At Joe Fasula’s insistence, we made a stop in Butte, MT on our way to Missoula to see the infamous Berkeley Pit. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Butte was in the midst of its heyday as the largest mining boomtown in the American West. The advent of electricity caused the demand for copper to soar and the town’s abundant copper reserves soon gave it its nickname as “the richest hill on earth”.
Anaconda Copper began operation of the Berkeley pit in 1955 as one of the first open pit mines in the US, and it soon became the largest. When mining in the Berkeley pit was halted in 1982, the water pumps were shut down with it. Water has been collecting in the pit ever since, resulting in the highly toxic, acidic mess that it is today. Not much is being done to restore the water in the pit and it is estimated that the water will reach a critical level (high enough to begin flowing into the town’s water sources) by 2020. Oddly enough, the town is surprisingly proud of this mining disaster and has made the Berkeley pit into a tourist spectacle. Despite knowing full well what lay beyond the long corridor leading to the pit’s edge, my curiosity got the best of me (shouldn’t this be a shameful secret rather than proudly on display?) and I paid the $2 entrance fee. Zach, smartly, chose to sit this one out. Sure enough, the pit looks just as you’d imagine a giant pool of toxic water to look. I walked away feeling not only saddened by the pit’s existence but ashamed that I had just paid to support it.
We made it to Missoula by late afternoon and immediately met up with my good friend Jess. Jess and I met in Charleston, SC in 2006 while serving in Americorps. We were welcomed with open arms by Jess and her roommates and spent the next few days catching up and exploring the city. Missoula is much smaller than I imagined but, as a college city, filled with lots of cool bars, eateries and fun things to do. We were told by my friend Shannon that the one thing we HAD to do while in Montana was “float the river” (aka tubing back east). Upon touring Missoula, it is immediately apparent that this is a big part of the culture here – there are tubes for sale in every shop window and groups of people floating at any given time in the day. So on our first day in Missoula we got together a group of people, a couple six packs of PBR and drove about 10 miles north of Missoula to begin our float. The Clark Fork River conveniently flows right through downtown so after about two hours of floating we were able to get out and walk only a block back to Jess’s house. We were excited to see our first bald eagle of the trip but unfortunately forgot our camera so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
The rest of our time in Missoula was filled with BBQs, First Friday, the farmer’s market and perhaps a little too much beer. Thanks again to Jess, Todd, Vince, and Megan for a good time.