Whitefish to Libby – Big Surprises on the Back Roads of Montana

June 2016 – With the wonders and spectacular beauty of the east side of Glacier National Park still vivid in our minds, we took our RV south and west around the bottom of Glacier and out onto the back roads of northwestern Montana. On our way, we passed an RV park sporting a fantastic mock-up of a Volkswagen Beetle towing a small trailer. What fun!

Volkswagen Beetle Towing a Trailer RV Whitefish Montana

Now there’s a cool rig!!

In an earlier life, we were both avid recreational racing cyclists, riding well over 200 training miles a week. To make it through our long training rides and races, we relied a lot on products made by Hammer Nutrition, a company that is based out of Whitefish, Montana.

So we had to stop by and pay them a quick visit as we went through Whitefish!

Hammer Nutrition Headquarters Whitefish Montana

Hammer Nutrition makes amazing supplements for athletes and for good health.

They were more than cordial when we knocked on the door, and they gave us an impromptu tour of their facility. We’d expected to see enormous vats and cauldrons with steam rising out of them, but the products are actually made elsewhere by subcontractors. However, this is where the order fulfillment happens.

Besides their electrolyte replacements (very handy during a long, hot, sweaty hike), Mark got a few bottles of Tissue Rejuvenator which has been working wonders on his tender knees.

Hammer Nutrition Truck Whitefish Montana


With our shelves restocked with Hammer goodies, we continued on Montana’s back roads, passing some beautiful scenery on the way.

Bridge and colorful rocks Montana

There is some lovely scenery on Montana’s back roads.

We stopped to watch some horses in a pasture and saw that one had a little bird riding on its back. The horse didn’t seem to mind. It was busy eating grass!

Horse and bird in Montana

A little bird catches a ride.

We dropped south along the shores of Lake Koocanusa, and we enjoyed several lovely stops to catch a view.

The lake gets its name from the first three letters of the word “Kootenai,” the word “Canada” and the word “USA,” all concatenated together, because it spans both countries and is located in the region of the Kootenai tribe.

Lake Koocanusa Libby Montana

Lake Koocanusa

There are quite a few National Forest campgrounds along the banks of Lake Koocanusa, and lots of families were enjoying boating and playing in the water.

Kootenai River Libby Montana

Crystal clear water at Lake Koocanusa.

The daisies were out in force everywhere too, soaking up the sun.

Daisies in the sun Montana

Daisies were sunning themselves in the summer sun.

Lake Koocanusa is formed by the Libby Dam which blocks the flow of the Kootenai River just east of Libby, Montana. Like all the big western dams, this dam is quite an engineering marvel.

We took a wonderful tour and were amazed by the high stakes game the US Army Corps of Engineers has to play to satisfy the widely varying needs of everyone that is affected by the dam.

Libby Dam

Libby Dam

From communities that need electricity, to farmers wanting water for irrigation, to the fish and ecological system that are disrupted by an unnatural obstruction in their way, to fishermen, swimmers, boaters and campers looking for some good old fashioned summertime fun, the Libby Dam supports many uses of the lake and river.

Lake Koocanusa Recreation Area and Boat Dock

Lake Koocanusa

I’ve written quite a bit about public land management on this blog, as public lands are an integral part of our lifestyle. Too often, we’ve seen the government’s land management agencies reducing public access, threatening to transform these precious places until they become “public” in name only.

Former campgrounds and dispersed camping areas have been blocked off with “Road Closed” signs. Behind these blockades weeds grow tall, graffiti grows wild and structures deteriorate.

Other former campgrounds sport brand new “Day Use Only” signs, but they go unused because no one is going to drive a long distance to a remote place just to have a picnic.

Worst of all, 40% of America’s public lands that were given to 11 western states at statehood have been sold off. For more info click here.

Kootenai River dusk Libby Montana

The Kootenai River below the dam.

However, on the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa at Libby Dam, the US Army Corps of Engineers is getting it right, and it is a total thrill to see a public area so well taken care of. In addition to managing the dam, they have also built a wonderful recreation area on the banks of the river that offers a little something for everyone. We dabbled our toes in the water at a large boat dock that has swim ladders.

Swimming dock Kootenai River Libby Montana

There’s a nice boat dock with swim ladders near Libby Dam.

They even offer free “borrow and return” life preservers for boaters who get to the lake and realize they don’t have enough to go around.

Life preservers Kootenai River boat dock Libby Montana

If boaters forget their life preservers, they can borrow one from here.

The kids’ playground and its massive series of jungle gyms, slides, chutes and climbing bars near the dam are truly heaven on earth for the three-to-twelve set. I have never seen a jungle gym or playground that is so big and so inviting, even for the over 50 crowd (I confess, I really loved swinging on the big swingset!).

Corps of Engineers Playground Libby Montana

The playground built by the Corps of Engineers next to Libby Dam is wonderful.

Out on the Kootenai River below the dam, fly fishermen zip downstream carried by a very fast moving current. The oars on these cool fishing boats are just for steering purposes!

Fly fishing Kootenai River Libby Dam Montana

Fly fishermen float downstream.

Hiking trails from Libby Dam’s recreation area took us past pretty lake views, and we found wildflowers blooming on the trails.

Lavender wildflowers Montana

Pretty lavender wildflowers.

We rode our bikes on some of the back roads in the area, and along with discovering beautiful scenery we also bumped into a woman “long rider” who has been traveling cross-country on horseback for 12 years and 28,000 miles (blog post here).

Fog and mist on the Kootenai River Montana

Fog and mist on a small fork of the Kootenai River.

With all this quiet beauty surrounding us in every direction, we were blown away when we learned that due to decades of vermiculite mining as well as carelessness on the part of the mine owner, W. R. Grace, the area around Libby, Montana, is now a Superfund Site.

We discovered this when we camped with a group of out-of-towners who had grown up in Libby while the dam was being built in the 1970’s. They had returned to celebrate their 38th Libby High School reunion. While they were in the area, besides hanging out with old friends and reminiscing, they were all getting tested for Mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Sunset at Lake Koocanusa Libby Montana

Sunset at Lake Koocanusa.

