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Elk Bugling on the C. M. Russell Wildlife Refuge
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elk cowsI missed going to Slippery Ann on the C. M. Russell Wildlife Refuge last year during elk bugling time and I promised myself that I'd get there this year. Score! I had out-of-state family visiting in Chinook and they were excited to get my invitation to drive to the refuge with me for this event.

I made a list of everything I wanted to have - lawn chairs, bug spray, binoculars, camera, warm jackets and sandwiches for supper while we leisurely watched and listened to the elk. After getting almost everything in my car (the binoculars could not be found, darn it), I pointed my wheels to Chinook. 

I made a quick stop at Grateful Bread in Havre and picked up our supper sandwiches and some very yummy cookies and put them in my cooler.

My next stop was to pick up my almost 84 year old aunt and my cousin in Chinook. Even though my aunt was born and raised in Chinook she lives in southern California now and it is my absolute delight to show her and my cousin around the region. 

elk bullWe turned into the C. M. Russell Wildlife Refuge off US Hwy 191 just a few miles south of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. The road was dusty and that's a good thing! If it rains in this area don't take dirt roads because you can quickly be stuck as that dirt becomes gumbo under your car. 

There were several campers above where we stopped but not too many folks just parked to view. It was a Tuesday evening and mid week usually has less visitation.

When you build up an event, get there and then wonder if the elk will be bugling, fighting, gathering their harems, or even showing up, you get a little nervous when you see and hear nothing after arriving!

Well, all it took was about five minutes and about a half dozen elk appeared in the area. In probably another five minutes that herd was double and the bugling was literally like a symphony warm-up. We watched, took photos, elk buglingshared binoculars from a nearby lady, and enjoyed the warm and bug-free evening. Our warm jackets and bug spray didn't even come out of the car! 

I'd rate the evening as perfect! I had a couple of close calls with deer on the highway on our return to Chinook but otherwise it was something well worth the drive. Enjoying it with family made it even better.

Typically, the elk will gather at the Slippery Ann area the last couple of weeks in September and the first couple in October. U. S. Fish & Wildlife manages the area and they also do a bus tour from Lewistown out to the viewing area with some good information about the purpose of the refuge. I've taken their tour before and learned a lot.   

If you get the chance to go to Slippery Ann during the elk rut I highly recommend doing it.





Choteau's Old Time Threshing Bee
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steam engineA threshing bee has been on my radar for several years and I finally went to one.

The Teton Antique Steam and Gas Threshing Association has been in existence since 1984 and they do an annual threshing bee each September in Choteau, Montana. 

I decided to go early - and believe me - this event opens at 7am so I left Great Falls for the 52 mile drive a little after 6am. Ugh! The best thing to say is that the sunrise was beautiful and the soft morning light made my scenic photos look pretty good. 

My first stop in Choteau wasn't the threshing bee, it was Bylar's Bakery. Oh yum! I was early but there were people ahead of me. Decisions, decisions! From maple bars to raspberry filled eclairs to toffee chip cookies, everything looked yummy. I was having my kids over for dinner later so I chose the red tractorscookies. And, they were a huge hit that night.

Back to the threshing bee!

After I parked near Choteau's Pavilion, I could hear the steam and gas powered engines starting. A group of folks were standing around one tractor that was loudly and sporadically chugging.

Many steam and gas powered tractors (actually all types of equipment) were lined up. It was fun to see the old time logos and compare that to today's equipment companies that have all seen several mergers. 

Breakfast was being served and I saw huge plates of biscuits and gravy (that's not my favorite) but I had already been to the bakery! 

Craft items were available - the most curious-looking bird houses I have ever seen. They were made out of old cowboy boots and had a roof over them. If I Case tractorshad a place to put one of them I would have purchased it.

By time I left the threshing bee there were plenty of steam and gas powered engines fired up - some were belching smoke, others were steadily chugging along. 

This is an educational event and I saw many families enjoying a vanishing way of life - hard work but interesting to see how harvest was done years ago. 

If you get a chance, take in a threshing bee and get a glimpse of life on the farm as it used to be. 




Building A Cre-HAY-tion for Montana Bale Trail - What The Hay
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Haybale groupI will admit - I love everything about this event! It's fun to do a haybale entry for the Montana Bale Trail, it's fun to see what other people create and it's fun to take in the craft fair, good food and scenery. Each year I start thinking a few months ahead of the event to come up with an idea.

