Chief Joseph Ride Follows the Nez Perce Trail
Sometimes you have to be patient.
Thirteen years ago I missed seeing the trail riders complete the last leg of the annual Chief Joseph Ride and enter the Bear Paw Battlefield south of Chinook, Montana. I told myself I wouldn't miss is again.
The downside - I had to wait thirteen years to see it!
The Nez Perce National Historic Trail is 1,300 miles long stretching from Lapwai, Idaho through southern Montana and then ending 40 miles from the US/Canada border near Chinook. The Appaloosa Horse Club organizes an annual ride covering approximately 100 miles of the trail. At that rate it takes thirteen years to cover the entire 1,300 miles and end up at the site where Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce surrendered.
Some trivia here - in 1968 I was playing in the Chinook High School band and we played for an event at the present day Bear Paw Battlefield. I believe it was a ceremony in honor of this area becoming a state park.
A few land swaps later, much negotiation with the National Park Service, and the Bear Paw Battlefield became one of the park units on this trail.
You'll hear two different names for the Battlefield - Bear Paw (which is what most locals call it) and Bear's Paw which is how the legislation passed through Congress. For me, it is the Bear Paw Battlefield.
I tried to find information about this year's ride to see where their last camp would be and also to determine about what time they would ride in to the Battlefield. Information was tough to come by but I was in Chinook and ready to do some searching. One of the seasonal park rangers estimated that the riders would probably get to the Battlefield about noon.
The last campsite before riding in to the Battlefield was on People's Creek Road which I guessed would be about 18 - 20 miles. I also figured that a horse probably goes about 7 miles an hour (I was wrong, it's more like 3 miles an hour). I estimated that they would ride in to Bear Paw Battlefield about 12 noon.
The riders left their campsite that morning at 7am. One rider said he was up at 4:30am to take his tent down, pack it, get breakfast, saddle his horse and be ready to ride. That's early.
Trail ride oganizers were able to organize a route crossing private ranch land so that shortened things a bit and made it so I couldn't see the riders until about a half mile from the Battlefield. So much for my goal of getting the riders with no power lines, no irrigation systems in the background and no pavement.
It was really exciting when I saw motion on top of a small hill though. At first I wasn't sure if it was just trees swaying, but then I realized that more "trees" were appearing! It was the riders cresting that hill. I hopped in my car and got closer for some photos. The riders came through an open gate and then traveled a short distance on Route 240, a paved two-lane county road that goes past the Battlefield and as far south as Cleveland.
There were 165 registered riders and all are supposed to ride Appaloosa horses. One thing I found out, all Appaloosa horses do not have spots or a painted appearance. I spoke with one horse breeder from Washington and he explained how recessive genes can produce solid color horses. This guy had sponsored two Native American youth on the ride.
After all of the riders came in to the Battlefield they left, followed Route 240 north for about a quarter mile then went to the next night's camping area across the road. It seemed to take forever for them to come back but then I realized they had to tie, feed and water their horses. Most unsaddled and brushed their horses down and the trail ride chef served them lunch.
In about two hours some riders had walked or driven vehicles back to the Battlefield and we watched as about 30 Native American riders in full regalia circled the parking area three times. There was one horse with an empty saddle. Cameras were clicking, people were jockeying for better position and there seemed to be vehicles parked all over. I had a few "photobombs" with people squeezing in to get their photos but, all in all, I was able to get some great photos.
The first night of the five day ride started with a huge thunder and rain storm. Some routes had to be altered because support vehicles would not have driven on the gumbo/mud soil - they would be stuck there until it dried out.
I am so amazed at the stamina of the trail riders. There was a variety of ages who came to honor the memory of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce who surrended to the US Cavalry at the site. History was retraced, memories were made and friendships renewed.
It was worth waiting for thirteen years to see this.
Tracy's Restaurant and Jukeboxes
The other night I took my two granddaughters out to dinner and I thought they might enjoy going to Tracy's Restaurant in downtown Great Falls and playing the jukeboxes in the booths.
