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Montana Settings: A Visit to Garnet Ghost Town and Coloma

Saturday was an amazing writing day. Any day I get to spend with the Gallaghers is a wonderful day. You might wonder who else I could possibly introduce into this remarkable family . . . not going to tell you yet. In between bursts of writing, I thought about the road trips I want to take around Montana in the name of research. Then I got to thinking about the Christmas book I plan to finish this year, which sparked thoughts about visiting ghost towns. There's a ghost in the Christmas book.

An author's mind is an odd place to be.

My characters were screaming at me to get back to work, and then I thought about blogging (too much thinking going on here) and decided it was time to cheat and recycle a favorite post. I posted it a few years back, but alas, it disappeared into the abyss. It's from the summer I visited Garnet Ghost Town and Coloma in northwest Montana. I had lived here over a decade before I finally made the trip, less than two hours away. Shame I waited so long, but still worth the wait. I'm due for another visit. Read on for pictures and the story.

The drive up the mountain was breathtaking. It rained on and off, but that is the perfect type of day for me. We were lucky enough that most of the clouds and the fog remained at bay until the drive down.

I can't explain exactly why I was so happy to be on this particular trip. In only know that from the moment we began to drive up the mountain, I kept the window down and let in the fresh pine-scented air while the cool breeze blew across my face. It was simply wonderful.

If you ever have a chance to visit Garnet and Coloma, the drive up provides a nice history lesson with interactive displays along the way. But there was more than that. One of the first displays told us about a Frank Hamilton and the Sand Park Cemetery. I only took video of that particular display (lost to the ages now), but suffice it for now to say that there was no Frank Hamilton listed on the grave markers, at least not that I saw.

"Frank Hamilton died last Tuesday and was buried in the Coloma Cemetery on Thursday, under the auspices of the Garnet Miners Union. Deceased was about 35 years of age, but nothing is known of his antecedents, further than that. He was born in Colorado, presumably at Canon City." —Drummond Call, Friday, October 6, 1905

It s sad to be a part of history as these men were, and then to only be remembered for your name, year of death, and if you were lucky, where you were born.

The next display was to tell us about the old stage stop. 

We then continued up the mountain where we finally parked and walked the short distance to Garnet. My first glimpse of it was surprising. I knew it was a preserved ghost town, but I hadn't realized just how well preserved.

Walking through the boarding house was a fun experience. When I first saw the kitchen, I had to pause and wonder if I could have managed to cook everything I do the way they used to, without all of the handy gadgets I enjoy now. I took many photos of the interior, and one of these days I will put together a video of them.

I was hoping for ghosts at least at the boarding house, but alas they were as absent as the sunshine. If one is going to call a place a ghost town, one should expect there to be ghosts. Behind me (below) are the stairs to the second floor bedrooms.

This was the nicest of the upstairs bedroom. It was also the only room with signs that a woman lived there. Even with a good dusting, it could not have been easy to live here.

I had some fun imagining what it would have been like to honeymoon in this cabin, but I suppose when you marry in the middle of nowhere, you take what you can get. I'm a little kinder to the characters in my books.

Perhaps with a bit of cleaning a solid door, and a good mattress . . .

Then a stop off at the old blacksmith shop where the bellows was more than twice my size. I so wanted to give it a try. 

And then off to the "jail." Be grateful you weren't a misfit in Garnet.

I have yet to figure out what this contraption is. It looks like it could have been used as a walking device for children, or as something to hold a giant cast iron pot and move it around the kitchen. An autographed book goes to the first person who emails me with what this is.

There are more photos which will be in a video (that I swore I would have done years ago), but for now let's take a look at Coloma, a nearby mining camp that hasn't been preserved. You can also learn more about Garnet at garnetghosttown.org.

Coloma Ghost Town/Mining Camp

Called the "Mystery Camp," little information is available. The town was active from 1893 to 1906. During that period, the entire Coloma district produced approx. $250,000 in gold. The area was active again in 1918-1921 and 1932-1950. Current archaeological study of the site is being conducted by graduate school at University of Montana. Submitted by: M. S. "Doc" McClanahan *

Though not preserved, Coloma was my favorite part of the trip. There was definitely something in the crisp and clean air. The men up at this mining camp may have had more rustic lodging, but they certainly had the best setting and views. I was surprised at the number of cabins still standing, even partially. 

This was my favorite of the cabins, perhaps because it was settled in a lovely place by itself among. I imagine it was quite "cute" at one time.

Though I don't believe whoever had to sleep here every night would agree with me. It might have been cozy when newly built.

This was my favorite place up in Coloma. You had to walk around to find it, but it's definitely worth the easy trek. Among those rocks I sat and imagined life in those mountains a century ago. Perhaps the men found solace from their work by escaping to this place . . .

. . . to enjoy the view from the rocks. It's understandable why some of them built cabins along this spot.

Can you see them there? Exhausted from a hard day's work, all alone except for each other's company and the wilderness.

If you're ever inclined to visit northwest Montana, I suggest a drive up the mountain to Garnet and Coloma. Despite getting temporarily lost coming back from Coloma (I swear I wasn't driving), it was a truly beautiful day. Not to mention inspiring for a book. As for getting lost, we got turned around (okay, maybe it was a little my fault because I was enjoying the view too much). We stopped, and upon exiting the vehicle and noticing signs that a large bear had been nearby recently, I turned to a modern convenience in a not-so-modern setting—GPS. Yep, Verizon GPS got us out of Coloma.

On the way out, we stopped for a lovely walk in the woods. Then of course there was the drive back home with a stop at Salmon Lake. The sun briefly decided to come out and play.

Same lake, except this was on the drive down.

It's no wonder, with all the inspiration around me, that I set so many of my books in Montana.

Let me know if you have a ghost town story you want to share.


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MK McClintock
Author. Storyteller. Poet. Baker.  Mountains are my happy place. Nice to meet you!


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