The Loop – Ennis, Virginia City, and Nevada City

Update: This was the first Saturday where the park was closed so we explored further afield. We completed the loop in one VERY long day but I am splitting it into two blog posts.

Whenever we go to a new area, I pick up as many free magazines as I can find that talk about attractions in the area. There is a surprising amount of info in these magazines (if you read them carefully) that is more difficult to find online. One of the things I read about early on was called The Loop, but unfortunately I lost that magazine and only had a vague recollection of it. But since Yellowstone was closed and we were looking for something to do in the outer areas and I finally tracked down this picture in a Montana magazine. The Loop is in black.

The Vigilante Trail actually goes from Glacier to Yellowstone and was originally a dirt road in the 1920’s. The trail was historically significant because a group of local vigilantes (based out of Virginia City) coded warnings to frontier ruffians carving 3-7-77 into trees to warn people. They also covered the loop area and some people refer to it as the Vigilante Loop. If you are wondering what 3-7-77 is (we certainly did) it is the measurement for a coffin. This warning and group were so popular locally that the warning was later incorporated into the Montana Highway patrol.

Like many vigilante groups their history is a mixed bag, but the locals attribute the group to being a key contributing factor to the end of the Civil War. In mid 1800’s there were many confederate sympathizers living in the hills who were funneling gold to the Confederacy. The vigilantes tracked these folks down and hung a group of them which started the legends. The loop you see up above was a big part of the area they covered and is full of small historic towns.

We started the day heading north and thankfully it was a beautiful day although it was a little hazy. We arrived in Ennis first and I loved the sign below so much I asked Lee to turn around so I could get a picture of it. Pretty much sums up Ennis, which is a lovely little town. We also got lucky because there was a farmers market in process in Ennis and we stopped and I loaded up. It was my first farmers market of the summer and I bought artisanal raspberry jam, fennel, homemade dog biscuits, a hand thrown cup, and summer sausage sticks. There was a surprising amount of variety considering how small the town was and it was great. Love me a small town farmers market.

After Ennis we went on to Virginia City which is a great old mining town. Mining towns are probably Lee’s favorite because they contain lots of old west history and lawmen (and outlaw gangs) congregated in these areas. Virginia City, MT was one of the coolest we have seen even more amazing because it was saved by one couple.

In the 1940’s Charles and Sue Bovey from Minneapolis, MN were on a road trip and passed through the crumbling town. They saw it’s potential and started buying up property and worked to restore it. The town is now a National Historic Landmark and is operated as an open air museum, but the town clearly gives credit to Charles and Sue for its salvation.

The open air aspect is what I actually found interesting about the place. Many of the structures are restored and you can peek in the buildings and see what they would have looked like. Most of the restorations are extremely well done and although the dummies are a bit cheesy the displays themselves are really cool. We spent well over an hour walking both sides of the street and peering in every open doorway. There are also some actual shops interspersed with the historic buildings and it was super dog friendly.

We generally don’t take Jack to crowded places, but it got up to 80 degrees on this particular day so we walked him along the boardwalk. He did ok as the day wore on and certainly seemed to be having fun with all the excitement. It was particularly crowded that day because they were having bed races for brothel day (that didn’t start until 4pm so we missed it) and one vendor told us they were getting lots of Yellowstone traffic that would normally be in the park.

There were a lot of buildings to look at but I had a few favorites. There were two general stores that were amazing. In particular I loved the historically accurate ceilings and wall paper. One even had tiny PO Boxes inside.

Lee loved the free museum with lots of artifacts, which for me was only so-so but I did like the many buffalo coats they had one display.

We both really enjoyed the newspaper and printing presses included a wonderful ‘

This unitype was so cool

I went into the historic Anaconda hotel which accepts guests (and ghosts) during the season. The manager was kind enough to take me one a tour. It was really well done, in particular the beds were gorgeous and all antiques. If you like staying in historical places I would definitely recommend it.

My absolute favorite though was the arcade, which was full of beautifully restored arcade games, many of which you could play for a quarter. I cashed in a couple of bucks and spent some time in there and really enjoyed myself. In particular they have a couple of “adult” films which are pretty quaint in this day and age.

After Virginia City we headed east a bit to Nevada City which had some historic buildings, a railroad area, and a small village with people in costumes. It was getting hotter though and later in the day so we continued on the loop. I am going to stop here though and say if you don’t have all day to see the area, you could certainly just drive to Virginia City and then come back. That would be a lovely day trip. Intrepid explored that we are though we pressed on and I will cover that next time 🙂

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