I eagerly told them where we were going to go for burgers and fries and said we could play the jukebox.
Jukebox? They looked at me and said "what's a jukebox?".
So much for my big surprise - they didn't even know what it was!
Well, darn it, we were still going to go. Off we went, my expectations rather high, theirs rather questioning.
Tracy's Restaurant has been around a long time and, in all honesty, it hasn't changed much. Several years ago they did have a movie production company take over the restaurant for a couple of days and do some filming. They spiffed the place up a bit. It hasn't changed since then. There are booths at Tracy's Restaurant and a neat old counter.
We found a booth with an old jukebox on the table but I told them we needed to figure out our order before we played music.
The waitress came quickly, before we had decided what to order, but she said she would come back. A burger and fries for one, chicken strips and fries for the other - pretty simple and that's the type of food you can get at Tracy's.
I wasn't sure what the little jukebox took but I tried a quarter and suggested a song to one of my granddaughters. She pushed some buttons and was kind of excited when the music started. We had more "plays" for my quarter so my other granddaughter picked her song.
We didn't spend many quarters, three I think, but it kept the girls busy until our food arrived.
The selections on the jukebox are old (really old), just my kind of tunes, but my granddaughters would probably have liked something a bit more current. They did have fun with the jukebox though.
I began to think of all of the ways kids get music these days - on their parents' phones via iTunes, Youtube and Pandora, on music channels on TV, on iPods, and the list goes on.
As we left Tracy's Restaurant I noticed a very sleek, current-looking jukebox near the cash register. I didn't take time to see if the music on it was old-time tunes or new ones - I didn't want to know. I'd rather remember this as a trip down memory lane, old time jukebox equipment and old time songs.
Some day, my granddaughters may take their grandkids to a place to show them some outdated iPhone 6 or an iPod. I realize we have made progress with tech equipment but some days it's kind of fun to put a quarter in the jukebox and listen to an old tune.
Thanks for the memories Tracy's!
Mouintain Biking at Thain Creek
We are still working on our mountain biking video and the location for this week's footage was at Thain Creek in the Highwood Mountains, part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
To start with, the drive to Thain Creek Campground was absolutely spectacular.
Although, we were running late and yet I wanted to stop and take photos along the way. I didn't but only because I knew our biking models were waiting.
Patient, yet eager to ride, our biking models had been waiting at Thain Creek Campground, our designated meeting place, for almost a half hour. And we still weren't there. The solution for them - take off on a trail that had good visibility of the forest service road below and they would see us when we got there.
It is a slow road getting to Thain Creek Campground. We were behind schedule because of another video subject and you can't really make up time on a road like this.
Fortunately, the mountain bikers saw us as we were driving in. One of the more aggressive riders agreed to ride ahead fast and connect with us.
I was pretty sure they were nearby because I saw two vehicles parked at the campground where we were to meet and no camp setups. All of a sudden a mountain bike came whooshing by, finally stopped, and asked if we were the video crew.
Well, yes to that question!
Daylight fades quickly in the mountains when you are surrounded by tall trees so we had to do some fast work. A trail was identified and the mountain bikers, who had just completed a pretty ambitous ride, went to work for us. Back and forth, uphill, downhill and lots of "that was great but let's do it again".
I was so impressed with these riders. Besides being in great riding shape, they had amazing stamina and were eager to please with whatever we asked them to do on their bikes.
One fast hour later and we were losing daylight too quickly to continue.
A brief gathering at the campground trailhead where we had parked, many thank yous, and plenty of "awesome riding" kudos to this group rounded out our not-long-enough evening at the beautiful Thain Creek campground.
The Lewis & Clark National Forest has recently worked to restore Thain Creek after some flooding a few years ago.
It is in tip-top shape and is obviously great for mountain biking but it would also be a fun place to camp, hike and maybe toast a few marshmallows.
It has been years since I have camped at Thain Creek and I'm going to put it on the list for a great place to go.
