27 February 2008

Butte Montana: The View from Here

Butte, America: Where all the voters are Democrats, the sun shines everyday, and the Berkeley Pit (America's largest toxic lake) protects us from the influx of uppity newcomers that plague nearby towns such as Bozangelas.

Well, it's not quite that good, maybe, but on a crystal clear day at 6,000 feet in the northern Rockies, it sure seems like it. Yesterday was such a one, with mountains 50 miles away seemingly close enough to touch. Of course, a town is more than the view, and that's where Butte really shines. Good schools, affordable homes, a lively arts & culture scene, historically rich, and fantastic 4-season outdoor recreation: if some cultural geographers are right, these are the sorts of things that Americans are looking for in the post-oil, post-suburban sprawl 21st century. If Montana Tech ever gets its recruiting shit together and quits hiding its light under a bushel, we'll be over-run with students from the cloudy, crowded upper Midwest and Northeast seeking the Good life. And the view is good, too!

I don't have much of a view from my office window (I look into windows of the Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology in the adjoining building, Main Hall). But when I stand at the stall in the Men's Room looking out the window, what a view! Back down the hallway to my office, grab the camera, step out front of the building, here we go:

This is the view south to what is commonly known as "The Flats"--neighborhoods and a business district that grew up primarily after WWII, thanks to the GI Bill, automobility, and the desire to escape the dense urban housing of the old Butte city on the hill. Even today, many native Buttians see it as a step up in life when they move from the hill to the flats.

(You can click on and enlarge/zoom in to see these photos in more detail.)

In the photo above, you are looking up the Silver Bow valley toward the airport and Pipestone Pass. On the right is Timber Butte in front of the Highland Mountains. Not much timber on Timber Butte, but it is recovering and will continue to do so if it doesn't get all built up with houses. You can also see the film of blue haze that hangs over The Flats on calm days--a result of an air inversion that is so common in high mountain valleys. This layer of pollution rarely reaches the elevations of the uptown area, as you can see:

This is the view east to the uptown or Butte Hill. Along the East Ridge of the Continental Divide on the right is the small white scar that marks "Our Lady of the Rockies" (aka "Their Lady of Our Rockies")--an 80 foot Virgin Mary statue dedicated to "mothers everywhere." In center right, extending down the base of East Ridge, are the carved rock walls of the Berkeley Pit and (to the left) the still-active Continental Pit (open pit copper mines). In center left, between the Butte Hill and East Ridge, are "The Ramparts"--though I'm not sure if this is an official USGS name or just a colloquial local term. Scattered throughout the photo are head frames (aka "gallows frames") marking various now-abandoned underground mines.

If you get bored taking in the Butte view, you can always drive 5 miles north to The Moulton for a little cross country skiing. Here's a view of the "pole line" run on Buzzy trail. It's not a groomed trail, but the recent warm weather created a nice base, and with fresh snow it makes for great touring:

Enjoy the view!


Esilli said...

Hey Pat, have you ever visited the Continental Pit? It would be cool to see the mine in action. Or maybe there's an overlook that would give one a bird's-eye view?

Pat Munday said...

Hi Elilli,

I had an "official" tour some years ago, and there are some "unofficial" good overlooks into the current work.

Good idea for a blog, though I admit I've mixed feelings about it. The jobs are good, the wages & taxes help Butte's economy, the mine helps make Dennis Washington (who has never done much to reinvest profits in Butte) rich(er), and the copper & moly help China to become a powerful international military & economic force. And, like all mines, the Continental Pit will someday close, posing yet another remediation & restoration challenge. Washington's plan to mine the Continental Vein (a metals-rich zone) will connect the Continental Pit with the Berkeley Pit just before Washington pulls out of town...

What are your thoughts about the Continental Pit now and in the future?

- Pat

Esilli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Esilli said...

It is what it is. The question is, who's responsible for the aftereffects when the work is over? We're good at individualizing land, but not very good at dealing with the collective, common side effects of working on it.

But I've never been to Butte. I think it's be cool to see the active pit, though, when I do. Is there a good view from the granite mountain memorial overlook? granitemountainmemorial.com