Central Montana's Travel Blog




You Have to Be There...Elk Viewing on the C M Russell Wildlife Refuge

elkI'm always frustrated when people try to explain something to me then say - well, you have to be there. But, this is exactly what I'm going to do in this blog!

It's that time of year where the elk are congregating at the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area, located in the C. M. Russell Wildlife Refuge. 

The bull elk are building harems during the rut season. For some reason, they congregate at this area every year. Evening is the best time for viewing and listening to the bugling.

You access the viewing area from US Hwy 191 south of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and then watch for signs. The area is on the north side of the Missouri River. 

You can easily watch and listen to the elk from a maintained gravel road at the Slippery Ann area but I recommend bringing binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens.

This year the Bureau of Land Management has set up a recorded message about the number of elk on the refuge. The elk numbers grow as the season advances. You can reach the recording at 406-535-6905.  

And, my parting advice - if you can't get to Slippery Ann, be sure to watch our video taken there. 




Combining History and Art on the Upper Missouri

German crew with umbrellaSome background: Let's think way back to the early 1800's when artist Karl Bodmer was born in Zurich, Switzerland. When he was about 23 years old he moved to Koblenz, Germany. Bodmer's uncle was an engraver and taught his nephew art. Karl Bodmer ended up learning a nice variety of media and became a printmaker, lithographer, illustrator and painter.

In 1833 Karl Bodmer and Prince Maximilian du Wied arrived in St. Louis, Missouri and began an arduous 2,500 mile steam and keelboat trek up the Missouri River. Bodmer's task was to sketch scenes along the way for the Prince. 

Fast forward to last Friday and I was standing on the river levee in Fort Benton, Montana watching a replica keelboat launch near the Old Fort in Fort Benton.

An assorted cast of characters stood ready to board the keelboat and travel upstream, just as Bodmer and Prince Maximilian did and just like the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery did in 1804-1806.

A German film crew was also onsite tracing portions of the route that Prince Maximilian (from Prussia which then became part of Germany) and Karl Bodmer did.  

keelboat on MissouriBefore I left for Fort Benton I checked the weather. It didn't look great for filming. In fact, it looked like rain all morning. And, the weather forecast was incredibly accurate that day!

I'm sure Lewis & Clark, and also the Prince and Bodmer, faced some less-than-sunny weather so true to form, our show went on!

Umbrellas were anchored over the expensive camera equipment, slickers came out and the reenactors just got soggy. Some had wool clothing on, which was typical of the era, and it was pretty heavy once it became rain soaked.

The keelboat went upstream first, then downstream, then repeated that about eight times. Not all of the crew on the keelboat were oarsmen but those that were deserved a massage at the end of that day!

An actor portrayed Karl Bodmer in stylish dress, top hat, sketchpad and all.

The time of year when Bodmer and Prince Maximilian were in the area was a bit different from fall, but the riverbank foliage made a beautiful backdrop for the keelboat.  

keelboat firing musketsAnd those soggy reenactors? They had a grand time!

About half of the Bodmer lithographs of the Missouri River voyage have been displayed in the art gallery at the Old Fort in Fort Benton. They are beautiful and I'd love to see them all.  

I'll be eager to see the final video of what the film crew termed a "docudrama". It will air on a German TV station with a reach between 4 - 5 million viewers.

And, I'll be able to say I saw a portion of it being filmed! 