The idea I had for this year was good, however, I couldn't quite plot out the execution. I need to get an engineer involved, or, a farmer that can estimate the weight of the different shaped bales. I'll get this idea done one of these years although I'm not revealing it yet.

This year I had three people help with painting the bale entry and one hard-working farmer who stacked the bales.

The idea we used came from one of my board members who suggested we paint an outline of the state of Montana and then write across it "Last Best Pla-HAY-ce". It seemed simple and it certainly stated our love for the area. WTHayNine rectangular bales (farmers call these square bales...go figure) were stacked in three rows. We had one very artistic fellow who did the shape of Montana. It looked so good we asked him to do the lettering across the bales and the rest of the painting group just filled in it! 

We also did a smaller entry of seven rectangular bales and wrote Welcome to Central Montana on it. I did that lettering and, note to self, measure how much space you need for each letter. We almost had to drag some more bales over to finish the wording!

The day we painted our bales was gorgeous - look at those cotton ball clouds! The temp was low to mid seventies, perfect fall weather, and there was a gentle breeze. 

The Montana Bale Trail:What The Hay is an annual event that happens the first Sunday after Labor Day each year. The paved route is between Hobson, Utica and Windham, accessible off US Hwy 87/200. There is no charge to attend and you can vote for your favorite entry. The bales usually stay up about a week, depending on the weather, so some people make the drive later to avoid the crowds. You wouldn't see the craft fair and food booths after Sunday but there is some yummy food available in the three small communities. 

Now, I'm making notes on my calendar after seeing all of this year's cre-hay-tivity. Next year's bale entry is already forming in my mind!





Upland Game Bird Hunting Predictions
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pheasantI always get several calls from bird hunters in the fall asking how the upland game bird hatch was this past spring. Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks does surveys hoping to form a prediction for grouse and pheasant quantities but they do footnote the survey results with the fact that many things can affect the birds...and that is true!

Central Montana covers thirteen counties and most offer some pretty good quantities of upland game birds. With the variety of terrain we have, we also get a nice mix of weather patterns in different areas so my favorite prediction for fall bird hunters is that it can vary widely, even 50 miles down the road.

Overall, we have had some good hatches and a mild enough spring so we should have decent quantities of birds.

MT FWP is predicting that Region 4 (primarily the same area as Central Montana) will have average numbers of Gray (Hungarian) Partridge. No formal surveys are done for Huns but weather and habitat were decent this past spring for the hatch. The same goes for grouse in the region.

grouseWe've had fewer acres of land in CRP (conservation reserve program) so this could lead to some decline in pheasants. MT FWP feels that the Conrad and Lewistown areas will have good quantities though. On a recent drive in the Conrad area I'll second that...I had to dodge several along the roadside.  

Opening day for most of our upland game birds was September 1. Pheasant season always opens later and the 2015 opener for the longtailed bird is October 10. 

So much for predictions - if you are out with your bird dog and shotgun you'll likely have a good day enjoying the fall weather and scenery. Here's wishing you a good harvest!




A Day in the Life of Deep Canyon Guest Ranch
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Deep Canyon lodgeAfter spending some time at Deep Canyon Guest Ranch west of Choteau, Montana I sat down and thought about the visit.

The one thing that kept popping in my mind was that I seemed totally relaxed.

I realize that happens on many vacations because we don't have to be thinking ahead to schedules, grocery lists, laundry etc. 

This was different though.

First of all I became aware of the lack of noise or, what Chuck Blixrud at Deep Canyon refers to as the sound of silence.

One time when I was visiting with Chuck he said "did you hear that?" I mentally chastised myself for missing something and said "what?. Chuck replied - the sound of silence! 

Deb and Dave Deep CanyonThat silence is a beautiful thing and I'm reminded of it as I hear construction trucks outside my window working on the street by my office as I write this blog post. 

The meals at Deep Canyon Guest Ranch are served family style so you get to know the other guests and you learn to take time and actually visit!

One evening I noticed a group gathered before the evening meal in the comfy lodge while some were out on the deck.

I don't even want to start thinking about the actual food served at the ranch because I'll get hungry. Their homemade rolls were delicious!

The pace is a little slower at the ranch and we took some time to sit outside, enjoy the mountain air and have a refreshing beverage.

There is a wreath on the front deck of the main lodge at Deep Canyon that says Saddling"Come sit on our porch". That's a mighty welcoming message and I can close my eyes and imagine myself right back in that comfy chair, looking out at the peaks of the beautiful and rugged Rocky Mountains. 

