Ghost Town: Exploring Garnet, Montana

On my last road trip through Montana I visited the well-known ghost town of Bannack. In keeping with tradition, I wanted to visit another out of the way gem. Fortunately, the ghost town of Garnet was not far from my path (recently made famous by this ad looking for volunteer rangers), and the warm month of May had melted away all the snow from the mountains where the mining town is nestled.

Garnet was founded in the 1860s as a gold mine on the Garnet Lode, 20 miles southwest of Missoula and 11 miles up into the mountains, in a ravine known as First Chance Gulch. The town sits 6,000 feet above sea level. By 1898 about 1,000 people called Garnet home but in 1912 a fire swept through, destroying half the town. By then the gold had run dry and most of what was lost was never rebuilt. Today it is preserved by the Bureau of Land Management, receiving upwards of 16,000 visitors annually (according to BLM). During the summer Rangers occupy some of the buildings and volunteer campers act as tour guides while living out a three-month vacation like old settlers. That kind of takes away from the ghost town feel for me, but rest assured if you visit when no one else is there, you’ll feel the pressing loneliness of the surrounding wilds.

Rumors are that some of Garnet’s buildings are haunted. You know the thing about rumors, however, so believe what you want. Of course, I tend to be pretty null regarding spirits and hauntings, having wandered many places with supposed ghosts without notice.

Sadly, I wasn’t paying much attention to my camera settings, and used the wrong light metering, resulting in pictures much too bright and washed out. It’s even more unfortunate since I likely won’t ever get back to Garnet.

The Trail To Town

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The road is more than 10 miles of gravel and twisting turns on a single lane, all of it up hill.
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The view from the top is gorgeous and well worth the trip. You really get an appreciation for what it must have taken to live here back in the days of horse and donkey travel. 
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Have Honda will travel.
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At the top, near the parking area, the trail divides into a path down to the mine or to the town. This piece of equipment was used to pull the cable for mining carts. It now sits near the road.

Main Street

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I finally arrived much later than planned and the sun was playing at hiding behind light haze. Some buildings have little descriptive plaques telling their history. Many of these are rebuilt and maintained by the BLM and Parks Service. 
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The road leads to a parking area on a hill with trail descending down toward the main street. You will find a very nice view of the town from above as you descend the trail. 
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Kelly’s Saloon is one of the buildings rumored to be haunted. People report hearing music when no one is there, or laughter. Of course, all was quiet while I was visiting, and the door was firmly locked so no pictures inside the building.
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Small shed out back of the hotel, now quietly decaying. The barrels were likely once used as cheap furnaces for burning firewood.
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The green moss is soft and striking compared with the hard, straight lines of decaying wood.
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Beside the saloon are some of the mining carts used to haul ore out of the pits.
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More mining equipment. Because the trek out of the gulch is so long and difficult, miners didn’t bother to recover most of the equipment; even metal that could have been sold for scrap was left behind.

Up the Hill – Miner’s Homes

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Flat boards were a sign of wealth or importance and were reserved for the businesses or town fathers. Most buildings are simple log cabins that would have had mortar mixed between the logs to keep the wind at bay. Over time as the logs dried and shrank the mortar fell away, leaving skeleton-like ribs of walls.
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The cabins are very simple construction.
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Walls were often papered with old newspapers or packing materials. Things were recycled as much as possible in the settler and mining towns because process resources were so scarce. This is similar, yet cruder, to the homes in Bannack.
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Who knows how old the doors in this refuse pile are? Some snow still clung in the shadows of buildings.
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Outdoor plumbing.
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This outhouse has seen better days.
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Some cabins are in better condition than others.
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These little cabins reminded me of Russian folk tales like Baba Yaga.

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Arched doorway to the outhouse. I think this home belonged to one of the wealthiest men in Garnet, although I do not know by what standards wealth was measured.
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This cabin is closed off to visitors and staff, so I wonder at the age of the coverall hanging behind the stove. One surprising thing about Garnet was the amount of heavy iron stoves. Nearly every home had one.
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This cabin is much more sturdy than the downslope homes, and is used for storing wooden planks used for maintenance.
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It’s funny to see finished pieces like the doors hanging on houses of the barest of construction.

Things

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I wonder what kind of investment it took purchasing and transporting stoves like this.
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More stoves. This one has seen better days.

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This old stove top lies where it was thrown who knows how long ago. I wonder if it was repurposed to serve as a seat at one point. 
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Miners’ tools still litter the town.
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Parks staff have collected some of the nicer trash from a bygone era. The nice thing about such a remote location is that bored vandals looking for easy targets is a rarity.
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A collection of tires.
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Peeking into one of the sealed cabins reveals yet another stove.
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This shed is used by Parks staff for storage.
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Buildings for the Parks staff are well maintained and have amenities like glass windows and fireplaces. But they are not new buildings, merely refurbished.
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House on the hill.
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Pit sunk to look for quartz veins in the bedrock, now mostly filled in with brush and debris.
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And mounted on a tree looking out over the mining pit is a goat head, now mostly missing it’s skin, with bits of fur hanging off where it decayed or was torn at by some animal. This was a surprise to wander into, and thankfully I was on my way out of the park when I stumbled across it.
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