Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Deer Lodge, Montana


Deer Lodge is a tiny town with two attractions - the Old Montana Prison complex and the Grant-Khors Ranch National Historical Site.  We pulled into a KOA right on the Clark Fork River and set up camp for two days.  Spirit had a blast with the owner’s dog and was allowed to run free in the campground since there weren’t many people.  Free run of the place, a dog to play with, and a river to swim in – she was ecstatic!

The perimeter wall, built in 1893, is 24 feet high, 3 feet thick,
and 4 feet buried underground.
The Deer Lodge Prison Museum is much more than just an overused place of incarceration.  In fact there is a car museum, the Montana Frontier Museum, an old western town, a county heritage museum, a stunning collection of antique whiskey bottles, doll museum, and a few other buildings that we did not go in.


While this prison is not to the scale or awe of Alcatraz, it has a storied past and you still get that same creepy feeling when you step behind the bars of a prison cell or into “the hole.”  Built in the later part of the 19th century the prison was in operation for 110 years before it was closed and moved a few miles down the road.  Just across the street is the Montana State Prison Hobby Store where you can buy various items hand-made by prisoners.  I bought a dyed horse hair bracelet from inmate number 17278.  While I like his bracelet I don’t think I want to thank him in person!



Since there was no money for a prison in the state budget, prisoners were put to work and built the original prison .
The new prison had all the modern comforts 
The prison held over 1,000 prisoners.  Who knew the state of Montana had that many "bad" people?
View of the "big house" from the prison yard.
Betsy and her new friend.
The doctors/dentist office was pretty creepy.
Prison confiscated contraband
One of our favorite stops was the Montana Auto Museum.  How many car museums we have been to?  I don’t know but it seems like lots and we were ready to skip this one, except when we poked our heads in, we just couldn’t turn back.  The museum started as a Ford car museum but when the IRS caught up with the owner, all the cars went to auction.  It only took a few months for people to rally behind the now empty museum and started bringing in cars from all over the country to showcase them in the empty space.  The cars date back to the very beginning with the early Ford’s, through the Bel Airs and Thunderbirds, and on past the muscle cars.

A pop-up camper (circa 1920's)

REO Speedwagon.  I had no idea the musical band's name came from a vehicle.  Built in Lansing, Michigan, the REO was one of the most popular "speedwagons" of the 1930's.

Desert Johns Saloon has an extensive collection of whiskey bottles - some of which date back to the civil war.
The museum has an extensive gun collection and shows off the pride in Colt pistols.
Cottonwood City is a recreation of an old west town using historic buildings from the region.
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS was a pleasant surprise as we are usually not all that enamored with living history sites.  This park service site commemorates the open range cattle industry and recognizes their importance to the American west.  The small contact station at the entrance provides a great overview of the ranch and increases your desire to see more of the 1,000+ acre ranch.  The National Park Service has done a great job of making this a very interactive attraction that offers wagon rides, hot coffee served up by a chuck wagon “cookie,” a demonstration of hay baling techniques, PowerPoint presentations, and various other demonstrations of life on the ranch.

The ranch was settled by Johnny Grant in 1859.  Later the ranch was purchased by cattle barren Conrad Kohrs.
Fields of hay ready to be cut and the beaver slide hay stacker (the tall wooden structure extending upwards).  The beaver slide was  a traditional means of stacking or bailing hay that is still used today.  
Visitors are free to wander the grounds and peek into the historic buildings.
The Thoroughbred barns.
Draft horses facing the Flint Creek Range and Mount Powell reaching 10,200 feet.

Hop on to the wagon for a narrated tour of the grounds.
The ranch house built in 1862.
We had a great time in Deer Lodge and found more to do than we thought.

1 comment:

  1. Looks as if you guys are still enjoying our state and staying out of the fire zone! My Mom and her husband at the time lived in Deer Lodge and worked for the cluster of museums. Mom liked the doll museum--not many visitors and she could read her book!

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