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A Day in the Life of Deep Canyon Guest Ranch
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Deep Canyon lodgeAfter spending some time at Deep Canyon Guest Ranch west of Choteau, Montana I sat down and thought about the visit.

The one thing that kept popping in my mind was that I seemed totally relaxed.

I realize that happens on many vacations because we don't have to be thinking ahead to schedules, grocery lists, laundry etc. 

This was different though.

First of all I became aware of the lack of noise or, what Chuck Blixrud at Deep Canyon refers to as the sound of silence.

One time when I was visiting with Chuck he said "did you hear that?" I mentally chastised myself for missing something and said "what?. Chuck replied - the sound of silence! 

Deb and Dave Deep CanyonThat silence is a beautiful thing and I'm reminded of it as I hear construction trucks outside my window working on the street by my office as I write this blog post. 

The meals at Deep Canyon Guest Ranch are served family style so you get to know the other guests and you learn to take time and actually visit!

One evening I noticed a group gathered before the evening meal in the comfy lodge while some were out on the deck.

I don't even want to start thinking about the actual food served at the ranch because I'll get hungry. Their homemade rolls were delicious!

The pace is a little slower at the ranch and we took some time to sit outside, enjoy the mountain air and have a refreshing beverage.

There is a wreath on the front deck of the main lodge at Deep Canyon that says Saddling"Come sit on our porch". That's a mighty welcoming message and I can close my eyes and imagine myself right back in that comfy chair, looking out at the peaks of the beautiful and rugged Rocky Mountains. 

So, what do people really do at a guest ranch? I found out not everyone rides horses (I just figured that's why you would go to a ranch). 

The Teton River runs right by the ranch and fishing is a favorite activity among some guests. You could also hike in just about every direction. Some guests just enjoy the serenity of reading a good book while sitting outside and occasionally looking at that gorgeous scenery. And some enjoy a bit of pampering by the attentive ranch staff. 

After the evening meal at the ranch several of us wandered over to the corrals where the horses were. They are turned out each night to graze and roam freely. Several of the horses have bells on them and, in the morning, the wranglers ride up the mountain to find them. The sound of the bells can give the wranglers a Horse with bellgood idea where the horses are. 

Getting to Deep Canyon is easy. It's about 23 miles west of US Hwy 89 that runs right through the town of Choteau. The road to the ranch is paved for most of the way. Just the last few miles are gravel. 

I'd like to go back to Deep Canyon Guest Ranch and take my kids and grandkids.

One evening there was a multi-generation family at my dining table and I sensed that everyone was making lifelong memories. My family might not all do the same activities each day but we'd share our guest ranch experiences over home-cooked food at the dining room table each night.

Family memories.They are worth a lot.






First Peoples Named National Historic Landmark
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tipiUS Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service director announced this week that First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park near Ulm, MT has been designated as one of four new National Historic Landmarks.

Considering that there are 50 states in the US, Montana is mighty proud to have one of the new National Historic Landmark designations.

So,what does it take to get this designation? I'm certain there is a ton of paperwork involved! Aside from that, the lankmark needs to be a nationally significant historic place possessing exceptional value in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. 

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park hits the nail on the head when it comes to fitting the above criteria. The site is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved bison cliff jump sites in North America. 

Buffalo firt pplsI participated in a group that formed a management plan for the park a few years ago and I was amazed at how many different Plains Indian tribes had used the site to harvest their yearly provisions. In developing the plan it was critical to have input from the different tribes and I learned so much. Each time I visit, and I'm there frequently, I recall aspects of the planning process and I become more impressed with the history at the site. 

Visitors frequently ask "Where is Ulm, Montana"? It's a small town, probably a couple hundred people, and it is just off I-15 about 11 miles southwest of Great Falls.When you exit the interstate (there is good signage for the park for travelers coming from either direction) you drive about 3 1/2 miles north on a paved road. 

The landscape is open here with several iconic geographic features - a large square butte looms nearby and the transition from rolling plains to mountains is easy to see.

When you turn from the paved county road into the park you see a small visitor center First Ppl Richardand, in the summer months, one or two tipis stand out. As you look towards the jump cliff face it doesn't look that impressive. But, wait until you are up on top of the jump and walking towards the edge. The bluff seems almost rounded but as you approach the sloping edge, all of a sudden it becomes a quick drop over rock shelving.

The visitor center has an interpretive hall detailing how the buffalo jump worked. It also has a storytelling circle with information about the different tribes that used the jump and a small gift shop/book store is near the reception desk. 

