The last two years we’ve stuck around Salt Lake for the brief winter holiday my job affords, but this year I was itching for a little getaway. We decided to take advantage of a five-day weekend I had for the New Year holiday and go up to Montana. We thought it would be the perfect combination of activity, relaxation, and beer.
Though our final destination was Philipsburg, we drove to Dillon on Friday to break up the journey. Dillon is a favorite stop of ours anytime we’re driving by, but this was our first chance to stay overnight. We arrived late in the afternoon and planned to check into our Airbnb before hitting the local brewery. But as we brought our bags inside, Truman had a back seizure. It was the first one in over two years. Although we were prepared for it – we thought he’d been acting slightly off already – it still brought everything to a halt. We stayed on the floor with him until he felt moderately better, gave him a pill for the swelling, and resumed our plans.
With Truman slightly better and confined to his crate, we ventured out for dinner and beer. Nestled at the southern end of Montana Street, Beaverhead Brewing Company was a welcome haven from the frosty temperatures outside. The tasting room was warm and welcoming, the pizza from Rollin’ Bytes delicious; we were happy to while away a few hours chatting with strangers. Like Highlander Beer in Missoula, Beaverhead Brewing took its name from a previous brewery in Dillon which closed during Prohibition. I enjoy the nod to the past; it’s heartening to see local history given new life with these establishments.
The next morning we packed up, stopped for caffeine and breakfast at our usual spot (Sweetwater Coffee), and left for Bannack State Park. Only 30 minutes west of Dillon, it was a beautiful drive through a quiet, snowy landscape. A little more bare bones in the winter, the park was still a fascinating (and cold) stop. We left Tru wrapped up in blankets in the car since we didn’t want him walking around and went to explore on our own.
After visiting the Custer ghost town in Idaho last year, I expected something similar. But Bannack has an astonishing amount of structures still intact and lining the street. Many of them are unlocked and open to the public. Some are furnished, others are empty. The aim of the park is to preserve the buildings and keep Bannack as a ghost town. We wandered up the street poking in open buildings and imagining winter in such bleak isolation.
Bannack, like many towns in Montana, was founded when gold was discovered. Placer deposits were located in Grasshopper Creek in 1862 by John White. Word spread and Bannack became Montana’s first Territorial Capital two years later in 1864. But its popularity was brief. When gold was discovered in Virginia City, much of Bannack’s population left, including the territorial capital which moved in 1865. Bannack maintained a population until at least the 1930s. At the start of WWII, non-essential mining was banned, and Bannack lost its only industry.
We walked the full length of the street, admired the ice skaters, and doubled back down the other side. I started walking toward the gallows off to the side and decided against it. Even in my incredibly warm coat, I was beginning to feel the cold.
On our way out, Zach stopped at the entrance so I could walk out to get a view of Grasshopper Creek. Although the landscape in winter can seem harsh and bleak, it possesses a serene beauty. I appreciate winter so much more now that we live in Utah. I’ve endured three winters and each year it seems to share a new secret – even if I simultaneously want to get away to sunnier, drier locales.