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Springtime in the Little Belt Mountains
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Hughes ranch sceneryA 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.  

Hughes cabin with hornsMy 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.

Bluebird box StanfordAnother 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.




Passports for Dinosaur Travelers
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MT Dino PassportMembers of the Montana Dinosaur Trail have developed a passport for the fourteen museums on the trail.

For $5 you get a very official looking passport with the logo for the dino trail on the cover, a page dedicated to each museum, fun fossil facts about the dinosaur fossil found in each area, artwork depicting each dinosaur, a place for field notes and the passport stamp.

Each museum on the Montana Dinosaur Trail has their own unique stamp. If you are able to visit all of the museums and get your passport stamped by them, you'll receive a certificate of completion and a tee shirt that proudly states that you have completed the entire trail of dinosaur museums.

The dinosaur trail passport is a great Montana souvenir, it's unique and it's fun for both kids and adults.

Treat your budding paleontologist to a trip along the Montana Dinosaur Trail with their own passport. It will be a fun road trip and some great education to top it off!






Discovering Dinosaurs - Digs, Displays and Museums
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Dino OTMMontana has had some incredibly significant discoveries of fossils, most noteworthy are the dinosaur bones. Fourteen areas have joined together to form the Montana Dinosaur Trail coverning eastern, central and southwest Montana.

This past weekend I met with the members of the Montana Dinosaur Trail and I'd like to share some information about a few of them.

If you are traveling on US Hwy 2 from the North Dakota border and traveling west you could stop at six different museums and interpretive centers with amazing dinosaur displays.

Some of the facilities are focused entirely on dinosaurs - others are county museums that have had significant dinosaur "finds" in their area. Following are a few of the facilities you'll find in Central Montana.

If you were at the Blaine County Museum in Chinook you would see a Gorgosaurus, an Ankylosaurus and remnants of giant marine reptiles. In the lower level of the museum there is a Look, Touch and Wonder Room - fun for kids and adults alike. While not dinosaur or fossil related, the Blaine County Museum has incredible displays about Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce battle that Seismosaur hallioccurred south of the town.

Havre's H. Earl Clack Museum is located in the Holiday Village Shopping Mall adjacent to US Hwy 2. Most of their focus is on area history but that includes a Lambeosaur skull (think...duckbill dino) and 75 million year old dinosaur eggs and embryos. Oh yeah, that's old!

Behind the building where the Clack museum is housed is Wahkpa Chu'gn, an archeology lover's paradise. This buffalo jump is an education in itself where you can see layers of earth that tell the history of the area.

The Depot Museum in Rudyard, further west on US Hwy 2, has several buildings with one building devoted to dinosaurs. A fully articulated Gryposaurus is the feature display (named because Rudyard claims to have 596 nice people and old ole "sorehead"). This museum is an affiliate of the noted Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

Just south of the junction of US Hwy 2 and 89 is the little town of Bynum (pop 33). If you have ever wanted to get "in the dirt" to do dinosaur research, this is your place! 

The first baby dinosaur bones found in North America were found near the Bynum/Choteau area on the Dino digRocky Mountain Front and they are displayed at Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum.

Two Medicine also does half-day to 10-day hands on digs and research. I've done several of these and each time I learn more about dinosaurs and research. Two Medicine also has an impressive bone prep lab located in the dinosaur center.

Thirteen miles south of Bynum on US Hwy 89 is Choteau and the Old Trail Museum. The Old Trail has a Maiasaura (that translates to "good mother lizard" and it is the name of our official Montana dinosaur).

At the Old Trail Museum you'll also learn some geologic information about the Rocky Mountain Front where these dinosaur fossils have been found. Native American history and area history are both displayed and interpreted inside the museum. Small  buildings adjacent to the main museum round out the well designed displays at the Old Trail.

The next stop on the dinosaur trail in Central Montana takes you southeast to Harlowton, Montana. Located at the junction of Hwys 12 and 191, the Upper Musselshell Museum displays a replica cast of the Dino bone prepAvaceratops Lammersi found in the Judith River Formation near Shawmut, Montana (a few miles east of Harlowton).   

I have personally visited every one of the museums mentioned above. Each time I return to the museums I learn something new. In another year or so I plan to start taking my grandkids and sharing my dino experiences with them.

Find more information on all fourteen facilities on the Montana Dinosaur Trail and enjoy this great learning experience.





