013
This trip started as a ride through some of my past roads and places of a younger year, on motorcycles and 4 wheels.  Ever since relocating BACK to Montana after a 9 year stint in Florida and getting back to a motorcycle which would handle the MT back roads, I have contemplated a review of roads long past.  It would probably be a solo trip of fairly epic proportion -, there were a lot of roads in my past.
However, I had been in contact with a previous co-worker (and adventure buddy) from my stint in Florida with whom I had shared Florida adventures such as scuba diving in the Keys, kayak/canoe camping in the Everglades and swimming/diving with the Manatees at Crystal River.  We even dove in the Living Seas at EPCOT (his father was the EPCOT dive master). Tim had not ridden motorcycles much since his younger years on smaller dirt bikes in California, but he expressed an interest in my adventure riding forays of late, so I invited him for an adventure Montana style.  Since my original plans included a couple of Montana ghost towns along the route, this adventure expanded to become the "Montana Ghost own Tour – 2013".

Our Track

Did I mention my buddy, Tim, had never been to Montana before?  Any lack of experience in adventure riding on a larger loaded motorcycle was replaced with extreme enthusiasm.  But that is why we started on Day 1 minus 1 – an orientation ride.
I picked Tim up at the Missoula airport on Day 1 minus 2.  On Day 1 minus 1, we took off on the orientation ride. 
Home is based 30 miles south of Missoula just outside of Stevensville - a great center for adventure riding in Montana.  Our orientation ride started with pavement up towards Lolo then West on US 12.  A route well known to anyone touring this part of the country.  Rather than slab it west all the way to Lolo Pass, we turned south on the Elk Meadow Road which connects and exits just behind the Visitor Center atop Lolo Pass.  

From there it was down the east side twisties on US 12 back to home…about 65 miles total…a good introduction.  He survived and I was satisfied with his abilities…which would be well tested before the next week was finished.
A little on the hardware.  I ride a 2000 KLR which has seen much more than its fair share of upgrades.  A year ago I picked up a second KLR, a 2002, as a backup and bike for my son to ride on occasion.  Pretty much stock other than an upgraded wind screen/fairing.  Both bikes equipped with racks to handle soft side and top bags.

Tim did a great job, and had no problems keeping up on the dirt or pavement…of course the bikes were not loaded for camping yet either.
Day 1 – Departure
My route planning took us from home just a few miles to Florence where we turned off pavement toward the east up the 8 Mile Road.  Now, the maps don’t show a connection, but I had my own tracks and we proceeded into the Sapphire Mountains and down Swartz Ck to Interstate 90.

We had been running ahead of an obvious rain storm since leaving home.  Once down to Swartz Creek it was time to don the rain gear. 

Or next goal was the Ghost Town of Garnet which required a little jaunt down the Interstate then heading north back into the Garnet Range up Cramer Ck.  The sun was back out so the rain gear disappeared – for the rest of the trip.
Now my route mapping was a little fuzzy here.  We ended up pretty much winging it towards Garnet.  The route ended up covering what could only be called at best a JEEP trail.  Tim’s first real test. 
One of my "way point wanna sees" was a lookout on Union Peak.  This was a location I had worked at before in a previous life doing radio work 25 years ago.  As luck would have it, we traversed some rough country and ended up just below the lookout on the north side and struck the road up to the summit.

The last few hundred yards were blocked by a gate so we shed our gear and proceeded to hike up to the top.  As it turned out, there was a resident at the lookout with whom we talked for some time.  Now it turns out that this guy played string instruments in a band in Eastern Europe during the winters and played lookout during the summers.  Now Tim is into guitars and it turned out this guy had written a song book Tim had seen which was a big deal for Tim.  You never know who or where you will run into such associations!
From Union Peak, it was a quick ride down to the ghost town of Garnet.  Garnet is a "maintained" ghost town with controlled access and resident guides.


After playing tourist at Garnet, we had to make some time. It was a long way to where I had planned a camp…in another mountain range.   So off we go back towards I 90 where Drummond was our next stop.  Time to gas up and hydrate. 
As luck would have it, there were a couple of other motorcycle adventurers at the truck stop.  Their adventure was of a different variety.  The one gentleman was riding an old Vincent – a very OLD Vincent.  He as on the return leg of a cross country trip for a cause starting on the east coast.  Judging from the POOL of oil under the bike, he was having a real adventure.  There was a second Vincent also which was owned by someone for local that was riding along for a stretch.  Pretty bikes.

