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I Finally Got to Swift Dam
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W of DupuyerWell, there is a story about me going to Swift Dam west of Dupuyer, Montana!

Many years ago I had never heard of Swift Dam. Everytime someone mentioned it I became more intrigued and decided I was going to go. 

However, I wasn't sure how to get there.

I was told the road was iffy.

Then, when I was in the area the weather was looking like a storm and I was advised to not go until it passed.

Finally, the stars aligned, I was in the area and a friend said "let's drive up to Swift Dam". I was elated! The sky was a little "moody" with dark clouds rolling in every now and then but that just made my photos have some powerful effects.

Road to SwiftWe drove north of Dupuyer, probably only about a half mile, then turned left (west) and headed directly towards the Rocky Mountain Front on a good gravel road. The terrain was open, but front and center was the imposing East Slope of the Rockies. 

I saw a few cattle grazing, also deer and some grouse that caught me off guard when I was taking a photo. I scared them, they scared me!

My friend was driving her pickup and I probably asked her to stop about 20 times so I could take photos. It is about 17 miles from US Hwy 89 to the trailhead/community maintained campground before you get to the dam so that's more than one stop per mile!

We drove in to the campground and there were several pickups and a large horse trailer that probably hauled horses and riders for a pack trip in to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The campground is maintained by folks from nearby Old North Trail signDupuyer. There is a small building there and quite a few campsites nestled in a gorgeous area. 

There is a sign or marker about the Old North Trail that existed probably 25,000 years ago. The Blackfeet Indians used the trail to travel down the east side of the mountains for trade and also to travel from their northern hunting grounds to southern winter encampments. You'll see markers along this trail that hugs the mountain range. 

We crossed Birch Creek which was almost nonexistent this time of year and started to slowly climb up to the dam and Swift Reservoir. The face of the dam is impressive to see although this time of year there wasn't much water going over it. The reservoir was also low.

Swift Dam gave out in 1964 and the area suffered a catastrophic flood. When you see the terrain it is scary to think how fast the water would have moved Swift Damwhen the dam broke. The operating gates of the dam were repaired in 1967 and they are currently slated for $150,000 worth of maintenance after 50 years. 

The drive to and from Swift Dam was more than just a bucket list item for me. The scenery was stunning, views were amazing and I learned history of the area and the dam. 

What a day!





Havre's New Hotel
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BW lobby artHavre's newest hotel opened recently and I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the property.

The Best Western Plus Havre Inn & Suites is located on the north side of US Hwy 2 near Havre's Holiday Village Mall and adjacent to Murphy's Pub.

As you enter the hotel lobby you feel like you are in a huge metropolitan hotel. The lobby decor is beautiful, trendy, spacious and inviting.

One lobby display really caught my eye. An artist has created a sculpture coming out of the wall that features a Native American chasing a buffalo. THe buffalo extends out of the wall about 24 inches. The hotel is located near Havre's buffalo jump known as Wahkpa Chu'gn.

There is a small meeting room on one side of the lobby that seats about 15 people and then there is a much larger room past the breakfast area that can Behind Havre Inn and Suitesaccommodate up to 200 people. 

The hotel also has a pool with a waterslide, fitness center and business center. 

The BW Plus Havre Inn & Suites has impressive views overlooking Havre's badlands, the Milk River and a nearby buffalo jump. As I was touring the sleeping rooms I glanced out and saw a BNSF train traveling parallel to the Milk River. 

Artwork throughout the meeting rooms, common areas and all sleeping rooms is done by Havre photographer Todd Klassy and he features scenes from the area. The framed photographs are beautiful and a great nod to a local entrepreneur.

I enjoyed my tour of the Best Western Plus Havre Inn & Suites. Stop by for a tour - better yet treat yourself to an overnight at the hotel.






Priest Butte Geological Formation Near Choteau
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Priest butte distantI've driven US Hwy 89 many times and each time I am between Fairfield and Choteau I pass by what is known as Priest Butte.

The terrain surrounding the butte is flat so it really stands out, even from a distance. 

