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JUL

29

What I Learned At The Horse Races

horse racingI don't want to disappont anyone with my still-limited knowledge of horse racing. But, I managed to learn a little this weekend at the races sponsored by the Great Falls Turf Club. Probably the most important thing is, it's all a game of chance, no matter how much you weigh the odds!

Horse racing had been absent in Great Falls for three years until last summer when members of the Turf Club worked to get back on the race schedule.

Races a week ago had more than 3,000 fans at the betting windows wagering more than $150,000 during the two-day race meet. This last weekend saw numbers almost that high again. That's a tidy sum of cash and an impressive amount of people!

I opted to cut my losses before they even began and I didn't bet when I attended the second weekend of racing. I did listen closely to the tips given by the couple sitting next to me though.

The bottom line, it all seems confusing to me. Between the trifecta, superfecta, races for horses who had never won a race, there is a lot to keep track of. The learning curve is horse racing distantsteep and I'm at the bottom!

Sunday's event at MT Expo Park during State Fair had 11 races. Each race had seven or eight horses entered and there was a purse of $7,200 in one race for quarter horses. There were also thoroughbred horses racing Sunday.

I wasn't able to stay for the entire race card but I came away believing that we had some very excited horse racing fans in Great Falls and also that many people would travel to attend horse races!

Kudos to the Great Falls Turf Club for working so hard to bring horse racing back to the community.   

Will I attend the horse races again? Yes, I will but I may keep my wallet closed and just enjoy the frenzy of the race (and the race fans)!

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JUL

27

4th Annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival A Success

Red Ants StageMeagher County, specifically the Jackson Ranch a couple of miles from White Sulphur Springs, was THE place for great music, friends to gather and good times to be had this past weekend.

For the past four years Red Ants Pants clothing company (workwear for women) has organized this amazing music festival.

It is best described as a party in a pasture.

Let me explain.

A huge stage is moved in and set up in the middle of a cow pasture, a massive camping area is created, many porta potties are delivered and vendors from all over Montana form a backdrop with their displays.

A make-shift corral serves as a place to educate festival attendees about traditional horsemanship on working ranches.

Blacksmithing, horse shoeing, draft horse log pulling and a crosscut saw competition rider Red Antsround out some of the traditional work skills demos.

New this year was a kid's area with face painting, treats, some shade from the sun and changing tables/baby potties for tiny tykes. Yes, this is a family affair!

The town of White Sulphur Springs closed off a street for Thursday night's street dance. Two bands played and I heard it was great. I wasn't able to attend that event. Bummer.

Friday's schedule kicked off with a set by the side stage band that won a people's choice award last year.

The side stage is for those up-and-coming groups that hope to make it big someday, at least to the Red Ants Pants main stage! One of the bands scheduled in the Friday line-up had to cancel but an amazing replacement band was scheduled.

My long-time favorite Ian Tyson played and sang Friday night. I remember many of the 60s folk songs when he was half of the duo Ian and Sylvia. Tyson is a Canadian-born cowboy though and the songs he played Friday rang true to that.

Ian TysonIf Ian Tyson is a favorite musician, my most favorite recording by him is The Gift.

He didn't disappoint - about two thirds of the way through his performance he sang it.

The song is a wonderful tribute to deceased cowboy artist Charlie Russell. I can still hear him singing it and still remember the rousing applause. Yup, the crowd loved it too!

Saturday's schedule started at noon and ran non-stop until 11pm.

Sunday's music kicked off again at noon and wrapped after country artist/festival headliner Charley Pride left the stage at 6pm.

What a weekend! I could go on and on about the great musicians. Better yet, plan to attend next year - the 5th Annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival!

Red Ants Pants Music Festival donates proceeds from the weekend to the Red Ants Pants Foundation. Their mission is to develop and expand leadership roles for women, support and preserve working family farms and ranches, and to enrich and promote rural communities.

Crowd at Red AntsGreat goals, and an even greater weekend in the small rural community of White Sulphur Springs.

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JUL

25

The Wall That Heals

Wall That Heals peopleLast night I didn't go to the opening ceremony of The Wall That Heals for a reason - I figured there would be a crowd and I wanted some alone-time at the wall.

About 9am this morning I drove to Elks Riverside Park in Great Falls and was rather surprised to see quite a few cars already there. Although, I wouldn't say it was crowded.

