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Pie a la Road Is Born

Huckleberry pieLast April several of us came up with the idea of doing a pie trail in Central Montana. We put the word out to search for restaurants and cafes that served homemade pie.

Ideas soon started arriving in my email and I was eager to begin.

At first, I thought I couldn't cover that many miles unless I grouped them together. Then, the first time I stopped at two cafes in one day (and consumed two pieces of pie in one day) I realized I couldn't continue to eat like that! 

Also, my goal of getting to all of the suggested cafes in a couple of months was not going to be met. In fact, I'd be lucky if I visited all of the cafes before summer was over. 

One ground rule I set was to not have ice cream with my pie and I managed to only break that rule twice! My rationale -  the first time it was a warm summer day, I was hungry, and it really was the perfect treat on top of that piece of pie. The second time the cafe owner said it simply was part of the pie. OK, I fell for that and it was worth it!

Peach pieSo, just how many pieces of pie were consumed in my travels? Nineteen. Yes, nineteen pieces of pie, although it took me four and a half months. That averages out to about one piece of pie a week.

Since my tastings covered summer and early fall I began to see the pie offerings change. Some of those light fruit pies were gradually being replaced with pumpkin pie and mincmeat pie. 

Many folks have asked me where my favorite pie was.

Well, each one had something special that I really liked. Most of all I enjoyed meeting the hard working pie bakers and hearing their stories. I also met so many local people and if they discovered what I was doing, the stories started to flow. I tried to put many of those stories in the comment section on the bottom of our Pie a la Road page on our website. 

Looking back on my "research" I have decided that pie evokes memories for many people. Perhaps it was a grandmother or aunt that made the perfect flaky pie crust, the tallest meringue, or someone's mother who peeled apples for hours to make pies for a harvest crew. I enjoyed the stories as much as the yummy pie I consumed.

My advice - hit the road, Pie a la Road, and enjoy a piece of pie.  





New Year's Day Drive

Black Eagle Falls winterWhen the weather turns cold and the snow flies I tend to not want to get out and explore. I decided I just need to set aside a day every now and then, grab my camera and go!

Although I didn't get too far from my home base, I did learn a little history on my New Year's Day drive.

I stopped at the overlook for Black Eagle Falls on the south side of the Missouri River, across the road from Eagle Falls golf course. A few photos were quickly taken and the falls actually looked like they were frozen! I know my fingers were frozen by time I put my camera away. There was water going over the hyrdoelectric dam but some of it had frozen.

A large interpretive panel at the overlook gave history of the area. Black Eagle Falls are the uppermost falls in the series. Originally there were five falls but when the dams were constructed one became submerged.

In June 1805 Meriwether Lewis scouted the series of falls, probably thinking, oh crap, how will we ever get around these! When he was at the uppermost falls he saw an eagle nest in a cottonwood tree on an island in the river and noted that in his journal. That eagle nest frozen fallsbecame key when the area was named.

In 1891, eighty six years after the Lewis & Clark expedition portaged the falls, the Boston and Montana Mining Company built a smelter complex on the north side of the river overlooking the island that had the eagle nest. They processed copper at this site until 1918 and then the Anaconda Mining Company converted the smelter to a refinery for copper and zinc.

I vividly remember the 506 foot smokestack, visible from all directions when you were driving toward Great Falls. It no longer exists and the smelter is also gone.

The workers and their families living near the smelter and refinery became known as the town of Black Eagle. Today, Black Eagle is still a community of hard working folks, many with memories of family who worked at the smelter and refinery.

I hope the original employees at the smelter and refinery were in awe of the views of the waterfalls as much as I was on New Year's Day.




Geology Lesson at Giant Springs State Park

trees and cloudsI was at Giant Springs State Park this morning looking for some photo ops. Before I drove the short distance from my house in Great Falls, I looked at the sky and said "yup, good sunshine coming through the clouds". As I was driving along River Road I saw that sunshine slip behind the clouds and only saw glimpses of it after that.

I had fun taking photos at the state park though and the first one (at left) has some sunshine and interesting clouds poking through the treetops. 

I saw one vehicle in the parking lot when I got there and what looked like a grandpa and grandson strolling along with a fishing rod and tackle box. It would be a chilly day for fishing.

