The Pintler Scenic Route


Granite Co, Pintlar Scenic Route US 10AMontana Highway 1, designated the Pintler Scenic Route, has long been one of my favorite roads. It was the first Montana road to be paved in its entirety. During the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, I documented the route as U.S. 10A, but once government officials decided to decommission the U.S. 10 designation in 1986, the name U.S. 10A also went away.  t.  In its early decades the route had passed through Opportunity to Anonconda onto Phillipsburg and then Drummond, but for all of my time in Montana, the highway has gone from Interstate I-90, Anaconda/Opportunity exit to the west and then north to the Drummond exit on the same interstate. There is a new 21st century rest stop center at the Anaconda I-90 exit that has a Montana Department of Transportation marker about the mountain ranges and the Pintler route.


IMG_1285The town of Opportunity was not a priority for my travels in 1984-1985 but recent scholarship on how local residents have fought back against the decades of pollution from Anaconda’s Washoe Stack led me to give this small town of 500 a new look.  The book is Brad Tyer’s Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape (2014). Tyler details how the success of Anaconda also meant the sacrifice of thousands of surrounding acres to the pollution belching daily from the Washoe Stack until it closed in 1981.  He then reviews in detail how in the 21st century, EPA heaped a new disaster on the town by moving Milltown wastes from the Clark’s Fork River near Missoula to Opportunity, telling locals that the Milltown soil would be new top soil for Opportunity.  The environmental solution didn’t work, leaving the town in worse shape than before.

IMG_1288Opportunity residents got a small fraction of  SuperFund monies for the environmental cleanup in the form of Beaver Creek park.  But the centerpiece of the park, the Opportunity School built for residents in 1914 by the Anaconda Company, has been mothballed for now.  It operated from 1914 until the smelter ceased operations in 1981 and

IMG_1287served as the community’s focal point. Restoration of the school is problematic due to the prior use of asbestos, meaning the federally funded park is only partially finished since the SuperFund support is now gone.


Beaver Dam Park, Opportunity

The park’s sharp landscaping, with well-manicured green space, walking/jogging track, playground and picnic shelter is in stark contrast to other places merely hanging on.  The town’s Community Hall remains in use but the local store has shuttered its doors.

Opportunity Community Hall

Opportunity Store

This blog has already looked at Stack and the town of Anaconda, so let’s continue north on the Pintler route to Georgetown Lake and surviving ghost towns.

Georgetown Lake MT 1

Georgetown Lake, from St. Timothy'sSitting at 6,425 feet in elevation Georgetown Lake covers over 3700 acres.  Today it is very much a recreational landscape but when it was created in 1885 its job was to generate electrical power for the nearby mines since it stood roughly equal distance between

Anaconda (14 miles away) and Phillipsburg (10 miles away).  Taverns, motel, and rustic-style log buildings, both old and new, mark the lakeside today.

IMG_1645As the state highway historical marker above documents, this high country area was another mining region.  With an vantage point above the lake, Southern Cross is a significant remnant of the mining activities from the early 20th century.  The mines here

southern cross ghost town 13began operation in the mid-1860s and production continued for until World War II.  The settlement was largely Finnish and Swedish in the early 20th century when most of the remaining buildings were constructed.

Existing foundations, rubble heaps, and other archaeological remnants help to document the historic community and its activities.These sites are not open to the public but they are fascinating to explore from the existing roads.  One place that welcomes the public is St. Timothy’s Catholic Chapel, a wonderful example of Montana Modernism that I discussed in an earlier post.


With Southern Cross–over 7,000 feet in elevation, representing the end of the Deer Lodge County section of the Pintler Route, I will stop now, and in the next post begin the exploration into the Granite County portion of the highway.

Country Towns of Beaverhead County, Part One

Monida from MT 508, 2

Monida, at the Idaho-Montana border, on Interstate I-15.

Country towns of Beaverhead County–wait,  you cry out: isn’t every town in Beaverhead County a country town?  Well yes, since Dillon, the county seat, has a single stop light, you can say that.  But Dillon is very much an urban oasis compared to the county’s tiny villages and towns scattered all about Beaverhead’s 5,572 square miles, making it the largest county in Montana.