Summer is for Mountain Biking King's Hill
If you say King's Hill around Central Montana most folks think of skiing at Showdown Montana Ski Area. The ski area used to be called King's Hill and that's also the name of the mountain pass where the ski runs are located.
Recently though, we decided to get some video footage of mountain biking in the King's Hill area.
It didn't take long to line up some mountain biking models. A couple of gals who work at Showdown Montana Ski Area were eager to escape the office and show off some biking skills in their back yard.
The day - simply beautiful. You couldn't have asked for better conditions with a cool, crisp morning but plenty of sunshine. Although, I'm glad I packed a fleece.
I had a few ideas that I wanted to do to set the stage for showing off this area.
We climbed a fairly steep hill on a rather bumpy two lane track and once we got to the top I could see the all of the ski runs at Showdown across the highway. Each time we do a video I want it to be place-specific, not anywhere USA. My goal was to showcase not only the great mountain biking terrain, but also the amazing views in the area.
Whenever I get out of the office I realize the things that we take for granted can easily be overlooked and forgotten.
One example, the wildflowers were absolutely stunning this time of year. Not showy, big blooms like arrowleaf balsamroot, but literally a carpet of delicate blooms that we were stepping (and riding) on!
One idea I had for the "shot list" was to have the mountain bikers hoist their bikes in the air when they got to the top of the hill and then have the ski runs at Showdown visible in the background. A great idea but our models soon found out, those bikes are heavy!
But, hoist they did! And they held them long enough for several photos. They commented afterwords that their arms were a bit sore although it was a very fun photo.
We wanted to explore more but the clock was ticking and we had quite a few miles to go for some more video work.
And, I think our models might have been getting a bit weary. I know I would have been if I was climing up and down that terrain.
That beautiful yellow lab pup could have gone all day without stopping though!
Trails in this area are on the Lewis & Clark National Forest. You can ride, ride, ride and not run out of trails for a long time! And this area is easily accessible from US Hwy 89.
If you want details on mountain biking trails on the Lewis & Clark National Forest you can visit their offices in Great Falls, the Belt Creek Ranger Station on US Hwy 89 near Monarch or the Kings Hill office in White Sulphur Springs.
Our video - still not done - but I'm having a good time seeing the different locations and styles of mountain bikers. More to come!
Mountain Biking on River's Edge Trail
I'll be open right up front - a mountain biker I am not! Casual, bike around the neighborhood yes, but nothing too daring.
But, we had so much fun doing a video of several mountain bikers who volunteered to be models for a video we are doing and I'd like to share the experience.
Our goal is to feature several areas of our thirteen county region and show off our awesome uncrowded trails in a short video. We aren't done with the video (more models, more locations) but here's a fun recap of how our efforts have gone so far.
Our first location was the South Shore Trail of the River's Edge Trail
system in Great Falls. This trail has grown and grown - a true success story.
I remember being at a community vision session years ago and someone mentioned repurposing the old rail grade that ran through town and was no longer being used. A good idea I thought but I couldn't imagine the amount of work, planning and money it would take to do that.
Not only did the project begin, it has grown to over 45 miles of trail, both paved and single track, and it is on both sides of the Missouri River.
The mountain biking models I reached could all meet us at the South Shore Trail at 3pm on a Saturday. The day had been fairly hot with a clear sky and lots of bright sun. However, the forecast was for a quick passing thunderstorm about 4pm. So many times those predictions don't come true and I repeated that to myself as I looked at our clear blue sky.
Our models were excited and waiting for us. I wanted to have a background that epitomized the area and I chose Rainbow Dam and Falls on the east edge of Great Falls. You can easily pick up what is termed the South Shore Trail, a single track trail that crosses some hilly terrain, at the Lewis & Clark Overlook at Rainbow.
We started the video footage capture - lots of back and forth, lots of "let's do that one more time"! All of a sudden things seemed different and I glanced upwards and saw a rapidly darkening sky.
The predicted storm was right on track. Of all the times when the forecast was wrong, this wasn't one of them.