My favorite part of First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park is the top of the cliff. You can access it two different ways - walking trails lead from the visitor center up the cliff face or you can drive a gravel road to the top of the cliff and then walk along pathways. Either way you go, the views are impressive and the story becomes complete when you see the geography.

There probably won't be much change at First Peoples but I'm glad to see the National Historic Landmark designation. It's always been special in my mind and now it is even more impressive. 





Tall Boys Tavern - fancy BUT NOT FANCY
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Tall Boys beerI stopped at Tall Boys Tavern in Hobson last week to check out this new business. It is more than a tavern, much more, because they are also serving lunches and dinners daily.

The name is unique and it comes from the owners' sons being, well, tall boys!

The next thing I found that was unique was their slogan - fancy BUT NOT FANCY. I wasn't quite sure what that meant but I figured it out after spending just a little bit of time there.

It was about 4pm when I walked in to Tall Boys Tavern - it seemed too late for lunch and almost too early for dinner except I hadn't had lunch and I was starved! There were a couple of folks in the tavern but I chose the dining area. 

I had seen a sign advertising the lunch special of jambalaya and corn bread and I hoped that was still available. Well, it must have been excellent because by late afternoon they were sold out. Bummer!

Tall Boys BurgerI started reading the menu and found lots of other options, enough to make my choice difficult. The appetizer section made me wish I had a half dozen people with me and then we could each order an app and do some fun sampling. 

Here's a sampling from the appetizer menu - Curry (yes curry, not curly) Fries, Parmesan Pepper Fries, an Onion Ring Tower (one pound of beer battered rings served with house made fry sauce), Steak Bites (tender seasoned beef hand breaded, deep fried and served with garlic aioli or house made bourbon BBQ sauce...add bleu cheese crumbles or red onion jam), Prairie Oysters (one pound of beef "oysters" seved with ranch and cocktail sauce).

A nice variety of salads included some standards but also a Kale Caesar, Tavern Wedge and Buffalo Chicken. Even though it was hot, the soup of the day (probably to match that jambalaya I didn't get) was seafood bisque and that made it on to my order - yum!

It was good to see plenty of Montana micro brews on tap - after all, this is a tavern! Copper mugsBlack Eagle Brewery's Copper Nail (yes, there was a copper processing plant there) a nut brown ale with chocolate malt, Bozeman's Bozone Select Amber Ale and Missoula's Kettle House Cold Smoke sounded like good thirst-quenchers on this warm day. But, what did I do? I ordered a glass of red wine and it hit the spot too.

To go with my soup order I ended up choosing a cheeseburger - go figure. Although, if you weren't hungry when you arrived, just reading the sandwich menu would make you drool. It began with a selection of burgers, also two varieties of pulled pork sandwiches. The one that caught my eye was a PR BLT - shaved prime rib topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato, then garlic aioli and served on toasted ciabatta. Oh. My. Goodness.

Steaks are all hand cut and besides a 16 ounce rib, sirloin and flat iron, you also have options of a Bayou Steak (cajun seasoning, bleu cheese, grilled onions), a Sweet Bourbon Glazed Steak or a Sunnyside Up Steak (yes, an egg perches atop this beef).

Tiger Shrimp Scampi, City Chicken and Pan Fried Walleye were other dinner options I Tall Boys pinupsaw. Plenty of choices.

After thoroughly enjoying my soup and burger I wandered in to the bar side of the building. My camera came out and I took photos of their fun "pin-up" designs promoting a Moscow Mule drink...make that a Montana Mule, also the copper mug display to serve the mule beverage. The fun lights under the spirits added a city glow to the place and it was pretty.

After experiencing Tall Boys Tavern I finally understood their slogan - fancy BUT NOT FANCY. A perfect fit for this place located on Hobson, Montana's main street. 

When I left I learned that they were adding an outdoor patio/pavillion on one side of the building. They'll have more decor added to the dining area too.

 I could write so much more about the friendly wait staff and the local patrons but you'll have to visit Tall Boys Tavern yourself.






First Crop ID Signs Put Up For Crop InFARMation
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digging post holesLet's just say this project has been a long time dream.

Each time a visitor would be traveling with me on roads with crops I'd get asked what was growing in the field.

If it was spring and I could see lots of green shoots I'd guess it was winter wheat. If it was blooming yellow I assumed it was either mustard or canola. Fast forward a month or two into the season and I couldn't even begin to guess!

