The one thing about travel is, it gives you a context for your life back home.
You can't really put things into perspective until you are able to see them from a distance.
Things just move at a slow pace in small towns.
Business is done differently when you're distantly related to everyone.
And when the community is pretty comfortable with how things are, thank you very much, not much changes between trips home. Small town living is special that way.
In the words of an Irish man I met at the Guinness Storehouse, “A city is a city is a city.”
They’re all alike.
Small towns and small town people create a character and a local culture in their own, unique way.
That being said, there is a certain weirdness that flourishes in small towns that is very different from cities. City people get weird in a sort of homogenized way. Small town people get unique.
I mean, with a name like Anaconda, what would you expect?
With a name like that, it has to be good.
When I’m traveling and people ask where I’m from, one of the first question is always, “Why is it called Anaconda?!”
First off, it was named a long time ago. It was way before Nikki Minage made a video with her butt out and sang about it.
It was also way before Sir Mix-a-Lot made a video about butts and his Anaconda didn’t want none…
Back before those folks made music videos, Anaconda, Montana was originally supposed to be called Copperopolis (a very cool name) due to the copper mining in the area.
Unfortunately, some jerks already took that name. So, Anaconda was a close second which was the name of one of the more prominent copper mines…
So, they say…
I mean, it is good marketing. It’s not like you’re gonna forget it.
People in Anaconda, Montana are very proud of their history. So if you are going to go, it's best you know a few things.
When Montana was admitted as a state in 1889, Daly lobbied to have the capital moved here, but due to some rather sketchy acts involving stuffing ballots into a wall during the counting process, Helena won.
In 1903, Anaconda, Montana gave the Socialist Party of America first victory west of the Mississippi when Anacondans elected a socialist mayor, treasurer, police judge, and three councilmen. As the Socialists gained political power and attempted to implement reform, the company systematically undermined the party by firing socialists and taking back control in ways that were probably questionably legal and in the end, they won.
The Anaconda Company expanded business and grew production. By 1919, the smelter stood at 585 feet, the tallest masonry structure in the world. The smelter was the town's main source of income until 1980 when Atlantic Richfield Company closed the smelter and all the operations that went along with it.
This brought huge economic changes to Anaconda and also began huge cleanup operations to comply with changing environmental laws. Ever since, ARCO has been a continuous presence in the area. Cleaning up mine waste, restoring wetlands and trying to turn back the clock on over one-hundred years of mining.
A small part of the multimillion-dollar cleanup has involved the creation of the "Old Works" Golf Course, a championship 18-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus. I don't know golf, but you know, this is kind of a big deal.
If you’re going to move to Anaconda, Montana be prepared to acclimate to small town living.
For example, one would be wise to tell their children not to eat glue or dog food as pranks because the girls will remember that, even in high school and the offending individual will have problems getting a date. I mean it, not even once.
Also, be prepared to find that everyone has known everyone’s families for generations. For example, some of my high school teachers were my dad’s high school teachers and they also taught my aunts and younger siblings. We can be at a family dinner and all commiserate about so-and-so’s class and realize they have been teaching the exact same lessons for 50 years!
As with many small towns, you may find it takes some time to break the ice. Most people are friendly and curious about outsiders but you need to make it through the winter to prove you're actually going to stick around. Which brings me to my next point...
Anaconda is like the rest of Montana in that it has long winters and relatively short summers.
By long winters, I mean they are loooooooong.
I personally prefer to be too hot rather than too cold. But my dad brought up a point about the winters in Anaconda that I think is very true. He said summer days can be unpredictable with rain, and heat, and wind, or sometimes they just don't get very warm at all.
But winter is predictable. Temperatures tend to be close to just below freezing the majority of the time. Yeah, we do get cold snaps but that's not a constant. So when the weather is predictably cold, you are fine, just as long as you dress right for it. It also really helps to take up snowmobiling or skiing. This makes winter totally worth-while.
And spring is not the prettiest season. Spring is like a roller-coaster of emotion as you wait for the weather to be warm and just as you think the last of the snow has melted another foot will fall. But don't worry, it'll be gone in a day or two. That's just spring drama.