Great Falls, Montana is a military town with many retirees from all branches of the armed forces. Probably many of them have served in wars, including Vietnam.

The display at The Wall That Heals included the wall and a semi-trailer with memorabilia from the war. It was spread out at the large park area. People were quietly walking about, reading names, looking at the displays.

The mood was somber, reflective and quiet.

A little bit of history - it is the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. For me, that's hard to believe.

Wall bootsA half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington DC is touring the country and stopped in Great Falls for a few days.

I was just entering my freshman year of high school when the Vietnam mess began.

This war deal seemed "far away" at the time but back then news reporting wasn't so in-your-face, so graphic, or so quickly reported. Fast forward a few years as my high school class aged and many turned 18 years old - the reality of the Vietnam War was ever-present.

We all had our own private thoughts this morning. I didn't want to talk to anybody and I'm glad people were just wandering and being reflective.

But, as I wandered around the park area I will admit that I wanted to know stories. 

Did the guy next to me, who seemed too old to have served in Vietnam, have a role in the war? Was he in the military at the time? Did he have, or worse yet, lose a child in the war? What was he thinking? Maybe he wasn't that old.

Wall bannerThere are 58,300 names etched on The Wall That Heals. There are many more than 58,300 stories to go with those names.

The Wall That Heals will be in Great Falls, open 24 hours a day, through Sunday July 27. Elks Riverside Park is on River Drive between 6th Street and 9th Street.

I encourage you to take some time, reflect, and yes...stir up some memories of those who served.

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JUL

19

Birdwatching with Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Club

Beth with bird bookFor a Saturday morning, I was up and moving fairly early. My electrical power went off around 4:45am, at least that's when I noticed the clock blinking. I didn't get up then but it seemed like I looked at the clock almost 30 times between then and 6:15.

MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks had partnered with the local Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Club for an escorted birdwatching event at Giant Springs State Park.

I always say I am a "wannabe birder" - someone who has an interest in birding but the learning curve seems incredibly long. Individual bird calls, very detailed species names, less than stellar optics, all seem to challenge my birding capabilities.

At Giant Springs State Park this morning I joined local vet Beth Hill (our Upper Missouri Audubon rep), a visitor from Colorado and another local gal.

I could tell right away that I was at the bottom of the learning curve when it came to bird identification. I am always eager to learn though! Binoculars were available from MT FWP and I chose to borrow from them instead of using my inexpensive and old ones.  

Audubon groupWe started in the manicured lawn part of Giant Springs State Park. Beth checked her bird book right away to determine a species and I believe it was one of the flycatchers (possibly the least flycatcher).

The next bird we saw was the pee wee. Beth identified this right away by it's call and we hadn't even seen it. Yup, I was impressed! It wasn't too long before we saw one of my favorites - a yellow warbler. Maybe it's the bright color that makes it easy to see, maybe it's because they are frequently in groups - but I can always spot them. They are little but oh, so colorful.

As we wandered towards the springs area of the park Beth pointed out a great horned owl. I've seen owls in the park before but gosh, they blend in with the trees and I had a difficult time finding this owl. It was just one young owl sitting all by itselt, but it still looked fair sized on the tree branch. And, I didn't really see the bird until we were on the other side of the tree. What beautiful colors with several shades of tans and brown on the feathers - thank you MT FWP for good binocs!

We worked our way down to the Missouri River, then followed the river west. I was Cliff swallowssurpised to see quite a few walkers, no other birders, and we saw one photographer. The photographer had his camera set on a tripod and it looked like he was photographing cliff swallows.

The cliff swallows were fun to watch. Jeez, there were a lot of them. They don't show well on this photo but they were busy! In and out, zooming around. We wondered if they had young ones they were feeding. This type of terrain seemed well suited for their little mud huts.

Further along the trail we spotted an osprey in the air. As we watched, we saw several small birds picking on him. The osprey kept trying to get away but the smaller birds kept at him. My photo just shows one little bird but there were several who kept attacking the osprey.

Bullock's orioles, white pelicans, Franklin's gulls and California gulls, a bald eagle, kingfisher or kindbird (can't remember which one), catbird...and I know there were more. I wish I had taken my notebook with me but I was already juggling binoculars, a water bottle and a camera.

OspreyWe walked as far as the back area (river camp) of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. The area behind the center was filled with a variety of birds - we could have spent a lot more time there but Beth realized we were already over the planned time and she had to go to work.