Just beyond Drummond we took Route 271 – the Helmville Road. This is a very scenic back road.  Although paved, it is great motorcycle road.  We connected to State 141 past Nevada Lake Reservoir and took off up into the mountains on the Nevada Ck Road.

Never saw one of these in Florida! 

Again, sketchy route planning and a poor memory on my part took us back up into the mountains where there was no connection across to my intended destination for the night.  We contemplated camping at the end of the road, but opted to go back whence we came and take the right road.  We still had plenty of daylight, but this was turning into a 225 mile day…pretty good test for the new adventure riding rookie.
The road up Nevada Creek was well worth the side trip.  The scenery and road were great.  Once back to 141 we ran down to the Three Mile Rd.  Here is where another one of my ghost towns existed – Blackfoot City, but this one has totally disappeared. Continuing on we ended up taking a breather at Black Mountain.  This was a good stop where Tim could really contemplate the far distances and remoteness of our trip.


What? No cell coverage! We're on top of the world!

Finally toping the grade, we proceeded on towards Hope Ck and Dog Ck – places which stand clear in my memory of camping and fishing trips with my Dad over 50 years ago.  Boy has time and land ownership changed what was in my memory!  But on to our planned camping area…another memory disappointment.
Where what was once a beautiful meadow with a pond, trees, old buildings to explore had recently gone through a super fund cleanup…No access, No pond, No trees, No camping.  It had been the site of an old mill for the surrounding gold mines which is why the cleanup.
On down the road with an eye towards stealth camping we spotted a small side road and after a quick look see, we found a small meadow close to a creek and not far from the main road. 

A great place for the first night very close to the top of the Continental Divide. Tomorrow, our first goal would be the ghost town of Marysville.
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Old 01-07-2014, 02:47 PM   #2
August West
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Nice, looking forward to the rest of your trip. Wansfel, I am the guy you stopped to help in Lolo a couple of summers ago. I was on the XChallenge with my as yet detected ignition switch crapping out. Thanks for the help that day! I was looking for a place in the area and we subsequently found one.

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Old 01-07-2014, 02:53 PM   #3
Wansfel OP
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Originally Posted by August West View Post
Nice, looking forward to the rest of your trip. Wansfel, I am the guy you stopped to help in Lolo a couple of summers ago. I was on the XChallenge with my as yet detected ignition switch crapping out. Thanks for the help that day! I was looking for a place in the area and we subsequently found one.

A.W. I always wondered if you found a place. This trip started at what I suppose is your back door.

This was a good trip. Just the two of us so it was easy to ad lib on the route. Almost 1,200 miles by trip end. Just one of four similar sized rides I did last summer.
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Old 01-09-2014, 11:10 AM   #4
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What a great theme for an adventure.

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Old 01-09-2014, 11:12 AM   #5
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What a great adventure you guys had, thanks for sharing, especially the photo of that Vincent (oil'n'all!)
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Old 01-09-2014, 11:24 AM   #6
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Nice trip idea!
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Old 01-09-2014, 03:40 PM   #7
Wansfel OP
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Day 2 – The Little Belts

Beautiful morning. It was a quiet night tucked back into the trees. After a good breakfast and repacking its up over the hill and down to Marysville. I was originally looking forward to a great dinner at the Marysville House, but had heard it had closed last January. To my joy and surprise, it was reopened...but not today... A great place, very rustic, limited menu, no plastic, no checks kind of place.

Tim loves the old abandoned buildings and rusty old cars.

There are quite a few current residents in Marysville, once a very booming mining town. It is now home to a ski area - Great Divide. My first recollection of Marysville was attending a Fourth of July company (Kessler Brewery) picnic...back around '53. (Ya, I'm that old.)

It seems every significant Montana Ghost Town has a Masonic Hall. This was just another of many we would see before the ride is over.

To make up some time and distance, we broke from my planned route back over the hill to Blossburg and Austin into Helena. We took the road down to the Lincoln Highway and the back way into Helena via Birdseye mostly all paved.

Being a Helena native, I had to take Tim up through the upper west side to see some of the old mansions dating well back into the 1800s. Helena had the largest per-capita of millionaires back in that time frame. Of course, the tour had to include the Civic Center, Yes, it is based on a mosque complete with minaret.