Although this vermiculte mine had been active since 1919, when W. R. Grace bought it in 1963, they began distributing excess asbestos related material around town by for use in playgrounds, gardens, roads, school yards and even the high school track (which was known as being especially springy and fast!).

In the end, W. R. Grace was fined $250 million to contribute to the cleanup of the area. The EPA has removed the asbestos from 2,100 properties, including all the public areas, and has a few hundred more private properties to take care of. The cleanup has cost $540 million to date with at least $64 million more in anticipated expenditures.

Recently, asbestos has turned up during controlled burns in the Kootenai National Forest around the former mine site. The EPA is has shifted its Superfund focus in Libby and has increased the size of the area they are concerned about.

Lake Koocanusa at sunset Libby Montana

Sunset on Lake Koocanusa

Unfortunately, the latency period for Mesothelioma cancer symptoms to surface is 20 to 50 years. Several hundred residents of Libby and nearby Troy have died already, and another few thousand are suffering illnesses related to asbestos exposure. As our newfound friends waited nervously for their cancer test results, one of them told us he had already tested positive last year.

It was very shocking to look around at the stunning beauty of this part of Montana and hear this sad tale.

Reading about Superfund Sites while living far away from them, I’d always imagined them to be forelorn, desolate communities that had a post-nuclear explosion look about them. I had no idea that one of the most pristine natural areas that America is fortunate enough to embrace, a beautiful place that is so remote in spots that you can’t get cell phone service for many miles, is a Superfund Site.

Lake Koocanusa Libby Montana


We were charmed by Libby and the warmth of the people we met, both camping and around town.

There’s a sweet little campground right in the middle of town (smaller rigs only), called Fireman’s Memorial Park Campground, and there’s a fun microbrew pub, Cabinet Mountain Brewing, that refers to itself as “Libby’s Living Room.” They serve a fantastic coffee porter and have live music many nights.

Live Music Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company Libby Montana

Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company has great beer and live music.

We stopped in Libby because we got a flat tire on our truck while taking photos at the Libby Dam (blog post here). That turned out to be a wonderful stroke of good fortune, because otherwise we might have kept going and missed this really pretty part of Montana. Instead we stayed in the area for two weeks!

RV at sunset Montana


For RV travelers heading to Libby, Montana, there are some travel planning links below:

Never miss a post — it’s free!

More info about Libby Montana:

Other blog posts from this neck of the woods:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

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“Going to the Sun” from Glacier National Park’s East Side – Breathtaking!

June 2016 – During our visit to the east side of Montana’s Glacier National Park, we saw lots of storm clouds roll in and out, and at dawn and dusk the sky lit up in astonishing patterns and colors.

RV at sunset Glacier National Park Montana

We saw some amazing light shows in the sky.

The Going to the Sun Road is the famous and extraordinarily scenic drive that cuts through the center of the park from west to east, and one great way to do it is on one of the Red Bus Tours. Many of these buses were built by the White Motor Company in the early 1900’s but have been converted to run on propane and gasoline. Some have been in service since the 1930’s!

Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour

Here’s a fun way to tour Glacier National Park – with a Red Bus Tour!

We saw the red buses all over the place. They have tours of the west side of the park and tours of the east side of the park.

Red Bus Tour Glacier National Park Montana

What a classy ride!

Sometimes we saw them in groups of two or three. With the top of the bus rolled back, folks could stand up inside to take pics of the mountains with a totally unobstructed view. This seemed like the best way to enjoy this incredible drive, as the traffic can be pretty intense. Why not leave the driving to someone else?

Three Red Bus Tours Glacier National Park Montana

We saw the red buses everywhere!

Of course, there are many ways to enjoy the Going to the Sun Road, and driving it in a Led Zeppelin van looked pretty cool too.

Stairway to Heaven on the Going to the Sun Road

Take a drive up the Stairway to Heaven on the Going to the Sun Raod!

The views of Saint Mary Lake on the east side are just gorgeous, and we marveled at the ever changing colors of the water and the sky as the storms rolled in and out.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake – teal blue water under misty gray skies.

One of the nice things about driving your own vehicle (especially if you have a sweet hubby who chauffeurs you around) is that you can stop in every single pullout and see what’s there. We found wildflowers blooming on the banks of Saint Mary Lake.

Wildflowers Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Pretty flowers throw a splash of color in the greenery.

At the beginning of the Going to the Sun Road, we were greeted by tall, craggy, gray mountains that didn’t have a whole lot of snow on their peaks.

Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

Going to the Sun!!

As the road twisted and turned and rose higher, the mountains grew taller too, and they were dressed in their snowy white best. The road snuck right through a mountain at one point too!

Tunnel Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

The Going to the Sun Road has snowy peaks and cool tunnels!

The temperatures quickly cooled as we climbed higher, and the snow on the highest peaks got thicker.

Snowcapped mountains Glacier National Park Montana

Mid-June in Glacier National Park!

Near the top, we found ourselves rounding a tight curve that took in an incredible view of the vivd green valley floor. What a setting!

Happy camper Glacier National Park Montana

The views down into the valleys from the Going to the Sun Road are stunning.

There were patches of snow on the ground in the valley, and the tall evergreens seemed miniscule so far below us.

Snow and trees Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

Patches of snow were tucked between the trees in the valley.

In 1995, Waterton-Glacier National Park was named a World Heritage Site.

A century earlier, America and Canada joined hands across the border to to unite their adjacent National Parks, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, USA.

12,000 years ago, thick, moving slabs of ice and snow — glaciers – carved the valleys between these towering mountains, giving them a distinctive U-shape.

Glacier valleys Glacier National Park Montana

Eons ago, glaciers carved wonderful U-shaped valleys.

Waterton-Glacier National Park is referred to as the “Crown of the Continent,” and no wonder. The spiky mountains that encircle the valleys and lakes look like a crown.

This area also straddles the Continental Divide, the ridge that runs north-south down the continent and separates the water flow through the eastern states provinces from that going through the western ones. The water that spills down the mountains from the Continental Divide in streams and rivers heads towards the two opposite and very distant oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Happy Campers Glacier National Park Montana

Happy campers on the Crown of the Continent.

Far below us, tucked between the cliffs and grassy slopes and pine trees, we spotted a waterfall that was about a quarter inch tall from our vantage point. No doubt this is a tall cascade that plunges down with a thunderous roar.