While I was taking photos of the actual giant springs I saw some interesting geology signs.

I learned that the water I was looking at started a downward trek from the Madison limestone formation in the Little Belt Mountains southeast of Great Falls. The limestone is exposed at the land surface in the mountains and water then travels through the formation down the mountain towards Great Falls.

water at giant springsAt Giant Springs the Madison Formation is still there but it is about 400 feet below the surface. Pressure caused from the rock layers pushes the water up through cracks in the top layer of sandstone. It bubbles, it gushes and it is relaxing to watch.

The water temperature is a constant 54 degrees year round. It's cool and refreshing in the summer and frosty and rather brisk feeling during winter. When the temperature really dips there is heavy frost around the springs and lots of mist in the air.

I didn't stay too long at Giant Springs this morning but it felt good to get out, walk along the manicured lawns and stroll by the springs. A great way to start the day. 




From Europe to Sunburst, Montana

European AntiquesMany people have not heard of the small community of Sunburst but I had a fun visit there recently.

So, where is Sunburst? It is north of Shelby, between Sweetgrass and the port of entry, and a very easy exit off I-15.

I noticed a sign for European Antiques which definitely intrigued me. The new-looking log building was beautiful with nice landscaping.

I went up to the door only to realize that they weren't open on the particular day I happened to be there - bummer! But, there was a sign directing interested people to the large house behind the antique store. I debated about whether I should go. After all, I was just a curious "looker" not an antique shopper but I really wanted to see the inside. I decided to peek around the corner and was met by the owner who had seen me drive up to the antique store.

She was more than pleased to open the store and show me around. I learned that they had begun as a small antique store, relocating from southern Montana. They also had a deli in the antique store but that was phased out and there was more room for antiques. Before they ended up in Montana they were from Europe, hence the name and the connection to European antiques.

Antique fire helmutsThe first thing I noticed was a group of cowbells - huge, huge bells with beautifully decorated straps. I also have some decorative cowbells but they are about 3 inches long, nothing like these bells!

I spent a lot of time looking at unique china and glassware (a weakness of mine).

As I roamed around I must have had a puzzled look on my face and the owner began to explain that I was looking at very old firemen's helmets. There were also grenades from World War II, furniture (a beautiful and very old cradle) and other things I couldn't identify!

My stop in Sunburst was a blast. I did not expect to find such a unique store in this tiny town. My advice - take time to visit some of our small towns with locally owned businesses.

And really, couldn't you use an antique fire helmet?




For the Love of Neon

Sports Club neonThe last time I was in Shelby I took a few minutes to stroll down Main Street and gawk at all of the uber-cool neon signs.

Shelby's Main Street is dressed to the nines with retro neon signs, all pointing to locally owned small businesses.

Some of my favorites include The Mint sign (lounge), Sports Club (lounge and restaurant), The Alibi (lounge) and The Roxy (theater sign). And, these businesses are all still operating.

I'm sure there would be some good stories behind each sign, also behind each of these small businesses that have weathered many ups and downs in the economy.

Shelby sits at the crossroads of US Hwy 2 and I-15. It's well worth an exit off the interstate or a diversion from traveling US 2. The best time to enjoy the neon signs would be evening, not super dark but just enough to see the glow. Even during full daylight hours they are interesting to look at.




Upper Missouri Breaks Campgrounds Close for Winter

Coal Banks LandingThe photo doesn't fit the news! It was taken during the summer so you'll just have to imagine snow covering the campsites and ice on the Missouri River.

The Bureau of Land Management has just announced that from December 1 through approximately March 31 (or until the Missouri ice conditions are no longer ice) Coal Banks Landing and James Kipp Recreation Areas are closed.

At James Kipp Recreation Area the road down in to the site also becomes icy. It may be easy going down to Kipp but you may not get back up the hill!

If you want information about the Upper Missouri, the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center in Fort Benton is open year round. During winter the center is open Monday through Friday. Call 406-622-4000 to reach the Interpretive Center.




And They Called the Land Montana - Harlowton Sculpture

Harlowton statueAcross mountain valleys and prairies rich with grass, past high peaks and flowing rivers, the distant land did call: "Come make your home with me".

They came.

And they called the land Montana.

The above writing is inscribed on a plaque near a bronze statue in front of the Wheatland County Courthouse in Harlowton, Montana.

