Freaky Family Fun, Day Two (A Trip to the Center of the Universe)

Day Two – Traveled 485 miles by car with numerous stops along the way before arriving at our destination for the evening in Billings, Montana.  On this day, we realized that a vital part to the DVD players was missing, and the kids would not be able to watch movies in the car.  My 15-year-old nephew texted his dad, “This is the worst day of vacation so far.”  Near the end of the day, several warning lights (the check engine light, the CRUISE and BRAKE lights, and the dynamic motion sensor light) started going off in the car – the car with less than 6,000 miles on the odometer.  Yes, I was mildly freaked out as I knew where the next day’s travels would take us – the gorgeous yet barren wilderness of eastern Montana and North Dakota.  I was imagining breaking down in the middle of nowhere in three digit heat with two grumpy teenagers who are from Oregon and were already complaining about the 70 and 80 degree temperatures in Washington.  It was another very long day.

Miner’s Hat Realty in Kellogg, Idaho.  Yes, a realty company is located in a building constructed to look like a miner’s hat.

Before leaving Kellogg, Idaho, however, we walked and drove around the historic town.  Much of this part of the country was originally settled by miners.  That is, after the American Indians had lived there for centuries.  I never thought much about our country’s mining past, but now that I have a kid who works in the industry, I have a newfound interest and respect for this part of our country’s history.

If you tour historic Kellogg, Idaho, you will find many sculptures dedicated to mining, but also many whimsical ones as well.  My nephew and I loved this one of a knight and dragon.

Sunshine Mine Disaster Memorial off highway 90 between Kellogg and Wallace, Idaho.

The Sunshine Mine was one of the largest silver mines in our country.  In 1972, a fire in the mine resulted in the deaths of 91 miners.  This was one of the largest mine disasters in our country’s history following the December 1907, Monongah Mining Disaster in West Virginia which killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children.  One of the earliest celebrations of Father’s Day occurred as a result of this disaster (read about that in my Father’s Day post here).

The people of Wallace, Idaho, are proud of their town.  Picture taken by my niece.

Statue of the Sunshine Miner and His Family, Wallace Visitors’ Center, Wallace, Idaho.

Wallace, Idaho, is a town of 784 that prides itself on having no fast food restaurants, having every building in their downtown area listed on the National Register of Historic Places (which prevented the federal government from building the highway through it which would have destroyed much of it), and for it being the Silver Capital of the World.

Wallace, Idaho, Silver Capital of the World.

While silver mining is important to their history and it continues today, they also are proud of their pristine mountain environment which attracts outdoor enthusiasts year round.

Center of the Universe, Wallace, Idaho.

As a further testament to their independent and proud heritage, Wallace, Idaho, also has the unique distinction of being The Center of the Universe.

The Center of the Universe is marked by a pothole cover in Wallace, Idaho.

You know this is true not only because of the signs, but because of the manhole cover in the center of town marking the spot.

This “tongue in cheek” distinction came about in 2004 when the mayor of Wallace declared it as such after the EPA spent what townspeople considered to be an excess amount of time and resources on Wallace.  He complained that Wallace must be the Center of the Universe.

The town of Wallace survived a devastating fire in 1910, Lana Turner was born there, and much of the film, Dante’s Peak, was filmed in the area.  All of this in one cute and historic little town nestled in the mountains of Idaho and just off highway 90.

And you thought Idaho was just famous for potatoes.

Snow in the mountains in Montana.  It’s a tad weird to see snow in June when the outside temperatures are in the upper 90s.

We left Idaho and continued east into Montana, Big Sky Country.  Montana has this distinction for a reason.  The vistas are amazing even though the further along we traveled, the more we saw the devastation from various wildfires resulting from the dry Winter and unusually hot and dry Summer.

You know that you are traveling in the wild, wild West when you see roadside stands selling not only locally grown cherries and fireworks for Fourth of July, but also (live) artillery shells (they were $10 apiece).

We continued our trek across the Northern West on highway 90.  We would eventually veer off highway 90 and continue North on highway 94 through North Dakota on Day Three of our adventure.  This would be my first visit to North Dakota – another state to check off my bucket list.

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