I don't know if I'm a daredevil, exactly, but I do enjoy a good challenge.
It's the only way you grow.
State 17: Montana - October 3, 2017
We woke up on a back road in Anaconda, MT. Yes, you read that correctly! We spent last night stealth parking in town called Anaconda! I am not particularly fond of giant snakes, and Nate shares my sediment. To put both of our minds at ease, before going to bed last night we did a quick google search, which revealed anaconda snakes are not native to Montana. Thank God! To celebrate there being no Anaconda snakes in Anaconda, MT we both busted out singing Sir Mix-a-lots “Baby Got Back”. Kudos to you if you caught my anaconda reference, and if you didn’t, well then you should listen to the song right now! In addition to Anaconda, Montana is full of interestingly named towns such as Checkerboard, Pray, Circle, Opportunity and Chilly just to highlight a few.
Today, we drive 30 miles Northwest to Philipsburg, MT to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA tour”; Gem Mountain. Montana is the only place in the US where sapphires are mined. Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine offers opportunities to mine your own sapphires. Wooohoo! We are going sapphire mining!!! This will certainly be a memorable experience!
A sapphire is a precious gemstone typically blue in color, but also can be yellow, purple, orange, green or multicolored. The only color which sapphire cannot be is red. If the stone is red, then it is called a ruby. The variety in color is due to trace amounts of elements present in the stone. Sapphires are most commonly cut and polished into gemstones and worn in jewelry. Sapphire is the birthstone for September and the gem of the 45th anniversary! Since sapphires are the third hardest mineral in existence, they are also used in some commercial applications as well. Although mined throughout the world, the primary places in North America where sapphires have been mined are the Montana towns of Helena, Deer Lodge, Lewistown and Philipsburg, which is where we were heading today!
In the 1980’s, many of the local mines and sawmills in Philipsburg closed, and it almost became a ghost town! However, the 1990's saw a wave of newcomers including several retailers who expanded on the popularity of sapphire hunting in gravel from the nearby Sapphire Mountain Range. In addition, The Sweet Palace Candy Store opened in 1998, and in 2003, the historic Broadway Hotel was reopened. In 2012, Philipsburg Brewing Company opened for business, and has since won multiple national microbrewing awards. Sapphire hunting, yummy candy, quality hotels, and award winning beer, are all great reasons are to visit the tiny town of Philipsburg, MT. The town fought its way back from the brink of extinction, and the Cross Country Couple loves an underdog.
Founded in 1892, The Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine is one of the largest, oldest, and most bountiful sapphire mines in the world. The mine has yielded over 180 million carats of sapphire for over the past 120 years, and Gem Mountain facets almost 20,000 stones a year for visitors from all over the world. The gravel is dug up from mine, hauled to the store via a dump truck, and sold it by the bucket. The gravel comes directly from the mine, and is unsearched. Every year, customers find tens of thousands of sapphires, and there are several hundred 3 carat or larger stones found that are worth hundreds, and even thousands of dollars! We would either find a large valuable sapphire, or have fun trying! Either way this was going to be a very interesting afternoon!
Unfortunately, the Gem Mountain Mine closes after Labor Day. However, their retail store in Philipsburg is open all year round, and stockpiled with enough mined dirt to last the long cold Montana winter. Upon entering Gem Mountains retail store, we walked up to the front counter to buy our bucket of dirt. Well, this isn’t just any bucket of dirt. It is “sapphire gravel”, and $30 buys you a 2-gallon bucket weighing 25lbs. Next, we were led back into a heated garage to select our bucket of gravel. All the tools needed to extract your sapphires from the gravel were provided, which included, tweezers, lighting, screens, wash basin, and table. A third of the bucket was dumped in the screen at a time, and washed in a large metal basin to remove the sediment. Then the screened stones were dumped on a table. We were each handed tweezers, and told to find our sapphires! It took Nate and I over 3 hours to go through our entire bucket and we enjoyed every minute of it! Please see the pictures below.
After we finished going through our gravel, we brought our rough sapphires to an onsite jeweler to determine which ones are gem quality. Although, we ended up finding 20.15 carats of sapphires, none were large enough to be gemstones. If we would have been fortunate enough to find a rough sapphire of gem quality, they can heat, treat, and facet them into beautiful gemstones suitable for jewelry. Sapphire mining was a very tedious, yet interesting way to spend an afternoon. It was also very romantic, and would be a great date idea! If you can’t make it to Philipsburg, MT, Gem Mountain has sapphire gravel for sale via mail order, and it can be shipped directly to your home. Although we didn’t strike it rich sapphire mining in Montana, we had a blast partaking in an activity unique to the state.
From Philipsburg, we planned to drive 205 miles North to the National Park depicted on the Reverse of the Montana quarter “Glacier National Park”. I have heard nothing but amazing things about Glacier, and have been viewing beautiful pictures of the park for the past 2 years. Glacier National Park was one of the top 5 National Parks I had been looking forward to visiting on my cross country trip, and the time had finally come to explore this gem! Glacier is also one of the most endangered in the National Park system, and may not be around, at least as we currently know it, in the coming years. In 1850, the park consisted of 150 glaciers, but today only 25 remain! The reason for the mass melting is subject to much debate, but global warming is the main suspected culprit. Before departing for Glacier, we called the visitor center, and received awful news! The entire park had been closed due a combination of raging forest fires, road closures and heavy snowfall. My heart instantly sank! Clearly, I was going to miss out on one of the most beautiful parks in the National Park system. Lori and I promised each other we would one day return to visit Glacier National Park. Below are pictures others have taken of glacier to put into perspective what we going to miss. Do you feel our pain?