The statue, and a large Veterans' Memorial Wall on the other side of the courthouse, are both incredibly inspiring.

I was in Harlowton a few weeks ago and stopped to admire this display.

First of all, it reminded me of all the hardships that homesteaders endured. Some survived, some didn't, some gave up and went back to where they had been before the lure of free land created a movement to this land that became Montana.

This statue shows a family of a mother, a father and young son. I'd like to know if it was modeled after a real family, and whether or not they survived the hardships of Harlowton vets wallhomesteading.

This tribute to the hardy folks who came to Montana seeking a better life was erected in 1989, 100 years after Montana had become a state.

On November 8, 2014 Montana celebrated her 125th birthday.

And, if you are near Harlowton, take a drive through town, admire all the old stone buildings and stop by the courthouse. I hope you feel as proud as I did when I thought about what it took to start a new life in this land we call Montana.




Lunch at the Lazy B in Augusta

Haystack butte AugustaToday I drove to Augusta, a mere 60 miles from Great Falls, and it is usually a beautiful drive. And, a beautiful drive it was today if you don't mind a little rain.

My goal was simple - to have a piece of pie at the Lazy B Bar and Cafe in Augusta.

Some friends had mentioned that the Lazy B had wonderful pie and I decided to check it out and include it on Central Montana's pie trail. Pie "research" was almost complete except for this one last stop so a little rain wasn't going to stop me.

I've learned my lesson that our local cafes can sell out of pie, even early in the day, so I called yesterday just to see if they would have pie.

I was assured that they would have pie and there would be several different kinds. The person I talked to said she would even leave a note that I was coming.

I got to the Lazy B a little after noon, parked and tried to look inconspicuous as I toted a backpack with camera gear, my Ipad in a case, a folder with forms for the cafe owner to complete and my purse.

Lazy B signOh yeah, it looked like I was "not from around these parts" as my Mom used to say.

The restaurant seemed quiet with two guys seated at one table and one gal in the kitchen.

I picked a table in the corner so all of my gear would be out of the way. The gal in the kitchen came out and said "you must be the pie lady". I said I was and that I appreciated the person I spoke with yesterday leaving the message.

A couple of bowls of soup were delivered to the table next to me. Hot homemade tomato soup on a cloudy rainy day was just what  my tummy was looking for!

I've learned to pace myself while doing my pie research and I only ordered a cup of soup. Jeez, I ate that and I wanted more soup but figured I had better skip it.

All this time, people were casually coming and going, chatting, kidding each other, and teasing the cook. Everyone who came in the cafe knew everyone else in the cafe. After awhile I realized that I was joining in the conversations!

Lazy B sour cream raisinNow it was time to get down to business.

I ordered sour cream raisin pie although the other choices sounded good too - rocky road, apple and strawberry rhubarb.

A guy in the corner named Short heard my order and started telling his pie story.

He told the cook that his wife had a piece of Lazy B sour cream raisin pie at their house the other day. He said he didn't think he liked that kind of pie but tried it. Then he said it was "damn good, it was addicting, and he ate the entire piece".

That is a testimony for good pie!

Jami Bouchard owns the Lazy B (she bought it in 2011) and her mother Kerry Bouchard manages it.

They proudly serve beef and pork from Vaughn meats (just down the road) and I also noticed Montana 7 Grain Oatmeal on the breakfast menu. The menu is diverse offering 8 ounce beef patties for burgers, a variety of steaks, salads, homemade pizza, Jami at Lazy Bhomemade soups, daily specials and homemade pie.

The Lazy B is open seven days a week and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And a lot of pie! While I was there, not one person left the cafe today without the question - do you want some pie to finish off that meal?

The bar and cafe are separate and the Lazy B occupies what was once Hotel Augusta. I liked the decor, the friendliness and casual banter of all of the patrons.

And then there is the food. I could have eaten more than twice as much soup as I did, I did not even leave a crumb of pie on my plate, and I'd still like to try their burgers. When I left I realized I had been there over two hours. Two very relaxing and fun hours.

Yes, I get paid to do this job and I meet the nicest people in my travels around Central Montana. Stay tuned for details on our pie trail, have a map handy and start planning your road trips.