So, what do people really do at a guest ranch? I found out not everyone rides horses (I just figured that's why you would go to a ranch). 

The Teton River runs right by the ranch and fishing is a favorite activity among some guests. You could also hike in just about every direction. Some guests just enjoy the serenity of reading a good book while sitting outside and occasionally looking at that gorgeous scenery. And some enjoy a bit of pampering by the attentive ranch staff. 

After the evening meal at the ranch several of us wandered over to the corrals where the horses were. They are turned out each night to graze and roam freely. Several of the horses have bells on them and, in the morning, the wranglers ride up the mountain to find them. The sound of the bells can give the wranglers a Horse with bellgood idea where the horses are. 

Getting to Deep Canyon is easy. It's about 23 miles west of US Hwy 89 that runs right through the town of Choteau. The road to the ranch is paved for most of the way. Just the last few miles are gravel. 

I'd like to go back to Deep Canyon Guest Ranch and take my kids and grandkids.

One evening there was a multi-generation family at my dining table and I sensed that everyone was making lifelong memories. My family might not all do the same activities each day but we'd share our guest ranch experiences over home-cooked food at the dining room table each night.

Family memories.They are worth a lot.






First Peoples Named National Historic Landmark
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tipiUS Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service director announced this week that First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park near Ulm, MT has been designated as one of four new National Historic Landmarks.

Considering that there are 50 states in the US, Montana is mighty proud to have one of the new National Historic Landmark designations.

So,what does it take to get this designation? I'm certain there is a ton of paperwork involved! Aside from that, the lankmark needs to be a nationally significant historic place possessing exceptional value in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. 

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park hits the nail on the head when it comes to fitting the above criteria. The site is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved bison cliff jump sites in North America. 

Buffalo firt pplsI participated in a group that formed a management plan for the park a few years ago and I was amazed at how many different Plains Indian tribes had used the site to harvest their yearly provisions. In developing the plan it was critical to have input from the different tribes and I learned so much. Each time I visit, and I'm there frequently, I recall aspects of the planning process and I become more impressed with the history at the site. 

Visitors frequently ask "Where is Ulm, Montana"? It's a small town, probably a couple hundred people, and it is just off I-15 about 11 miles southwest of Great Falls.When you exit the interstate (there is good signage for the park for travelers coming from either direction) you drive about 3 1/2 miles north on a paved road. 

The landscape is open here with several iconic geographic features - a large square butte looms nearby and the transition from rolling plains to mountains is easy to see.

When you turn from the paved county road into the park you see a small visitor center First Ppl Richardand, in the summer months, one or two tipis stand out. As you look towards the jump cliff face it doesn't look that impressive. But, wait until you are up on top of the jump and walking towards the edge. The bluff seems almost rounded but as you approach the sloping edge, all of a sudden it becomes a quick drop over rock shelving.

The visitor center has an interpretive hall detailing how the buffalo jump worked. It also has a storytelling circle with information about the different tribes that used the jump and a small gift shop/book store is near the reception desk. 

My favorite part of First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park is the top of the cliff. You can access it two different ways - walking trails lead from the visitor center up the cliff face or you can drive a gravel road to the top of the cliff and then walk along pathways. Either way you go, the views are impressive and the story becomes complete when you see the geography.

There probably won't be much change at First Peoples but I'm glad to see the National Historic Landmark designation. It's always been special in my mind and now it is even more impressive. 





Tall Boys Tavern - fancy BUT NOT FANCY
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Tall Boys beerI stopped at Tall Boys Tavern in Hobson last week to check out this new business. It is more than a tavern, much more, because they are also serving lunches and dinners daily.

The name is unique and it comes from the owners' sons being, well, tall boys!

The next thing I found that was unique was their slogan - fancy BUT NOT FANCY. I wasn't quite sure what that meant but I figured it out after spending just a little bit of time there.

It was about 4pm when I walked in to Tall Boys Tavern - it seemed too late for lunch and almost too early for dinner except I hadn't had lunch and I was starved! There were a couple of folks in the tavern but I chose the dining area. 

I had seen a sign advertising the lunch special of jambalaya and corn bread and I hoped that was still available. Well, it must have been excellent because by late afternoon they were sold out. Bummer!

Tall Boys BurgerI started reading the menu and found lots of other options, enough to make my choice difficult. The appetizer section made me wish I had a half dozen people with me and then we could each order an app and do some fun sampling. 