Everyone learned something, we had a pleasant walk, saw an amazing amount of birds and made new friends. I'd say that was a good way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday morning!

Central Montana's birding brochure is available at http://centralmontana.com/birding/ or by calling 800-527-5348 to have one mailed. It is a great free resource for 12 different birding routes in Central Montana.

Enjoy watching the amazing birds in Central Montana!

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JUL

18

Pie Research Continues at Fairfield's Cozy Corner

Cozy CornerToday seemed to be a slow day in the office, or maybe I was just wishing it was. I decided to take a couple hours after lunch and drive to Fairfield, MT and do some pie research.

Fairfield is a small town about 36 miles from Great Falls. The town has about 700 people, many involved in agriculture. This community proudly states they are the Malting Barley Capital of the World. And, believe me, there is a lot of malt barley grown there. A massive irrigation system, Greenfields Irrigation, delivers water to all those barley fields so yields are high.

We hope to put together a pie trail throughout Central Montana, a fun way to showcase some of the great restaurants serving homemade pie. And...making homemade pies.

As I drove in to Fairfield I was amazed at how pretty the town looked. There were flowers in all of the planters on the streets and even US flags all down the main street. Then I saw a banner welcoming people to Fairfield's annual event called Swim Days, a fundraiser for the town's swimming pool.

Michelle Beachy pieIt's always great to have some one-on-one time with the pie baker at the restaurant and when I arrived they were really busy, especially because of their annual event. I repeat, really busy!

I told the waitress what I was doing after she gave me the list of pies in the cooler. I asked if the pie baker was available and the waitress quickly disappeared to check. The answer - of course the baker was available and I was welcome to go back in the kitchen and chat with her.

After visiting with Michelle, the owner and pie baker, I learned that all of their pie crusts are homemade, all of their pudding fillings are homemade and all of their fruit fillings are homemade. You can't beat that! She also whipped cream, none of that readymade stuff here.

The pie I saw being created was tripleberry with a layer of vanilla pudding (yes, homemade pudding), then the homemade tripleberry filling, then it was topped with real whipped cream. What a delight!

pie at Cozy CornerI asked what the local favorite pie was and Michelle said they all sold well, although favorites changed a bit seasonally. Then she said she thought chocolate cream was probably their largest seller.

They also own Golden Harvest Cafe in Dutton, MT and she said the best seller there was strawberry rhubarb.

Today's choices at the Cozy Corner included tripleberry, red raspberry, peanut butter and peach. I decided to try red raspberry and I was not disappointed. Yum.

The Cozy Corner is open Monday - Saturday from 6:30am to 3pm with longer hours until 8pm on Thursdays and Fridays.

If you are traveling along US Hwy 89 watch for Fairfield and...time your stop to have some homemade pie at the Cozy Corner. Well, anytime is pie time in Central Montana!

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JUL

11

Rafting the Missouri River

Raft tripDuring the month of June it seems like we had nothing but rain in Central Montana. We don't usually complain about moisture but I was eager for summer-like weather. 

By the end of the month everything changed and now it seems like we have hit our summer high temps big-time. My answer to that was to cool down with a river trip!

We decided to spend about a half day on the Missouri River launching at a location called Mid Canon. That river launch is frequently mispelled. The launch is about midway through Wolf Creek Canyon...you get where I'm going with that! Many people call it Mid Canyon.  

Our raft trip was with Montana River Outfitters based in Great Falls, and they provided everything - raft, oars, dry bags and life jackets. We brought sunscreen. hats and several friends. After a safety talk we launched the raft.

I am always so amazed at the terrain in Wolf Creek Canyon. Interstate 15 south of Cascade cuts right through this beautiful rocky canyon and the scenery is jaw-dropping whether you are on the interstate, the frontage road or the river.

Rafting tripThe Adel Mountain range is on both sides of the Missouri River here. This unique geography was formed by volcanic rock.

The raft trip was wonderful. Not only did the water feel good, we also saw a nice variety of birds and several deer. We floated as far as the Mountain Palace take-out where our shuttle was waiting.

As we were climbing out of the raft and unpacking everything we saw a father and son launching in a kayak. They had a small dog with them and each had a fishing rod. Their actual destination was a secret but they knew the river, fished here frequently and had plans to catch something for dinner.