I'm Loving Our Fall Colors

Cascade scenicI'll be the first one to admit that we get wind in Central Montana. My comment to that is we have plenty of fresh air, no stale air pollution here!

The downside to wind in the fall is that our beautiful fall foliage tends to be short-lived. I'm not sure what's different about this year but I've found "a photo op a  minute" in several different directions when I've been out driving.

Tonight I drove southwest of Great Falls, taking the frontage road (old highway) to Cascade and then to the Hardy recreation area.

I didn't see anyone wading or in driftboats near Cascade but I did stop and take this colorful photo. That's the Big Belt mountains in the background and the Missouri River. 

My timing was perfect for catching some fishermen on the river upstream though, squeezing in that last cast to land "the one that was THAT big".

As I rounded Pelican Point fishing access site and started in to the Hardy recreation area I was rewarded with several boats near the silver bridge.

The light was good when I was closer to Cascade but it wasn't the best as I worked my Hardy Creek fishermenway upstream. There was heavy cloud cover that hadn't been around when I started my drive.

Still, the scenery looked great and I ended up taking a lot of photos.

These are just a couple of many photos I took on my short drive. If I had more daylight I would have kept on driving further into the canyon on the frontage road.

I only ventured about 36 miles from Great Falls. My advice is to get out and enjoy the scenery while you can. Pretty soon those beautifully colored leaves will be gone.




Breakfast at the Graves Hotel in Harlowton

Gravel hotel signAnother road trip popped up on my schedule and this one would take me to eastern Montana. I had a couple of options for highway routes when I left Great Falls and I chose to go through Harlowton.

Harlowton and its neighbor community of Judith Gap are best known these days for the large wind farm between the two towns. I love driving through that area although it's easy to be distracted by wind towers with blades turning on both sides of the highway.

I had heard that the restaurant in the historic Graves Hotel building in Harlowton had re-opened and I was eager to try it out - a perfect stop for a late breakfast or early lunch. Before I made final plans I called a friend in Harlowton to make sure they were open on Sunday. I was in luck!

It was 10:30am when we got to Harlowton and the Graves Hotel. I was hungry and tired of sitting in the car. But, the sun was shining so nicely on that beautiful old stone building so out came my camera and I started taking photos.

I had never been inside the building. It had a restaurant that was open briefly a few Graves casual seatingyears ago and I never got there. Whenever I've been in Harlowton I've always admired the structure from the outside though.

Once we were seated in the casual dining area we ordered breakfast from a good selection of entrees. While my meal was being prepared I wandered about the restaurant.

The casual dining area has antiques and crafts for sale, all cleverly displayed. The other customers looked like locals, or they seemed to know the folks working there so I assumed they were all from Harlowton.

Breakfast was good - an omelet made just how I ordered it, plenty of fresh fruit and toast. I ate and ate but finally decided I'd take the fruit along with me in the car.

After we paid for our meals the owner gave us a tour and some history of the building.

The formal dining area is completely finished with a beautiful tin ceiling and period lights. The casual dining area still needs work but I'd say this building has a lot of potential. These old buildings have so much detail. Each doorway had a "G" engraved in Graves formal seatingthe corners for Graves.

When you first enter the restaurant you see the staircase that goes to the hotel part of the building. The former registration desk is where you pay for your meal and see tempting baked goodies.

Some history - in 1907 Harlowton had a fire that destroyed 24 buildings on Main Street. After that, fire codes were put in place and the Graves Hotel was built in 1909 by A. C. Chris Graves, a prominent businessman. The Graves is made from stone quarried on the site where the hotel stands.

Upon completion the hotel had 150 electric lights, pretty impressive for 1909! It had 45 sleeping rooms and a veranda with views of the Musselshell valley.

The outside of the building has 1908 on the tallest part of the building so I'm assuming that was the year most of it was constructed. All of the literature said it opened in 1909.

The hotel is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The owners plan to gradually restore all three stories although they will have fewer, but larger, sleeping Graves front of buildingrooms with bathrooms.

Restoring historic buildings is a true labor of love. The owners already had stories to tell about the boiler system and some construction glitches. I'm glad they have persevered and I hope they can get the structure restored.

Heading to Harlo? I recommend scheduling a stop at the restaurant in the Graves Hotel on Main Street.


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