Ghosts at Garnet

Travel Journal – July 28, 2016

I’ve been staring at this blog page for five days now, I just can’t seem to put down my thoughts on my adventure to Garnet. It’s not because it wasn’t a beautiful, exciting drive. I guess I need a vacation from retirement. I will get that soon, as in two days Jagger and I will pack up at Beavertail Hill and we will go home. There I will see my Sister and Brother-in-law, two people I miss and haven’t seen in over two years. This is the longest time my Sister and I have been apart since she was born. While “home” I will finish several repair projects on the Coach and get much needed maintenance completed. I will also have the rear bumper of the Workhorse repaired from the accident in Chandler, Arizona six months ago. Progressive Insurance told me it was okay to wait until I was somewhat stable in one location for awhile. I’ve already made the appointment with “Wimps Body Shop” in Hamilton.

On the road

On the road

As we pull out of the campground I listen to Google rattle on with directions. I chose the “shortest” route to Garnet Ghost Town. I’ve learned that the shortest isn’t always the best, but I’m not towing the Coach so I go for it. This proves to be the case this time. However, I must say it was the most exciting. The following drive is what NOT to do when visiting Garnet Ghost Town. That is unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle.

Just off Interstate 90 we turned on the frontage road. Following it for a short while we eventually turned on to Bear Gulch Road. From there we continued until the pavement played out, then onto a dirt and gravel road. Google urged us to continue our travel on the road until the gravel gave out and only dirt was left. I’m glad it wasn’t raining, because that wouldn’t have been pretty. Little did I know it would only go uphill from there, literally.

Sand Park Cemetery

Sand Park Cemetery

After what felt like twenty minutes Google encouraged us to go through a locked gate and continue onto private property which was posted “No Trespassing”, hmm. I’m not getting a good feeling about this route. Google did not say go to jail afterwards, but I decided to continue forward on the dirt road without making the turn through the locked gate.

Then came the “Rerouting….” message from Google. Not much further down that dusty dirt road I came to another split in the road. Google told me to stay left, passing the sign that says rough ahead not for trailers. Both ways looked rough, so trusting Google as I shouldn’t I go left. From that point I travel less than a quarter of a mile before starting to climb steeply, the road also narrows from one and a half lanes to one lane with no shoulder! I’m thinking I don’t like this, but absolutely no place to turn around and Google insists this is the right way, only another mile or two.

The road starts to get more rutted and soft in places. I stop. Then I change the Workhorse transmission from four wheel high to four wheel low. As I’m pulling the gear handle into four wheel low, I remember my brother-in-law explaining to me how to use my first Suburban 4×4 many years ago. He showed me how to move the gear shift to engage the four wheel drive high. Then, referring to the four wheel drive low, well you never want to go to here.

A few buildings in good shape

A few buildings in good shape

I step on the gas and continue up the steep hill running over miscellaneous rocks and dead tree limbs that have fallen down long ago. Still Google is urging me forward. Alright enough is enough. I would stop, but I’m concerned I may not be able to regain my momentum up the steep grade, then like coming out of the woods I see daylight and I “pop out” onto a level road. It’s Main street Garnet, Montana and I see the Ranger standing in front of some old buildings down the street. Well that’s a surprise. Maybe a little too close to town.

Parking at Garnet

Parking at Garnet

I back up to a tiny sign I passed a few feet back that says parking to the right. Up the hill I go again, but this is at least a maintained gravel road. About a quarter to half a mile I see the parking on the left and find a spot near some trees for Jagger. Then I walked back down to town, all the while thinking about the quarter of a mile or more walk back up the hill.

Walking down the developed path you have a great overall view of the small town and can make out the layout of the town, imagining what life may have been like more than a hundred years ago here. Along the way there are numerous benches for those who need a rest or to stop and reflect. This once bustling city established in the late 1800’s after the gold in Placerville. California played out is now truly a Ghost Town, for those are all that lives here during the nights or cold, long winter when the snow is piled up to the windows.

Voluteer Restored Cabin

Volunteer Restored Cabin

When I reached the bottom the path that stretched down to the town, I was greeted by the Ranger who works at keeping this town from falling apart, of course with many others. She greeted me. It was still relatively early for most tourists I had a few questions and we talked for a lengthy time.  I told her of my travels to their town courtesy of Google and My truck was the one that “popped out” on Main street earlier. Her face gradually changed from her Ranger greeting face to one of surprise. When I finished my somewhat long story, she replied in surprise. “You have just experienced the grand tour of our old wagon road”. Apparently the road I took was the original old road that those living here over a hundred years ago used bringing their horse drawn wagons of supplies and groceries to town. After the wagons were unloaded they would be reloaded with the mined ore and garnets for which the town became known, for the trip down the mountain. She went on to explain, “the road is seldom ever used any more. After the snow melts from the long winters here, one of the rangers takes the road down to make sure it’s still open”. At the end of Fall she poked, “before the snow falls again they recheck the road to make sure no tourists are stuck before closing the town roads for the winter”. She went on to say, “you’re fortunate you have four wheel drive, as you wouldn’t have made it”. Like I really needed to be told 😉

Everything brought on wagons

Everything brought on wagons

I then  continued my tour walking around the old town. Some of the buildings were in decent repair through the efforts of those caring for their preservation. Others were in disrepair to outright falling down, as you can see in these photos here. Garnet is a wonderful place to visit. Plan on a few hours to see everything in this well kept Ghost town. There is also an operating mine close by that you can see, but after this I was played out and returned to the Workhorse for the trip back home.

On our way out I chose to take the “long way” that the Ranger told me about.  A MUCH easier drive on maintained gravel and paved road through the forest, with occasional views of the valley below. On our drive out I saw a sign “Sand Park Cemetery”. We stopped and I climbed the hill to check out those remaining here. There were only five lonely graves here, however through research I have seen that as many as twenty were originally here. All buried from 1898-1914. A strange span of years. The headstones contained a first and last name, but no other details about these lonely graves. There is another cemetery off the beaten path and what was once a city named Reynolds City. No remains of that city exist, other than the cemetery, from what I have read.

We moved on down the hill and back to camp.

Safe travels…Gary

More Photos: Garnet, Montana

Garnet Website: Garnet Ghost Town, Garnet Volunteers

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