Hot Springs Soak in White Sulphur Springs
Ahh...spa...a soak in the hot springs at the Spa Hot Springs Motel in White Sulphur Springs is just what I needed!
I had spent a few hours on snowshoes in the Little Belt Mountains and a soak in the hot springs was tempting me. I had planned ahead and packed my swim suit and towel although I could have rented them at the Spa Hot Springs Motel.
It was a chilly day, the late afternoon temp was about 20 degrees, and I knew I'd have a couple of brisk moments getting from the dressing room to the pool. There are two large outdoor pools, one hot and the other hotter! I chose the hottest for my first soak.
At first it seemed too hot and I was only half submerged. About 30 seconds later there was nothing but my head bobbing above water and I was loving the soothing water.
After the hottest pool I went to the not-so-hot pool, still pretty warm though. I didn't do the hot tub but I've sat in in before.
Everyone seemed to be having such a good time. The crowd was mostly adults and teens but there were some younger kids with parents.
A few details if you plan to soak at the Spa Hot Springs Motel - you pay your fee ($7) at the lobby desk at the motel, sign in, and note the time you entered. Inside there are dressing rooms with a shower.
The pools were completely renovated a couple of years ago. Water in the pools actually needs to be cooled down before it is usable. There is a slight sulphur odor but most people find that it gives the body a little therapy too.
There are no chemicals added to the water in the pools and they are all drained every night, 365 days a year. That's pretty amazing!
White Sulphur Springs was considered to be the Valley of Peace by the Native Americans who visited the area and warring tribes did not fight in the area. Backgound murals at the Spa Hot Springs pools depict the Native American influence.
If you stay overnight in one of the motel rooms at the Spa Hot Springs Motel you don't pay to soak. But, if you just want to stop in for a soak that's easy to do. You don't need a reservation - just show up, pay your fee and get ready to soak!
Snowshoeing in the Little Belt Mountains
Last weekend I began my Saturday with reading a list of things to do. While I was debating which task to start first, a friend called and asked if I wanted to go snowshoeing at Silver Crest Cross Country Ski Area near Kings Hill Pass.
Well, I didn't take too long to respond with a "yes" and then I said I could be ready in 30 minutes. Boy, did I scramble! I hadn't been on my snowshoes since last year. I knew they were in the garage but somehow, summer stuff gets in the way - hoses, rakes, lawnmower - all were stacked in front of winter gear.
I'm thankful my snowshoes are bright orange and easily spotted. Poles were next, then, what to wear. The weatherman predicted it would be sunny which makes any day feel warmer. A few layers were packed in my tote bag along with some water and snacks. Out the door I went with not even a glance back at the list of chores on the counter.
US Hwy 89 was mostly clear of snow, although there was just a bit when we got close to Kings Hill Pass. The parking lot at the winter recreation area had a few cars and it looked like almost everybody was going cross country skiing.
I strapped in to my snowshoes, forgot my water bottle in the car in my tote, but had my camera.
Off we went on one of the marked trails and in about 2 minutes we were in beautiful fluffy snow surrounded by tall pine trees. And, quiet and solitude. What a good feeling!
We did encounter two different groups of people snowshoeing but that certainly didn't make it crowded. In fact, we took the opportunity to catch our breath and stop and visit with each group.
As we worked our way back to the trailhead we saw a few more X-C skiers starting on trails and I could hear more vehicle activity in the parking lot. It was tempting to turn around and do the trail all over again.
Well, I was thirsty and eager to get to the snacks I had packed. I was also ready to rest!
This weekend I'd like to do that all over again.
We'll see if snowshoeing wins out over the to-do list.
Sunrise Views (and more) From Benton Lake NWR
I drove north of Great Falls to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge the other day in search of some beautiful and unobstructed sunrise views. The drive to the refuge, which is managed by US Fish & Wildlife Service, is a short twelve miles from Great Falls, all paved until you turn in to the refuge.
I kept looking to the east, planning for the best sunrise photo of the day. After about 5 miles I stopped at a roadside pull-out, grabbed my camera and stepped out in to the crisp morning breeze. OK, it was more than a breeze blowing across that beautiful grassland. I had taken my bulky jacket off when I got in my warm car so I took a couple of quick photos and jumped back in the car. The jacket was immediately put on and zipped to my neck!