IMG_3387Let’s start this theme with the railroad/ federal highway towns.  Monida, at the state border with Idaho, is a good place to start, first established as a place on the Utah and Northern Railroad line as it moved north toward the mines at Butte in 1881.  Monica had a second life as a highway stop on the old U.S. Highway 91 that paralleled the tracks, as evident in the old garages left behind.

The next town north on the corridor created by the railroad/highway/interstate is Lima, IMG_3369which possesses a Montana welcome center and rest stop.  That’s important because at this stop you also can find one of the state’s mid-20th century examples of a tourist welcome center, which has been moved to this stop and then interpreted as part of the state’s evolving roadside architecture.

Lima is a classic symmetrical-plan railroad town, the plan favored by the engineers of the Utah and Northern as the railroad moved into Montana.  The west side of the tracks, where the two-lane U.S. Highway 91 passed, was the primary commercial district, with several brick and frame two-story buildings ranging from the 1880s to the 1910s.

Lima west of tracks Peat Hotel and bar

Lima west of tracks 2 Peat Hotel and bar

The east side, opposite old U.S. Highway 91, was a secondary area; the Lima Historical Society is trying to keep an old 1880s building intact for the 21st century.

The town’s comparative vitality is shown by its metal Butler Building-like municipal building, and historic churches, ranging from a early 20th century shingle style to a 1960s contemporary style Gothic church of the Latter Day Saints.

The town’s pride naturally is its school, which developed from the early 20th century two-story brick schoolhouse to become the town’s center of community.

Lima school

Eight miles to the north is a very different historic schoolhouse, the one-story brick Dell school (1903), which had been converted into a wonderful cafe when I stopped in 1984.  It is still a great place–if you don’t stop here for pie or a caramel roll (or both), you goofed.


The Calf-A is not the only place worth a look at Dell, a tiny railroad town along the historic Utah and Northern line, with the Tendroy Mountains in the background.  Dell still has its UPRR line at Dell

post office, within its one store, its community hall, and a good steakhouse dive, the false-front Stockyard Inn.  But most importantly, for an understanding of the impact of World

War II on Montana, Dell has an air-strip, which still contains its 1940s B-17 Radar base, complete with storehouse–marked by the orange band around the building–and radar tower.  Kate Hampton of the Montana State Historic Preservation Office in 2012 told me to be of the lookout for these properties.  Once found throughout Montana, and part of the guidance system sending planes northward, many have disappeared over the years.  Let’s hope the installation at Dell remains for sometime to come.

B-17 base landscape, Dell

There are no more towns between Dell and Dillon but about halfway there is the Clark Canyon Reservoir, part of the reshaping of the northwest landscape by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s.  The bureau in 1961-1964 built the earthen dam and created the

reservoir, which inundated the small railroad town of Armstead, and led to the re-routing of U.S. Highway 91 (now incorporated into the interstate at this point).

Clark Canyon Reservoir, reclamationThe reclamation project, which stored water for irrigation, also covered the site of Camp Fortunate, a very important place within the larger narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and its relationships and negotiations with the Shoshone Indians.  An early


effort to mark and interpret the site came from the Daughters of the American Revolution, who not surprisingly focused on the Sacajawea story.  Reclamation officials added other markers after the construction of the dam and reservoir.

In this century the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail has added yet another layer of public interpretation in its attempt to tell the whole story of the expedition and its complicated relations with the Native Americans of the region.

North of Dillon along the old route of U.S. Highway 91 and overlooking the corridor of the Utah and Northern Railroad is another significant Lewis and Clark site, known as Clark’s Lookout, which was opened to the public during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial of the early 21st century.

The lookout is one of the exciting historic sites that have been established in Montana in the 30 years since my initial survey for the state historic preservation plan.  Not only does the property interpret an important moment in the expedition’s history–from this vantage point William Clark tried to understand the countryside before him and the best direction to take–it also allows visitors to literally walk in his footsteps and imagine the same perspective.

Of course what Clark viewed, and what you might see, are vastly different–the tracks of the Utah and Northern, then route of old U.S. 91 are right up front, while the town of Dillon creeps northward toward the lookout.


Our last stop for part one of Beaverhead’s country towns is Glen, a village best accessed by old U. S. Highway 91.  A tiny post office marks the old town. Not far away are two historic IMG_3164

North of Glen you cross the river along old U.S. Highway 91 and encounter a great steel tress bridge, a reminder of the nature of travel along the federal highways of the mid-20th century.