Here's a sampling from the appetizer menu - Curry (yes curry, not curly) Fries, Parmesan Pepper Fries, an Onion Ring Tower (one pound of beer battered rings served with house made fry sauce), Steak Bites (tender seasoned beef hand breaded, deep fried and served with garlic aioli or house made bourbon BBQ sauce...add bleu cheese crumbles or red onion jam), Prairie Oysters (one pound of beef "oysters" seved with ranch and cocktail sauce).

A nice variety of salads included some standards but also a Kale Caesar, Tavern Wedge and Buffalo Chicken. Even though it was hot, the soup of the day (probably to match that jambalaya I didn't get) was seafood bisque and that made it on to my order - yum!

It was good to see plenty of Montana micro brews on tap - after all, this is a tavern! Copper mugsBlack Eagle Brewery's Copper Nail (yes, there was a copper processing plant there) a nut brown ale with chocolate malt, Bozeman's Bozone Select Amber Ale and Missoula's Kettle House Cold Smoke sounded like good thirst-quenchers on this warm day. But, what did I do? I ordered a glass of red wine and it hit the spot too.

To go with my soup order I ended up choosing a cheeseburger - go figure. Although, if you weren't hungry when you arrived, just reading the sandwich menu would make you drool. It began with a selection of burgers, also two varieties of pulled pork sandwiches. The one that caught my eye was a PR BLT - shaved prime rib topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato, then garlic aioli and served on toasted ciabatta. Oh. My. Goodness.

Steaks are all hand cut and besides a 16 ounce rib, sirloin and flat iron, you also have options of a Bayou Steak (cajun seasoning, bleu cheese, grilled onions), a Sweet Bourbon Glazed Steak or a Sunnyside Up Steak (yes, an egg perches atop this beef).

Tiger Shrimp Scampi, City Chicken and Pan Fried Walleye were other dinner options I Tall Boys pinupsaw. Plenty of choices.

After thoroughly enjoying my soup and burger I wandered in to the bar side of the building. My camera came out and I took photos of their fun "pin-up" designs promoting a Moscow Mule drink...make that a Montana Mule, also the copper mug display to serve the mule beverage. The fun lights under the spirits added a city glow to the place and it was pretty.

After experiencing Tall Boys Tavern I finally understood their slogan - fancy BUT NOT FANCY. A perfect fit for this place located on Hobson, Montana's main street. 

When I left I learned that they were adding an outdoor patio/pavillion on one side of the building. They'll have more decor added to the dining area too.

 I could write so much more about the friendly wait staff and the local patrons but you'll have to visit Tall Boys Tavern yourself.






First Crop ID Signs Put Up For Crop InFARMation
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digging post holesLet's just say this project has been a long time dream.

Each time a visitor would be traveling with me on roads with crops I'd get asked what was growing in the field.

If it was spring and I could see lots of green shoots I'd guess it was winter wheat. If it was blooming yellow I assumed it was either mustard or canola. Fast forward a month or two into the season and I couldn't even begin to guess!

There are miles and miles and acres and acres of agricultural land in Central Montana.

To label crops would take an army of volunteers, not just for the initial round but for the long-term. Crops change, they rotate, new grains and pulse crops are planted - this isn't a one-time project. 

Signs need to be put up in the spring when it is determined what crop will be in the field Spring wheat signand then the signs need to come down in the fall after harvest.

Enter the FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapters! In high schools and some colleges, participants in these dedicated groups become involved in agriculture in many ways. For certain, some will grow up to be producers but many will have jobs working with the ag industry. 

After meeting with the Electric City FFA advisor in Great Falls some goals were set. Her group would reach out to other areas in the United States where crop labeling had been done successfully.

The FFA kids really became an army of volunteers - eventually contacting landowners for permission and then getting signed agreements so the crop ID signs could be placed on their property. 

Simple signs were designed and made by a sign shop and the kids chose a blue FFA kidsbackground with gold lettering. Hmmm...that looks a lot like the FFA colors!  

The day we had all been waiting for finally arrived - signs were done, metal posts were loaded (along with a post hole digger) and about eight FFA members were on hand to begin installing posts and signs. 

Three different signs went up just a few miles east of Great Falls on Hwys 89, 200 and 3. In a short distance three crops were labeled including spring wheat, field peas and winter wheat.

This project will be more than signs labeling the crops though. The FFA chapters have researched the various crops and that information is being built into a downloadable free app called Crop InFARMation.

