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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: Elkhorn Ghost Town

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

Elkhorn Ghost Town

The focus of this boondocking adventure is Elkhorn Ghost Town in Montana. Elkhorn is a 19th century mining town with plenty of old buildings in various states of disrepair. The scenery around Elkhorn is breathtaking and offers hiking, fishing, hot springs, and camping opportunities.

To get to Elkhorn exit I-15 at the Boulder exit between Helena and Butte, Montana. Drive through Boulder and head east on Highway 69. Turn north or left on White Bridge Road. Turn right or east on Lower Valley Road. Turn left or north on Elkhorn Road. There are plenty of signs to Elkhorn and you can use Google maps to find it.

Travel Tips

The drive up to Elkhorn is fantastic through a mountain valley in the Elkhorn Mountains dominated by Crow Peak at the head of the valley. The town of Elkhorn is private and is still inhabited with less than 20 residents living there year around.

When exploring Elkhorn be sure to keep in mind that some buildings like Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall are part of the Montana State Park’s system and can be freely explored, but there are also private properties intermixed. However, several of the residents I talked with were extremely friendly and full of facts about their gorgeous area.

Elkhorn is conveniently located between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Elkhorn is great place to leave the crowds of the national parks behind while traveling from one park to the other.

The land around Elkhorn is private, however there are plenty of roads and hiking trails radiating from the town. Be sure drive through the town and follow the cemetery road exiting the northeast corner of Elkhorn. From this road you can access the cemetery, old mining buildings, and hiking trails on Crow Peak.

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Elkhorn Cemetery

Be sure to drive or walk up to Elkhorn Cemetery. The cemetery sits on a hill south of Elkhorn and offers great views of the town, Crow Peak, and the surrounding area. The cemetery is filled with cool headstones, ornate iron works, and a glimpse into a 1870’s mining town.

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The town of Elkhorn is surrounded by private land. However, a large section of the Helena National Forest lies just to the north of Elkhorn. Montana National Forests normally offer free camping for up to two weeks in a single location.

Other Attractions

While driving from Boulder to Elkhorn you will pass the Boulder Hot Springs. Stop in for a warm soak or dinner at a unique, small-scale resort.

While driving out of Boulder you will follow the Boulder River, which offers excellent fishing. Montana has a stream access law, which means that streams are public land and if you can access the river from public land you can fish it at long as you stay within the high water marks of the river. Public access can be obtained from a bridge, road next to the stream, or one of the many fishing access sites.

Helena

If you happen to drive by Helena, Montana, do yourself a favor and stop in for a few hours. Helena is the state capitol of Montana and the capitol building is spectacular. Right next to the capitol building the Montana Historical Society Museum that offers a great exhibit of original Charles Russell paintings and other cool Montana history.

Helena offers three breweries. My favorite is Lewis and Clark Brewery. They offer a wide selection of beers, peanuts in the shell, and a unique setting.

Take a tour of downtown Helena. Helena started out as a gold mining camp and has a rich history. There are a lot of mansions and other great, old buildings from the gold rush era to explore.

For more information about Helena check out: https://www.helenamt.com/

For more information about Elkhorn check out: http://stateparks.mt.gov/elkhorn/

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Photography Tips

The topic of this blog’s photography tips section is shooting in full sunshine. My first tip is don’t shoot during the afternoon in full sunshine if you can help it. Try to shoot in the morning or evening for less harsh, warm light. However, sometimes that is the time of day you are clicking on a subject and there is no way around full, sunlight photos.

Try using a variable, neutral density filter. You can adjust this filter to combat the strength of the sun and create a slightly tinted look to simulate morning or evening light.

Be sure to not shoot directly into the sun. Not only could direct, sun photos damage your eyes or camera equipment, but the sun will look like a big, white blob and ruin your photo.

Be mindful of the clouds when you are shooting on sunny days. Clouds have a tendency to get overexposed easily and can ruin a photo or take a lot of time to fix in Photoshop. If a cloud is getting overexposed, consider moving your shooting position to dampen down the sun’s effect on the clouds.

Try messing with the exposure compensation on your camera during sunny days. On a Nikon that is the +/- button. Adjust the exposure compensation until you are achieving the results that you want.

When editing in Lightroom try reducing the highlights and whites sliders to reduce the effects of full sunlight. Also, try messing with the contrast and clarity sliders to put some definition back into your photos.

The Color Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom can really help with full, sunlight photos by offering a great number of filters to tamp down the harsh light. An HDR effect can help define lines and add color to washed out looking photos.

RV Tips

My 2018 Arctic Fox 990 has bench seating for the dinette that can be folded down into a bed. The foam used in the cushions was horrible and felt like sitting on cheap, patio furniture. After sitting on the bench for 30 minutes, both my butt and back started to hurt. It was time for new foam.

I read a post in an Arctic Fox forum on Facebook where a fellow Arctic Fox owner used www.foambymail.com to order new, foam cushions. I do not work for Foam By Mail. I found their website to be very helpful and their customer service representative guided me through the process of ordering new foam.

My bench seats have a bottom and back cushion. I had to measure the covers without the foam in them. If you are going to cut the foam yourself that is all you will have to do. The factory will send you the right amount of foam to complete your job.

For an extra $25 I opted for letting the factory cut the foam and wrap the foam in Dacron for extra protection. I also had to draw a template of the back cushion because it had a slight arch. The whole project with shipping cost around $225.

Roughly a week later my new foam came vacuum-sealed in a large box, cut, and ready to install. The new, bottom foam cushion was larger than the original foam cushion, but I was still able to get it into the cover and liked the overstuffed feel.

The new, back cushion was not even close to the correct thickness.   I needed five inches of thickness, however the new, back cushion was very soft and easily crushed down to two inches. I was considering sending the new, back cushion back to the factory, but instead was able to stuff the new foam behind the original foam to create an overstuffed feel.

This worked well because the original, back foam was sewn into the cover at a seam that ran lengthwise in the middle of the cushion. If I were going to replace the original back cushion, I would have had to carefully cut the foam away from the sewn seam.

Instead of feeling like I was sitting on crappy lawn furniture my dinette cushions now feel like I am sitting on an overstuffed couch and I can sit comfortably for hours. When I make the bed with the cushions I can place the back cushions side-by-side and create a raised bed feel. I could also quickly take the new foam out of the back cushions.

To make the dinette bed more comfortable I put a two-inch, memory foam pad over the cushions to hide the seams and add extra cushion. Instead of a semi-comfortable bed the dinette is now very comfortable bed and my guests have never complained.

All and all this seat, cushion project worked out pretty well in the end. If I had it to do over again, I would not order foam online. Foam is kind of like ordering shoes online. I like to try them out. I would probably go to a local upholstery or foam shop so I could try out the different types of foam for stiffness.

Conclusion

Consider spending the day at Elkhorn Ghost Town next time you are in Montana. The Elkhorn area is filled with scenic views, mining history, and outdoor fun for the boondocker to explore. As a bonus there is plenty of free camping nearby and public access to hiking trails and fishing.

Please remember to boondock without a trace!

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