Elkhorn Mountains, Montana

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After spending a week in Arizona with Mr. Blue Eyes and his kiddos, we all made our way 1,000+ miles north to the land of cooler temperatures and a more relaxed way of life.

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Blue Eyes’ parents live in Big Sky Country, the heart of western Montana, surrounded by miles of ranch land nestled among the Elkhorn Mountains. Due to some work responsibilities I was only able to stay for a long weekend, but I took many naps, finished two books, and went wandering with my camera while the rancher-neighbors cut and baled hay.

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The cool mountain air soothed my soul, the sunsets brought me peace, and spending a little time with Blue Eyes’ family and a whole pile of nieces and nephews kept me giggling and laughing all weekend. I caught toads with my nephews and watched baby birds with my nieces and wondered and marveled at the thing that is Evel Knievel Days and braided hair and played games and teased my brother-in-laws and chatted with my sister-in-laws. It was a delightful weekend in every way.

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I had hoped to be able to take a few day-trips around the area and do a little photographic exploring, but there just wasn’t time this trip.

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Hopefully next summer I can do some more exploring of the small towns and beautiful places of western Montana.

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Previous posts: Elkhorn Mountains // Comet Mine

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Elkhorn Mountains, Montana

Every summer Blue Eyes and I pack up and spend a week with his parents and family in a cabin deep in the Elkhorn Mountains in southwest Montana. I have very little cell service there, no internet, and miles and miles of open spaces. I usually have hours to spend searching out micro and macro vistas, fiddling with my camera settings trying to capture in pixels something that has no business being captured in pixels. Even in July the mountains have patches of snow on their peaks and the morning and evening temperatures leave you reaching for a jacket. The small towns and sprawling ranches that surround the mountains gave me and my camera plenty of raw material.

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The view from my in-laws house. It really is just stunning!

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Minty green lichen.

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Purple mountain lupine.

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There were fields and fields of this in bloom in early July! Entire hillsides were covered in clumps of purple blooms.

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No idea…

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An old abandoned Ford tractor.

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St. John’s Catholic church, out in the middle of practically nowhere, no town close by, very few ranches, just this tiny white church and graveyard.

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I love the old green paint on this bus! I stood gawking and snapping pics until the neighbors started asking questions. (In my bright red mini and giant camera I certainly don’t look like a local in this small rural town.)

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Fields of rapeseed/canola. Rapeseed is the official name of this bright yellow flower, but the Canadians have renamed it “canola” for it’s uses in vegetable oil and plastic production. Canada + ola (meaning “oil”) = canola. Brilliant.

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This might be one of my favorites from my whole trip.

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Such a beautiful stripe of bright color in the middle of miles of greenish-brown fields, mostly alfalfa and hay about ready to be cut and baled for winter.

Next summer I want to take myself and my camera on a few short day-trips to explore more of the surrounding area. On our last trip Blue Eyes and I crawled all over the abandoned Comet Mine and I would love to find something else like that to explore!

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Comet Mine, Montana

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Last weekend Blue Eyes and I packed up and headed north to escape the interminable spring allergies. I think we went far enough, it snowed on us for two days. We ended up exploring this fantastic abandoned mine in Comet, Montana. The Comet Mine, located in the High Ore Mining District southwest of Helena, opened in 1883 and experienced it’s hey-day in the 1890’s, miners pulled $20 million in lead, zinc, copper, silver, and gold out of the mountain, making it the most profitable in the area (although, it is incomparable to the enormous mines in nearby Butte). The Comet Mine closed for good in 1941 when the resources had been exhausted. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

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Today what remains is an enormous dilapidated building where the ore was processed, a dozen houses and other buildings that are in ruins, and one active residence: 4 satellite dishes on top of a double-wide trailer with several pick-ups parked in the front yard. In the last 15 years much of the area has been reclaimed, although the only vegetation that has returned in high numbers so far are grasses, a few wildflowers and some scrubby sage brush, but I did see a couple of knee-high pine trees growing.

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Luckily, Blue Eyes likes an adventure as much as I do, and we were not content with standing on the road taking pictures (I was taking pictures, he was standing). We decided to go exploring, despite not wearing nearly the appropriate footwear for the muddy and steep mountainside. Don’t worry, we were very careful about where we walked; Blue Eyes is a civil engineer who specialized in mining, he knows his way around a mining site and made sure we were stepping on concrete and not rotten floor boards or anything.

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No idea what this is or what it was used for….but I kind of want it. The top of that notched ring on the right came up past Blue Eyes’ shoulder, this thing was massive!

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I never really saw myself as someone who had a thing for ruins…but I just could not get enough of this place!! The history, the destruction, the looting, the effects of time. It was just so beautifully fascinating!

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This is looking down three or four stories into the bottom of the structure. I totally have a crush on the light coming through the roof (long shorn of it’s shingles).

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Mmmmm, rusty things just photograph so well! (Don’t worry, I am current on my tetanus shots and didn’t touch anything sharp or rusty.)

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“Harriet, what are you doing? It’s just a rusty pipe…” I know it is!! But, dammit, I’m going to take 5 minutes trying to get the right photo of it because apparently I LOVE RUSTY PIPES!

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This weathered and aged wood was everywhere, and I just thought it was so incredibly beautiful. Swoon.

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After an hour of wandering, hiking, climbing, and exploring we finally found the mother-lode, a delightfully rusty chain, something I’d been hoping for since we drove up to the site. There is no color enhancement or other processing on this photo–just a little crop. It really was that beautiful orange color!

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This was an enormous site, this photo was taken near the top of the mining building (which was several huge stories and built into the mountain). You can see the broken and rotten houses across the road, our old red jeep, and on the far left you can see the white pick up of the one family who currently lives in this ghost town. At it’s height, Comet had a population of 300 people, a school with 20 children, numerous homes and businesses, and 20 saloons.

For more photos (and there are a LOT more photos), check out my Flickr album.

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