They made a colorful photo in their kayak.

There are several outfitters who work on Central Montana's rivers and streams. You can rent watercraft or have them guide and paddle for you.

We had such a good time and we all said...why don't we do this more often? Well, I hope we do!

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JUL

7

Intrigued by Fort Assinniboine near Havre

Fort signFort Assinniboine is located about six miles from Havre on US Hwy 87. Ask a few Montanans if they know about it and you would probably get a mix of comments.

The fort sits just a bit off the highway and if you aren't watching for it you could easily pass it by - until now. Supporters of Fort Assinniboine have recently put up a new, brightly colored sign directing folks where to turn.

I've been fortunate to tour Fort Assinniboine several times. And, there is so much history there I learn something new each time!

The fort was constructed from 1877 - 1879. The United States Army had taken many losses during the Battle of the Little Big Horn in eastern Montana (remember General Custer?).

Several Indian tribes used routes that intersected near the area of Fort Assinniboine so this fort was strategically located to ward off any issues with them.

At first glance it didn't look like any frontier forts I have toured. No perimeter fence surrounds the fort and I always thought that was standard. The remaining buildings Fort Assinniboine barracks(originally over 100, now about a dozen) are all brick construction.

Wives and families accompanied officers stationed at Fort Assinniboine so there is a social hall where our tour guide said there would have been dances and other social events.

I think the remaining buildings look very regal. A brick tower stands at the end of a row of living quarters (today we would call them attached homes or condos!). Large windows, all trimmed in white, doorways with sidelight windows and a boardwalk line the living quarters. Pretty fancy digs for the late 1800's and you can see why this fort was dubbed "a grand military post".

John J. Pershing, aka Black Jack Pershing, had an early assignment at Fort Assinniboine, long before he became the highest ranking officer in the US military. At MSU Northern's campus in Havre one of the campus buildings is named Pershing Hall after Black Jack.

During Fort Assinniboine's operation there were two units of the 10th Cavalry stationed Entrance Fort Assinniboinethere. A large contingent of Buffalo Soldiers were also at the fort, something new to this part of the United States. Indians gave them the name "buffalo soldiers" after comparing them to plains buffalo (bison) because their fighting abilities reminded them of the mightly sacred buffalo.

Fort Assinniboine closed in 1911. Part of the fort land was given to Rocky Boy Indian Reservation whose land adjoined it. Another portion of the land was given to Hill County to create the county-operated and owned Beaver Creek Park.  

As you take the turn in to the fort today you see a sign for MSU Extension's agriculture experiment station. They use part of the old fort buildings and land to test varieties of crops that could be introduced to area farmers.

All tours of Fort Assinniboine are guided and there is a docent stationed there during the summer seven days a week (Monday - Friday from 9am to 5pm; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5pm). A small fee is charged for the tours - well worth it!

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JUL

2

Buffalo Tours on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation

Ft Belknap VICI recently visited Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, located near Harlem, Montana. If you are driving on US Hwy 2 in Central Montana you'll drive right through the northern part of the reservation.

Fort Belknap, established in 1888, is home to the Gros Ventre (pronounced Grovon) and the Assiniboine people. The word Belknap is pronounced with a silent "k" so it sounds like belnap.

Quite a few years ago a tribal buffalo herd was established and there are now about 300-400 in that herd.

This past year about 32 buffalo from Yellowstone National Park were relocated to Fort Belknap. This was an effort to keep the size of the Yellowstone population in proportion to the amount of food/grazing available in the national park.

My scheduled tour was to see the Yellowstone herd which was about twenty minutes south of the Visitor Information Center on Fort Belknap (see photo above). As we left the Visitor Center (at Don Addy Memorial Park & Campground) I saw lots of photo ops but I didn't want to delay our touring schedule so we didn't make any stops.

Ft Belknap buffaloAs we traveled south on Hwy 66 the terrain became rolling. Plenty of recent moisture had covered those rolling hills with lots of green grass. We turned off the highway into a fenced-off part of the buffalo pasture and one traveler with our group instantly saw the buffalo grazing on a hill in the distance.

The buffalo looked so docile - big and cumbersome - and like they couldn't run if they tried. Well, our tour guide told us they definitely could run and they can pretty much go where they seriously want to go.

Fencing surrounding the massive pasture was extra tall and very substantial. I can't even imagine how long it took to build that fence.