Since Glacier was no longer an option, we instead drove 53 miles Southeast, to Butte, MT to visit the Cross Country Couple's famous person for Montana; “Evel Knievel. After crashing his motorcycle in a 1956 police chase, Knievel was arrested and charged with reckless driving. When the guard came around to check on the prisoners during roll call, he noted Robert Knievel in one cell, and Willam “Awful” Knofel in another. Since Knofel was well known in the area as “Awful Knofel”, Knievel decided to assume the name Evel Knievel, and thus the legend was born. Roger Craig Knievel, but more commonly known as Evel Knievel was an American performer, daredevil, motorcycle stunt performer, entertainer, and international icon. Over the course of his career, he attempted over 75 death-defying motorcycle jumps. Some of his more famous jumps included: Setting a world record by jumping 19 cars in Ontario, CA. Jumping the fountains outside of Ceasar Palace in Las Vegas, NV, and jumping the Snake River Canyon in a steam powered rocket!
Despite his bad boy image, and bad ass stunts, Knievel lived by 3 core values: A man always keeps his word, don’t do drugs, and always wear a helmet. Knievel may have broken as many as 433 bones during his career earning him the Guinness Book of World Record as the survivor of "most bones broken in a lifetime". His custom built motorcycle is on display in the Smithsonian and weighs a mere 300 pounds. In 1999, Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2017 from Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and was buried in his hometown of Butte, MT. This is where the Cross Country Couple caught up with the man who called himself the “Last Great Gladiator”.
We had difficulty finding the cemetery where Evel Knievel was buried, so we pulled into the Walmart in Butte to regroup. We were surprised to discover the elusive cemetery was located directly across the street from the Walmart we were currently at! As we drove across the street to the cemetery, we soon learned getting to Evel’s grave would become a death defying stunt! We encountered an iron archway with low clearance above the entrance to the cemetery. It would be a very tight fit to get Rosie beneath that archway. Lori got out of Rosie, and stood to the side to guide me through. I paused for a moment, asked myself “What would Evel Knievel do?” and instantly I knew the answer. With a bad ass head nod, a half-cocked smirk and a squinted left eye, I took one look at that iron archway, and knew exactly what I had to do. I floored it!!! A huge plume up rocks and dirt kicked up into the air as Rosie peeled into the cemetery clearing the iron archway! I put Rosie in park, and jumped out to celebrate! Lori came running up to me with her teeth clenched, while shaking her fist in the air, and said, “Are you crazy? If you got Rosie stuck, we would be spending the night in this cemetery”. I knew she was right, and what I did may have been a tad bit reckless. However, it was a hell of a ride, and if Evel was here, I am sure he would agree! Please see the pictures below.
After Lori calmed down a bit, we followed the posted signs, and moments later we arrived at the final resting place of Evel Knievel. We were very pleased the path to Evel’s gravesite was well signed. We have visited quite a few cemeteries in search of famous people, which the location was not clearly marked. It is always annoying, and very creepy to wander aimlessly throughout a cemetery. Evel’s headstone was engraved on both sides. One side depicts the steam powered sky rocket he used to jump the Snake River Canyon, and the other side shows him riding his bike. I liked the quote on his stone which read “A man can fall many times in life, but he is never a failure if he tries to get up”. Please see the pictures below.
After departing Evel’s grave, we drove across town to the Cross Country Couple's Roadside Attraction for the state of Montana; “Dumas Brothel”. I want to take this opportunity to make two things perfectly clear. First, this stop was 100% Lori’s idea, and second, this is NOT a house of ill repute; well at least it isn’t any more. Today, the Dumas Brothel is a museum with a colorful history. Founded in 1890 and named after the original owners Nee’ Dumas, It has the distinction of being the longest operating brothel in the entire country having been in business for 92 years. It was closed in 1982 by authorities after the owner was convicted of tax evasion. After closing, the brothel was owned and operated by local Butte residents, and became a tourist attraction. The Dumas Brothel offers tours, a gift shop, a bed and breakfast and even offers ghost tours. Somehow, I am not surprised this place claims to be haunted. This would definitely be the most unusual museum we have visited. However, upon our arrival we were very sad to see the Dumas Brothel was closed for some unknown reason. Oh well! Please enjoy the pictures below of the outside of the longest operating brothel in US history!
Montana has been an extremely frustrating state to visit with half of our scheduled stops going to Hell! To make matters worse, Montana was a very cold, windy and an overall unfriendly state! I think we had seen all we needed to see to vote on whether or not Montana will be our new home state. Since we still had a few days to kill during our week in Montana, we decided to hang out in Butte, MT for a few days to discover the town, and catch up on some blogs. Next stop Idaho!