Lake Frances - Birds, Boats and a Surprise
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fishing lake francesI was on my way to a meeting last week where the route took me through Valier. My plans were to try and get photos of sunset over Lake Frances on the west edge of Valier but I was too early.

Instead of being disappointed I found lots of photo ops that I hadn't even considered.

First of all, everyone goes to Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area between Fairfield and Choteau to view the snowgoose migration. I must say, it is spectacular at Freezout, but Lake Frances had some late snowgeese too.

With camera and iPhone in tow, I parked my car on the east side of the lake and started walking. It was so peaceful, quiet and serene until...I came up on some young birds. I'm guessing they were young grouse or possibly hungarian partridges. They waited, probably hoping I would go away, then when I was about 3 yards from them they flew. Yikes, I wasn't expecting that on this calm and quiet afternoon! I was able to get another look at them on my return to the car and made my way cautiously towards them and watched them fly again.


snowgoose lake francesThere was one fishing boat on Lake Frances this Saturday afternoon with three fishermen. I didn't get to visit with them to see if their day had produced anything for the frying pan but even if it didn't, a day on the lake is...better than not being there!

Lake Frances is a popular summer fishing water and also an excellent location for ice fishing. This past winter the ice didn't hold and Valier's annual ice fishing derby had to be cancelled.

Lakeside camping is available at Lake Frances with well maintained campsites. I saw two self contained fifth wheel units there and I'm guessing they might have belonged to the fishermen on the lake. The campground really is lakeside yet you are literally blocks away from restaurants, a grocery store and convenience store with gas and fishing gear.

Valier also has a small motel and The Stone School Inn, a bed and breakfast in a former Valier school. 

I was able to get a few photos of the snowgeese and when I thought about it, Valier has everything a migrating bird would want - water at the lake and grain fields all around it.

I love to see the black tipped wings on the snowgeese when they fly. The birds were putting on a show for me and giving me plenty of opportunities to take photos.  

My brief 45 minute stop at Lake Frances put me in a good frame of mind and I continued on for another couple of hours to my final destination, thankful I took a little time to stop at this small community treasure.







Freezout Lake WMA on a Cloudy Day
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Pond at FreezoutA week ago I looked at my schedule and decided I had better plan an outing to Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area for spring bird migration. The recorded message for the state Wildlife Management Area said the birds were coming in smaller groups, not such big waves and this was probably due to early warm weather.

We've had an incredibly mild winter, and I'm not complaining about that, but I also realize what it does to our wildlife and vegetation. And, there's that little issue of moisture too.

I woke up an hour earlier than usual so I could be on the road and at Freezout by sunrise. I checked the forecast before I left my house and it didn't look great - major cloud cover, 80% chance of rain. But, sometimes that changes and things clear off. I was ready - cameras and warm jacket packed, coffee in my go-cup, and a banana.  

It was still dark so I was taking the attitude of an optimist - things could get much better when the sun comes up (a small quote from the musical Annie!). As I drove north on US Hwy 89 nothing changed although it wasn't bright enough yet to tell if the clouds were going to part.

My entire take on the day was - a cloudy and crisp weather day out birdwatching is better than no day at all out of the office!

Freezout foggy dayI did see quite a few birders, many with out of area license plates, so I hope they had also been able to birdwatch on some clear days. The entire Wildlife Management Area was peaceful and serene and I just let that shape my take on the outing. 

My favorite photo of the day had an incredibly foggy background, a few birds swimming on one of the ponds and you could see a silhouette of several trees. So pretty!

I'm heading in the same direction in a few days for a meeting in Choteau and I just may leave a couple hours early and take the tour route at Freezout.  

Yes, I love my job! 




Russell Auction Breaks All Records
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Russell Auction Tracy and LyleThe C. M. Russell Museum's The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C. M. Russell Museum had a record-breaking weekend March 17-19, 2016.

Their annual event consisted of three auctions starting with Art In Action Friday morning and early afternoon, then the First Strike Auction Friday night and ending with Saturday night's The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C. M. Russell Museum. That Saturday night event title is record-breaking in length!

Both evening auctions were located at The Mansfield Event Center in downtown Great Falls. Friday night's event was a bit more casual but by Saturday night, boots were polished a little shinier, blue jeans were replaced by glitzy dresses and suits, and I saw some gals in stilleto heels that looked stunning but slightly uncomfortable!

There were 150 lots auctioned Saturday night. Some auctioneer's voices tend to grate on me but this guy was good! He could engage the bidders and his spotters were lively and attentive to the crowd.