Waterfall Glacier National Park Montana

Far below us we saw a tiny waterfall.
A zoom lens brings it in close!

We found another waterfall right alongside the Going to the Sun road near the top of the continent’s crown. This one was wide and shallow, and it scurried this way and that as it rushed downhill between the rocks.

Waterfall Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

We explored a beautiful wide waterfall right by the road.

Up near the visitors center at Logan Pass, the snow was still very deep in places.

Thick Snow Glacier National Park Montana

Mark stands by a wall of snow at the visitors center.

Snow covered much of the ground, and it was really fun to follow the little animal tracks in the snow until they disappeared into round and deep holes. We didn’t see anyone peeking out of their burrows, but we knew they were under there. We threw a few snowballs at each other too!

Snow Glacier National Park Montana

The Going to the Sun Road had just opened at Logan Pass when we were there in mid-June!

There are three entrances to Glacier National Park on the east side. The Going to the Sun Road starts/ends in Saint Mary, but 37 miles south of there is the entrance at Two Medicine, near the town of East Glacier Park Village.

Two Medicine is home to a fabulous historic log building that was once part of the Two Medicine Chalet rustic vacation destination built by the Great Northern Railway in the early 1900’s. Today it is just the Two Medicine Store, but it offers a little bit of everything to visitors.

From souvenirs to guidebooks, hiking gear and tourist info, they also serve fancy fluffy lattes and yummy lunch fare and bottled microbrew beer. This cute cabin in the middle of nowhere has everything the modern hiker needs!

The Lodge at Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana

This simple log building serves up cheap beer and lattes as well as yummy lunches and souvenirs.

We were shocked at how reasonable the prices were too, especially after visiting the village of Waterton in the heart of Waterton Lakes National Park where the prices of certain essential food items (beer) were more than double the norm.

We were also very intrigued to chat with our latte barista and find out she was a college student from Colorado who was working at the store as a summer job. Her boyfriend was also working a summer job nearby at Amtrak’s East Glacier Park station.

People often wonder how to make a living while RVing full-time. One option is to get fun seasonal jobs at popular tourist destinations. You just have to be as much of a go-getter as a college kid and be willing to do things like make espresso drinks or work at a train depot!

Inside the lodge at Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana

Inside the historic Two Medicine Store.

Mark had just purchased a Rokinon 12 mm lens for his camera, and he was absolutely loving the very wide angles that it could capture. He also found it made fantastic starbursts, so he had a wide-angle-starburst theme going for a lot of his photos at Two Medicine.

Starburst Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana

A fiery sun shines on Two Medicine Lake.

Two Medicine Lake is a beauty. We wanted to get out on it for the little boat ride that goes across, but we ended up saving that treat for our next visit!

Beach Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana

Two Medicine offers Glacier National Park beauty with a bit of peace and solitude to go with.

There are lots of canoe rentals, and this lake would be a great place for a kayak too, especially in the mornings before the wind picks up.

Canoes Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana

Rental canoes wait for a ride at Two Medicine.

Besides camera-created starbursts in the sky, we also loved seeing the stunning crepuscular rays at sunset when the sun lit the sky on fire.

RV in sunset Glacier National Park Montana

The changeable weather at Glacier National Park created some wonderful sunrises and sunsets.

On the morning we left Glacier National Park, the gods treated us to some unbelievable theatrics in the heavens. It began innocently enough with a beautiful pastel sunrise over the mountains. The thick forest of dead trees below seemed to mirror the shades of gray in the heavy moisture-laden clouds.

Sunrise over dead trees Glacier National Park Montana

Storm clouds mirror the dead gray forest while pink shades dance in the sky.

As we drove, the sky began to turn wild shades of yellow and orange, and heavy rain fell from the clouds in the distance. We pulled over the enjoy the spectacle and were stunned by the light show that followed.

RV in dawn stormy skies Glacier National Park Montana

As we were leaving, the sky went wild.

The rising sun cut across the valley and lit the mountains in the distance with soft orange hues while rain fell from black clouds. Suddenly a brilliant rainbow appeared.

RV in rainbow stormy skies Glacier National Park Montana


We ran around like mad snapping photos, and as if in joyful response to our excitement, the rainbow got brighter and brighter.

RV under rainbow Glacier National Park Montana

The rainbow seemed to jump out of the clouds!

Then a second rainbow appeared outside the first one. This surely meant double good luck — but which one led to the pot of gold??

RV in a double rainbow Montana

And then there were two rainbows, one inside the other.

The outer rainbow eventually faded, so we knew it wasn’t that one! Off in the distance the remaining rainbow seemed to fall right into the heart of the valley below.

Rainbow Glacier National Park Montana

The rainbow ultimately aims right at the pot of gold down in the valley at Glacier National Park.

As clouds slowly parted and we made our way back to our buggy, we were breathless with excitement. What a sensational light show that had been.

Rainbow Glacier National Park Montana

The rainbow lands in the middle of the forest of dead trees, promising a new beginning.

We loved our visits to Glacier National Park this year, both the west side and on the east side. If you have a hankering to take an RV trip there too, there are more links for planning your adventure below.

Never miss a post — it’s free!

More info about the east side of Glacier National Park:

Other blog posts from our RV travels to Glacier National Park:

Other blog posts from our travels where the Sky went Wild

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

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Glacier National Park’s Quieter Side – Saint Mary

June 2016 – After nearly six weeks in the Canadian Rockies, it felt funny to cross over the border with our trailer and be “home” again in America. And what a gorgeous spot we landed in — the east side of Glacier National Park in Montana! We were welcomed home with some incredible sunrises and sunsets.

RV at sunset in Montana

The mountain clouds gave us some incredible sunrises and sunsets.

Glacier National Park is joined with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park just over the border from the eastern side of Glacier National Park to create Waterton-Glacier National Park, and the beautiful scenery around St. Mary Lake was very reminiscent of the vivid blues and towering mountains we had been enjoying in Waterton Lakes National Park for the last two weeks.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake is reminiscent of Upper Waterton Lake just over the border in Canada.