Information includes growing practices, varieties of crops and uses for the crops after they are harvested. We also hope to have some interviews with producers talking about their crops.And, it would be nice to find places where locally grown crops can be FFA kids looking at croppurchased or served in restaurants or breweries or retail establishments. 

So much potential! We have come a long way since this idea first started and the project can only grow. 

We hope the traveling public (and Montana residents too) like the Crop InFARMation project. Now,let's watch it grow and spread throughout the entire state!

And, be watching for the release of a new app for your smart phone titled Crop InFARMation!





The Square Butte Jail Still Stands
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Square Butte jailI wouldn't say the Square Butte jail is going to lock anyone up these days but you can tell it was built to last!

On a group tour of the area I was able to "stand behind the bars" of this iconic structure. 

Way back, think about 1913, the Milwaukee Land Company (yes, the same as the railroad), laid out the streets of the little town of Square Butte. The town was located on the route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad's route between Lewistown and Great Falls.

When you think back to what railroads needed to run in 1913 - mineral-free water and coal - Square Butte was a pretty strategic location.

Fast forward a couple of years to 1915 and residents of the town felt they were getting too many tramps because of the railroad. County commissioners worked their way through that issue by building the Square Butte jail.

Square Butte scenicWhen you glance around the unique geology in the area it doesn't take long to see where the building materials for the jail came from. Those pretty granite blocks were quarried nearby.

Did the Square Butte jail serve its purpose? There isn't any evidence that the jail actually housed prisoners.

The structure was unheated so it would have been a bit chilly in the winter. It did serve as road crew housing later on, also as a bachelor's residence and a granary.

The town of Square Butte is small these days but you'd be remiss in not stopping at the Square Butte Country Club for a cold one or a meal. I've had the best burgers and salads there - believe me, it is worth a trip!

And, when you polish off that burger and ale, drive over to the old jail and capture the moment with your Kodak!





Historic Planes - Warbirds Over Great Falls
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Marylou planeThink back to 1942. The US was supplying the Soviets with aircraft as part of a strategy to defeat Germany during World War II.

The Lend Lease Act (1941) which authorized the plane transfer was actually passed by Congress before the US entered the war, although it was after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

The group that flew the planes from Great Falls to Russia was called the 7th Ferrying Group. I had heard of this group many years ago when I worked with a guy who did communications for them. He talked a lot about it and, I'll admit, sometimes I didn't pay close attention to him. He has passed away now and darn, if I could only have one more afternoon to visit with him and watch how animated he could become when he talked about the ferrying group. 

The connection between Great Falls and Russia seems odd at first but when you look at a map it all falls in to place. Moscow and Great Falls are on similar latitudes. To top it off, both had records of more than 300 clear fly days per year.

rivet warplaneWhen the 7th Ferrying Group started their route in Great Falls they would then head north to Alaska (Fairbanks). The planes were handed over to the Russians in Fairbanks. This was a tough route and the pilots used what is called the four-course range navigation. Its a Morse Code navigation using just four letters - A if they were too far on one side of the flight path, N if they were on the other side of the line. If they were on course the tone would be even.

The pilots mostly used visual navigation and when you think of the rapidly changing weather conditions it is downright scary! During winter months the pilots didn't have long daylight hours either. If they had to stop, well, the pilot and airplane would sit overnight in subzero temps. I can only imagine how cold it was and how long it took to warm that equipment (and the pilot) up. 

So, what brought these planes to Great Falls? A fellow named Jeff Geer created the Bravo 369 Flight Foundation and that foundation's goal is to bring these vintage planes to different areas and tell the story of the 7th Ferrying Group.

p61 planeThe crowd at Gore Hill this morning (where the Great Falls International Airport is located) was bustling. I was glad to see so many people eager to learn and re-live this part the the United States' history. The seven vintage planes were beautiful - rather spartan, no frills, which is to be expected.

The History Museum, located at 422 2nd Street South in Great Falls, Montana, has a nice display about the 7th Ferrying Group. Each time the group had a reunion they would gather at the History Museum. As a result, their records are housed there. 

To tally the amount of activity - here's a summary of what flew out of Great Falls during WWII. Bell P-39 Airacobra, Bell P-63 Kingcobra, Douglas A-20 Boston-Havoc, North American B-25 Mitchell, Douglas C-47 Skytrain, North American AT-6 Texan, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. All total - about 8,000 planes!

What a story - what a beautiful day with a gorgeous sky - what a nice turn-out of eager people to see this morsel of history.  


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