The video camera is expensive and I offered to hold an umbrella over it to protect it. Our models thought it was pretty cool to get a little rain on the trail, a little mud could fly and things could get fun, mountain biking style.
After a couple of loud thunder claps, I realized I was basically holding a lightning rod over that camera! By time I figured that out the storm had passed and I could see blue sky in the distance.
We were able to resume the video capture after the storm and got some good footage. The trail was a little slippery, we had one mountain biker take a tumble, but that seemed to be all in a day's work of riding.
There are several more locations lined up for getting video footage of mountain biking
. Stay tuned and I'll share our experiences!
The Barnsion - A Barn That Became A Mansion
When I first heard the name of this new event center a few miles east of Harlowton I wasn't sure I understood it. The Barnsion?
Well, it was explained to me that it started out as a barn, then a few additions and updates later and locals began calling it a Barnsion because it was slowly becoming a mansion. And a mansion it is!
I was lucky to go to a meeting at The Barnsion. The drive off US Hwy 12 was beautiful - a gravel road over the Musselshell River, cottonwood trees swaying in the gentle breeze and a sky that definitely said this was Big Sky Country!
Once you turn off the highway you can see the red metal roof of the barn. After about a mile and a half I saw the cutest sign that said "Slow, Drive As If Your Kids Were Playing On This Street". We all agreed that seeing that sign was better than just saying "slow".
The scenery at The Barnsion is rolling with plenty of vegetation and the Crazy Mountains form the backdrop. Combine that with a bright blue sky and puffy clouds and we were in heaven. During our meeting we could hear sheep nearby as they grazed in the fields and we sat under a covered patio. All in all, a nice place for a meeting!
The Barnsion has lodging, almost like apartments. Two of them combine for a total of 1,700 square feet, all beautifully decorated in upscale western decor. Custom built rustic pine kitchen cabinets with stainless steel appliances, a massive fir staircase, outdoor kitchen, fireplace, gazebo and patio...and the list goes on! The third apartment is called The Shed and is located on the main floor of The Barnsion. It has a full kitchen, full bath, Dish TV and sitting area.
Of course, The Barnsion has "barn" features too! A stable and arena are next to a full tack room. Stalls in the stable are filled with fresh shavings from the wood shop next door.
Probably the most popular event at The Barnsion is weddings followed by family reunions, retreats and conventions. This place can accommodate a lot of people in a variety of styles. Some could camp (with full hookups), some could bunk in restored sheepwagons and use the shower house or some could stay in the three apartments.
A popular wedding feature is to arrive in a white horse drawn carriage provided by The Barnsion owners.
The Barnsion is definitely "a barn and above".
Lewis & Clark Festival in Great Falls
Each year members of the Portage Route Chapter of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation dress in period clothing at the Lewis & Clark Festival and demonstrate skills that would have been used in the early 1800s.
This annual festival is held in Gibson Park, downtown Great Falls, the third weekend of June each year.
The Portage Route Chapter is named after the arduous portage the Lewis & Clark Expedition did around the series of waterfalls near Great Falls.
That trek over ground covered with prickly pear, around the roaring falls, caused them huge delays and set the course for the next series of events where they almost perished crossing mountains in the winter.
The chapter presents the flags to open the festival, all dressed in period clothes. They fire black powder rifles, well some mis-fire, and then the festival begins.
This year I watched as they fired their rifles, then about 10 minutes later I heard several of the rifles go off again. Misfires they told me, and they needed to clear out the rifles! Those old rifles don't always work.
One of the members showed me his "spare bullets" which really was a case of wads of black powder that would be pushed into the rifle barrel.
If something was seriously chasing you, like the grizzly that chased Captain Lewis in the area now known as Great Falls, you'd learn to be quick at reloading those wads of powder.
The annual Lewis & Clark Festival has a kids area where children can learn to trade, see fire making demonstrations, witness (and hear) cannon firing, watch cooking over an open fire, see animal skinning, learn to put up a tipi, experience Native American drumming and dancing, hear music and more.
