Two Letters Re: Advice on Retreat Locales–Former Microwave Sites?

Dear Jim and Family,
This is in response to the article about microwave sites for survival shelters. As it happens, I spent half my summer just South of Whitehall, a couple years before I met you in [deleted for OPSEC]. I was finishing my geology degree and the geology of the area is very interesting.

This is the new free mapping program through Wikipedia. It allows for annotations and contains good quality aerial photos of the terrain using Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

The region described around Whitehall is curious and deceptive. For one thing, there’s an active gold mine north of the interstate, where much of the town’s population works (or worked, I’m not sure if its still open.) One of the forks of the Missouri river flows through the area and its geologically complex. If a person were to consider land there, they shouldn’t settle for 1.3 acres when they can still buy land by the full section [one square mile] for a reasonable price. Pasture land is worth the most, land that held trees but has been cleared is worth the least. Hilly/mountainous or rocky land is also worth little so sells cheaply. Or did 10 years ago, anyway. Whitehall is on the wrong side of a mountain pass from the nearest city, Butte. Its further, around 60 miles to Bozeman which has the highest crime rate in the state due to the high numbers of Los Angelinos. They have drugs and gangs there, from what the locals told me.

Whitehall is a very close knit community. They are predominantly religious, and their main battle is with losing their kids to the city, the second most war is being fought with alcoholism and unemployment. Everybody in the region knows everybody else. They’re all good rifle shots and visibility, when it isn’t overcast and raining, is something around 80 miles. In that country, artillery would make you king, not a mere 50 BMG. That said if you’re an outsider you may find yourself in a world of hurt. It would be really important to practice the same religion, to suffer the same hardships and attend the same schools as the locals. Its the kind of place where being there 20 years still makes you “the new guy”. If you are from California and intend to emigrate to Montana, reconsider. They don’t like Californians there. You could say they’re in agreement on the issue. Californians are bad, no matter how good you may be. That’s why I don’t live there.

As with all poor communities with failing employment, everybody has 2-3 jobs besides their main one. With the collapse of the US dollar, if there’s still gold in Whitehall it will continue to be mined and some of that money will filter into the local economy.

The local king there is the inventor of the circular irrigation systems, the source of those circles of green on the aerial photo. I’ve never met him and don’t know his politics. He cares enough to stay in his home, which means something. Its cattle country and they grow a lot of hay and alfalfa but it also rains in summer, which means crops like wheat and barley are often ruined. They also get a lot of frost, even in summer mornings, so don’t expect veggies to survive without using greenhouses. Most of the population have large metal quonset huts for their barns, and some people live in them. They’re all over the landscape.

As for wildlife I saw Elk, Grizzly, eagles, and wolves there, as well as many coyotes and rattlesnakes. Horseback riding is popular and 4WD is mandatory for most roads there, as pavement is optional. Its worth visiting the place to get your own take on it, just don’t think you understand them simply because you visited once. There’s a lot of hurt in the region. Sincerely, – InyoKern


After reading your blog a few days ago, regarding surplus microwave tower sites, I was a little suspicious that it sounded too good to be true. I did a Google search and discovered any information about it was at least six years old. One of the primary sources was a company called American Tower. This morning, I called the Western states rep to ask if this policy of selling surplus towers was still ongoing, and she replied (1) she hasn’t been involved in this surplus tower sales in the past and (2) she was amazed that besides my call, she had received at one email regarding the same issue. (I suspect a fellow blog-reader is pursuing the same trail.) She did say they do sell surplus sites, and if I wanted to make an offer on one, that would be fine. I explained to her I was trying to find out what sites might be available for sale. She suggested I send her an email with my specific question, and she would get the information to me. So apparently they are still available (I suspect maybe for more money than $20K), and I will continue following this trail and share whatever information I can. – Chet

JWR Replies: Anyone that is now looking to buy one of these sites is indeed about five years too late, at least for the American Tower Company auctions. However, many of these sites may now be available on the secondary market, assuming that some of them were bought by speculators that never did anything with them. In my opinion, if you can find one that has water, it would be a bargain at twice the typical “+/- $20K” price from back in 2001. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that most of them were bought up by cellular phone companies. In many instances, all that these companies were looking for was a site with good line-of-sight, and they probably didn’t use much of the original infrastructure–perhaps not even the original tower. In that case you be able to buy the land and structures and “lease back” or perpetually “grant back” the cellular site rights to the cellular carrier. And for those that were bought by private parties, you can always track down the current owners by way of the County Recorder’s Office.