A Thomas Moran oil painting of Castle Rock, Green River, Wyoming was the talk of town preceding the auction. It was painted in 1907 and the sales range was estimated between $3.5 and 4.5 million dollars. That's a lot Russell Auction from aboveof money! It sold for $3.6 million which is the highest amount ever paid at the Russell Auction.

Twelve C. M. Russell paintings were on the auction block. Two of them sold for $800,000 each - Indian With Bow (c. 1900) and Grizzly at Close Range (c. 1901). All twelve Russells were sold - a testimony that America's Cowboy Artist can still generate a lot of interest with art collectors.

The Russell events are part of Western Art Week in Great Falls. At one of the art events I overheard someone say "why March"? About three people answered and said "the art events are typically the third weekend in March, the weekend nearest to Charlie Russell's birthday".   

Congrats to the many volunteers and staff who worked to make this event a huge success - not only for the museum but for Great Falls and Central Montana. 





Western Art Week in Great Falls
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Wester Heritage Art ShowThis past weekend was Western Art Weekend in Great Falls, Montana. The city becomes the Western Art Capital of the World during the third weekend in March which is nearest to Charlie Russell's birthday.

Great Falls claims Russell although he was born in Missouri and came to the area when he was sixteen. He spent the first few years working as a cowboy and night wrangler, painting while he could. Some historians say it was living this life that made his images so realistic - I tend to agree.

The C. M. Russell Museum is located in Great Falls and it houses the largest collection of Russell's works. Charlie and Nancy Russell's home is located on the one block complex and it is a National Historic Landmark.  

The first event I attended this past week was the Western Heritage Artists Show and Sale at the Holiday Inn. Nearly 90 artists exhibited in hotel rooms which were open to the public to wander in and hopefully purchase art.

They also had an excellent lobby show with a variety of art in different mediums. I liked the metal sculpted fisherman. Well, I liked a LOT of the art!

Art In ActionThe next event I attended was Art In Action at the Meadowlark Country Club.

Twenty six artists worked at their easels while attendees mingled among them, taking photos, asking questions and watching the creations come to life. I'd be a nervous wreck with all of that activity but I think most of the artists enjoyed a chance to explain the processes they use to create their art and, to visit with potential buyers of their art.

After a couple of hours at Art In Action all artists stop and their work was auctioned. One hundred percent of the proceeds of the auction went to the Russell Museum

Art In Action is an annual event and it is part of The Russell: Sale to Benefit the C. M. Russell Museum. It is a sell-out and I love going to it.

I had a plan to get to many more art venues but I only managed to squeeze one more in after Art In Action. I went over to Montana Expo Park and wandered through the Great Western Living and Design Show.

This show probably has the most unique art of all seventeen shows that were held this past weekend. From horseshoe art to stunning wood furniture to Native American art - quite a variety. I recognized a couple of the weavers and spinners but most of the other artists were new to me.  

Valentina LapierValentina LaPier from Browning, Montana created this beautiful painted chair. You certainly wouldn't want to sit in it but gosh, what talent, and what a conversation piece if I had that in my house!

The Great Western Living and Design Show also has a nice variety of entertainment. I watched Native American dancers one night and would have enjoyed single musicians and a full band the next couple of evenings. Too many things to see and do!  

So far Western Art Week has been fun - I'm going to see how many more shows I can get to.

Stay tuned! 







An Afternoon at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art
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Blackfeet DarrelThe other day I took a few minutes to stop in to Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and see their current exhibitions. I've missed most of the opening receptions lately because of conflicts and I was eager to get a glimpse of what they have displayed.
And, I was not disappointed!
The Blackfeet Portrait Project was very impressive and I even recognized a few of the people featured in the exhibit. One of my favorite pieces was of a buffalo (bison) done by one of the artists who was featured in a portrait.
The artist on this project was Cheryl Dineen Ferrin and she did portraits of Blackfeet artists and their work. There are 22 works of art in this traveling exhibition. Eleven are actual portraits of Blackfeet artists and then there is one piece of each artist's work displayed.
My favorite exhibit though was titled "The West: Recent Oil Paintings by Alan McNiel". McNiel is a Montana artist and he painted scenes from original photos, mostly of downtowns and old buildings in several states.
painging of elevatorA press release about the exhibit says that one day these scenes will be about life in the "old west" and I as watch some downtowns change I think that is correct. Fourteen paintings include eleven from Montana locales (2 from Missoula, 2 from Bozeman, and one each from Great Falls, Plains, Browning, Troy, Kalispell, Butte and Thompson Falls). Other states represented in the paintings are Idaho (2 paintings) and one in New Mexico.
All of McNiel's paintings are incredibly charming. As I studied the one titled Snowy Afternoon in Great Falls I was sure it was painted near my home. If it wasn't, well, I'll never know because I'm not going to try to find out.
I love wandering around the old building that was once a school and now houses Great Falls' contemporary art museum. The old floors creak a bit although they are shined and polished. The signs on the restrooms say "Boys" and "Girls" and the door handles are lower so kids would have been able to reach them. The exhibit rooms are intimate and there are very tempting items in the gift shop...yes, I love this place. 