With the help of some long camera lenses we were able to get some nice photos. Some of the herd seemed to pose, others completely ignored us and kept grazing. I liked the calves, still much lighter in color than their parents. In the photos you can see how much the large buffalo were shedding.

This big, beautiful American icon is truly impressive and they are important to Native American culture.

Smokehouse GrillFort Belknap has plans to process buffalo jerky for retail sale. You can also order a buffalo burger at the Smokehouse Grille on the northern part of Fort Belknap.

The drive to the buffalo pasture was picturesque and we heard many oral history stories from our local tour guide.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the buffalo in their natural environment and I learned some interesting history about the area.

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JUN

25

Major Addition to Choteau's Stage Stop Inn

Stage Stop InnI've been hearing about the addition to the Stage Stop Inn on Choteau's Main Street for awhile so I was excited to see the finished product last week.

I've stayed at the Stage Stop before and have always like the fact that they tie in a local theme for decor. 

With rooms on two floors, a swimming pool, complimentary breakfast room and a nice lobby, it seemed complete. Well, their vision grew and so did the motel!

There are now a total of 77 sleeping rooms, with the additional rooms expanded to the north of the original structure and on three floors. If you are on the third floor facing west you'll have amazing views of the Rocky Mountain Front. 

Connecting the original hotel to the new part is The Livery Saloon, a small and cleverly decorated full-liquor lounge. An original sliding barn door screens off a handful of gaming machines from the main saloon.

Just beyond the saloon is the Rocky Mountain Events Center with 3,200 square feet of meeting/event space. 

Saloon Stage Stop InnThe entire meeting space can be broken down into four separate rooms, all with names taken from areas of the nearby Rocky Mountain Front -North Fork, South Fork, Our Lake and Ear Mountain.    

A top notch catering kitchen is just off the entrance to the Rocky Mountain Events Center and staff had prepared a handout listing items that are included or available for room rentals and also an ala carte menu for functions.

As I toured the "new" Stage Stop Inn I could hear the pride in voices of local residents who were seeing it for the first time.

Staff was excited (probably exhausted from last minute details) and everyone was enjoying this great addition to Choteau, Montana.

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JUN

15

MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks Celebrates 75 Years

MT WildcatsWhat a grand celebration idea for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for their 75th anniversary.

Tonight they held a concert at Giant Springs State Park on the east edge of Great Falls.

I had seen the information in the newspaper and I really like to support different events like this. But, I was lucky to have overnight family guests all weekend and I had a ton of things I thought I needed to get done before the work week began. If I skipped the concert and stayed home I thought I may get more done.

Oh, to heck with checking things off my list!

I grabbed a lawn chair, a jacket and my camera and out to Giant Springs I went.

One of the compelling reasons I went was I want people to be successful when they have events like these. I wondered if many would show up.

Our weekend weather had been one cloudburst after another. Today was the best day of the weekend but we still had quick rainshowers several times. I've learned never to Giant Spring upper parkingcomplain about rain in Montana. We are a state that has incredibly low humidity and not much rainfall. Our moisture comes during the winter months and melts in the spring so we aren't very used to rain.

Giant Springs State Park is just a mile or so past Eagle Falls Golf Course and just beyond the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. As I approached Giant Springs I saw some flashing lights.

Fish, Wildlife & Parks had a truck parked with it's lights flashing in an effort to slow traffic down. They were directing traffic to the the upper parking and picnic area so I assumed at least the lower (and closest) parking lot was filled. That was a good sign that some folks were supporting this. Well, it ended up being a lot more than some! 

When I turned in to the upper parking area I didn't know if there were even any spots left and that's a huge place.

The attendant said to take a right, then another right, then look for parking. Jeez - I don't think I've seen that many cars there in a long time!

Giant SpringsGood weather (finally), noted musicians (Chester, MT recording artist Philip Aaberg and his group the Montana Wildcats), no cost - they probably all contributed to the success of this event.

Artist Monte Dolack introduced the group and they began playing. 

I looked around the crowd and I could see people fishing in the Missouri River, two people in a kayak, families visiting and kids playing. What a varied mix of people, and all seemed to be having a great time.

The gurgling of the giant spring combined with lots of bird chatter and happy people. You couldn't have found a more perfect setting.

I'm so thankful I went to this concert.  

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