Fall is my favorite. Fall is beautiful and peaceful and colorful with the occasional late season thunderstorm and a little rain. Drive up around the lake and watch the seasons change. It's breathtaking.
Summer takes a long time to arrive and can be cool and rainy at first. July typically gets sunny and hot and August tends to be smoky from forest fires.
The other thing I would say about Anaconda that people need to know, is that it’s kind of like a girl who won the genetic lottery and became a model… only no one has discovered Anaconda yet.
There’s a good reason for that though, you need to get past the mine waste/superfund site thing first. (Seriously, that’s only on the East side!)
Then what you find is this pretty little town, just sitting around in the Mountains, waiting to be noticed.
But Anaconda has some of the best natural features you could want in a hometown. There are lakes, rivers, and streams. Mountains west of town and fields east of town. A super cheap and uncrowded ski hill is five minutes from where I grew up. There’s a hot springs, a waterfall and miles of uncrowded wilderness. Also, the sunsets in the summer are some of the best anywhere.
And it’s got personality! It’s like if that pretty girl waiting to be noticed also chewed tobacco.
Which sometimes, literally, the pretty girls around town do chew.
There is actually a surprising amount of things to do in Anaconda, especially for it being such a small town. Here are some of my suggestions.
The Washoe Theatre is this gorgeous, old, art-deco style theatre in the center of town. It’s filled with murals in copper, silver, and gold leaf. When I go to theatres throughout the world, it’s hard to compare any with this one. It’s amazing. And what’s even more special is that the cost of a ticket is under $5!
Now I realize, I grew up privileged. Discovery Ski Hill was about 10 minutes away from my home and only costed $30 for a day of skiing. Today, the price is $45 and there are never lines. During the summer the ski hill hosts a mountain bike park as well.
Right below the ski hill is Georgetown Lake where you can boat, fish, hike, and camp.
In town, you’ll find the Old Works Golf Course which was designed by Jack Nacklaus. It’s kind of a unique course because the sand traps are made from slag which is a bi-product of the smelting process.
While you’re in town, if you want to enjoy a walk in the park or let the kids run for a while, Washoe Park is the nicest one in town. The park has a walking trail that runs from the golf course, through the park, and then heads out west to the edge of town.
On the east side, not far outside of town, Fairmont has a hot springs and water slide as well as a golf course and resort. My favorite time to go is during a snow storm when you can sit in the outside pools as the snow falls down around you.
A little further out, you’ll find the water fall at Lost Creek State Park. This is a really nice place to go for a hike and picnic once the snow has melted. The rocks a ways below the falls are smooth so you can even slide down areas of the creek as long as the water is low, don’t try that during spring run-off.
As a local, I’ll tell you we are somewhat limited in our dining options in Anaconda. That being said, a person has to eat! Here are my favorites and some classics for authentic local food.
Donivan’s has been an Anaconda establishment for god-knows-how-long. If a fire and a car driving through the building can’t destroy it, I’m afraid nothing will. That being said, they have recently remodeled and in my opinion, are the best restaurant in town. Stop by for food or a nice cocktail and check out the cool old pictures of Anaconda in its smelting heyday.
Now, if you’re looking for something authentically Anaconda, it has to be Peppermint Patty’s. Their wall says it all, “It ain’t healthy but is sure tastes good.” The classics are pasties which are a sort of meat pie which is best with lots of ketchup or gravy, and pork chop sandwiches. I prefer the pork chop sandwich with pickles and mustard. Just be aware, it will put you into a bit of a food coma, but it’s worth it.
For a good pizza, Gallicanos is awesome. They make their pizza fresh to order and use quality ingredients. It’s not as fast as Pizza Hut, but it’s ten times better.
For a nice night out, I’d go with O’Bella. They have great pasta and oh my god the macaroni….
If you are closer to the lake, there are only two options; 7 Gables and The Brown Derby. These are good for a basic cheeseburger, omelets or a beer occasionally but don’t try anything fancy. The cook might be hungover and he doesn’t like that.
Whether you are on your way through, or just visiting, Anaconda is a fun little town to stop and see. It’s probably one of the most unique places you’ll find between the history, the mine waste, the ski hill, the lake, the waterfalls, and the beautiful old theatre.
Give it a try.