And your typical gothic cathedral you find in every Montana town.

If you wonder how Helena could afford such a monument, look for the name Thomas Cruse in the Marysville information board above.

Now its time to hydrate and stock up, fuel up…and my battery is dragging really bad. I had had a hunch a week or so back that my battery was on its last legs, sure enough. On our way out of town I was looking for a good place to pick up a new battery, then it struck me. An old buddy of mine, someone with whom I had shared a couple of excellent adventures, owned the Interstate Battery operation in Helena. Now to track him down. After a couple of turns and stopping to ask directions, the lost is found and after some reminiscing I installed a new gel battery, Time to go. Thanks Dave.

Off we go heading through the valley towards Lakeside, the Missouri River and York. Getting to York is a great slab ride across a great bridge over the river and through some super twities in a tight narrow limestone canyon.
The York Bar had a great rep for burgers and it did not disappoint. A little back track and on over the Jim Town Road popping out just below Canyon Ferry Dam for a quick camera break.

From here we ran down the east side road to Magpie where we were now back on dirt. I had run up Magpie Gulch for the MT1000-2011 ride, but we had to turn back due to a road closure. I also had a little lapse of my license plate assembly which locked my rear tire and distracting me for two days on the particular ride. Now it was time to go beyond those memories. Magpie is a great run with some long side hill runs, tight turns, and super vistas gaining altitude fast.

Up top, Magpie connects to Avalanche Gulch (which had been closed two years before). Open now and a great ride down back country roads fairly rugged, but a good road with great scenery, especially towards the bottom before breaking out on the Townsend plain and back to a paved stretch heading towards Townsend.

The view from the top of Duck Creek Pass is spectacular. You virtually can not count the number of different whole mountain ranges from up here. Tim was now really getting to see what Montana was about from a perspective few people ever get.

Now on down the back side to Gypsy Lake, our intended stop for the day. Gypsy Lake is gorgeous gem in a beautiful setting.

They have moved the formal campground over on the back side up a hill which you access by a long run up into the trees and around to the other side. My last visit (too long ago), you cold camp next to the lake. Probably was loved to death. After setting up camp, we hiked on down to the lake for a plunge and I tried my hand at fishing. Fish were surfacing, but alas, no fresh fish for the night.

When we first were setting up camp, a young man (boy) ambled by and struck up a conversation. Now we both were happy to converse with the young man, but when he finally left to his own family’s camp, we couldn’t help but look at each other and we both virtually simultaneously started to comment on whether or not the kid could play the banjo….spooky to say the least.
Not much of a view from the campground, but otherwise a good USFS campground. A little far up to the pit toilet, we could have camped closer, but on retrospect, that would have put us closer to the “banjo kid”.

A great meal, some brews, a good fire and conversation and the time to retire for the day.

A note on camp gear. I use a hammock with integral bug net and a separate fly. I let Tim use my Eureka Solitaire. We both had a genuine Thermarest. Mine is so old it still has the old style metal valve, but they still work well.

Tomorrow - White Sulfur Springs and the Elkhorns
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Old 01-09-2014, 03:52 PM   #8
Ojai GS guy
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Great story, thanks for sharing. I hope to make a similar ride this summer.
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Old 01-09-2014, 04:00 PM   #9
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Thanks for posting. Great area
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Old 01-09-2014, 04:09 PM   #10
Wansfel OP
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Still five days to go........
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Old 01-09-2014, 04:12 PM   #11
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Nice pics!

I gotta get out there..
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Old 01-09-2014, 05:10 PM   #12
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Old 01-09-2014, 07:08 PM   #13
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Im in. Having spent time in trout creek and big arm i love it there.
My favorite philosopher is Cha Ching !
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Old 01-10-2014, 12:26 AM   #14
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Waiting for the next installment....

Is Tim on ADVrider? What made you both think that the kid could play banjo? Maybe there was something in the text I missed...

Originally Posted by Wansfel
Now it turns out that this guy played string instruments in a band in Eastern Europe during the winters and played lookout during the summers.
I remember now that you talked about it... Was he Eastern European himself? What instruments does he play? It would be interesting to find and talk to this guy...

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Old 01-10-2014, 04:59 AM   #15
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I miss Montana! Thanks for sharing!!
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