There are miles and miles and acres and acres of agricultural land in Central Montana.

To label crops would take an army of volunteers, not just for the initial round but for the long-term. Crops change, they rotate, new grains and pulse crops are planted - this isn't a one-time project. 

Signs need to be put up in the spring when it is determined what crop will be in the field Spring wheat signand then the signs need to come down in the fall after harvest.

Enter the FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapters! In high schools and some colleges, participants in these dedicated groups become involved in agriculture in many ways. For certain, some will grow up to be producers but many will have jobs working with the ag industry. 

After meeting with the Electric City FFA advisor in Great Falls some goals were set. Her group would reach out to other areas in the United States where crop labeling had been done successfully.

The FFA kids really became an army of volunteers - eventually contacting landowners for permission and then getting signed agreements so the crop ID signs could be placed on their property. 

Simple signs were designed and made by a sign shop and the kids chose a blue FFA kidsbackground with gold lettering. Hmmm...that looks a lot like the FFA colors!  

The day we had all been waiting for finally arrived - signs were done, metal posts were loaded (along with a post hole digger) and about eight FFA members were on hand to begin installing posts and signs. 

Three different signs went up just a few miles east of Great Falls on Hwys 89, 200 and 3. In a short distance three crops were labeled including spring wheat, field peas and winter wheat.

This project will be more than signs labeling the crops though. The FFA chapters have researched the various crops and that information is being built into a downloadable free app called Crop InFARMation.

Information includes growing practices, varieties of crops and uses for the crops after they are harvested. We also hope to have some interviews with producers talking about their crops.And, it would be nice to find places where locally grown crops can be FFA kids looking at croppurchased or served in restaurants or breweries or retail establishments. 

So much potential! We have come a long way since this idea first started and the project can only grow. 

We hope the traveling public (and Montana residents too) like the Crop InFARMation project. Now,let's watch it grow and spread throughout the entire state!

And, be watching for the release of a new app for your smart phone titled Crop InFARMation!





The Square Butte Jail Still Stands
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Square Butte jailI wouldn't say the Square Butte jail is going to lock anyone up these days but you can tell it was built to last!

On a group tour of the area I was able to "stand behind the bars" of this iconic structure. 

Way back, think about 1913, the Milwaukee Land Company (yes, the same as the railroad), laid out the streets of the little town of Square Butte. The town was located on the route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad's route between Lewistown and Great Falls.

When you think back to what railroads needed to run in 1913 - mineral-free water and coal - Square Butte was a pretty strategic location.

Fast forward a couple of years to 1915 and residents of the town felt they were getting too many tramps because of the railroad. County commissioners worked their way through that issue by building the Square Butte jail.

Square Butte scenicWhen you glance around the unique geology in the area it doesn't take long to see where the building materials for the jail came from. Those pretty granite blocks were quarried nearby.

Did the Square Butte jail serve its purpose? There isn't any evidence that the jail actually housed prisoners.

The structure was unheated so it would have been a bit chilly in the winter. It did serve as road crew housing later on, also as a bachelor's residence and a granary.

The town of Square Butte is small these days but you'd be remiss in not stopping at the Square Butte Country Club for a cold one or a meal. I've had the best burgers and salads there - believe me, it is worth a trip!

And, when you polish off that burger and ale, drive over to the old jail and capture the moment with your Kodak!





Historic Planes - Warbirds Over Great Falls
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Marylou planeThink back to 1942. The US was supplying the Soviets with aircraft as part of a strategy to defeat Germany during World War II.

The Lend Lease Act (1941) which authorized the plane transfer was actually passed by Congress before the US entered the war, although it was after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

The group that flew the planes from Great Falls to Russia was called the 7th Ferrying Group. I had heard of this group many years ago when I worked with a guy who did communications for them. He talked a lot about it and, I'll admit, sometimes I didn't pay close attention to him. He has passed away now and darn, if I could only have one more afternoon to visit with him and watch how animated he could become when he talked about the ferrying group. 

The connection between Great Falls and Russia seems odd at first but when you look at a map it all falls in to place. Moscow and Great Falls are on similar latitudes. To top it off, both had records of more than 300 clear fly days per year.

rivet warplaneWhen the 7th Ferrying Group started their route in Great Falls they would then head north to Alaska (Fairbanks). The planes were handed over to the Russians in Fairbanks. This was a tough route and the pilots used what is called the four-course range navigation. Its a Morse Code navigation using just four letters - A if they were too far on one side of the flight path, N if they were on the other side of the line. If they were on course the tone would be even.