Hot Springs Soak in White Sulphur Springs
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pool at spa hot springsAhh...spa...a soak in the hot springs at the Spa Hot Springs Motel in White Sulphur Springs is just what I needed!

I had spent a few hours on snowshoes in the Little Belt Mountains and a soak in the hot springs was tempting me. I had planned ahead and packed my swim suit and towel although I could have rented them at the Spa Hot Springs Motel.

It was a chilly day, the late afternoon temp was about 20 degrees, and I knew I'd have a couple of brisk moments getting from the dressing room to the pool. There are two large outdoor pools, one hot and the other hotter! I chose the hottest for my first soak.

At first it seemed too hot and I was only half submerged. About 30 seconds later there was nothing but my head bobbing above water and I was loving the soothing water.

After the hottest pool I went to the not-so-hot pool, still pretty warm though. I didn't do the hot tub but I've sat in in before.

Everyone seemed to be having such a good time. The crowd was mostly adults and teens but there were some younger kids with parents.

A few details if you plan to soak at the Spa Hot Springs Motel - you pay your fee ($7) at the lobby desk at the motel, sign in, and spa poolnote the time you entered. Inside there are dressing rooms with a shower.

The pools were completely renovated a couple of years ago. Water in the pools actually needs to be cooled down before it is usable. There is a slight sulphur odor but most people find that it gives the body a little therapy too.

There are no chemicals added to the water in the pools and they are all drained every night, 365 days a year. That's pretty amazing!

White Sulphur Springs was considered to be the Valley of Peace by the Native Americans who visited the area and warring tribes did not fight in the area. Backgound murals at the Spa Hot Springs pools depict the Native American influence.

If you stay overnight in one of the motel rooms at the Spa Hot Springs Motel you don't pay to soak. But, if you just want to stop in for a soak that's easy to do. You don't need a reservation - just show up, pay your fee and get ready to soak!  





Snowshoeing in the Little Belt Mountains
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Silver CrestLast weekend I began my Saturday with reading a list of things to do. While I was debating which task to start first, a friend called and asked if I wanted to go snowshoeing at Silver Crest Cross Country Ski Area near Kings Hill Pass.

Well, I didn't take too long to respond with a "yes" and then I said I could be ready in 30 minutes. Boy, did I scramble! I hadn't been on my snowshoes since last year. I knew they were in the garage but somehow, summer stuff gets in the way - hoses, rakes, lawnmower - all were stacked in front of winter gear.

I'm thankful my snowshoes are bright orange and easily spotted. Poles were next, then, what to wear. The weatherman predicted it would be sunny which makes any day feel warmer. A few layers were packed in my tote bag along with some water and snacks. Out the door I went with not even a glance back at the list of chores on the counter.

snowshoe KathyUS Hwy 89 was mostly clear of snow, although there was just a bit when we got close to Kings Hill Pass. The parking lot at the winter recreation area had a few cars and it looked like almost everybody was going cross country skiing. 

I strapped in to my snowshoes, forgot my water bottle in the car in my tote, but had my camera.

Off we went on one of the marked trails and in about 2 minutes we were in beautiful fluffy snow surrounded by tall pine trees. And, quiet and solitude. What a good feeling! 

We did encounter two different groups of people snowshoeing but that certainly didn't make it crowded. In fact, we took the opportunity to catch our breath and stop and visit with each group. 

As we worked our way back to the trailhead we saw a few more X-C skiers Snowshoe grouopstarting on trails and I could hear more vehicle activity in the parking lot. It was tempting to turn around and do the trail all over again. 

Well, I was thirsty and eager to get to the snacks I had packed. I was also ready to rest! 

This weekend I'd like to do that all over again.

We'll see if snowshoeing wins out over the to-do list.



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