Building Haybale Cre-HAY-tions

Huckleberry baleI've been thinking for the past 12 months about the MT Bale Trail: What The Hay event and trying to come up with something unique for my bale entry. I had recently been baking cupcakes and had an idea. I thought I could take several of the big round bales and attach chicken wire to them, add a colorful top with an inexpensive vinyl tablecloth and I'd have the perfect haybale cupcake.
Attaching the chicken wire and the tablecloth might be a bit tricky so I wasn't sure it was the best idea. Except, I had so many kinds of cupcakes where I could use the word hay or straw or bale. The word could easily become cup-cHAYke and the flavors and frostings could have fun names too.
Well, I called the farmer and he said he didn't put up round bales this year, just "big squares". The "big square" term always give me a chuckle because those 3' x 8' bales are really big rectangles!
Bottom line, my cup-cHAYke idea wasn't going to happen on a square or rectangular bale.
I was still thinking food though and came up with an idea to do bales about Central Montana's pie trail. The actual name of the trail is Pie a la Road Cherry balebut pie tr-HAY-l would be a fun word and then I thought we could do some different pies on bales.
Fast forward - quite a few cans of spray paint applied from a tall ladder on a very breezy day ended up cre-HAY-ting four bales. The first bale simply had nice lettering saying Central Montana Pie Tr-HAY-l, the next was Cher-HAY Pie with a colorful pie, then Huckleber-HAY pie and finally Rhu-bHAYrb pie. 
The pictures of cherry pie and huckleberry pie were easy, even with lattice across the top. Rhubarb, not so easy! I know rhubarb is red and green but the green didn't show very well and I didn't want too much red. All in all, they turned out fine and we had a lot of fun.
Winners of this year's MT Bale Trail had obviously put many hours in to their bale art. 
BufHAYlo Jump took first prize with a large stack of big square bales for the jump and several sculpted buffalo going over the cliff. It would be nice to know how those suspended-in-air buffalo were attached but I'm sure it was something beyond what I could do with hay.
teaparty baleA runner up winner did my favorite bale, a very colorful entry depicting a Mad Hatter tea part-hay. Lots of work went into that too and you could really see it in the hayfield.
I expected lots of political bales this year and there were a few. Most people came up with bales portraying current trends - pokemon and Dory were popular.
The MT Bale Trail: What the Hay takes place the first Sunday after Labor Day each year between Hobson, Utica and Windham. The day before is Lewistown's annual Chokecherry Festival, and the evening before that (Friday) is the Chokecherry Jam (dance) so you can really have a full weekend of events.  
I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy some of the region's unique events, take some photos and share them with us. 




White Sulphur Springs Puts On A Show

Riceville hillI recruited my kids and grandkids for a weekend in White Sulphur Springs over Labor Day this year.

They were excited to go but those who had never been there asked what would we do. Well...cue my list of activities and recreation!

First of all, the drive over the Kings Hill Scenic Byway on US Hwy 89 is always a pleasure. The Lewis & Clark National Forest straddles the highway and there are several scenic pullouts. The leaves on deciduous trees were just starting to turn, there are numerous places to hike along the way, and Newlan Creek Reservoir close to White Sulphur usually has some darn good fishing.  

Once everyone got to White Sulphur Springs I suggested a soak in the hot springs which are located at the Spa Hot Springs Motel. The pools at the Spa were renovated a couple of years ago and I really enjoy them - now, that could be something to do my with aging muscles! There are three pools varying from 96 degrees to 101 degrees and finally 106 degrees. The water actually has to be cooled down when it comes out of the hot springs. My favorite tidbit about the pools is that the water is drained every day, 365 days a year. No chemicals are used.

Newlan Creek ReservoirAnother suggestion was Arrowhead Meadows Golf Course on the edge of town. It's reasonable and a fairly easy course with great views of the surrounding mountain ranges.  

I told my kids about the rodeo scheduled for Sunday and Monday (not very interested in that I heard) and also a parade. They thought the parade would be fun and I told them that is what we could do Sunday morning after breakfast.

Now...for food. Bar 47 is a favorite for either lunch or dinner. White Sulphur Springs also has a new bakery named The Haymaker although I wasn't sure if they did sandwiches or just baked goods. That was a good reason to check it out! The Branding Iron and Truck Stop Cafe also do great breakfasts. Oh jeez, we'd have to stay longer just to take in all of my suggestions!

Then, there is the new (as of February) brewery called 2 Basset. I'm no beer expert but I did sample one of their brews last winter before their grand opening.

Now, the rest of the story. We did a LOT.

WSS parade Labor DayNewlan Creek Reservoir was beautiful. The water has begun to recede but for Labor Day the water had held up great. It was good to see so many campers and fishemen using the reservoir. The area is so big it didn't even look crowded. 