The pilots mostly used visual navigation and when you think of the rapidly changing weather conditions it is downright scary! During winter months the pilots didn't have long daylight hours either. If they had to stop, well, the pilot and airplane would sit overnight in subzero temps. I can only imagine how cold it was and how long it took to warm that equipment (and the pilot) up. 

So, what brought these planes to Great Falls? A fellow named Jeff Geer created the Bravo 369 Flight Foundation and that foundation's goal is to bring these vintage planes to different areas and tell the story of the 7th Ferrying Group.

p61 planeThe crowd at Gore Hill this morning (where the Great Falls International Airport is located) was bustling. I was glad to see so many people eager to learn and re-live this part the the United States' history. The seven vintage planes were beautiful - rather spartan, no frills, which is to be expected.

The History Museum, located at 422 2nd Street South in Great Falls, Montana, has a nice display about the 7th Ferrying Group. Each time the group had a reunion they would gather at the History Museum. As a result, their records are housed there. 

To tally the amount of activity - here's a summary of what flew out of Great Falls during WWII. Bell P-39 Airacobra, Bell P-63 Kingcobra, Douglas A-20 Boston-Havoc, North American B-25 Mitchell, Douglas C-47 Skytrain, North American AT-6 Texan, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. All total - about 8,000 planes!

What a story - what a beautiful day with a gorgeous sky - what a nice turn-out of eager people to see this morsel of history.  




Touring Fort Benton's Reconstructed Old Fort
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trade storeI was in Fort Benton a week ago and decided to take a guided tour of the Old Fort. I've toured the Fort several times but, as our guide noted, it is a work in progress, and they expand their collections and displays as finances allow.

To see this reconstructed fort is the best way for me to learn history. My favorite room is the trading post which is stocked with trade goods that look as they would have in the fur-trade era.

A massive stone fireplace is in one corner of the trade store (temps were hovering in the 90s the day I was there so the crew did not have a fire a-roaring!). 

Furs, pelts and hides are prominent in the trade store - buffalo hides were the premium of the day during the peak of the fur trade era. I tried to lift one and believe me, they are heavy!

A glass-enclosed display shows and explains items found during an archaeological dig birdthat was done to determine exact location of the structure's perimeter. 

Blackfeet Indians hunted and traded at the Old Fort and there are beautiful displays of artifacts including Native American clothing, headdresses, beadwork and weapons.

I was wandering along, absorbing all that I could and totally engrossed in some beadwork when I looked up and saw this big bird looking like he'd like to take a bite out of my scalp. OK - he had spent some time at a taxidermist but the resulting mount was very real-looking!

Several tipis are erected inside the fort and our guide pointed out that they would not have been there during real-time operation of the fort. He noted that they added a nice dimension and could show visitors how the nomadic Blackfeet tribe lived.

Another favorite building in the fort is the Starr Gallery of Western Art. There was a new exhibit there and I could have spent all of my time just looking at the bronzes and Starr galleryartwork. Very impressive.

The Old Fort is open for tours from the later part of May through the end of September.

Fort Benton has several other museums - the State of Montana Agriculture Museum, The Museum of the Upper Missouri adjacent to the Fort, and the BLM's Upper Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center. One ticket allows admission to all museums. Plan enough time to visit them all. You won't be disappointed. 





It Was A Weekend of Lewis & Clark History
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Lewis ClarkGreat Falls hosts the annual Lewis & Clark Festival the third weekend in June each year. Gibson Park (named after the founder of Great Falls) was a perfect location for the festival - lots of shade trees, grass, a bandshell for performers and plenty of room to spread out a variety of activities.

The weather this year was perfect - plenty of sunshine but not too hot.

I took in the opening ceremonies where the Lewis & Clark Honor Guard always fires their black powder rifles to signal the festival opening.

The honor guard dresses in period clothing, most of it handmade by the members. They are sticklers for detail and enjoy bantering about the correct fabric, buttons and head coverings. 

Several tipis were erected on the festival grounds providing an awesome backdrop, visible to those driving by the park.Three tipis were also put up next to each other to form tipisa council lodge. Speakers presented at the council lodge and covered topics such as Medicine of the Corps, Uses of Hemp, Firestarting, Fishing Methods of the Corps and Weapons of the Expedition. 

