We came across Tom - and his friend Tim - while wandering in Butte, Montana. Once home to a population of over 100,000, Butte boosted the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi. At one point, the town was the largest to be found between Chicago and San Fransico. The town is a bit smaller - and perhaps a bit sadder - today, with close to 35,000 citizens.
Tom and his friend Tim were barbecuing in the yard next to their apartment building when we walked by. Tim spotted our cameras and started asking about our travels. When we shared we were from Boston, he was quick to point out that Butte was more Irish than Boston. He followed that fact with a few more - such as the (unconfirmed) fact that Lucille Ball was born in Butte.
Tim works at KBMF, a radio station housed in the old Carpenter’s Union Hall. Once known as “the Gibraltar of Unionism,” there’s a long labor history in Butte. In 1878, the Butte Workingman’s Union was formed, becoming the first organized union in Montana. It organized the first miners’ strike that year, protesting wage cuts in the silver mines.
When we asked Tom if he was born in Butte, he quickly pulled up the leg of his pants with the proof. Butte might be known today for its Superfund site and their environmental disasters, but the pride for their mining history remains. Headframes, most from out of commision mines, pepper the city. We thanked him for the photo and let the crew get back to barbecuing.
One of the best parts about hiking 13+ miles to a glacier was finding a mermaid splashing in the lake at the end of the trail.
(In truth, this was not an actual mermaid, but a couple visiting Montana from Chattanooga, Tennessee. The tail was birthday gift gone wrong, which has since evolved into their own running gag. The hobby, which we nicknamed “extreme mermaiding,” involves hiking to various bodies of water and posing in the self-described “absurd” mermaid tail. We’re fans.)
Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park, Montana. July 2018.
Lenny started mining when he was 19. He’s retired now, but he took the time to show us around a silver mine in Wallace, Idaho.
Mining isn’t, by any means, a comfortable or easy life. The hours are long, and the work is dangerous. Lenny comes from a family of loggers, but chose to be a miner for two reasons:
1. He’s the “runt of the family” and fits underground, and
2. He’s allergic to bees - no bees underground.
Even being 5’4”, crouching all day in extreme heat isn’t easy.
Lenny used to experience terrible muscle cramps until an old-timer passed on a secret - pickle juice. He’d take empty jugs and fill them with the juice, drinking them during his days in the mines to avoid leg cramps. Lenny guesses that during his career he drank 10,000 gallons of the stuff - and he’d still rather drink pickle juice than pop!
We spent the week learning about mining, the history of the Silver Valley, and the 501-day long strike going on at the Lucky Friday mine. More stories and photos - from the picket line, the union office, the mines, and the towns - to come.
Wallace, Idaho. July 2018.
Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge plummeting at just over 7,993 feet at it’s deepest. On the East Rim, the Snake River sinks nearly 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon.
The canyon was carved by the waters of the Snake River. The river originates in Yellowstone National Park and winds through southern Idaho and Seven Devils Mountains before turning north to form the boundary between Idaho and Oregon.
Speaking of the Seven Devils Mountains, the range was said to be named for a vision of seven dancing devils. Peak names include She Devil, He Devil, and The Twin Imps.
We visited Hells Canyon on our way to Idaho.
On our way, we briefly stopped in Baker City to learn about the Oregon Trail. There Jordyn reminisced about how she was always the first one to die of dysentery in the computer version of the trail.
No Jordyn’s were harmed, and no rivers were forded, in taking this picture.
Hells Canyon, OR. July 2018.
Halfway is a small town in Baker County, Oregon with a population 314. The town’s name comes from the historic location of the post office: halfway between the towns of Pine and Cornucopia.
Notable Halfway alumni include Babette Beatty, the first-ever Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model. (Other notable alumni include the woman we met in Richland, Oregon who begrudgingly left Halfway to follow her husband and his search for employment. While she misses her hometown, she did admit that anything less than Halfway’s 72 inches of yearly snowfall is a bit “more palatable.”)
Halfway earned a place in the history of the dot-com era in December 1999, when it received and accepted an offer to rename itself as Half.com, Oregon. Joshua Kopelman, Half.com’s CEO, shared the inspiration behind the name, ”we wanted to get on the map, and we said ‘Why don’t we just try to get on the map?’”
The town earned $110,000 and 20 computers for the school. It became the first city in the world to rename itself as a dot com, which, according to former Mayor Dick Crow, was all about boosting tourism. “Being the first ‘dot-com’ city in America will … introduce our rustic beauty to the country,” he shared.
Halfway, OR. July 2018.