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The Fish Were Biting at Ackley Lake State Park

Ackley Lake signFirst of all, a confession.

I had never been to Ackley Lake State Park until last night. When you realize it is only 7 miles off the highway from Hobson, MT it's hard to believe I haven't gone before.

It was about 5:30pm last night when I was almost to Hobson coming home from a day of work in Lewistown.

I had recently visited with the new Region 4 State Park manager and made a comment that I had been to all of the state parks in Central Montana except Ackley Lake. He asked why and I couldn't come up with a reason. At that point I decided I was going to get there!

Well, seven short and scenic miles later I pulled in to a parking area at Ackley Lake State Park.

I saw a pickup parked there, then I glanced to the south and saw three campers. Perhaps I would have someone to take a photo of instead of just some scenic shots.

Fishing at Ackley LakeTwo fishermen were casting from the shore and I started visiting with them. In a matter of 15 minutes it seemed like fish started jumping all over in the lake - in the middle, not too far from shore, truly all over! My new fishing buddies were excited and trying to cast where they saw the last fish jump.

One of the fishermen told me he was 84 years old and had recently had rotator cuff surgery. He told me he could certainly be doing better if it hadn't been for that darn surgery!

There were a couple of tugs on the line, a couple of fish got away.

Then, one was hooked! We all got just a little excited as the other fisherman did some well controlled reeling in, giving the fish a little line, then bringing him in bit by bit. This guy definitely knew what he was doing.

Another fisherman was in a tube where he could paddle and fish out in the middle. He caught a fish too and the excitement was contagious.  

I watched as the first fish caught was weighed and measured. It was a rainbow trout Campers at Ackley Lakeand was 16.5 inches long.

I was impressed!

Before I left Ackley Lake I walked around a bit. Campers were enjoying the great fall weather, it was so quiet you could hear a fish jump, and I was soaking up the serenity and beauty.

Ackley Lake State Park isn't large but what a perfect setting for fishing, motorboating or camping. And, the access is incredibly convenient.




25th Annual Montana Bale Trail A Success

Scotts baleWhether you call it the Montana Bale Trail or the What The Hay, it's a huge success. And a lot of fun.

I enjoy both aspects of the Montana Bale Trail - building an entry and then going on the main day of the event to see what every one else built.

What is this event?

Twenty five years ago two ranchers in the Hobson-Utica area started it. One put up a corny bale spoofing the other rancher. Of course, a reciprocal bale spoof was in order! And, the rest of the story is all about growing the event, other neighbors joining the bale building and even people like me who live 80 miles away building an entry.

Travelers on the 22 mile route the day of the event are another facet for this gem of an event. Between 6,000 - 7,000 people attend the big day which is always the first Sunday after Labor Day. I'd like to have a "counter" on this route the week following the event to see how many folks come out when the crowds are gone.

How has it grown?

WTH baleThis year there were almost 50 bale entries. The Utica Women's Club organizes a huge craft fair with vendors and food. The Oxen Yoke bar in Utica sets up outside seating for their huge grilled burgers. The Midway Caf-hay is located, can you believe it, about midway on the route! There is a free hay-maze by the Midway Caf-hay and several preserved bale entries from previous years are displayed. On the lawn of the Hobson Library & Museum there are several entries in the Hay-zoo. This year they even had an elephant sculpted from hay that spouted water through his snout. Snoop-hay, a couple of Minions from Despic-hayble Me, an allig-haytor and much more all appeared on the lawn. Hobson restaurants get in to the game with entries built outside their businesses and even the Bar 87 at Windham had a Miller Hay-Life bale entry.

Where is it?

If you are on US Highway 87 between Great Falls and Lewistown you'll have two entrance/exit points for the Montana Bale Trail. Hobson is one, Windham the other, and the little town of Utica is in-between. The route is about 22 miles, all paved, and you drive past well-kept farms and ranches.

pig hayWhat does it cost?

There is no charge to view the Montana Bale Trail and you even get a chance to vote for your top three favorite entries in the People's Choice section.

This year I did a completely different bale entry and I've already come up with an idea for next year's entry. I even wrote it down so I'd remember it. When you are driving the route all types of ideas pop in to your head. Then, when the time rolls around I struggle so that's why it is written and attached to my calendar!

The event is all about having fun and good times in Central Montana, enjoying our rural communities and our farmers.