There are three entrances to the eastern side of Glacier National Park, one at Many Glacier, one at St. Mary and one at Two Medicine.

Glacier National Park’s eastern side is adjacent to the Black Foot Indian Reservation, so the communities have a distinctly Indian flavor. We were amused to see a series of teepees set up for visitors who wanted to camp the way the Indians used to.

Indian Teepees in East Glacier Montana

Tired of your RV? Try a teepee!

The main entrance to Glacier National Park’s eastern side is at the tiny community of Saint Mary where the eastern half of the Going to the Sun Road that bisects the park from west to east comes to an end after passing by stunning Saint Mary Lake.

St Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake

There are many different hikes in Glacier National Park on both the eastern and western sides and in the middle too! We were on the hunt for wildflowers, and a ranger told us there were some beauties on the Beaver Pond Loop trail right by the ranger’s station at the St. Mary entrance.

So we set out on that trail behind a mom and her three year old daughter who was a real trooper. This is a flat and easy hike that took us out towards the bright blue lake.

Beaver Pond Loop Hike Glacier National Park Montana

The easy Beaver Pond Loop hike is not notable or exotic or a signature hike, but we enjoyed it very much.

The ranger was right about the flowers. They weren’t in thick abundance in vast fields the way we’ve seen in some photos of Saint Mary Lake, but they were definitely there, scattered about the meadows.

Wildflowers Glacier National Park Montana

Wildflowers were in bloom… wonderful!

Lupine wildflower East Glacier National Park Montana

A pretty lupine (“loopin”)

The flowers were so pretty it was impossible not to sit down among them.

Little girl in the flowers East Glacier National Park Montana

Simple pleasures.

Daisy blooming East Glacier National Park Montana St Mary


The trail also took us through some nice stands of aspen and other wooded settings. Mark was totally in his element. He is a woods guy and a true tree hugger.

Tree hugger Glacier National Park Montana

Mark embraces his roots.

The most beautiful parts of the trail were a few off-shoots that went down to the pebbly beaches on Saint Mary Lake.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake has the lovely teal blue color created by glaciers.

The wind was quite strong and small waves lapped the beach, one after another.

Sitting at Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

The strong wind kept the waves coming.

The hike crossed the meadows before turning into the woods and then delivering us to the beach again.

Hiking Beaver Pond Loop Trail Glacier National Park Montana

Hiking across the meadows.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

What a view!

Near the end, we came across the original Park Ranger’s cabin for the eastern side of Glacier National Park. Built in 1913, the stories on the plaques told amazing tales of what it was like to live in this remote outpost with nothing but nature all around back in those days.

Ranger's cabin St Mary East Glacier National Park Montana

Back in the 1910’s, this is where the ranger and his family lived. No car, no stores…

One of the early rangers, Chance Beebe, went out hiking on patrol one day (there were no roads for cars in those days, and he preferred hiking to riding a horse). His wife and child were back at the cabin patiently waiting for him to return.

Suddenly, she heard something rattling around up in the attic of the log cabin. It was a mountain lion! He had jumped in from a tree through the open attic window!! Luckily, the mountain lion eventually went on his way, and she and her child were okay. When she told her husband about it later, he knew she wasn’t making it up when he saw lion paw prints in the dust in the attic!

The attic window has a wooden door covering it now, but the ground level window gives a glimpse of the simple life lived by the ranger’s family 100 years ago.

Ranger's house St Mary Glacier National Park Montana

Life was so rustic, the ranger’s wife discovered a mountain lion in the attic. Yikes!

One of the duties for rangers, both then and now, was to keep an eye on wildfires and try to extinguish them. In recent years, due in large part to mismanagement of the forests and wooded areas for a century, wildfires have become particularly intense.

Towards the end of the Beaver Pond Loop hike we came across a stand of trees that had been bleached silver by the sun during the years since a wildfire swept through the area. The tree trunks swayed and creaked in the breeze, as if they were talking with one another.

Live and dead trees East Glacier National Park Montana

Remnants of wildfires are prominently visible in all of the National Parks, and we found a ghostly tree community that was ravaged a while ago.

It was eerie and beautiful at the same time. We felt as though we had come across a community of ghostly tree spirits standing in each other’s company today just as they had for decades, but without even a hint an animal’s footsteps or the faintest rustle of a leaf.

Wildfire dead trees Glacier National Park Montana Saint Mary

The tree tops bent and swayed and knocked into each other and made wonderfully eerie noises.

We stayed among these skinny souls for a long time, looking for ways to capture the wistful beauty of this silver world.

Dead trees Glacier National Park St Mary Lake Montana

There was a special aura here that gave us a feeling of reverence.

The most famous part of Glacier National Park is the Going to the Sun Road, and we drove it many times during our stay. For a few days, the weather was misty and soggy, and the towering mountains were as mysterious as they were majestic.

Going to the Sun Road Saint Mary Glacier National Park Montana

The Going to the Sun Road looked more like the Driving Into the Mist Road.

On July 21, 2015, a wildfire erupted right along this road, sending huge plumes of smoke in the air and torching the forest. Again, we found ourselves wandering through wildfire devastation, but this one had happened just one year prior. And again, we found ourselves witness to an unexpected beauty.

The trees were wet from the mist and rain, and they still bore the scars of charring from the fire. The bark was peeling off many of them, revealing rich brown wood beneath, and tiny hints of life grew at their feet.

Stand of dead trees from Reynolds Creek Wildfire Glacier National Park

Last year’s fire was a fresh memory for these trees.

One of the surprise blessings of a big wildfire like this along a famous scenic road is that it opens up the view.

As the years have gone by, many of the most scenic roads in America’s National Park system have lost their views because the trees that were saplings when the road was built have grown tall and strong — and totally blocked the view.

We found this was true on much of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we have seen it on many other scenic drives as well. So, although our hearts broke at the way the woods were stripped of life in a matter of days last summer, we loved being able to see the lake between the remaining trunks!

Continuing on, around one bend we noticed a thicket of bright blue wildflowers that jumped out from the misty backgdrop of mountains. They were growing right along the rocky cliffs.

Wildflowers on a cliff Glacier National Park St Mary Lake Montana

The gods threw a splash of color onto our gray day with wildflowers growing on a rocky cliff.

