Ennis & Virginia City, MT – A Whole Lotta History

Many small towns seem to be well known for one thing. Moab is big on mountain biking. Ouray is popular for jeeps. Ennis’s claim to fame? Fishing. Specifically FLY fishing. Mosey up to the bar and you’ll be asked how many you caught today. Tell them you don’t fish and you’ll be looked at like you are an alien.

But for such a sportsman-oriented town, Ennis does art very well. Just check out this sample of sculptures by Jim Dolan located in Peter T’s Park.

Oh and they make great pizza! At least the Burnt Tree Brewery does. It’s the second best pizza we’ve ever had. The best was in Madison, WI (which you can read about here). And their cherry flavored beer, Ned’s Red Sour Ale, is pretty tasty as well.

Lewis and Clark Caverns

I’d love to say that the bumps on both mine and Jeff’s heads are from stooping through the Lewis and Clark Caverns but, alas, both of us managed to hit the awning arm on the same day.

You might think Lewis and Clark Caverns are so named because the exploring duo discovered them, but you’d be wrong. In fact, Lewis and Clark never even saw the caverns. They did, however come within a mile of them on their great exploration of this part of the country. And that’s why, when it was established as a National Monument in 1911, it was so named.

Wait, isn’t it a Montana state park? Why, yes, it is!

Although it was named as a national monument in 1911, the federal government did little to improve the area and Dan Morrison, who had been giving tours of the caverns since he learned of the caves in 1900, continued to charge tourists and give tours up until his death in the 1930’s. At the same time, the federal government couldn’t manage the caverns well and disbanded it in 1938. It sounds like the band went their separate ways. Who knew a national monument could be disbanded.

These stalagmites are nicknamed Romeo and Juliet.

At the same time, Montana was forming their first official State Park system and agreed to take on the caverns as long as the federal government would allocate Civilian Conservation Corp resources to it’s improvement.

A broken stalactite from when the Civilian Conservation Corp created a new entrance into the caverns.

We took the which is the harder of the two tours. You’ll definitely need to duck, slide, and shimmy your way through this tour.

One benefit of the park is that they do offer kennels for your furry friends. Since Rizzo would much rather be outside, even in a kennel, than in the RV with the AC running, these shaded spots were a real bonus for us.

The park also offers a great gift shop and café!

Nevada City & Virginia City

I recently read Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work by Mari Grana. It’s the story of Mary “Mollie” Babcock, one of the first female doctors in the United States who took a job caring for the company miners and residents in Bannock, MT. Bannock was just a few days ride from Nevada & Virginia Cities.

These two cities were home to some of the richest gold strikes in the Rocky Mountains.

Today, Nevada City is an open air living history museum with over 100 buildings, including 14 original buildings from the 1800’s.

In it’s heyday, it’s estimated that over $2.5 BILLION (current value) worth of gold was mined from the area.

With all that gold, every town needed at least one assay office. These were the places you turned your gold in for cash.

But if you didn’t have a great day in the mines, you might need to be a little frugal. Before there were Dollar Trees, there were 5 and dimes, and before the 5 and dime, there was the Cheap Cash Store!

And if you were really lucky, you head home after a long day to a nice bed stuffed with grass or anything else you could find.

And the children would walk over a mile to and from school (up hill, in the snow, both ways).

Virginia City, who’s motto is “Resisting Change since 1863”, is still an active town with a town hall and government but it was once the capital of the territory of Montana. After Bannack, which was the first territorial capital , the capital was moved to Virginia City in 1865 where it remained for a whopping 10 years before being moved to Helena.

Of course, every booming town needs a doctor.

But if you walked into this guy’s office and saw two coffins, you might walk right back out.

But I’m sure that Flora McKay McNulty, one of the first female doctors in Virginia City, whose home is below, had better results for her patients.

Fortunately, back in the 1940’s, Charles and Sue Bovey had the foresight to see the value in Virginia City. Today, of the 300 structures within the town, almost half were built before 1900. One local told us that there were more original (aka, not moved there for preservation) pre-1900 buildings than any other town in the United States.

It’s such an important place that the entire town is on the National Registry of Historic Places and it was considered for National Park status on three separate occasions.

There were many stories to be had while visiting these two towns but the story of 3-7-77 is probably my favorite.

The Stats

Miles hiked at this stop – 15

Animal Sightings to date – 21