Put the Montana Bale Trail on your calendar for next year, first Sunday after Labor Day. Psst...videos of past events and a 2015 calendar with event photos are for sale.




Following the EarthCache Trail on the Upper Missouri River

Using GPSWhen the Bureau of Land Management's Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center in Fort Benton, Montana came up with the idea of earthcaching I wasn't quite sure what it was.

I had heard of "geocaching", hadn't ever tried it, but at least that term was familiar. Earthcaching was something new for me.

I planned to do some studying on earthcaching before I tried doing it but that just didn't happen. However, the BLM had some nice handouts explaining it. Two booklets were geared to kids and I appreciated that because I was definitely at the very beginning level.

The Upper Missouri River is a favorite canoe area of mine but we would be doing a stretch that I had only done part of, and that was a few years ago.

My group met at the BLM's Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center. The first thing we learned is that we would be canoeing in a national monument which is a 375,000 acre landscape filled with history.

So, what is an earthcache? The similarity to geocaching is entering the designated waypoints and finding a specific location. earthcache canoeWe would be using GPS units and we practiced putting in the coordinates (a bit of a struggle for me). 

Once we arrived at the locations (hopefully we entered them correctly) we would look at the landscape for unique geology. The handouts listed different land formations like floodplains, valleys, braided or straight rivers. 

Geocachers look for small containers with trinkets or messages.

Earthcaching is a discovery on your own to learn the uniqueness of the area without leaving anything behind. To prove you were there, you can answer a list of prepared questions.

Earthcachers can also log their visit once they have computer access. The Upper Missouri River doesn't have cell service or access in most of the area so its helpful to take notes.   

It was mid-morning when we launched our canoes, putting in at the public launch near the old fort. 

Signal pointAfter we paddled downstream a mile or so we started receiving beeps from our GPS units. Our distances to the earthcache area weren't the same but we were close. 

After pulling canoes to the side of the river and climbing up the bank we started to learn some serious geology. Funny thing, there is serious geology all along that river - it helps to stay aware of the amazing things passing by and that is the goal of earthcaching.

We paddled a total of 21 miles that day and yup, my arms were a bit sore at the end of the day.

We found another earthcache farther downstream and pointed out some other areas that we thought would be interesting points to highlight.

BLM has noted 19 earthcache sites on the Upper Missouri River and dubbed it the EarthCache Trail. If you are planning to float the river and follow the trail, contact the BLM at 406-622-4000 for details. 

It was a beautiful day - about 80 degrees, calm in the morning and a breeze in the kayakafternoon, and unique clouds that mesmerized me.  

It was an educational day - I've seen those riverbanks many times but now I have a deeper connection as I reflect on how they were formed.

It was a fun day - good laughter and conversation with friends, some exercise and plenty of fresh air.

It doesn't get much better!




Ever Tasted Frybread?

Spuds Cafe frybreadWhen I was in Chester, Montana (on US Hwy 2) the other day I was looking for a mid-afternoon sweet snack. Spud's Cafe was the recommendation I was given so I off I went in search of a goodie.

After looking at an extensive menu I decided on frybread. Frybread is, well, fried bread dough! Sometimes people eat it with honey, sometimes with cinnamon and sugar.

The waitress took my order and, in no time at all, there was a delicious piece of fresh, hot frybread and a small cup of honey on the table.

Mmmmm, it was wonderfully delicious.

Years ago frybread was made by our nomadic Plains Indian tribes. You can still find it at Farmers Markets, fairs and pow wows but I'm always excited to see it on a cafe menu.

I'll be back to Spud's Cafe for more of their frybread!




Conversation With A Train Robber

Bud and TomAs I roam around Central Montana I meet a lot of folks in many different occupations.

I can now add Train Robber to the list!

Following is a snippet of the conversation I recently had with a fellow who has robbed trains routinely for quite a few years.

Me: so, Bud (full name withheld to protect the not so innocent), how many trains do you think you have robbed?

Bud: gosh, I'd have to sit down and count. Well, there was the year we robbed 22 trains. That was a lot of work! Although, it probably averages about 14 or 15 a year and we've been doing this a lot of years.

Me: how has this summer been for train robbing?

Bud: steady, real steady. Every couple of weeks or so we rob a train.

Me: same crew each time?

saloon girlsBud: you know, I'm trying to work my son in to the business. He's been around train robberies since he was just a kid but it would be nice for him to step up and help out with the business.