We snuck closer and saw they were growing against orange lichen covered rocks. Mother Nature had chosen a very colorful palette for her handiwork once again.

Wildflowers on cliffs Glacier National Park Montana

Bright blue flowers and orange lichen on the rocks. Wonderful!

There were several different types of blue flowers, each a slightly different shade. We loved them all!

Wildflowers Glacier National Park Montana

The wildflowers at Glacier National Park were delightful.

The East side of Glacier National Park is the much less visited side. The villages on the east side are tiny, with just a few stores and family restaurants for the tourists. But in many ways it is the more beautiful side.

Although the Going to the Sun Road is not a good road for any but the smallest RVs, it is easy to reach Saint Mary and the other eastern villages from the western side of Glacier National Park with an RV simply by driving from west to east on Route 2 south of the park.

It is also an ideal jumping off point for a visit to eye-popping Waterton Lakes National Park just a few miles over the Canadian border.

RV Sunset Glacier National Park Saint Mary Montana

The east side of Glacier National Park is the less visited side, but it may be the more beautiful too!

There are more RV trip planning links below…

Never miss a post — it’s free!

A Little More info About Saint Mary and the East side of Glacier National Park:

RV Camping Options at Saint Mary:

Blog posts from our RV travels to Waterton-Glacier National Park:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

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Glacier National Park in Montana – Mirrors at Lake McDonald

May 2016 – After enjoying a bit of the cowboy life and ranching life of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, and then taking a zippy day trip over to charming Philipsburg, we took our RV north to Glacier National Park. This park is tucked right up against the Canadian border in northern Montana.

Lake McDonald Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park, Montana

It was early May, and the main road through the park, the Going to the Sun Road, wasn’t completely open yet due to avalanche activity in the appropriately named Avalanche Creek area.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

Dawn lights the snowcapped peaks at Lake McDonald

But the road was open as far as Avalanche, so we took full advantage of doing a few drives up and down its length.

Dawn Glacier National Park Lake McDonald Montana

Early morning reflections.

We had been to Glacier National Park once before, back in the late summer of 2007, and we had dashed through the park so fast that we didn’t even notice the large and beautiful Lake McDonald that greets visitors coming in from the southwestern entrance. Oh my!!

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

Lake McDonald.

The early morning air was very brisk when we drove alongside this stunning lake one morning, and the trees stood utterly motionless and silent. Hardly a breath of wind stirred their leaves.

Trees at Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

Trees hung over the shore at Lake McDonald

The thick woods were lined with a lush carpet of moss, and the sun filtered between the trees.

Trees on Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

The woods were thick alongside the Going to the Sun Road

The water was like a mirror, reflecting everything in its depths.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park RV travel


And it was so clear that we could see each and every stone on the bottom perfectly.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

The lake created perfect reflections with a few rocks peeking through from under the water

We stopped at McDonald Falls where the water coming down from the mountains rushed past us in a blur.

McDonald Falls Glacier National Park Going to the Sun Road Montana

McDonald Falls was moving fast!

A few wildflowers were just starting to peek their heads out here and there.

Wildflower Glacier National Park Going to the Sun Road Montana

Flowers were just beginning to bloom.

It was one of those ideal mornings that you wish could last forever.

When we got to Avalanche, we noticed that cyclists were unloading their bikes from their cars to ride a few miles further up the road. Because the road was closed to cars up ahead, they could do this wonderful bike ride without having to share the road with anyone but other bicyclists. What fun! We hadn’t brought our bikes this time, but made a mental note for the future.

This pre-season bike ride opportunity is similar to cycling the McKenzie Pass outside Bend, Oregon before it opens to motor vehicle traffic, something we had really enjoyed doing two years prior.

RV on Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park Montana

Only the first third of the Going to the Sun Road was open to motor vehicles.

Nearby, the Hungry Horse Reservoir made for another lovely day trip. Again, we were blessed with crisp air and sunny skies.

Hungry Horse Reservoir Montana

Snowcapped mountains framed Hungry Horse Reservoir.

The road winds along the south fork of the Flathead River and along the reservoir, offering pretty views of the river and reservoir the whole way. We got out at one point and hiked down to a pebble beach where a series of tree stumps made for an eerie scene.

A man sitting in a camp chair at the trail head and working on his laptop while soaking in the view of the river told us that he remembered the river before it was dammed, back when those tree stumps were towering trees at the water’s edge.

Tree stumps at Hungry Horse Reservoir Montana

Before the river was dammed, there were tall trees on the shore.

Crossing the Hungry Horse Dam, we got a terrific view of the mountains backing the reservoir.

View from Hungry Horse Reservoir Montana

There were some beautiful views at Hungry Horse Reservoir

This would be a great road for a bike ride too, and as we stood staring at the lake a cyclist suddenly zoomed by, his eyes fixed on the pretty view too!

Cyclist checks out the view at Hungry Horse Reservoir Montana

A cyclist zoomed by

But it was Lake McDonald over in Glacier National Park that kept drawing us back. We drove the Going to the Sun road as far as we could a second time, late one afternoon, hoping for a knock-your-socks-off sunset to top it all off.

The pebble beach at the Lake McDonald Lodge was very beautiful, and we got a kick out of exploring the cabins at the Lodge, many of which were in the process of spring cleaning for the summer season.

Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park Montana

Late afternoon light lit up the shores of Lake McDonald.

But we thought we might get a better view of the lake at sunset back at Apgar Village where there is a boat ramp that marches right out into the lake and offers a splendid panorama of the mountains.

Dawn at Glacier National Park Montana Lake McDonald Apgar Village

At Apgar Village there is a dock that goes right out into the lake.

We poked around on the shore waiting for this oh-so-sensational sunset to happen.

Apgar Village Glacier National Park Montana

That colorful sunset should be along any minute…

The lake undulated reflections of the mountains in shades of silver and blue.

View of Lake McDonald from Apgar Glacier National Park Montana

Silver and blue hues shimmer on Lake McDonald at dusk.

A couple came down to the dock with a photographer and did a bunch of romantic shots with the mountain backdrop behind them. They had had the same idea of catching this majestic view at the golden hour, sealing their undying love with a beautiful photo at Nature’s golden hour. But the skies just didn’t deliver that night, and the best we all got was a hint of pink.

