Saturday, July 05, 2008

Warmin' Up in Montana

Finally, the weather has returned to normal and we're enjoying warm (sometimes hot) temperatures. We enjoy the fact that even though the day may be very hot, as soon as the sun gets low in the sky the temperature drops to comfortable levels and we have cool nights. The rivers and streams are still raging; hopefully by mid-week they'll be calmed down and fishable. We've made the best of our days off, visiting new and old favorite places. Last week we drove north to Flathead Lake and the town of Kalispell. The lake is the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi, and is a big summer destination, with lots of golf courses, condo communities, and huge log homes on the hillsides. The lake is very pretty but we were disappointed in the town; lots of strip-mall stores and not much charm. After looking around and having lunch, we headed back south to the National Bison Range, a large area with mountains, streams, and grasslands. It was mid-day when we visited, and although the last time we visited we saw pronghorn, deer, and a young bear, the sun had driven the animals into the brush and woods and except for the bison/buffalo, it was a fairly quiet tour. From the Bison Range, we could see the beautiful Mission Mountains in the distance, and behind the small town of St. Ignacius, a deep canyon. It looked like there was a road heading into the canyon, so after a 30-mile trip to get to what was a 10-mile straight distance, we left St. Ignacius and headed back into the mountains. We were amazed to find a beautiful lake nestled against the mountains, with a startling view in the distance of what we first thought was snow, and then realized was a huge waterfall! Since it was back in the wilderness where no roads are permitted, we sat and watched through binoculars. What an amazing place! This is a place not listed in any travel guide yet takes your breath away; Montana is truly an amazing place.
June is our birthday month (both mine, Brenda's, and our daughter's), and we found that our fellow volunteers and our volunteer boss Bob also had June birthdays (confirmation that the truly attractive people were born in June). We decided to celebrate at one of the truly unique restaurants in the area, the "Grubstake". Located 2000' up a dirt road with lots of switchbacks above the town of Hamilton, it not only features spectacular views of the Bitterroot Valley, but an interesting menu and style. The menu for the evening was all-you-can-eat BBQ ribs and chicken, with side dishes, salad bar, and drinks (including home-made root beer). The owner, a delightful gentleman, strolled through the tables wearing a gunbelt and telling stories of the restaurant's history (the bear that bathed in the washtub, how they use snowmobiles to get to town in the winter, and others). As you leave, you pass a bucket filled with alfalfa cubes; if you don't pick up a few to feed the mule and horses just up the walk, the mule will bray and make a fuss until you go back and get a cube for it. This is a special place and we had a great time.
This year we managed to do something we meant to do our first year here but missed out on - the blooming of the Camas flowers in the mountains. The Camas completely cover a large area known as Packer Meadows, easily accessible on a good dirt road from the main highway. With all of the blue blossoms, it looked like an alpine lake. Another of our favorite wildflowers, known as beargrass, is in bloom at the higher elevations (above 5000'). It's an amazing plant; what looks like a fuzzy flower is actually a mosaic of small, star-shaped flowers. It's a great time of year here, everything is still green and the fire danger is low - hope it stays that way! C'mon back and visit!