We soaked in the hot springs several times. My favorite time is when the temperatures are cooler so evening and early morning soaks are top on my list. I was curious to see what my grandkids thought of the hot springs. They noticed the sulphur odor at first but then they got in the water and loved how warm it was (the 96 degree pool). Even a one year old enjoyed soaking in a swim ring toy.

When I woke up Sunday morning I cringed. Everyone was pretty excited for the parade and is was raining - actually t was pouring rain. I wondered if White Sulphur Springs would do the parade but then I decided it would probably happen. And, happen it did! Everyone in the parade was getting rained on but they were having such a great time. I think the rain just showed how proud and tough this small town is! I took lots of photos during the parade and absolutely loved it.

Some times we overlook our small rural towns and I'm thankful I spent the past weekend in White Sulphur Springs. We visited with restaurant staff, met people soaking in the pool, talked with folks at the brewery and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! 








Montana Island Challenge - 12 Hours of Mountain Biking

Snowy MntnsThis year was my first time to attend the Montana Island Challenge, a fundraiser for several youth groups in Lewistown, Montana.

The event consisted of a 12 hour night time mountain biking ride starting Friday, August 19 at 7pm and ending at 7am Saturday morning. Saturday's other events were a half marathon and two 8K and 11K hikes.  

I was not a participant, instead I was a spectator who took photos of the mountain biking event. I thought the mountain biking course was rugged even in an ATV side by side (Ranger). I'm not a mountain biker!

The location for the Montana Island Challenge was the Half Moon Ranch in the Snowy Mountains about 45 minutes southeast of Lewistown. One of the benefits of participating in the Montana Island Challenge is getting to bike, hike or run on private land.

The drive to Half Moon Ranch was beautiful - I only stopped twice to take scenic photos but I could have stopped several more times. I couldn't believe how green the Snowy Mountains looked, especially for late August. But, the clock was ticking and I didn't want to be late for the start of the mountain biking event.

Bike race startI checked in at the registration desk and the organizer offered to let me see the mountain biking course and said one of his sons could drive me around the 5 1/2 mile route. I gladly accepted and off we went.

The starting point for mountain biking was on the road in to Half Moon Ranch, still fairly rugged for me. We must have gone about a mile on that road and then turned off and began to climb. I was glad I had a seat belt on!

Each major corner or turn was marked by a fluorescent dot on a stake and hazards such as low hanging tree limbs had fluorescent ribbon tied on them. I can't begin to imagine how many volunteer hours went in to setting up this event.

At 7pm the mountain bikers took off and then I went to a pre-determined position on a mountainside that was almost the end of the 5 1/2 mile loop. It took about 35 minutes from the start of the race until the first mountain biker came by me. I did get a photo but I decided I needed to keep my eye on the slowly sinking sun. I would need to continually move a bit until it was dark so I could catch the rest of the bikers finishing their first loop.  

Bike finishI stayed until about 9pm and then worked my way down the mountain to the registration area. People were camped nearby and would spend the night tallying the riders' completed loops. The mountain bikers were having an amazing time and most weren't out to set any records, just to suport a great cause and have a good time on their bike. Some were riding in teams where one team member rode a loop while the others sat out.

The Montana Island Challenge is named after the island mountain ranges that surround Lewistown and are found in many areas in Central Montana. As I stood on the mountainside waiting for bikers I thought it would be great to do this type of race in all of our island ranges - a great idea, lots of work though.

I wish I could have stayed for Saturday's running and hiking events but I had more work to do in a different area. So, back to Lewistown I drove. The sun had set and it was dark the entire way but it was a starry night with an almost full moon. I didn't take any photos on this drive but it was tempting.

I was tired and I was chilled after standing in damp grass on a mountain in dwindling sunlight, but I was happy for having seen this amazing event! 










