Central Montana's Travel Blog




Montana Winter Fair Hosts Unique Events

WylieLewistown's Montana Winter Fair definitely qualifies for having unique events.

My favorite yodeler is Wylie Gustafson of Yahoo fame and he and his band, The Wild West, were performing an evening concert to kick off the Montana Winter Fair weekend. That was enough to get me to pack my bags and drive to Lewistown.

The concert was held in the Grand Hall of the Eagles on Main Street. Thank goodness I had a ticket because I soon found out that the concert was almost sold out and they expected people to buy tickets at the door too.

Wylie was in rare form. His hometown is Conrad, Montana and he knew the type of crowd he had - farmers, ranchers and hard working folks. He writes most of his songs and the crowd loved him. There were a few dancers during the first songs but when he started singing The Hi-Line Polka that dance floor filled! I love that song and if I would have had a polka partner I would have been dancing.  

The next day I was up early and drove to the Fergus Fairgrounds where most of the day's events would be held.

rabbit agilityFirst event of the day was Rabbit Agility. Hold on, I'll explain. This event is very similar to a dog show where there is a course the animal goes through with encouragement from it's owner. 

This was a double-dose of cute!  

Rabbit Agility is a 4-H program and the kids and their rabbits had practiced the course. Many of the kids got down on their hands and knees to encourage their rabbit to go through hoops or over a small fence.

There were different breeds of rabbits and I soon lost track of who had what when these excited kids were telling me about their rabbits.

Families cheered on the rabbit handlers and everyone applauded after each rabbit's performance.

I wandered through the trade show and marveled at the variety of displays. Hand made candy (yes I sampled and bought), beautiful quilts, soaps, cowgirl scarves and many more items.

Next Stick horse rodeoI wandered to another building with an indoor arena for the Kids' Stick Horse Rodeo.

There were 71 entrants and it looked like most of the contestants were in the 4 - 8 year old range. The bleachers were filled with parents and grandparents, many with cameras to capture the moment. There were several categories for this competition but most involved either roping a set of steer horns or pushing a haybale over.

All contestants were winners and after their "ride" they headed to the prize table to pick out their winnings. 

Kudos to the Judith Basin BackCountry Horsemen for coordinating these 71 kids and their stick horses!  

Other events included Ranch Sorting where two riders separated cows into designated pens, a polar plunge, a home brew beer contest and Dutch oven cooking.

To sum up the Montana Winter Fair, it is very similar to a county fair held in the summer but this is held each January. 

I enjoyed every event I attended and from a bit of people watching I'd say everyone was having a good time. You just might want to put this on your calendar for January 2018. 






The Day I Met A Legend

South Fork Judith RoadTo be honest, I had been having a "not so great" day last week. Things did get better though - here's my story.

I had a few things to get done in the office in the morning but I was eager for a road trip. I drove east on US Hwy 87 as far as the small town of Windham, then turned south and headed to Utica. My goal - drive south of Utica on the South Fork Road and then turn in to the Judith Guard Station. I have summer photos of that old building but I wanted a winter photo in that beautiful setting.

The South Fork Road was dusty and the only snow was in the ditches. I took a few photos along the way, drove through Sapphire Village and, when I got to the forest service road going to the Guard Station, I started getting excited.  

After a minute or two that excitement turned into concern. I had been on a dusty road but now I was on a snowy road, real snowy. And I was climbing higher and the road was getting narrower. With each turn of my wheels the snow was deeper. I have a Ford Edge and I soon realized I had underestimated how quickly the snow levels could change. I needed to get off that road!

My options were either backing down the forest service road or turning around. I tried backing up but went too far to my left and I was looking over the edge of the mountain. Forward I went, then backed up and turned the other direction - snow bank, deep snow bank. It took three tries to get out of the snow bank and I realized I would have to turn around. Ten times forward, ten times backward and I was finally pointing back down the mountain road that I had just made a mess of. I slowly worked my way down to the South Fork Road and got out of my car to allow some "calm" to take over.

Highlander bottleI drove back to Utica and then to Hobson where I stopped at Tall Boys Tavern for a late lunch.   

It was about 2pm, the lunch crowd was long gone so I decided to take a seat at the bar on the tavern side of the restaurant. While my fish tacos were being made I started visiting with some folks at the bar. We talked about all of the tap handles that featured many of the state's craft brews and one gal told me the story of a local connection.

Highlander Beer has a "Highlander Legend" series of beer and a fellow who lives near Hobson was featured on one of their labels. She also said he has a favorite stool at the bar and I was sitting in it. And, she said he is usually at the tavern about this time of day.

Well, I looked at the label on the Highlander beer bottle and he didn't look like a guy who would be out and about every day. I would guess him to be more of a "reclusive mountain man" kind of guy.

HIghlander legendI was just about finished with my fish tacos and - you guessed it - that legend walked through the tavern door and sat down at the bar.

I wasn't sure if I should offer him my barstool, maybe it really was HIS barstool! He seemed content where he was so I asked if I could take his photo. He said sure, why not.

He was drinking a Highlander beer so I asked him to hold it up for the photo. I may have been pushing my luck there but he did it. I think he is pretty happy for the attention that comes with his "legend" title.

The text on the Highlander beer bottle talked about this legend and here is what it said:

"Where streams of the Rocky Mountains spill out onto the prairie, an old man lives, rather ornery and hairy. This legend tends a small bison herd, makes his own bologna, collects taxidermy and vintage autos. Some say he has a pet porcupine."  

