Deer Lodge, MT to Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID to somewhere near Spanish Fork, UT
30.03.2016 - 31.03.2016
I woke up this morning in the best mood after a good night's sleep. I enjoyed a real breakfast at the hotel that was a billion times better than the usual Jet Boil-ed lukewarm oatmeal. I showered and took my time getting ready. I had a feeling it'd be a great day. We had done some research last night and made a long list of places we wanted to see today, ending on the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho that the internet promised would be beautifully surreal.
The Berkeley Acid Pit in Butte, Montana was our first stop of the day. The pit is a former open pit copper mine 900ft deep, filled to the brim with water as acidic as Coca Cola and filled with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals like arsenic, sufuric acid, and zinc. It's both a tragic environmental problem and a major tourist attraction with attached gift shop. But it only charged $2 admission to look at the pit of chemicals, so of course we had to check it out!
But when we go there, the place was locked up and closed. No one was at the site's ticket center and the gift store lights were off. The only way to see the pit was through the locked gates; it was boarded up everywhere else. An old woman pulled up next to us while we were checking out the area wanting to tour the pit as well. We all pulled out our smartphones to double checked the website together, but nothing said the site would be closed today. On our way out, I made sure to use my telephoto lens to photograph the place from between the fenceposts. It was my personal revenge and sad attempt to make the trip worth it.
Leaving the city, we got a kick out of the city's name which was proudly featured on all of its local products. My favorite was the "Butte beer," which I still need to try one day.
The drive to southern Idaho was slow and crazy boring, with one lane roads cutting through a flat and empty landscape. We promised ourselves the Craters of the Moon Monument would be worth it along the way. Every now and then, a new butte would come up on the horizon, and we'd google it's name to entertain ourselves. Pictured below is the "Big Southern Butte," the only thing we had to look at for a couple hours. We saw some horses at one point which was our biggest excitement until we finally hit the park.
Driving into the park, there was strangely no one at the ticket center. I drove in and parked so I could pay at the visitor center, but that was closed too. The entire area was a ghost town. Worse, we both had to pee and the only bathrooms were inside the locked building.
We tried to make the most of it and drive around even though it was technically closed, but every road was blocked off except for a small circuit right by the entrance and one lookout point with a sign describing the landscape (which to be honest, wasn't too interesting). The signs said the other areas were open for hikers, just not cars. But the next closest lookout point was a couple miles away, we had to pee, and it was going to get dark soon. It wasn't worth it.
Idaho was cruel to us once before when the fog forced us out of the state and into Montana, and it was cruel once again. Even on our way out of Idaho, we faced strange challenges. The landscapes were dull yellow and lifeless. We found a town made up of only a post office and a cemetery. Later, the workers at a gas station pulled the blinds down and changed the open sign to closed as we pulled up (but we still bought gas). I hold a small grudge towards the entire state now, I can't help it.
Idaho's only saving grace was the sunset, with the most vivid colors of any I'd see the whole trip. We stopped at a general store in a Native American reservation to buy a coffee and watch the orange sky turn black.
We didn't stop again until Salt Lake City where we briefly toured the city as we ate a late fast food dinner and enjoyed finally being somewhere populated again. I was still angry that we wasted the whole day driving to places that weren't open but, since we got a decent sleep last night, I figured we might as well power through and get more driving out of the way until we get close to our next destination -- Colorado.
After a few hours, we were regretting our decision to power through...and just about every other decision today. We got to a National Forest near the Colorado/Utah border by roughly 2am, and spent awhile trying to read the signs to find a safe dispersed camping site. I was happy to find this forest marks theirs distinctly with a big sign, even explaining the rules to newbies. We set up camp in the pitch black forest, hoping there was nothing dangerous nearby, and tried to get some sleep.