No worries about not getting some good sunrise photos though - the views just kept getting more impressive as I traveled along. The Highwood Mountains were serving as a backdrop to the ever-changing sunrise and I made a LOT of stops and took quite a few photos.
The refuge was quiet with just a few vehicles at the administration office, probably staff getting ready for the day. I took the auto tour route although, as it weaved in different directions I kept glancing back at the sunrise. My final sunrise-photo-stop was rewarding and I silently praised myself for getting another great view. As I turned to get back in my vehicle I missed what was probably the best photo of the day. A large white bird which I'm sure was a snowy owl, took off from a fence post and my camera was off with the lens cap on so I missed the whole episode.
I kept driving through the refuge and almost drove into a brood of pheasants foraging alongside the dirt road. Getting close was difficult but I started taking photos from inside my car so I wouldn't disturb them. As I inched forward they started to scatter and I made a note to save up for a better camera lens.
The sun was completely up by now but I still had some nice light for photos. I enjoyed the serenity of no traffic and the quiet prairie.
I was almost back to the paved road and caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was a dog but soon realized it was a coyote in search of his morning meal. He stopped and looked at me for several minutes. I was in my car with the motor running and the passenger window down. Getting out of the car would have probably sent him running and I wanted a photo. He posed and I snapped away on my camera as the soft morning light glistened off of his thick winter coat.
When I got home I counted my successes. I saw a nice sunrise, several pheasants and a coyote. Not bad for a morning drive that was only about an hour long.
Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge is so close to Great Falls, so easily accessible, and so rewarding for wildlife watching.
Sometimes we take for granted what is right in our own back yard.
Fort Benton - More Charming Than Ever
Several years ago the community of Fort Benton started a Charm Trail with individual businesses selling a charm that identified their building, what they sold, or a local attraction. It's a great way to encourage people to visit the different stores and businesses.
I have a Fort Benton charm bracelet with eight local charms - one in the shape of Montana with Fort Benton written on it, a canoe, a tepee, the Grand Union Hotel, a dog (forever faithful Shep), a cowboy boot, the original blockhouse at Old Fort Benton and a cowboy on a bucking horse.
Well, now I can collect Christmas (or 'winter") charms for a new bracelet!
Mittens, snowflakes, a reindeer, a Christmas stocking, an evergreen tree and more can all be purchased to personalize your new jewelry.
I'm ready for another charm bracelet!
This Year's Elk Harvest Is Higher on Rocky Mountain Front
The 2015 big game general rifle season saw more hunters and more elk harvested on the Rocky Mountain front this year.
Today is the end of the season and as of yesterday, 3,900 hunters (both successful and not-so-successful) had stopped at the game check station in Augusta. There have probably been more hunters checking in today so odds are that total will hit 4,000. That's an increase of over 5 percent.
So, how many elk were harvested? At the Augusta game check station 445 elk had been checked since the season opened October 24. That's 30 percent above the 10 year average.
Changes were made to the hunting regs and hunters could take more cows this season which probably contributed to the increase in elk harvested.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park officials were estimating that the number of white-tailed deer harvested would reach the 10 year average by close of the season today. The mule deer harvest (all bucks) was down.
Some hunting districts will have "shoulder seasons" this year although none are on the Rocky Mountain Front. These seasons were approved in an effort to reduce overpopulations on private lands in the districts. All of these seasons will be closed by February 15, 2016.
Details about the shoulder seasons are available at MT FWP's website fwp.mt.gov (click on elk shoulder seasons). Hunters can also call the FWP Region 4 office in Great Falls 406-454-5869 or the White Sulphur Springs district office 406-564-2090.
Buffalo Joe's and the Buffalo Wallow Lodging
When I first heard about a new saloon, a restaurant and a small motel being built in the little community of Dupuyer, Montana I had my doubts. I wondered if it would really happen and if so, how would it turn out.
A few weeks ago I was able to see the finished products of this huge investment in Dupuyer. In fact, I had lunch at the restaurant and thoroughtly enjoyed it.
US Highway 89 runs through the middle of Dupuyer and this new development is on the east side of the highway - definitely easy to find!
First, let's talk about Buffalo Joe's Saloon and Eatery. The decor is "Old West" which fits perfectly in Dupuyer. Artwork on the wall is from Choteau artist Jim Utsler and it is for sale.
