"How ya doin?" A typical greeting in Montana. I've just returned from a two week adventure visiting my friend, Justin, in Montana, USA. If you don't know where Montana is, look at the map below.
I flew in from London Heathrow, had a stop over in Minneapolis, and finally touched down in Missoula, the hippy capital of Montana. With a land area of 145,552 square miles, the state of Montana is the fourth largest in the United States (after Alaska, Texas, and California). Although the state ranks fourth in area, it is ranked 44th in population, and therefore has the third lowest population density in the United States.
Big open roads
Big open fields....and er...Justin doing his 'thang'....crazy hippie
Coming from a place like Bristol, I was struck by the amazing sense of space in Montana. In the towns, the streets are wide and everything is so widely spaced out. In the country, you get wide open plains bordered by snowy mountains and blue skies. Hence it's nickname "Big Sky Country". The people are amazingly friendly. Everyone smiles at you and some greet you by saying "hello" or "how ya doin?". No one locks their houses or their cars. My car would probably get nicked if I did that in Bristol. Gun ownership in Montana is one of the highest in America but yet crime is one of the lowest. Amazing but true.
Anyway, I shall get on with the tale. I stayed with my good friend, Justin, for the two weeks I was there. He lives in Missoula, hence that's where we were based most of the time. But we went out and about in Montana during those two weeks, and did many amazing things.
Good ol' Justin
We went to Helena to visit his folks. Along the way, we stopped by a town called Philipsburg to do some sapphire hunting. Yup, you heard me right....sapphire gems. Philipsburg has a rich history in mining and ranching. The roots of the area started as a booming mining town in the late 1800's. It's historic downtown is full of beautifully restored buildings from that era.
Amzing ice cream flavours in a diner in Philipsburg
Today these buildings are full of friendly shops, saloons, and other enjoyable establishments. We bought two bags of rocks dug up from the local mines and got it washed. The washing gets rid of the dirt and dust and makes it easier for you to pick out the sapphires amongst the useless rocks. The washed rocks are then dumped onto a table and you then use a pair of tweezers to pick out the sapphires.
What happened to the hard hats and pickaxes? !!
Can you spot the sapphires?
It was quite an interesting process as I've never done it before and I managed to pick out quite a few sapphires of various sizes (mainly small) and of various colours (mainly shades of blue). Apparently the red ones (also known as rubies) are worth a lot more.
There you go...sapphires!
Justin showing all how to bbq properly
In Helena, we met up with Justin's family and had a nice bbq. Helena is the capital of Montana. It is the county seat of Lewis and Clark County and it has a rich history in gold mining back in the 18th century.
St Helena Cathedral
Helena's main street is named Last Chance Gulch and follows the winding path of the original creek through the historic downtown district. By 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more millionaires per capita than any city in the world.
Are these streets paved with gold?
About $3.6 billion (in today's dollars) of gold was taken from Last Chance Gulch over a 20-year period. The Last Chance Placer is one of the most famous placers in the western United States. Most of the production occurred before 1868. Much of the placer is now under the streets and buildings of Helena (but even as late as the 1970s, when repairs were being made to a bank, a vein of gold was found under the Bank's foundation).
A dedication to gold miners of the past
Next post: Holland Falls! Hot springs! Action! Suspense! And danger! Stay tuned!