Ancient Grain Called Kamut Grown Locally

Kamut signWhen you say "Kamut" to people they get a quizzical look about them and then I start to explain...this is an amazing ancient grain, never hybridized or genetically modified. And, it's grown organically in the Big Sandy area in Central Montana.
I'm a big fan of whole grains and this brand of wheat is higher in protein than most wheat on the market today. It also has magnesium, zinc and selenium plus more amino acids, lipids and vitamin E compared to modern wheat. It's the lipids that give more energy than carbs. 
So much for the details I learned!
One product made from Kamut wheat is called Kracklin' Kamut, a tasty and crunchy snack.
A week ago several of us had a meeting in Big Sandy, Montana and after that we toured the Kracklin' Kamut plant. They currently make one flavor of Kracklin' Kamut which is seasoned with salt. Other flavors are in testing phase right now such as a ranch dressing flavor.
KamutI've had waffles made from Kamut flour and also pizza crust made with it. Both had an extra texture to them, similar to a whole wheat flour or slightly nutty tasting. I loved both of them!
The folks who began raising Kamut in Montana are researching whether or not those who are gluten sensitive can digest this product without difficulty. Many people say it works for them but they would like some research to back that up. 
Agriculture in Central Montana began many years ago, and the primary grains were wheat, barley and oats. Today we are incredibly diverse and also high in the number of acres of organic crops. Kamut is one of those.
If you see a Kracklin' Kamut snack at your grocery store give it a try. It's pretty tasty! 




Have You Ever Heard of Korpivaara

cemetaryA few weeks ago I was invited to tour a nearby area with some historic preservation folks.

They said the name of the little community was Korpivaara. I wanted them to think that I knew the Central Montana tourism region inside and out but this is one I had never heard of.

The day came, I was ready, and off we went. We drove first to Belt, Montana.

Belt is a small town about 20 miles east of Great Falls, basically a bedroom community of Great Falls. 

We met at the Belt Mercantile, an absolutely charming art and gift store located in a historic building on Belt's Main Street. I had seen their sign before but had never stopped in - my loss! I loved everything about this place from the artwork, the way it was displayed, the "inside outhouse" (you have to see it to believe it) and the great giftware for sale. The building has been restored beautifully too.

After coffee and some chat, we loaded into three vehicles and pointed our wheels towards Korpivaara.

barnWhen you aren't driving it's diffiicult to remember how many turns you took, what direction you were going and how many miles you went. We stopped frequently to see different architecture and also a community cemetary named Willow Bend. I had heard of the cemetary and actually knew two people who were buried there.

In the Finnish language Korpivaara translates to "potentially dangerous forest wilderness". This area didn't seem dangerous to me and it didn't feel like a forest or a wilderness BUT the name would have been given to the community in the late 1800s.

Finnish people settled in the area beginning in the late 1800s, first coming to work in the coal mines and timber industry. After that more Finns came to the area to farm.

The Homestead Act was passed in the 1890s where people who improved the land could acquire 160 acres for a $16 filing fee. The Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 added another 160 acres to that making a farm of 320 acres. That sounds good but when you realize that most farms in Finland were less than 22 acres it must have seemed like a gold mine. Then, you factor in the soil and moisture conditions and it doesn't take long to wonder if many had a very hard life in Korpivaara.

This group I was traveling with wanted to see the Finnish architecture and we were not disappointed! In the area known as cornersKorpivaara there really is a cohesive group of hand hewn log buildings, and most are quite well maintained. Lodgepole pine was the primary building material. I studied the corners of the buildings and wondered how they were done with no mechanized equipment. The entire area has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and I can see why.

Population of the area dwindled over the years due to sickness (influenza) among early settlers, drought, and bank foreclosure during the Great Depression.  

Several places we visited are still lived in full time, others are cabins used in good weather and when winter weather conditions allow them to get in. One place even had a working sauna.  

The geography of the area is varied, from high plains to mountains and that made for a beautiful drive. I may not have known the history of this area but I learned a lot and came away with a better appreciation for the people who settled here.

All in all, it was a fabulous day!




Dupuyer's Annual Grizzly Day Does Not Disappoint

paradeSaturday morning - a cup of coffee, gas up the car, remember my camera - and I'm on the road. My destination was Dupuyer, Montana, a small town about 85 miles northwest of Great Falls on the Rocky Mountain Front.

There are two routes to get to Dupuyer from Great Falls. I chose to take US Hwy 89 on the way to Dupuyer so I could be closer to the foothills of the Rockies. That route took me through Vaughn, Fairfield, Choteau, Bynum and then Dupuyer.

The day - Dupuyer's annual summer celebration called Grizzly Day.