I was traveling north from Great Falls to Dupuyer the other day and had plenty of time so I turned west on Priest Butte Road, just before I got to the butte. It was a good gravel road that wove around the west side of Priest Butte. 

The west side of Priest Butte seemed so different to me - cattle were grazing on a grass covered slope. The east side of the butte isn't nearly such a gradual slope, more like a drop-off. Near the top of the butte I saw rocky shelving, almost like hoodoos.

From the highway side of the butte I have seen three crosses on top but they Priest Butte back sideseemed much more prominent when I saw them from the west side.

Priest Butte was named after a Jesuit Mission that was established further north to serve the Blackfoot Indian Reservation.

In 1893 there was a stone quarry on the butte and stone was cut there to build the Teton County Courthouse in Choteau. That courthouse burned in 1897 and a new one was built.

Priest Butte Lake is just east of the actual butte across the highway. Winds come off the Rocky Mountain Front and make some prime conditions on the lake for wind surfing and ice boating.  

My drive around Priest Butte took probably an extra five or ten minutes...well...let's make that 20 minutes because it was so unique and pretty I stopped to take quite a few photos. 

"Driving for pleasure" is a category many of our visitors enjoy and I did too! Take some time to explore Central Montana's off-the-beaten pathways. 




Revisiting Memories at Zurich Park
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Zurich elevatorI grew up in Chinook, Montana on US Hwy 2. About midway between Chinook and Harlem is the tiny town of Zurich.

Historians tell me Zurich was named by a railroad conductor traveling this route. According to the story, he spun a globe and pointed at Zurich, Switzerland and named the Montana location after it.

We pronounce Zurich, Montana with a "ch", not a "k" sound and I suspect the terrain is vastly different between the two towns. You'll see irrigated cropland in the valley area known as Zurich, Montana and mountain peaks in Zurich, Switzerland.

Montana's Zurich has almost faded away but one part still in existence happens to be strongest in my memory.

Zurich Park, just a couple miles out of town has a great playground for children, an enclosed building for all types of gatherings and plenty of camping and Zurich park entrancepicnicking sites.

I stopped at the park last week and I can still (in my memories) hear square dances being called, the voices of my 4-H leaders, the playground swings squeaking, and friends and family playing in the area. 

Wow - what a trek down memory lane for me! 

The park was quiet the day I was there. I visited with one of the caretakers who lives on site and I saw one camper.

I also saw several antelope on the way to the park and a pheasant while driving back.

I was pleased to see that the park was in tip-top shape.

Fall foliage was truly putting on a show and I chastised myself for not allowing Zurich park with Pattimore time to visit this hidden gem. As we walked around the area I took several photos - memories for me that I can look at in years to come. 

Even though the town of Zurich is slowly fading, Zurich Park is still frequently used today for a variety of gatherings. 

Next time, I'll plan on taking my grandkids along and help create some small town memories for them. 





2 Basset Brewery Plans January 2016 Opening
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Brewery dogsIf you are strolling Main Street in White Sulphur Springs you'll walk right past the future home of 2 Basset Brewery. And, if you are lucky you'll see Leroy and Stanley, also known as the 2 Bassets, monitoring construction progress on the building.

An auto parts store and also a Gambles Hardware store have occupied this same location but the property has been vacant for awhile.

Cue Barry and Chris Hedrich - they'll soon be pulling taps at White Sulphur Springs' first brewery. 

I had a chance to visit with the owners a week ago and also take a tour of the building. 

My favorite part of the building at this point is the ceiling. It's an old-time tall ceiling that has been covered in a decorative shiny tin. Very nice! 

brewery ceilingBrew vats are located at the back of the elongated building and a U-shaped bar will soon be in the front. 

The Hedrichs will be using wheat and barley grown and malted in Meagher County. We talked about hops and Barry agreed it would be nice to have his own locally grown supply but growing conditions are a bit dicey for that product in Meagher County. There are some locations in Montana experimenting with hops but no known quantities yet. I'm glad to see local wheat and barley being touted for their brews.

I'm eager to see the finished building and to have 2 Basset up and running in White Sulphur Springs. Projected opening is January 2016.





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.




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