Me: is your son trained to rob trains (I said that as a joke but Bud responded seriously).

Bud: oh yes. In fact, he'll be riding with us tonight when we rob a train.

Me: well, I hope I can meet him.

Bud: you probably will. He's shy but he rides well.

Me (thinking to myself...a train robber that is shy??) 

Me: Do you try to stick to the same game plan with each train you rob?

Bud: sure. A couple of us always ride on the south side of the tracks and we have one rider who follows the north side. There is better coverage for us on the south side one riderbecause of a hill so we can stay out of sight of the train for quite awhile.

Me: doesn't the engineer ever figure out that they are going to get robbed?

Bud: yes, she (the engineer is a lady) always slows down for us after coming across the trestle and around a curve.

Me: sounds like a set-up.

Bud: yup, we are actually hired to rob the Charlie Russell Chew Choo every night they run!

OK, so much for my spoof but Bud's responses above were answers to my questions as we "waited around the bend" for the evening dinner train.

We heard the whistle as the Charlie Russell Chew Choo approached the trestle. They are required to do slow speeds over the trestles so it seemed like it took forever for it to cross and come around the bend. Or, maybe I was just excited to witness the holdup.

train on trestleI hid behind the saloon at the "stage" and peered around, trying not to be seen. The passengers I could see looked like they were having a pretty fun time.

After the train came to a halt the robbers entered the cars and gave out Charlie Russell Chew Choo dollars. Then they went back through the rail cars and robbed the passengers of the dollars.

After exiting the train a fight began, dance hall girls came out of the saloon and pandemonium broke out.

As you may imagine, the robber crew does have some "each man for himself" thoughts when money is involved and that creates an interesting end to the robbery.

It's all fun and games and, as Bud says, "when this is no longer any fun we'll hand it over to another crew of robbers".

Believe me, this crew has a good time.

For train schedules visit MontanaDinnerTrain.com or call the Lewistown Area Chamber of Commerce at 406-535-5436.

Oh, remember to bring your camera if you are riding the Charlie Russell Chew Choo. Beautiful scenery, wildlife, and a good natured crew of train robbers!




It is Appropriately Called Awesome Autos Etc. Museum

yellow car ChesterLast week I was in Chester, Montana for a meeting. After the meeting and lunch we stopped in at a place called Awesome Autos Etc. Museum.

Located right on US Hwy 2 across from Chester's Lions Park, Awesome Autos was easy to find.

The neat and tidy looking metal building holds an absolute treasure of vintage and not-so-vintage automobiles along with some former business signs that will bring back memories.

I wasn't sure what to expect but I'd like to say right away that this museum exceeded my expectations by a million miles!

As you tour the museum you'll be reminded that the building parallels US Hwy 2, and right down the middle of rows of autos it looks like a highway complete with white striping down the middle row.

Each end of the building has the correct highway signage. One side has a US Hwy 2 West sign, the other has a sign saying US Hwy 2 East. Our tour guide pointed that out, Awesome Auto museumotherwise, I was so impressed with the autos I probably wouldn't have noticed until the end of the tour.

No detail has been overlooked in creating this museum.

As I entered the building my first glimpse was a beautiful jukebox. OK, they had me loving the place right there!

The entry floor and floors throughout the museum are large square black and white tiles taking me right back to the 50s and 60s. Yes, I'm "of that era".

Even the restrooms have been cleverly disquised as Ruthie's Diner.

Old parking meters, old gas pumps, I could go on forever about the beautiful details in Awesome Autos Etc. Museum.

But, the real treasure is learning "the story" behind each automobile.

One story was about an elderly gentleman who finally agreed to part with his vehicle. Chester autoHe had one last wish and that was to drive it again. He did just that and drove it around the field and onto the trailer that would take it to it's new life at Awesome Autos.

I saw cars reminiscent of the gangster era where the doors opened opposite of what my car's doors do. That makes it much easier for gangsters to fire their guns but if the wind is blowing it could take that door and send it flying!

I saw kit cars (I hadn't heard of them) but they are auto pieces in a kit that you build yourself.

Trivia I learned - license plates used to be attached to the front window of the auto. Actually, I learned so much trivia I need to go back and tour again just to absorb it all!

