Location: Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway
With our base camp of operations being Jackson Hot Springs in Jackson, MT, my wife and I set out to explore the highway connecting Montana Rt. 278 just south of Polaris and Hi-way 43 in Wise River, otherwise known as the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. This road, which was only partially paved several years ago, is now completely paved. We begin just south of Maverick Mountain Ski Area and Elkhorn Hot Springs and are greeted by the Pioneers two tallest peaks, Torrey Mtn at 11,147 and Tweedy Mtn at 11,154. About 10 miles into our drive we come to Crystal Park, a state park where you can dig your own crystals, right out of the ground, for a $5 car entrance fee. We gladly paid the $5 and set about digging with our hands to find lots of small crystals. The dogs enjoyed looking with us, and the gentle snow that began to fall while we were exploring only added to the experience. Several miles from the Crystal Park is a turnoff for Coolidge Ghost Town. This gravel road winds its way back into the woods for about 7 miles. Once at the trailhead, it's about a 1/4 mile walk to the historic ghost town of Coolidge. It's been untouched, with all the buildings and houses in a state of ruin. No preservation of buildings here. Everything is falling down, and it gives the place an eerie feel. If you dig ghost towns, it's definitely worth a visit, and a very enjoyable hike.
Back in the truck, we drove the final miles to Wise River. Having spent the past several hours driving, digging, climbing and hiking, we'd worked up an appetite. We stopped at the Wise River Club for a burger and a beer. Good burgers and fries. I would highly recommend stopping if you're hungry and in the area. We headed back the same way we came, and made the return trip to Jackson in 45 minutes. We had a great day and both look forward to coming back this winter to enjoy a ski and soak weekend.