No matter. This place is gorgeous anyway!!

Romance on Lake McDonald Glacier National Park Montana

Romance on Lake McDonald

We were on a mission to continue our RV travels north, so we didn’t stick around for the Going to the Sun Road to open up all the way to the top a few weeks later. But we loved what we saw and will hopefully be back for some wildflowers later in the season.

RV camping in Montana


This year we traveled north from Arizona ahead of the crowds by just a bit, and it made a big difference in many ways. Not only were there few crowds (and fewer people in general), but there was still snow on the mountains. However, the flip side was that the nights were often cold and many days barely got warm. Also, we arrived before the rangers had opened certain gates and attractions for the season.

But I have to say, there’s a special intimacy to a place like Glacier National Park when you have the scenery to yourself, even if you’re shivering!

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Philipsburg, Montana – One of America’s Prettiest Painted Places!

April 2016 – We have loved all of our RV travels in Montana, although we’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to see there. Most of our adventures have been focused in the Bitterroot Valley area, largely because we have very special friends who live there.

Philipsburg Montana main street

Philipsburg, Montana, is a delightful town that is a must see for Montana visitors.

However, in our very first year on the road, 2007, we stumbled across the small town of Philipsburg by accident, and we were absolutely charmed. We were in a hurry, though, so we stayed only long enough to say, “Wow, what a cute place!” grab a cup of coffee at the Daily Grind, and then rush on.

This year, our friends and hosts in the Bitterroot suggested we all take a daytrip over there to check it out. We were absolutely delighted at the prospect of seeing it again.

Philipsburg Montana cute main street town

The town’s residents have lovingly restored the buildings on the main drag.

Philipsburg, Montana, is one of those special small towns that takes quiet pride in its historic architecture and has gone out of its way to put on its Sunday best.

Flowers in Philipsburg Montana

Flowers in front of a store herald the arrival of spring in Montana

It is the county seat of Granite County and has a population of 840, which is about 150 people less than it had in 1890!!

Kaiser House Philipsburg Montana

Every building is unique.

Wandering two blocks off the main drag, we found the Granite County Jail. Lots of western towns have old jails of various kinds, but this one is rather special because it is still operating as a jail. Inside, next to the jail cell, was a white board with the list of arrival dates and lengths of stay for various prisoners!

 Jail at Philipsburg Montana

Granite County Jail – Housing the wicked since 1896!

What we loved most, though, was the beautiful paint jobs on the antique Victorian era buildings. We didn’t know it at the time, but Philipsburg is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Philipsburg Montana cute main street and pretty buildings

Such a great paint job!!

There is an artsy flair to this town, and the fork and spoon on the shutters of Montana Joe’s Silver Mill Saloon in the McCleod Building caught our eye. Not to mention the pretty pink and blue colors!

Painted Victorian building Philipsburg Montana

No paint can was left unexplored when these buildings
were renovated!

Fork and spoon on shutters at Philipsburg Montana

A fork and spoon on the shutters welcome diners at Montana Joe’s Silver Mill Saloon

They had even perched a table and chairs on the outside wall. What fun!

Painted building in Philipsburg Montana


We got such a kick out of strolling through this little town. Only later when I was checking up on “P-burg” on the internet did I discover that Philipsburg has been named a finalist in the list of America’s Prettiest Painted Places and also won an award from Sunset Magazine in June, 2015, for Best Municipal Makeover!

Main street buildings of Philipsburg Montana


Philipsburg’s roots are in silver mining, and like all mining towns, it has seen its ups and downs over the decades since it was founded in 1867.

It went through a very unhappy phase in the 1970’s and 80’s with boarded up buildings, empty houses, and an uncertain future. But today, it is as lively and cheerful and inviting as a town can be.

Philipsburg Brewery Home of Coffee Porter Phillipsburg Montana

Home of the Philipsburg Brewing Company

In the corner of the bright yellow Sayrs building (built in 1888), the Philipsburg Brewing Company set up shop in 2012.

We had to stop in for a brew, of course, and, oh my, they have a delicious Coffee Porter.

Philipsburg Brewery Philipsburg Montana Coffee Porter

Come on in! The Coffee Porter is awesome!!

Philipsburg Brewing Company has won a lot of national awards, and some are modestly hung around the neck of a mountain goat on the wall. This is a place we will definitely be coming back to so we sample their other brews!!!

Mountain Goat at Philipsburg Brewery Montana

Philipsburg Brewing Company is modest about their success.

Afterwards, we took a swing past lovely Georgetown Lake. The ice on the lake was just starting to thaw at the edges. What a beautiful spot!

Georgetown Lake Montana

Georgetown Lake

If your RV travels take you to Montana, be sure you make a stop in Philipsburg. But don’t buzz through too fast!! This is a town that is worth a leisurely visit.

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A Glimpse of Cowboy Life and Cattle Ranching in Montana

April 2016 – During our stay with our friends in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, not only did I get a chance to ride a horse across glorious pastures and fields, but we both got to experience a different way of life that is a very special.

Fifth wheel trailer RV and a horse

We learned a little about ranching and horses during our stay in Montana!

For starters, we got to see how horses put on their shoes.

A horse gets new shoes in Montana

Snipper gets new shoes.

Snipper needed new shoes after he’d spent a winter running around barefoot in the snow, and his trusty shoe man, Jake, came around one morning to fit him with a new pair.

Horse gets new shoes in Montana

First, the hoof has to be cleaned and trimmed a bit.

He worked quickly and easily, cracking jokes the whole time. There are a lot of very funny things you can say when you’re working at the back end of a horse.

Horse gets new shoes on Montana ranch

Jake kept us all laughing as he went about his work.

In the bed of his pickup, he had an array of different size shoes and all kinds of tools for the job.


Tools of the trade for a horseshoer.

Watching him file down each hoof and hammer on a new shoe, we felt like we had been transported back in time to another era.

Measuring horseshoes for Montana horse

Horse shoes come in all sizes.

Suddenly, he suggested that Mark give it a try. He took off his chaps and gave them to Mark to put on. Then Mark lifted Snipper’s foot and tried to steady it between his knees. It’s not as easy as it looks!!

