Red Lodge to Estes Park

Smith Mine Disaster, Montana

Smith Mine
Smith Mine
Not long after leaving Red Lodge, we spotted a ghost mine on a hillside. The Smith Mine is the site of the worst underground coal mine disaster in Montana where 74 men were lost in February 1943. Some died as a result of a violent explosion, but most fell victim to the methane released by the blast. It’s a very poignant site. The information board quotes a note left by Walter and Johnny as they waited for the gas to catch up with them: “Good-bye wives and daughters. We died an easy death. Love from us both. Be good.” The mine finally closed in 1953 and has been left as a memorial.

Cody, Wyoming

Our next stop was back over the border in Wyoming: Cody, founded in 1895 by William F “Buffalo Bill” Cody. I must admit to being rather disappointed – it didn’t look that different to many of the other western towns we passed through, just more touristy. We admired the Irma Hotel (opened and named after Bill’s daughter in 1902), had a quick coffee and left.

Thermopolis, Wyoming

After coffee, we pressed on to Thermopolis. The statue is From this soil come the riches of the world by Carl Jensen (1999) and depicts a cowboy sifting dirt through his hands in 1897 when Thermopolis was founded. The Black Bear Café provided a good lunch, then it was back on the road again.

Hell’s Half Acre, Wyoming

Hell's Half Acre
Hell’s Half Acre
Our last stop of the day was Hell’s Half Acre, a sort of mini Bryce Canyon which, despite the name, covered about 320 acres. It was fenced off, so you couldn’t get down amongst the hoodoos, but there was a good view from above.

This was close to Casper, our overnight stop. It looked an interesting place to stay with lots of pioneer history to explore. I wish I could tell you about it – but we’d been on the road for two weeks and still had another week to go. Reader, rather than sight-see I’m afraid we took advantage of a hotel with a laundry to wash out our smalls.

Estes Park, Colorado

Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
The next day was all about reaching Rocky Mountain National Park. We only made one stop, in Laramie, the very first destination on our road trip which I’ve already written about (here) way back in October. Estes Park is the main town on the edge of Rocky Mountain and we agreed with our Lonely Planet Guide that “there’s no small irony in the fact that the proximity to one of the most pristine outdoor escapes in the USA has made Estes Park the kind of place you’ll need to escape from”. As we crawled through it bumper-to-bumper our hearts sank. Fortunately, however, my planning had been good. Our hotel, the excellent Alpine Trail Ridge Inn, was on the far side of town near the park entrance and had its own restaurant next door.  When we left in two days time we could take a different road which meant we would never need to go back into Estes Park. Not only that, we had something of a room with a view (see above). Result!

Next time: we climb Deer Mountain.


58 thoughts on “Red Lodge to Estes Park

  1. edgar62 March 13, 2017 / 10:47

    Hell’s Half Acre looks interesting. Could be worth exploring. The bumper to bumper traffic sounds like Loch Lomond at the start of the Glasgow Fair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 12:10

      Yes, I agree, quite similar – though ramped up to a huge degree in Estes Park.


  2. BeckyB March 13, 2017 / 10:49

    Know that feeling well of being on the road for so long that all you can do at the next place is just chill. Good to chill though as makes you more like a local!!

    That note from Walter and Johnny is incredibly poignant. Mining is such a scary profession.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 12:13

      Yes, it was a very sad site / sight. I liked the way they had left the mine as a memorial.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. nomad, interrupted March 13, 2017 / 12:38

    I’m sure a lot of these western towns must be very touristy. Tourist dollars are probably the only economic inflow that keeps them afloat. I went to Estes Park back in 1979; I bet it’s changed a lot since then! I do love the Rockies though. Can’t wait to read about them and see your pictures. That mine is sad. Too bad you couldn’t walk around Hell’s Half-Acre. 🙂


    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 13:03

      I imagine it has changed quite a lot! I’m just glad I’d had the foresight to book somewhere a bit out from the mayhem. There certainly looked to be lots of tourist dollars being spent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jemima Pett March 13, 2017 / 19:34

        I went to Estes Park in 1976, by Greyhound, and I don’t remember a town at all!


        • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 20:09

          Oh, you’d notice it now, Jemima! That’s interesting, it must have all spring up since then.


          Liked by 2 people

    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 14:37

      Isn’t it? This was something we knew nothing about, it wasn’t marked on our map, we just chanced upon it. Very sobering.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Suzanne et Pierre March 13, 2017 / 16:06

    We actually spent a night at the Irma Hotel and it was quite fun. It did feel like we were stepping back in time. Nice pics. (Suzanne)


  5. Donna March 13, 2017 / 16:30

    I agree that the note from Walter and Johbny was very poignant indeed. Thank you for sharing this!


    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 17:01

      Thanks Donna, I can’t bear thinking about them down there, knowing they were going to die.


  6. hilarymb March 13, 2017 / 17:36

    Hi Anabel – well done on the planning … hate tourists!!! But the Smith Mine looks so poignant – especially that message to the men’s families … I note your point above … still gorgeous photos and wonderful trip you’ve been on …

    Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 18:13

      Thank you, Hilary. More to come. I can’t believe I’m still writing about last summer in March!


  7. anotherday2paradise March 13, 2017 / 19:48

    What a very sad note, Anabel. I remember bathing in the Tepee Mineral Hot Springs pool in Thermopolis. It felt so wonderful after the cold temperatures outside.