It's called Grizzly Day for a reason. This little community does see grizzlies coming along the creek that runs through town in search of food.

You could spend the entire day in Dupuyer experiencing their annual celebration but I arrived in time for the parade which pretty much closes Highway 89 for about 25 minutes. 

I stood next to some motorcyclists from North Carolina who said they asked about a route to "get around the parade" and then back on the highway. They decided to stay parade carsand were very pleased that they did! The comments they said made me feel so good. They commented on the friendliness of locals they had visited with in Montana. They loved the weather (low humidity) and said US Hwy 89 was indeed a fun ride. Their destination was Glacier National Park but last Saturday they were darn glad they stopped to watch this fun parade.

The parade had great variety - the little train made of old barrels is a favorite of mine and I think the lady driving it had as much fun as the kids who rode in it later on that day. It was stuffed with teddy bears, a tribute to this town that sees a lot of the real kind.

Families on horses caught my eye and I loved the little girl on a big horse being led by her father. A couple of fire trucks were squirting each other and also having a fun time. The Shriners were out in their Corvette Patrol which consists of some very tiny cars sometimes driven by some not-so-tiny fellows.    

After the parade I visited with more people and strolled by the grizzly bear awareness display. That mounted griz was looking pretty life-like standing on the side of the grizzlyhighway. A bouncy house was set up for kids and from the sounds coming out of it they were a-bouncing!

It didn't take me long to get to the food aisle.

A Scoop in Dupe looked enticing (ice cream in Dupuyer) but I was picking up the aroma of Indian tacos coming from a food truck (bus) at the end of the aisle. Awww...writing about this makes me want that taco on fry bread all over again! Yummy in my tummy and served with a million dollar smile, just perfect.

I enjoyed that Indian taco immensely as I listed to the Milk River Band play some good country tunes.

There was more to come including a Human Foosball game. I've never seen that but I needed to scoot back home for another commitment.

Small town festivals and celebrations can be found throughout Central Montana during the summer.

serving tacosIf you get the chance to experience one of Central Montana's local events, don't hesitate.

I predict that you will be warmly welcomed by the locals and will come away with a great appreciation for life and comaraderie in our communities.  






Chief Joseph Ride Follows the Nez Perce Trail

Chief Joseph Ride distantSometimes you have to be patient.

Thirteen years ago I missed seeing the trail riders complete the last leg of the annual Chief Joseph Ride and enter the Bear Paw Battlefield south of Chinook, Montana. I told myself I wouldn't miss is again.

The downside - I had to wait thirteen years to see it!

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail is 1,300 miles long stretching from Lapwai, Idaho through southern Montana and then ending 40 miles from the US/Canada border near Chinook. The Appaloosa Horse Club organizes an annual ride covering approximately 100 miles of the trail. At that rate it takes thirteen years to cover the entire 1,300 miles and end up at the site where Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce surrendered.

Some trivia here - in 1968 I was playing in the Chinook High School band and we played for an event at the present day Bear Paw Battlefield. I believe it was a ceremony in honor of this area becoming a state park.

BearPaw signA few land swaps later, much negotiation with the National Park Service, and the Bear Paw Battlefield became one of the park units on this trail.

You'll hear two different names for the Battlefield - Bear Paw (which is what most locals call it) and Bear's Paw which is how the legislation passed through Congress. For me, it is the Bear Paw Battlefield.

I tried to find information about this year's ride to see where their last camp would be and also to determine about what time they would ride in to the Battlefield. Information was tough to come by but I was in Chinook and ready to do some searching. One of the seasonal park rangers estimated that the riders would probably get to the Battlefield about noon.

The last campsite before riding in to the Battlefield was on People's Creek Road which I guessed would be about 18 - 20 miles. I also figured that a horse probably goes about 7 miles an hour (I was wrong, it's more like 3 miles an hour). I estimated that they would ride in to Bear Paw Battlefield about 12 noon.

Chief Joseph three ridersThe riders left their campsite that morning at 7am. One rider said he was up at 4:30am to take his tent down, pack it, get breakfast, saddle his horse and be ready to ride. That's early.