The artistic rendition of the legend on the beer label was good. It looked a lot like him, perhaps dressed up a bit.  

My day was definitely looking up and I can now say I have met a legend! 





Ivan Doig Memorial Highway Named

Doig Memorial HwyI had only met author Ivan Doig twice but, in those brief meetings, I felt he truly loved the landscapes of his youth. 

I was also amazed at how humbled he was by the amount of people that turned out at his Montana book signings to see him, hear him read from his novels and hopefully get his autograph.

Beyond having a great fondness for the landscapes of Central Montana where he was born and raised, he seemed to memorialize those same landscapes in his novels.

Doig's life began in White Sulphur Springs, one of the southernmost points in the 13 county tourism region known as Central Montana. 

He lived in the White Sulphur Springs area about six years and then moved with his father (after his mother's death) further north along US Hwy 89 near Dupuyer. Dupuyer is almost the northernmost point in Central Montana so Doig was experiencing the area from south to north.

Both towns that Ivan Doig called home are on US Hwy 89. That highway remains a Doig booksbeautiful scenic drive of varied landscapes and today, a portion of it has been named the Ivan Doig Memorial Highway.

I've read the majority of Doig's novels and even though the names of towns are changed, if you are familiar with the area you can visualize the locations.

Many of Doig's books are set along the Rocky Mountain Front and former school classmates in that area led the effort to have the stretch of highway that passes through Dupuyer named after him.

It's a touching tribute to a man who was able to convey the vastness, harshness and beauty of the landscapes to readers, all while weaving the plot of a story.

Each time I drive by the Ivan Doig Memorial Highway sign I think I should re-read some of his novels. Let's change that sentence to "I am going to re-read my favorite Ivan Doig novels!" 





Newfoundland Dog Volunteers at Lewis & Clark Center

Buddy the NewfieI stopped by the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls last week and saw a very large black dog laying on the floor just past the foyer. As I walked closer to the dog I expected it to jump up and greet me. Nope! That dog barely blinked until I rubbed his head and gave his ears a little scratch!

Buddy, the big Newfoundland dog, volunteers along with his owner at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center two days a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) from 10am until 2pm. He is solid black from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. And, with all of his fur, it's even hard to see his eyes amid all that black.

In addition to his Wednesday and Saturday volunteer time, I learned that Buddy is usually available to volunteer for "special occasions".  

Buddy's owner was pretty proud of him and soon a crowd had gathered around and the story began to unfold that tied Buddy to Lewis & Clark.

Meriwether Lewis purchased a Newfoundland dog before the Lewis & Clark Expedition left to explore the Louisiana Purchase. That Newfie was named Seaman and there is a statue of the dog with several members of the expedition overlooking the big United States flag in Great Falls.

Buddy and ownerBehind the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, as you walk towards the Missouri River, there is also a statue of Seaman.  

When you see the size of a Newfoundland dog it is huge and, at first glance you might be a bit nervous. Buddy was very laid back and pretty darn lovable though.

The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center also recently sponsored a speaker from the Montana Historical Society talking about dogs and their purpose with humans over hundreds of years.

Many dogs were working dogs and I guess we can put Buddy in that category too. Buddy's job is just to hang out and be lovable but the connection to the Lewis & Clark expedition is strengthened when you see him. The staff and volunteers at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center do a great job talking about the Corps of Discovery and the dog that accompanied them.  

And, Buddy does his job well too!

The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is located on the banks of the Missouri River on the east edge of Great Falls. It is open year round and if you are there on a Wednesday or Saturday you just may get a chance to meet my new friend Buddy!  




A Connection Between Dogs and Beer

Triple Dog BrewingI'm beginning to wonder, just what is the connection between dogs and brews?

Two fairly new breweries in Central Montana, Triple Dog Brewing in Havre and 2 Basset Brewery in White Sulphur Springs obviously felt compelled to honor the pups.

Triple Dog's logo proudly shows a dog balancing a pint of beer on it's nose. The brewery is located on US Hwy 2 on the west edge of Havre. Each time I am driving by I hope that pup watches the traffic on the highway! 

Beer names at Triple Dog Brewing include Dumpster Diver Stout (do you wonder if the dog does dumpster diving?), American Mutt Pale Ale (definitely a tribute to a pup here!), Fresno Wheat in honor of a nearby fishing reservoir and Duck Face IPA. I have no clue about Duck Face but maybe the dog helps with bird hunting.

2 Basset Brewery in White Sulphur Springs has built an entire theme around two basset hounds (yes, I have met both of them and they do act like they own the place).

Leroy and Stanley are the resident dogs at 2 Basset Brewery. They are inspiration for beer names, for Facebook posts and for the brewery's logo and t-shirt designs.

2 Basset2 Basset is located in the middle of White Sulphur Springs on Main Street. I'm sure everyone in town knows Leroy and Stanley although I get the two of them confused. 

A few beers at 2 Basset Brewery include Bad Bad Leroy Brown (a brown ale named after you-know-who), Stanley Stout (you can figure this out!), Drooligan (oh yeah, Leroy and Stanley can do this), Chasing Blonde (my favorite), Breaking Basset (don't go there), Festival Ale (for the annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival) and Belter (for the nearby mountain range).

I've decided that having a dog (or two) must lend itself to sitting around and dreaming up beer recipes.

No matter what the rationale, stop by either Triple Dog or 2 Basset and meet the pups if you have a chance.  





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! 








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