Learning to shoe a horse in Montana

Mark tries his hand at the job… not so easy!!

And what did Snipper think of all this?

Horse making a face

Snipper thinks this is all rather funny!

Of course, he’d rather roll around in the dirt and shake the dust off!

Horse shaking dust off his body

New shoes are nice, but a roll in the dirt is even better!!

Riding a horse was a special event for me, but it is all in a day’s work at Carl’s cattle ranch down the road. He and his hired man Jack and sometimes our friend Bob routinely round up the cows on horseback to move them from one field to another or to gather them all together for inspection or treatment.

Horse saddles and cowboy boots_

Stirrups and boots for cowboy work.

Every cow on Carl’s cattle ranch has a single job to do: deliver and raise a baby calf each year. In the summertime, a (very lucky) bull is brought to the ranch, and his job is to get all the cows pregnant.

The cows are already raising last year’s calves when this happens, and they keep them until October when the calves are sold and shipped off. This is a very sad day for everyone on the ranch, as the cows all mourn their loss and moo loud and long for a few days.

But they are happily pregnant, and in March, the cows all give birth to their new calves, and the cycle starts again.

Ranch life in the Bitterroot Valley Montana

We were fortunate to spend time on a cattle ranch where the cows are lovingly cared for.

When you have a ranch, you’ve gotta have ranch dogs, and two of them liked to catch a ride on the four wheeler whenever it got driven around.

Ranch dogs in Montana

The canine ranch hands get a ride.

But the alpha dog on this ranch is Taiga. She is a beautiful Australian shepherd that we met as a young puppy seven years earlier when she had been on the ranch for just a week. She has grown into an incredibly loyal and obedient and responsible dog.

Cattle dog on Montana Ranch_

Little pup Taiga is all grown up now.

I was floored when Carl yelled out to her, “Go get that calf!” and she did exactly that!

Calf on Montana ranch

A special baby calf.

This ranch is loaded with momma cows and their baby calves, and Taiga has a strong mothering instinct too. She sometimes mothers the calves a little bit.

Cattle dog mothering a calf on a Montana ranch

Taiga gives the baby calf a little lick.

Usually cows have just one calf each year, but this year two of Carl’s cows gave birth to twins. When cows live in small fields, they can keep track of their twins and raise them both. But on large grazing pastures like Carl’s ranch, the moms can lose track of two separate babies if they start wandering off in different directions and one disappears behind a hill or something.

So Carl and Jack hand-reared two calves this spring, one twin from each mother cow, and they bottle fed each of them a special calf formula twice a day.

Preparing to bottle feed calves on a Montana ranch

The orphan calves are bottle fed a special formula that gets warmed up a bit.

For Carl, bottle feeding a calf is a piece of cake, and he can do it one handed.

Bottle feeding a calf on a ranch in Montana

Bottle feeding a calf is easy, right?

He explained that sometimes an orphan calf can be given to a surrogate mom who just lost her calf for some reason. The easiest way to make the mom accept the baby is to tie the skin of her dead calf across the back of the new adoptee. The mother cow will recognize her calf’s smell and will readily accept the new baby and raise it as her own.

But none of Carl’s cows lost their calves this year, so these little guys were orphans. One had a brown face and one had white patches on its face, and both were very hungry and eager to gulp down their milk.

A calf gets bottle fed on a Montana ranch


Carl asked if we’d like to try bottle feeding the baby calves, and we jumped at the chance. Just like the horse shoeing, though, it was a little more challenging than it looked. The calves were very cute, but towards the end they had milk all over their faces and we had to clean up a bit too!!

Bottle feeding a calf on a ranch in Montana


These two little orphans needed special care and couldn’t go through the summer on the ranch without a mom to watch over them, so they needed new homes and went off to an auction while we were there.

Calves at a livestock auction in Missoula Montana

The little calves go to the Livestock Auction.

We hooked up with them at the Livestock Auction in Missoula. We saw a few hogs get sold, and then a blind calf and his mother cow were sold, and then our two little bottle fed calves came up for sale.

Calves at Livestock Auction in Missoula Montana

On to new pastures!

The auctioneer began his wildly fast patter and sang out the virtues of each calf and their weights and starting bids. He continued in a blast of unintelligible chatter until suddenly one was sold and ushered out of the pen. He resumed, and moments later the other was sold and scampered out of the pen too.

Hay bales on a ranch in Montana

From horses to cows and calves, we loved our Montana ranch visit.

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Montana’s Bitterroot Valley – Elk, Horses, Ranches & More!

April 2016 – After towing our fifth wheel through the beautiful backcountry roads of northern Utah into southeastern Idaho and on up along the Salmon River, we continued on US-93 into Montana’s beautiful Bitterroot Valley.

Bitterroot River Bitterroot Valley Montana

Montana’s Bitterroot River

In Montana we got out on our bikes and toured some of the winding dirt roads. What peace and tranquility we found!

Mountain biking Bitterroot Valley Montana

Our bikes took us on some beautiful back roads.

This is cattle ranching country, and we had a chance to visit with some cows along the way.

Mountain biking with cows on a Montana ranch


Special friends of ours live in the Bitterroot Valley, and they took us on a driving tour of some of the scenic back roads.

Cows grazing Bitterroot Valley Montana

Beautiful scenery in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

Farms and ranches dot the very scenic landscape.

Ranch land Stevensville Montana


Cows grazing Bitterroot Valley Montana


Spring trees were in full bloom.

Spring flowering trees in blossom Bitterroot Valley Montana

Trees were covered with flowers.

Garden flowers were also in bloom, and we saw some wonderful tulips.

Spring tulips in bloom in Montana

Tulips greet the day in a pretty garden.

We have visited the Bitterroot Valley before, and one of our favorite towns is Hamilton. Four years ago when we were in Hamilton, we stopped at the Big Creek Coffee Roasters and met the owner, Randy, who, at the time, had just left a successful career as an attorney and Justice of the Peace to start his own coffee roasting business. What a wonderful change of pace!

He had been in business for only a month way back then. So, we were thrilled to see he was not only still in business today but that his business was thriving.