Native American dancers also performed with drummers. This always draws a crowd and it gives attendees some information about the different dances and the clothing worn for each. 

A children's area at the festival teaches kids (and adults) how to trade for goods instead of using money. This year also featured several Newfoundland dogs (they are huge!). Capt. Meriwether Lewis had a Newfoundland dog named Seaman on the expedition. 

New this year was a swivel gun, a small cannon similar to what the expedition would have had mounted on their boats. Members of the Lewis & Clark Honor Guard fired the cannon throughout the day and each boom drew a crowd!

putting up tipiAnother interesting demonstration was a blacksmith who always had a crowd listening, watching and learning. 

On Sunday of the festival weekend there are float trips (a fee is charged) that take attendees on the Missouri River through Wolf Creek Canyon and also from Morony Dam to the Carter Ferry. 

Guided hikes also take place on Sunday and this year's hikes explored Tower Rock (about 35 miles southwest of Great Falls), Sulphur Springs (downstream from Great Falls) and Ryan Dam (site of The Great Falls). 

This annual festival is sponsored by the Lewis and Clark Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls. The Interpretive Center is owned and operated by the US Forest Service and is open year round. A visit to the Center is a fun way to brush up on your history! 




I Never Tire of the View At Sluice Boxes
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Sluice panelsSluice Boxes State Park is just off US Hwy 89 north of Monarch, Montana. If you are driving north it is tempting to zip right by, and I suppose the same is true if you are heading south when you are picking up speed to climb the hill.

Don't be tempted to pass this gem by! 

Even a stop at the scenic overlook is worth your time. There are interpretive panels in an easy in-and-out parking pullout and the views are awesome. 

Why call it Sluice Boxes State Park

The area is a canyon with Belt Creek running through it at a pretty good pace. This was once a mining area and early-day miners  thought it reminded them of the sluice boxes used to separate gold from gravel.

The state park covers 1,450 acres and there is a seven mile trail following the grade of the old Sluice Boxes scenicGreat Northern Railway's Monarch branch. The railroad track was built in 1890 - that's a long time ago! It was abandoned in 1945. This old rail bed crosses Belt Creek several times so spring hiking means high water. I've hiked the area over Labor Day weekend and still crossed the creek twice. 

Your history lesson for today - the limestone cliffs rising up the the canyon floor are comprised of seashells deposited 330 million years ago when the area was covered by a vast sea. A slow uplift over time caused the area to rise. 

Well, that's enough history - head out and hike or go bird watching there (I saw a hummingbird the last time I was there, plus a lot of other birds).

Bring your binoculars, some shoes that can get wet and a walking stick. I'd recommend a camera too. Those cliff walls seem to change color as the sun hits them from different directions and you'll have lots of photo ops. 




More than Fiddles at Annual Camp
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fiddlerThis is one of those - I wish I had realized how fun this event would be!

A couple of weeks ago I drove to the St. Thomas Camp near Monarch, Montana for the evening concert at the annual Montana Fiddle Camp. I had never been there and had no idea what to expect. 

Well - it's a lot more than fiddles! 

You would have a hard time missing this camp - huge banners were staked at both entrances to the area located on US Hwy 89. And there were cars, pickups, tents and campers galore. 

I wasn't sure where to go so I carefully walked through a group of campers and saw three older guys outside strumming guitars. OK, wasn't this supposed to be fiddles?

I decided I had better ask them where the "open to the public" evening concert was being held because I couldn't see anything. I soon was pointed in the direction of a MAndolinsmall wooden building...one of those "you can't miss it set of directions". And, once I got there it was pretty obvious!

The building where the concert was being held was almost full!

Folding chairs were lined up and I could see a few empty seats but I didn't want to crawl over anyone with my camera gear. And, I wasn't sure where I should sit to get the best photos in the least intrusive way.

I stood at the back for awhile, then carefully made my way to an empty seat on the far side. 

The musicians playing were some of the instructors and I absolutely could have listened to them all night. Guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos, a bass and several vocalists all performed. 

This was the 20th Annual Montana Fiddle Camp and there were a lot of students and fiddle and banjotheir families in the audience. I noticed a quote on their schedule - Keeping fiddle spirit alive, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. 

It was refreshing to see so many young kids learning to play instruments that aren't as common as some. 

There are several week-long camps where kids work in small groups with instructors. Each evening the instructors and students perform in concerts and dances. 

A good time - I will be back next year!



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