I was there at lunchtime and was hungry. After reading the menu I ended up ordering a burger and fries. In hindsight, this is a burger that could easily be split with someone else! Some notes about my lunch - these large burgers are all hand patted and my fries were made from potatoes grown nearby. Yum!
My friends ordered the soup of the day and a roll. Darn it, I wanted that too, especially after I found out the rolls were made fresh at a local Hutterite colony.
Buffalo Joe's serves prime rib every Friday and Saturday nights and, they will serve grilled prime the next day if there is any left. That would be my favorite since I like my prime rib well done. Yes, I can hear some groaning from all you rare prime rib eaters! Monday night is a limited menu with a special of tacos and pitchers of margaritas.
Other menu items include seven different burgers - a bison burger and also a black bean vegetarian burger. Appetizers looked good too, from bratwurst bites, mac/cheese bites, wings and gizzards to pulled pork nachos. I probably wouldn't try the gizzards but the rest all sounded good to me! There was a nice range of salads and a couple unique ones that caught my eye - a warm red cabbage salad and vegetarian chef salad made with chickpeas.
It's going to take me awhile, quite a few trips to Dupuyer, to try all of these!
Buffalo Joe's has a full bar, some gaming machines, an enclosed outdoor patio and a huge lawn for special events.
The 12-unit motel is called the Buffalo Wallow and it is located directly behind the outdoor space that adjoins the restaurant. Amenities include WiFi, cable TV with flat screen TVs, a fridge and microwave.
This Main Street investment is a huge game changer for the community of Dupuyer. There is a nice bed & breakfast on the other side of the highway but an additional 12 rooms with a restaurant and lounge will help anchor Dupuyer as a base camp for hikers, bikers, basically anyone getting out to enjoy recreation along the Rocky Mountain Front.
Next time you are cruising on US Hwy 89 stop by Buffalo Joe's for a meal. Better yet, plan ahead and book a room so you can watch the beautiful sunrises and sunsets along the Rocky Mountain Front.
I Finally Got to Swift Dam
Well, there is a story about me going to Swift Dam west of Dupuyer, Montana!
Many years ago I had never heard of Swift Dam. Everytime someone mentioned it I became more intrigued and decided I was going to go.
However, I wasn't sure how to get there.
I was told the road was iffy.
Then, when I was in the area the weather was looking like a storm and I was advised to not go until it passed.
Finally, the stars aligned, I was in the area and a friend said "let's drive up to Swift Dam". I was elated! The sky was a little "moody" with dark clouds rolling in every now and then but that just made my photos have some powerful effects.
We drove north of Dupuyer, probably only about a half mile, then turned left (west) and headed directly towards the Rocky Mountain Front on a good gravel road. The terrain was open, but front and center was the imposing East Slope of the Rockies.
I saw a few cattle grazing, also deer and some grouse that caught me off guard when I was taking a photo. I scared them, they scared me!
My friend was driving her pickup and I probably asked her to stop about 20 times so I could take photos. It is about 17 miles from US Hwy 89 to the trailhead/community maintained campground before you get to the dam so that's more than one stop per mile!
We drove in to the campground and there were several pickups and a large horse trailer that probably hauled horses and riders for a pack trip in to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The campground is maintained by folks from nearby Dupuyer. There is a small building there and quite a few campsites nestled in a gorgeous area.
There is a sign or marker about the Old North Trail that existed probably 25,000 years ago. The Blackfeet Indians used the trail to travel down the east side of the mountains for trade and also to travel from their northern hunting grounds to southern winter encampments. You'll see markers along this trail that hugs the mountain range.
We crossed Birch Creek which was almost nonexistent this time of year and started to slowly climb up to the dam and Swift Reservoir. The face of the dam is impressive to see although this time of year there wasn't much water going over it. The reservoir was also low.
Swift Dam gave out in 1964 and the area suffered a catastrophic flood. When you see the terrain it is scary to think how fast the water would have moved when the dam broke. The operating gates of the dam were repaired in 1967 and they are currently slated for $150,000 worth of maintenance after 50 years.
The drive to and from Swift Dam was more than just a bucket list item for me. The scenery was stunning, views were amazing and I learned history of the area and the dam.
What a day!
Havre's New Hotel
Havre's newest hotel opened recently and I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the property.