This year there were also talks about the medicine used by the Corps of Discovery, how they fished for their food, what types of music they had (remember the fiddler) and how they set up camp each night.
A Bluegrass concert kicked off the festival this year and a luminaria walk along the River's Edge Trail in Great Falls closed the activities on Saturday.
Sunday of the festival was set aside for a cruise on the Missouri River to the Gates of the Mountains. That included a motorcoach trip to the Gates entrance, a two hour boat cruise and a bison burger dinner at the marina.
The majority of the Lewis and Clark festival is free, (tickets were sold for the Bluegrass concert and river cruise), it is educational and it is fun for the entire family!
If you missed it this year, make a note on your calendar for the third weekend in June next year.
Missouri River Breaks Ferry Crossing
I drove to Winifred the other day and then took the gravel road from town to the McClelland/Stafford Ferry.
This ferry crossing is in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, an area managed by the Bureau of Land Management that stretches along the Upper Missouri for about 149 miles.
The ferry name is confusing - some folks say Stafford/McClelland, others McClelland/Stafford. I have decided it is based on whether you live north or south of the river.
The crossing is named after long ago operators of the ferry. It was established in 1921 and I can't imagine what the road would have been like back then.
Today, the road from Winifred is a good graveled road and my tip of the week is to bring your binoculars because you just may see some wildlife.
I saw cows grazing a few miles north of Winifred, lots of birds and also three bighorn mountain sheep high up on a hillside, totally ignoring me. And yes, I was thankful I had my binoculars.
It's about 16 scenic miles from Winifred to the ferry crossing.
Driving from Winifred north to the river bottom offers up more variety in terrain than you can imagine.
When you leave Winifred there are lush crops and then you gradually get to a pine forest with sage. Near Winifred you'll have some rolling terrain but as you enter into the river breaks the hills are steeper and curvy.
The McClelland/Stafford ferry is not high-tech! As you approach the river's edge there is an old mailbox and inside is a pager with instructions on how to call the operator.
Housing for the operator is on the north side of the river and two people share the job at the McClelland/Stafford ferry.
Although it is weather dependent, the ferries are usually put in the river in early April and taken out late October or early November, before ice forms on the river.
Blaine County (county seat Chinook) operates this ferry and Chouteau County operates the two ferries further upstream on the Missouri.
It was Father's Day when I was at this ferry crossing, a lazy Sunday afternoon and lots of beautiful sunshine.
There was a large group launching to float the Missouri River down to Cow Island, a small group of canoes coming off the river and plenty of traffic crossing.
I watched to see if they were just out for a scenic drive but some were actually using the ferry crossing to save some miles.
I visited with a grandpa and his young grandson who, according to the oldest, were doing some family bonding.
There was also a professional photographer and his wife who just wanted to see the area and take some photos.
A few years ago new ferries were built but they look just like the old ones! The new ones are more efficient, probably a bit safer and have less maintenance. Each of the three ferries is attached to overhead cables to assist in crossing the Mighty Mo - a pretty sleepy river at times but not always.
The ferry operators work from 7am to 7pm to take folks like me - who just want to cross for the fun - and people who actually save a lot of miles by using the ferry crossing.
It is truly a step back in time to ride the river ferries and I encourage everyone to visit at least one of them.
It's A Cowboy Boot Kind of Day
As one of our large art events approached last March I remembered that attendees typically dress western. As one observer said, Montana casual covers just about any kind of attire but I did notice a lot of cowboy boots at the event.
In fact, there were so many, especially on women, that I began to take photos of them. Some were plain, some were out-of-this-world in design and style.
Before I snapped any photos I asked permission from the boot-wearers. Everyone seemed flattered to have a photo shoot of their bootsl I bet those boots don't get worn very often and this event was a sure-thing for wearing that kind of footwear.
After taking a photo of older lady's boots she started to tell me that she knew some of the history of cowboy boots. I was fascinated and, even though she didn't know all the details, she steered my to an amazing website.
The story goes...the first cowboy bootmaker in the United States was the Hyer Boot Company and they began in humble surroundings in 1875. Yes, 1875! Hyer was described at one time as being the largest manufacturer of handmade boots.