The website for Awesome Autos Etc. Museum says "when you have time, stop by". Then it says "Take Time".

I agree 100 percent. This place is truly a treasure and a must-see museum.




New Coffee Shop In Conrad

Folklore coffee grinderI happened to be in Conrad, MT last Saturday and found out the day before that a new coffee shop had opened on Main Street.

Plans began formulating in my mind about how I should time my visit.

Did I want to get my first cup o' joe there or an early afternoon cup of tea? A homemade pastry for breakfast or a yummy brownie for an afternoon treat? Decisions! Decisions!

Since I had another commitment later in the morning I opted for an earlier visit.

Back up a minute - the name of the place is Folklore and that was carefully chosen by owners Andy and Anna based on their experience living on an island off the east coast of Africa. And, that's where the love of good coffee found a place in their lives.

Andy attended the American Barista and Coffee School and their dream of a coffee shop inched closer to reality.

The coffee shop is spacious, has super tall ceilings, wooden tables and chairs and also a Anna and Andy Folkloresofa for those who want to get comfy and settle in with a cup. The decor invites you enjoy your beverage and food, and also enjoy the company of friends.

They roast and grind their own coffee beans onsite in the bright red roaster shown above.

So - what did I have at Folklore?

Well, I had already had my limit of coffee for the day so I opted to try one of their pastries. My choice was a raspberry scone with a lemon glaze. I can still taste the fruity flavor of the scone, and the lemon glaze was delish!

Other tempting items included homemade yogurt, granola, bread, cinnamon rolls, a variety of scones, and brownies that were also calling my name.

I resisted a brownie to go but next time that will be on my plate!

Not a coffee drinker? Try the looseleaf teas or a smoothie made with 100% fruit or veggies.

Brownies at FolkloreEverything at Folklore is homemade!

Folklore is easy to find in Conrad. There is one stop light in town and they are located just before the light if you are coming from the east. 

Stop in when you are in town and enjoy the ambience, beverages and yummy pastries.




The Delight of a Small Town Parade, Dupuyer, MT

Belgian horsesI pointed my wheels north this past Saturday for Dupuyer's annual Grizzly Day. I've been to the event once before and had a great time. Ditto for this last Saturday.

The parade was scheduled to start at 11am. Parade watchers lined both sides of the main street of Dupuyer which is US Hwy 89.

A few vehicles traveling the highway slowed down and looked to see what was going on. Some stopped, some continued driving. Those who stopped weren't disappointed!

A jeep carrying veterans was first, followed by the Grand Marshall in a horse drawn carriage.

There were plenty of horses in this parade and a nice variety too. 

The owners of the Belgian draft horses pulling a bright red stage told me a tidbit about Percheron horses. I had asked what kind of draft horses were pulling the stage and said I thought maybe they were Percherons but they weren't (first of all, wrong color). I was told that if a Percheron is born black, it turns gray as it ages. If it is born gray, it turns black. And, the only colors of that type of horse are black and gray.

Cows Grizzly DayWell, I liked the colors of the Belgians and I also liked the paint horses with single riders on them.

All of the horses seemed calm - no parade jitters in this group!

A favorite entry came along midway through the parade.

Two cows were adorned with lovely hats, and dresses were spread over their backs. Each cow had a matching halter. They seemed like they were just out for a walk and happily went down the highway, turned around with the rest of the parade and walked back.

Vintage autos, the Corvette Patrol cars driven by Shriners, beautifully refurbished tractors (and one not refurbished), fire trucks, and loads of candy all combined to make an awesome parade for Dupuyer's Grizzly Day.

Dupuyer is a pretty small town - there is one bed and breakfast there and the Dupuyer Cache (like a small general store). I stopped in to the Cache and a tourist was asking about the "Fresh eggs" sign. He wondered just how fresh they were - well, the answer was that they were gathered that morning. That's fresh!

tractor at Grizzly DayAnother favorite store in Dupuyer is located inside the Cache and it is called Beaverslide Dry Goods. They sell wool yarn (cleaned, spun and dyed) by the skein, and also knitted and crocheted garments. The wool is grown locally on Merino sheep. Merino wool is known for having long fibers so it doesn't pill like some wool. It's beautiful and the displays are done well.

The town also has some new construction going on with the development of a saloon, eatery and small 8 unit motel.  

What a fun day in Dupuyer. Our charming small towns are awesome!




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)!




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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