The Best Western Plus Havre Inn & Suites is located on the north side of US Hwy 2 near Havre's Holiday Village Mall and adjacent to Murphy's Pub.
As you enter the hotel lobby you feel like you are in a huge metropolitan hotel. The lobby decor is beautiful, trendy, spacious and inviting.
One lobby display really caught my eye. An artist has created a sculpture coming out of the wall that features a Native American chasing a buffalo. THe buffalo extends out of the wall about 24 inches. The hotel is located near Havre's buffalo jump known as Wahkpa Chu'gn.
There is a small meeting room on one side of the lobby that seats about 15 people and then there is a much larger room past the breakfast area that can accommodate up to 200 people.
The hotel also has a pool with a waterslide, fitness center and business center.
The BW Plus Havre Inn & Suites has impressive views overlooking Havre's badlands, the Milk River and a nearby buffalo jump. As I was touring the sleeping rooms I glanced out and saw a BNSF train traveling parallel to the Milk River.
Artwork throughout the meeting rooms, common areas and all sleeping rooms is done by Havre photographer Todd Klassy and he features scenes from the area. The framed photographs are beautiful and a great nod to a local entrepreneur.
I enjoyed my tour of the Best Western Plus Havre Inn & Suites. Stop by for a tour - better yet treat yourself to an overnight at the hotel.
Priest Butte Geological Formation Near Choteau
I've driven US Hwy 89 many times and each time I am between Fairfield and Choteau I pass by what is known as Priest Butte.
The terrain surrounding the butte is flat so it really stands out, even from a distance.
I was traveling north from Great Falls to Dupuyer the other day and had plenty of time so I turned west on Priest Butte Road, just before I got to the butte. It was a good gravel road that wove around the west side of Priest Butte.
The west side of Priest Butte seemed so different to me - cattle were grazing on a grass covered slope. The east side of the butte isn't nearly such a gradual slope, more like a drop-off. Near the top of the butte I saw rocky shelving, almost like hoodoos.
From the highway side of the butte I have seen three crosses on top but they seemed much more prominent when I saw them from the west side.
Priest Butte was named after a Jesuit Mission that was established further north to serve the Blackfoot Indian Reservation.
In 1893 there was a stone quarry on the butte and stone was cut there to build the Teton County Courthouse in Choteau. That courthouse burned in 1897 and a new one was built.
Priest Butte Lake is just east of the actual butte across the highway. Winds come off the Rocky Mountain Front and make some prime conditions on the lake for wind surfing and ice boating.
My drive around Priest Butte took probably an extra five or ten minutes...well...let's make that 20 minutes because it was so unique and pretty I stopped to take quite a few photos.
"Driving for pleasure" is a category many of our visitors enjoy and I did too! Take some time to explore Central Montana's off-the-beaten pathways.
Revisiting Memories at Zurich Park
I grew up in Chinook, Montana on US Hwy 2. About midway between Chinook and Harlem is the tiny town of Zurich.
Historians tell me Zurich was named by a railroad conductor traveling this route. According to the story, he spun a globe and pointed at Zurich, Switzerland and named the Montana location after it.
We pronounce Zurich, Montana with a "ch", not a "k" sound and I suspect the terrain is vastly different between the two towns. You'll see irrigated cropland in the valley area known as Zurich, Montana and mountain peaks in Zurich, Switzerland.
Montana's Zurich has almost faded away but one part still in existence happens to be strongest in my memory.
Zurich Park, just a couple miles out of town has a great playground for children, an enclosed building for all types of gatherings and plenty of camping and picnicking sites.
I stopped at the park last week and I can still (in my memories) hear square dances being called, the voices of my 4-H leaders, the playground swings squeaking, and friends and family playing in the area.
Wow - what a trek down memory lane for me!
The park was quiet the day I was there. I visited with one of the caretakers who lives on site and I saw one camper.
I also saw several antelope on the way to the park and a pheasant while driving back.
I was pleased to see that the park was in tip-top shape.
Fall foliage was truly putting on a show and I chastised myself for not allowing more time to visit this hidden gem. As we walked around the area I took several photos - memories for me that I can look at in years to come.
Even though the town of Zurich is slowly fading, Zurich Park is still frequently used today for a variety of gatherings.
Next time, I'll plan on taking my grandkids along and help create some small town memories for them.