Lewis and Clark Caverns augment a visit to the long-abandoned Orphan Girl Mine in Butte, Montana, USA.
Lewis and Clark Caverns
Traveling north through the Gallatin National Forest, there are spectacular mountains and road-side rock formations on the return drive return to Calgary, Alberta, Canada after two weeks of hiking in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.
The skies are engulfed in heavy smoke from the huge (over 200,000 acres) forest fire near Derby, Montana. At Livingston, the turn west on I-90 is a prerequisite before heading south to visit Lewis and Clark Caverns.
Along the way Parker Homestead State Park offers an opportunity to visit and photograph an old log cabin of one of the original pioneer settlers in the area.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Montana
The entrance to the caves is an entertaining drive on good road up the side of a mountain to arrive at the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.
Reasonably-priced tickets are purchased to take a guided tour of the cave structure then a hike of ¾ of a mile (1.2 KM) with 700 feet (210 M) of elevation on sidewalk-quality trail meets Tom, our Park Ranger and Tour Guide, at the entrance to the cave complex.
The cave was never formally used by the native population because the original entrance was a 120 ft (29 M) vertical drop.
The cave has a rich history and our tour guide provides entertaining dialogue as he conducts the tour through a complex of rock formations created by nature over hundreds of thousands of years.
The part of the cave explored is easy to navigate on good flooring. The formations and colors are fantastic.
The tour ends by exiting through a long air-locked tunnel. Following the hike down and back to parking, the next stop for the day will be overnight accommodation in Butte, Montana, USA.
World Museum of Mines Underground Tour
The Butte Visitor Centre provides helpful information and time remains in the day to enjoy an additional adventure. The quick inner-city trip passes the campus of Montana Tech to the World Museum of Mining where tickets are purchased for an underground mine tour.
Tour guide, Randy, who worked as a Butte miner for 11 years, has fascinating stories to tell. The itinerary explores the very top portion of the abandoned Orphan Girl Mine.
Tunnels beneath the museum are part of a vast interconnected network of more than 10,000 miles (16,000 KM) of shafts, tunnels, and other diggings - mostly flooded now, but once alive with men, mules, machines and massive mineral and metal deposits.
The Orphan Girl Mine operated from 1875 to 1956, producing over 7,000,000 ounces of silver - just 1% of the silver output from all of Butte. After suiting up with mining headlamps, entrance to the mine is achieved through heavy wooden doors designed to keep air stable within the mine.
The tour guide is a retired miner who can capably explain and operate several diverse pieces of mining equipment on display.
He demonstrates a wide array of mining techniques used over the past century including a variety of manual and compressed air drills, and a mucker, so the deafening sound underground can be experienced.
When the mine closed, underground water drainage pumps were shut down and today a glance down the main elevator shaft shows flooding to within about 100 ft (30 m) of the surface.
The water bubbles as wooden support beams continue to decay underwater and create hydrogen gas many decades after the mine was closed.
All heavy equipment in the mine at the time of closure was left in place and written off. It was less expensive than trying to salvage the gear.