Their key to notoriety was developing a measurement chart that they would send out with their flyers. In today's lingo that is called gorilla marketing! Since society was not as mobile as we are today, prospective customers could take their foot measurements and order custom made boots without having days of travel to the manufacturer.
By 1900, Hyer Boot Company went from 2 employees to 15. During World War I, the Hyers made boots for the officers at Fort Leavenworth. By the 1960s they had more than 70 employees and their clientele was worldwide.
Boots were available in a variety of styles, heel heights, leathers and decorations. Simple stitchery, diamond insets and gold and silver inlays were all available so they definitely appealed to a broad range of customers.
Hyer Boot Company was operated by the Hyer family until 1977 when the business was sold to Ben Miller Boot Company in El Paso, Texas.
The Hyers are credited as one of the first to invent cowboy boots. They mostly employed German immigrants, also some from Sweden and Poland.
Today, visitors can learn their cowboy boot history at the Kansas Museum of History at the display titled "Hyer Boots, home of the Cowboy Boot".
Well, I was fascinated with all of the information my most recent cowboy boot model had. She told me she used to be a docent at the C. M. Russell Museum, she loved history and she looked great in her boots! I couldn't wait to get back and research the story.
For the next western event you attend in Central Montana, dust off your cowboy boots and wear them proudly!
Springtime in the Little Belt Mountains
A few weeks ago, after a nice stretch of spring-like weather, I proudly picked up my snow shovel and marched it back to my garage. That snow shovel was put away for the summer and I wouldn't even think about it until November.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and the words of my late grandmother echoed in my mind - you can't tell the weather by looking at a calendar. Truer words have never been spoken!
A few days ago it had started raining, and it rained hard. Then the temps dropped, lower than what I thought they would. I lamented buying that beautiful outdoor planter that has now seen alternate locations - my front deck, my garage, snuggled close to my house under a large overhang. It is still living but it has done a lot of traveling since leaving the nursery.
Alas, I found myself wondering if the darn snow shovel was going to have to exit the garage and get used one more time this season.
I was lucky since things melted quickly but I live in town at an elevation of a little over 3,300 feet.
My travel plans for yesterday had me heading to Hughes Mountain Ranch southeast of Stanford, Montana in the Little Belt Mountains. I've been in this area several times and I know it can get some heavy spring snow.
The owner of Hughes Mountain Ranch emailed and said yes, there would be snow, but most of the gravel road was already bare so traveling should not be an issue.
As I turned off US Hwy 87 onto Running Wolf Road the view made me stop and get out of the car. Wow! There was a fair amount of snow on the ridgetops and in coulees but then there was also lots of green (very green) spring grass. The contrast between a freshly fallen very white snow against that green grass was awesome and out came my camera.
After awhile, many stops later for photos, my travel companion was probably wondering how long it would take to get to the ranch. It really isn't far, probably about 15 miles after leaving the highway, but I was just dazzled by the colors. At one point there were bright yellow flowers blooming in the middle of a grassy pasture and glistening white snow in a nearby coulee.
Another contrast I discovered - the gravel road was dry and we were kicking up dust but when I clambered into the ditch to get a different perspective for a photo, it was muddy, very muddy.
Running Wolf Road took us past two different turns for Dry Wolf Road, then we veered on to Sage Creek Trail. Bluebird boxes were mounted along the fencelines the entire 15 miles I traveled and I remembered that this is one of Central Montana's birding routes - the Stanford Bluebird Trail.
Note to self: remember the binoculars.
Actually, if we would have had time, I think if we had just stopped the car by a bluebird box, shut off the engine and waited, we could have seen some going in and out of the bluebird boxes. We saw them flying around, just not any in the boxes.
It was a beautiful day and I was so glad I didn't cancel the trip for a later date because of the spring snow. I took dozens of photos and I now have some great springtime memories of this route.
It's well worth a drive for the scenery, the wildlife and the bluebirds.