National Geographic : 2004 Jan
BASIN, MONTANA I find people soaking their hands and feet in basins of the frigid 44°F radioactive water, which they believe to be more beneficial than just breathing in the radon gas. A rack of magazines and board games helps visitors pass the time, their conversations creating a pleasant rumble down the mine shaft. Being in these mines is like entering an odd sort of club in which every one greets you with nods of congratulations and knowing. Because, they will tell you, miracles really have occurred here-and not just to the faith ful or the lucky, but to nonbelievers as well. "I was a nonbeliever," says Sue Schuster-Johnson, who first visited the mine eight years ago from Nampa, Idaho. "I just came along with my Uncle Clyde for a vacation." (Clyde, 94, has been visiting the mine nearly every year since 1962, when he says it cured his rheumatism.) "But when I got back from the trip, my migraines were gone for good-and I'd had migraines for most of my life." Sue collects clay from the walls of the mine, swearing that it heals skin infections. Most visitors end up taking some of the mine away with them: lichen or mold, water, mineral secretions-even little pillows filled with radioactive gravel. One man is said to have loaded up his truck with a hundred gallons of water for his racehorse. Stories like Sue's brought Tanya Beck from Duluth, Georgia. Her four year-old daughter, Allison, suffers from progressive rheumatoid arthri tis; her doctors, having run out of solutions, predict she will spend her life in a wheelchair. "This seemed like our last hope," Tanya says. "When we got here to the mine and I saw what it was, it was kind of like a Twilight Zone thing. I thought, there's no way. But Allison is running and playing now. She hasn't been hurting. She's definitely getting better, and this mine has some thing to do with it." The other mine-goers and I have been listening raptly to Tanya. We all hope it's true, that Allison is getting better. For the first time, I join in and drink some of the radioactive water along with everyone else. I figure it couldn't hurt. D Not everything is radon related in Basin. Gentle strokes and a soothing whisper from Gay Peterson helped tame Peta, a wild mustang, which she finally mounted bareback (below). Her boyfriend, James Maher, looks on with grudging approval."I'll have to spend some time in hell for the way I used to train horses," he says. But who knows? No judg ment is ever final in Basin, where for many a doctor's diagnosis is just a first opinion, and the mountains beckon with promises of a second chance. Find more 59631 images plus resources and field notes at nationalgeographic .c om/magazine/0401. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/ magazine/zipcode/0401.