It was early evening but you would never have been able to tell. Days during July in Montana seems as if they go on forever, the sun setting around 10pm. I had been driving for a few hours, testing autopilot on mountain roads, letting the car take control through s curve after s curve. It never gets boring.
I pulled around the next corner surprised to see the horizon open up in front of me to reveal a town I imagine postcard makers dream of. A picturesque city nestled in a valley between copper mines, mountains and the last remaining plains to the east. Welcome to Butte MT.
My first stop would be atop the old copper mines that looked over the city. Butte, known for its copper, is considered “the richest hill on earth” having mined more value in copper than anywhere else in the United States. In 1888 alone, mining operations in Butte had generated an output of $23 million ($624,140,105.26 adjusted). Since then, mining has been the backbone of the community, giving the town its signature ambience of quarries and industrialization. Although many mines are still active, the mining district is now dedicated to education and tourism, with much of the area turned into parks and hiking trails. It was here that I decided to watch the sun fade below the earth, a spectacular show bringing hues of purple and blue over the entire sky.
My stop in town was going to be quick, I was on my way to Glacier, but I couldn’t resist spending some time walking throughout these hills so the next morning, I set off on a voyage into the Big Butte Open Space Recreation Area. There, trails and dirt roads spanned for miles offering adventure for anyone that was searching for it.
Once I arrived, the next question was how far down these roads would I drive? They were a very rugged dirt and rock, with potholes a plenty and the low clearance of my Model 3 would definitely prove challenging. I pushed as far as I could but eventually, even if I could have gotten further (I couldn’t), a sign on the side of the road indicated no vehicles besides ATVs and dirt bikes. I promptly pulled to the side of the road to finish the voyage on foot.
I didn’t know how far I wanted to hike. I hadn’t even looked at any of the maps. Deciding I didn’t want to go too far, I chose a hill in the distance and simply started walking. The views along the thin roads were absolutely stunning, everything sandwiched between vibrant green grasses a deep blue skies. Emerald green pines dotted the land, with the dirt roads cutting paths throughout. Mt favorite part though, was the rust colored mounds that built up in certain areas, hues of orange and yellow breaking through the browns, a reminder of the many metals that lay beneath this ground.
I was enjoying myself too much as the minutes turned into hours and the miles kept adding up. It seemed that with every peak that I reached, the urge to continue on would take over and turning back was far from my minds eye. Before I knew it, I had no clue where I was. I had turned and curved so many times, chosen whichever fork looked less traveled, that I had no clue how to get back to the car. It’s times like these that I am thankful for modern technology. I was able to access my cars location through the Tesla app and figure out which roads to take to get back. So easy.
After a few miles though, I started to question the accuracy of my device though, as I didn’t recognize a single thing.
“When did I pass here?” I would ask myself.
Then suddenly, as if conjured out of an apparition, my car was to my right. I smiled to myself and cracked open a much needed bottle of water.
Before leaving town, I made it a point to stop at The Berkley Pit, a former open pit copper mine that is now filled with more than 40 billion gallons of acidic water and heavy metals. The water is so corrosive, if you drank it, it would literally burn through your insides. Closed in 1982, the pit is now open only as a viewing deck looking over. A small fee of $3 get’s you in to take a look at what acidic water looks like.
There really isn’t much to the pit, just a walkway out to a viewing deck overlooking electric blue water. There is an audio guide you can choose to listen to that gives you a brief history of the mine but while I was there, a local tour group came in and it was quite an interesting experience.
Remember now, this was in the height of Coronavirus. Masks were becoming the social norm and a six foot distance between people was the respectful rule of thumb. Not in Butte. While I was on the deck, a group of at least twenty people crowds into this 10×20 ft area, none wearing masks, inviting me to join them as if we were long lost friends.
I really didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was traveling during Covid, so keeping my social distancing awareness was key so I didn’t become patient zero and start spreading the virus along my path. I kindly declined and went on my way, wondering what they thought of me and my mask. Would they have been so inviting if they knew I was a traveler? I guess I was just surprised by the laissez faire attitude. I had to remind myself I was up in middle Montana though and I went on my way. Next stop, Glacier National Park.
Closest Supercharger Butte MT
2900 Harrison Ave, Butte, MT 59701
Big Butte Open Space Recreation Area
1000 George Street
Butte, MT 59701