Trail ride oganizers were able to organize a route crossing private ranch land so that shortened things a bit and made it so I couldn't see the riders until about a half mile from the Battlefield. So much for my goal of getting the riders with no power lines, no irrigation systems in the background and no pavement.

It was really exciting when I saw motion on top of a small hill though. At first I wasn't sure if it was just trees swaying, but then I realized that more "trees" were appearing! It was the riders cresting that hill. I hopped in my car and got closer for some photos. The riders came through an open gate and then traveled a short distance on Route 240, a paved two-lane county road that goes past the Battlefield and as far south as Cleveland.

There were 165 registered riders and all are supposed to ride Appaloosa horses. One thing I found out, all Appaloosa horses do not have spots or a painted appearance. I spoke with one horse breeder from Washington and he explained how recessive genes Chief Joseph girlscan produce solid color horses. This guy had sponsored two Native American youth on the ride.

After all of the riders came in to the Battlefield they left, followed Route 240 north for about a quarter mile then went to the next night's camping area across the road. It seemed to take forever for them to come back but then I realized they had to tie, feed and water their horses. Most unsaddled and brushed their horses down and the trail ride chef served them lunch.

In about two hours some riders had walked or driven vehicles back to the Battlefield and we watched as about 30 Native American riders in full regalia circled the parking area three times. There was one horse with an empty saddle. Cameras were clicking, people were jockeying for better position and there seemed to be vehicles parked all over. I had a few "photobombs" with people squeezing in to get their photos but, all in all, I was able to get some great photos.

The first night of the five day ride started with a huge thunder and rain storm. Some routes had to be altered because support vehicles would not have driven on Chief Joseph boythe gumbo/mud soil - they would be stuck there until it dried out.

I am so amazed at the stamina of the trail riders. There was a variety of ages who came to honor the memory of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce who surrended to the US Cavalry at the site. History was retraced, memories were made and friendships renewed.

It was worth waiting for thirteen years to see this. 




Tracy's Restaurant and Jukeboxes

Tracys signThe other night I took my two granddaughters out to dinner and I thought they might enjoy going to Tracy's Restaurant in downtown Great Falls and playing the jukeboxes in the booths.

I eagerly told them where we were going to go for burgers and fries and said we could play the jukebox.

Jukebox? They looked at me and said "what's a jukebox?".

So much for my big surprise - they didn't even know what it was!

Well, darn it, we were still going to go. Off we went, my expectations rather high, theirs rather questioning.

Tracy's Restaurant has been around a long time and, in all honesty, it hasn't changed much. Several years ago they did have a movie production company take over the restaurant for a couple of days and do some filming. They spiffed the place up a bit. It hasn't changed since then. There are booths at Tracy's Restaurant and a neat old counter.

Tracys JukeboxWe found a booth with an old jukebox on the table but I told them we needed to figure out our order before we played music.

The waitress came quickly, before we had decided what to order, but she said she would come back. A burger and fries for one, chicken strips and fries for the other - pretty simple and that's the type of food you can get at Tracy's.

I wasn't sure what the little jukebox took but I tried a quarter and suggested a song to one of my granddaughters. She pushed some buttons and was kind of excited when the music started. We had more "plays" for my quarter so my other granddaughter picked her song.  

We didn't spend many quarters, three I think, but it kept the girls busy until our food arrived.

The selections on the jukebox are old (really old), just my kind of tunes, but my granddaughters would probably have liked something a bit more current. They did have fun with the jukebox though.

Tracy's CounterI began to think of all of the ways kids get music these days - on their parents' phones via iTunes, Youtube and Pandora, on music channels on TV, on iPods, and the list goes on.  

As we left Tracy's Restaurant I noticed a very sleek, current-looking jukebox near the cash register. I didn't take time to see if the music on it was old-time tunes or new ones - I didn't want to know. I'd rather remember this as a trip down memory lane, old time jukebox equipment and old time songs.

Some day, my granddaughters may take their grandkids to a place to show them some outdated iPhone 6 or an iPod. I realize we have made progress with tech equipment but some days it's kind of fun to put a quarter in the jukebox and listen to an old tune.

Thanks for the memories Tracy's! 




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