A gem in the middle of nowhere

It’s been all over my Facebook and RSS feeds.

Some people tag or DM me and say, “You’d be perfect for this.”

I smile and think, “Been there, done that.”

Associated Press picked up a recent story from The Missoulian, detailing the droves of volunteers who signed up for the opportunity to spend a month at the ghost town of Garnet, MT.

The volunteers get a private furnished cabin with propane stove and refrigerator, wood stove and a food stipend. In return, they provide visitor information, lead tours and handle sales of souvenirs.

The initial story went viral, getting shared on Facebook more than 32,000 times, according to The Missoulian’s followup.

“We got people asking about it from South Africa, from China, the United Kingdom, Germany and all over the country,” Bureau of Land Management Maria Craig told the newspaper. “There were more out-of-state people than Montanans calling.”

Done that?

OK, no, I haven’t spent a month volunteering at Garnet but I’ve been there.

Last summer, My American took me and Shep on a road trip to Missoula. Since he’s been to five of the seven towns and cities in which I’ve lived, he wanted to share one of his stopovers with me.

Trouble was, life went a bit chaotic in the weeks that followed: engagement, filing immigration papers, Shep’s passing, and Bella’s entry into our lives. So I haven’t gotten around to sharing that trip.

Until the spotlight fell on Garnet. It stirred the muse and made me want to share Shep’s last official ghost town adventure.

ghost town garnet montana

Dusty and dry

If you head to Garnet in the middle of July, come prepared with lots of water.

It’s hot and dry … really dry.

And don’t forget bug spray. Lots of bug spray.

Silver and gold were first discovered in Montana’s Garnet Mountains in the 1860s. The town — nestled at the top of a dusty, dry road we took from either the I-90 or Route 200 — boasted around 1,000 people in its heyday.

Visitors take a walking tour of the hotel, the saloon, the union hall, a blacksmith shop and a variety of residences.

Ghost town garnet montana

Signs along the way tell the stories of Garnet and its former residents.

There’s Mary Jane — the only Adams child of three to live past three years old &mdash. She had to leave her cat behind when her dad, Sam, fell ill, forcing the family to move to Missoula.

Her house:

Missoula 035


Her bedroom:

ghost town garnet montana

And there was Anna Lindahl, a Swedish immigrant whose train from Missoula arrived in Bearmouth, late for the stagecoach to Garnet. She hiked 12 miles through the dark and arrived on time, at 5 a.m., for her new job at the hotel.

ghost town hotel

Garnet is well kept. Its residences and other buildings are adorned with furniture and other remnants left behind or recovered from its former inhabitants.

Montana ghost town


ghost town artifacts

But if you hit Garnet at the rightwrong time, like we did, it’s crowded with tourists.

“Oooh, you look like a real photographer. Could you take our picture with my camera?”

Yep, that happened in the hotel.

Me? As much as I love a good, preserved ghost town, I prefer a more serene, solitary experience.

And I found it. Just down the road.

Just us and the ghosts

As we wound our way up the dusty road through the Lubrecht Experimental Forest, I bookmarked a few places in my brain.

Sand Park Cemetery sits in a meadow just a bit north of Garnet. Its five headstones mark the final resting places for Tom Williams and William Ross (died 1898), Wm. Hamilton (1905), Wm. Scheehan (1906) and Frank Holmes (1914), according to the Bureau of Land Management.

abandoned graveyard

Two researchers, Don and Melinda Blanchford Crawford, started digging into the men’s stories and learned Frank Holmes was a miner and saloonkeeper who immigrated to Montana from Sweden in 1880. He lived in Garnet, never married and died suddenly of heart failure at age 54. His assets when he died included “a dozen quarts of Budweiser beer, 32 gallons of whiskey, several  hundred cigars, various taxidermied animal heads and an Edison Graphophone with 40 records.”

Coloma, I already knew, would be the prime spot for our ghost-towning adventure — a place to roam freely with Shep off-leash. It’s a rarely visited gold-mining camp that was active from 1893 to 1906.

abandoned mining camp

We were surrounded by cabins, left lonely and rotting in the woods. My American and I talked about what it must have been like to wake up, step outside a cabin and gaze upon the Garnet Valley down below.

abandoned mining cabin

We didn’t find any of the mining shafts, ventilation systems, pumping machines or remains of narrow-gauge railroad tracks that have been found, but we stood and wondered if a rock formation was a Coloma Stonehenge.

rock formation

I tried to imagine what life was like as I poked around the cabins, insulated by newspapers and magazines. One fellow left his mark by pounding his initials into a board with the head of a nail.

abandoned mining cabin

Then it was time to go. Shep, who unbeknownst to us was on his last legs at the time, was tired and starting to lag.

Maremma sheepdog

While we covered two Montana ghost towns in one day, only one stood out more as the real gem to me.

And that was Coloma.

I have, however, been granted permission by my husband to apply to volunteer at Garnet in 2016.

Hmmmm …

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