  8. Eunice March 13, 2017 / 20:05

    The bumper-to-bumper traffic sounds dreadful, glad you got a room with a view to make it worthwhile though. The note from the two miners is so sad, I can’t bear to think of them suffering 😦


    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 23:02

      No, me neither. I’ve always had the greatest respect for miners and what they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Kathleen Jennette March 13, 2017 / 20:43

    I’m glad you are taking me on this route. I was unable to get this way when I rode. The parks do get crowded but sounds like you were prepared for it. Good thing too. The mine set some interest for me to take a look at one day. Keep it coming!


  10. philosophermouseofthehedge March 13, 2017 / 22:28

    We started going to Estes Park back in the ’50’s. A whole different place now. (Although you can still find a few isolated log cabins inside the park – with one light bulb suspended on its’ wire and rain coming in thru the holes between the logs – and no TV. But you have to book early.)
    We’ve considered Alpine Trail Ridge Inn so interested what you had to say.
    (Lonely Planet is right about the town now – sad.)


    • Anabel Marsh March 13, 2017 / 23:08

      We found it a friendly place to stay. Their onsite restaurant served reasonable Mexican food and they owned another one across the road which did breakfast. A bakery behind the hotel was good for buying picnics so, although it wasn’t exactly quiet, it had everything we needed without going back into town.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Birgit March 14, 2017 / 00:17

    I remember reading about that mining disaster…it must have been sobering to be there with so many lives lost. I know Buffalo Bill is famous but I’m not too happy knowing how many buffalo he killed. On a nicer note, this place you stayed at sounds so nice and the canyon really quite breathtaking.


  12. Ann Coleman March 14, 2017 / 00:20

    Thanks for the tip on avoiding Estes Park! But I would love to see Hell’s Half Acre, and Smith’s Mine, even though it is rather sad. I’ve been wanting to head to that part of the country for years, but your blog is making me think I need to do it sooner, rather than later!


    • Anabel Marsh March 14, 2017 / 07:51

      Yes, it’s very beautiful. Apart from Yellowstone, I knew little about the area so had few expectations so it was lovely to make these little discoveries.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Liesbet March 14, 2017 / 03:16

    It’s so interesting how we all want to avoid heaps of tourists, but that we are tourists ourselves. Whilie we prefer off the beaten track attractions, there is usually a reason why most of the big sights are on the tourist trail. 🙂


    • Anabel Marsh March 14, 2017 / 07:54

      Quite! I’m definitely a “tourist”. I can’t really pretend to be a “traveller” – that’s more you I think. But you never have to go too far from the car to escape the crowds, as most people just seem to look and move on quickly in our experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liesbet March 14, 2017 / 14:10

        That’s true. I find that having time is the best commodity of all, since you can work around the crowds, explore a bit further and sometimes even wait for better weather. Not all tourists are travelers, but all travelers are tourists, whether they like it or not. 🙂 In my opinion, from the moment you visit a new country or a place that you don’t call home (permanently or temporarily), you are a tourist. But, I guess there are different levels of tourists.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Cecilia March 14, 2017 / 18:09

    Your pictures are awesome! Make me wish to travel …


  15. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) March 15, 2017 / 15:14

    I love ghost mines and ghost towns (let’s face it, most things with the word “ghost” in them), but Smith Mine does sound terribly sad. Shame Cody wasn’t more exciting; I would have had high hopes from Buffalo Bill too


    • Anabel Marsh March 15, 2017 / 17:02

      It was terribly sad. Somebody in the comments above said they stayed in the Irma Hotel in Cody and liked it so maybe we just didn’t give it enough of a chance.


  16. Marcia Strykowski March 15, 2017 / 19:23

    Interesting to see and hear about these historic places I’ve never been to. Thanks for sharing!


  17. Sartenada March 17, 2017 / 07:46

    What an interesting post to me. I have been always interested in American history and now seeing also those gorgeous landscapes, were to me fulfillment. Thank You.


  18. Sartenada March 17, 2017 / 08:53

    Yes it is. I loved it already in school. I have post about the life of Native American; but I do not offer the link here without permission.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. In Becky's Head March 17, 2017 / 10:23

    Those photos of Hell’s Half Acre are seriously dramatic! Sounds like you’re having a great adventure 🙂


  20. roughwighting March 17, 2017 / 11:01

    I’ve never been to this part of our country, and your post makes me add it to my bucket list. Fascinating.


    • Anabel Marsh March 17, 2017 / 11:23

      Glad you liked it – and thanks for visiting and commenting.


  21. inesephoto March 18, 2017 / 00:23

    What a sad and dreary place is this Smith Mine. 74 men! Such a horrible tragedy.
    I like the Hell’s Half Acre:)


  22. rosemaylily2014 March 18, 2017 / 06:53

    Very poignant – such a sad story about Smith Mine. It must have been a harsh part of the world to live in back in the day.


    • Anabel Marsh March 18, 2017 / 07:51

      Agreed, anywhere people had to make a living in such dangerous conditions is harsh.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Lucid Gypsy March 19, 2017 / 12:27

    Fascinating rock formations aren’t they? all those stripey layers. The mine would upset me too much 😦


    • Anabel Marsh March 19, 2017 / 13:31

      Yes, it makes you realise how fascinating the earth’s history is. The mine was certainly sombre.


  24. lisadorenfest March 25, 2017 / 10:24

    How horrible was that mining disaster in Montana. Gone but not forgotten. And Wyoming is one of the 5 states I have never visited but the images of Hell’s Half Acre are definitely calling me there. I need some mountain/canyon time!


    • Anabel Marsh March 25, 2017 / 10:40

      It was a terribly sad site. One other car pulled in while we were there and nobody spoke it was so sombre.

      Liked by 1 person

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