Big Creek Coffee Roasters Hamilton Montana

Big Creek Coffee Roasters has quite a following and ships nationwide!

Unlike most little coffee shops, Big Creek Coffee Roasters actually roasts their coffee beans right on the premises, and Randy knows an awful lot about coffee. He had told me on our first visit four years earlier that the best way to brew a fine cup of coffee was to use a Melitta coffee brewer and Melitta filters and to pour almost boiling water over the grounds.

This is the way I had always made coffee — my family brewed it that way when I was growing up — and it is a great way to go if you live in an RV off the grid on solar power because it doesn’t require any electricity.

Big Creek Coffee Roasters Hamilton Montana

A great spot for coffee in Montana!

This time around, Randy taught me about coffee storage containers. I’d always kept my coffee in whatever bag it came in. Randy suggested I try an Airscape Coffee Cannister which has a double sealing system. There’s an airtight inner seal that you push down onto the grounds to squeeze out all the air, and there’s an airtight lid too. It holds about 2 lbs. of coffee and it has been keeping the delicious Barrister’s Blend of coffee I bought from him very fresh!

Airscape Coffee Cannister keeps coffee beans fresh

The inner lid (left) gets pressed down against the grounds inside the cannister.
The outer lid (right) makes a second airtight seal at the top.

While we were there, a group from Ohio walked in the door for a cuppa joe. It turned out they were enthusiastic mail order customers who had fallen in love with Big Creek Coffee Roasters while on vacation in Montana years back!

Early each morning, long before it was time for coffee, we kept hearing the familiar and haunting call of a California Quail. These guys’ cousins, the Gambel’s quail, are common in the Arizona desert. We were surprised that some California Quail now live in Montana!

California Quail Stevensville Montana

Hey, what are you doing here??!!

It was a thrill to see a little California quail in Montana, but an even more thrilling animal encounter awaited us as we drove down the highway one afternoon. Out of the corner of our eyes we saw a herd of elk circling each other in a frenzy by the side of the road. Curious, we turned around and pulled over to see what was up.

Suddenly, the herd bolted across the highway.

Elk on road Bitterroot Valley Montana

Wow, look at that!

Luckily, the cars in both directions stopped and let the herd pass.

Elk crossing road Bitterroot Valley Montana


They crossed the bike path and then began jumping over the fence into a farm field.

Elk jumping fence Bitterroot Valley Montana

The fence is no problem for these high jumpers!

What a magical sight it was to see them leaping over the fence one by one!

Elk herd jumps fence in Bitterroot Valley


Finally, they’d all gotten over the fence, and they started running at full tilt across the field. What a sight!!

Elk herd runs across the Bitterroot Valley Montana

And off they go!!

Our friend Bob is a longtime horse owner, and while we were visiting he wanted to make sure I got out on a horseback ride.

We had tried this once before, with mixed results, and we were both eager to give it another go.

Horse and owner in montana

Bob and his beautiful horse, Snipper.

The first order of business was to make sure I looked a little like a cowgirl with a proper hat.

Cowgirl in Montana

Can this cowgirl ride a horse?

Bob has two horses, Snipper, who stole my heart, and Little Buck, who is very calm and good for a rank beginner like me to ride. Bob showed me how to steer with the reins, and Little Buck responded to my every movement. It was like steering a car. How easy!

I laughed out loud at what a cinch riding a horse was and inadvertently squeezed my legs together. Oops! The horse took off like a shot! Don’t nudge a horse with your feet by accident, because that means Go!

Horseback riding in the Bitterroot Valley

Ready to ride!

Once I showed Bob I could do a U-turn and go and stop as needed, we started off on the most beautiful horseback ride together.

Horseback riding in the Bitterroot Valley


The pastures stretched to the horizon where the mountain peaks reached up to touch the sky.

Riding horses in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

What a place to ride!

My extremely patient horse tolerated all my miscues and mistakes, and we threaded our way through a forest of ponderosa pine trees. We got all the way through to the open fields on the other side without losing either me or my hat!

Riding a horse in the Bitterroot Valley Montana

I think I’m getting the hang of this!

I can totally understand how people fall in love with horses and riding. This was really fun!

I also now have a huge appreciation for John Wayne’s horsemanship skills. How he managed to tear across the desert at a full gallop with the reins in his teeth and guns firing in each hand is beyond me!!

horse love in Montana Bitterroot Valley

Snipper loves attention, and I loved giving it to him!

If you are traveling through Montana with an RV, I can’t guarantee you’ll see a herd of elk running across the highway or that you’ll have a chance to ride across the pastures on horseback, but US-93 through the Bitterroot Valley will take you past some wonderful towns and some beautiful scenery! More info and links below…

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Ennis, MT & Earthquake Lake – Small Town Charm & Airstream Trailers!

Ennis Montana elk bugling statue

Ennis, Montana

Mid August, 2012 – After leaving Nevada City, MT, we found ourselves buzzing through the small town of Ennis. It was so appealing we just had to stop and look around, and the next thing we knew two days had gone by and we were still in Ennis (population 840!).

Ennis Montna, Ennis Cafe

Cool sign above the Ennis Cafe








This is snow country and hunting country and elk and deer country, and there was vivid evidence of this all around town. We had recently discovered that “antler hunting” is a popular pastime when the elk shed their antlers each year, as the crazily shaped horns can be used for all kinds of intriguing home decorations.  Sure enough, there was a store in town dedicated to all things Antler.

Ennis Montana Fence made of Skis

A picket fence in snow country!

Ennis Montana guns on display in store

Hunting is a favorite activity.



But the little shop that got my interest perked most was CR.eations Yarn Shop, a little boutique store that sold specialty yarns from all kinds of woolly creatures from all over the world.

Ennis Montana Creations Yarn Shop

We found a wonderful yarn shop

Ennis Montana Creations Yarn Shop Cool Front Door

CR.eations has a very cool front door

I love knitting and crocheting and have always found something soothing and sensual about the different kinds of yarns you can work with.  But my needlework days were back when I was a teenager in the 1970’s, popping off sweaters and afghans to ward off those cold New England winters.  It was amazing to see how far yarn has come since then!

CR.eations Yarn Shop Ennis Montana

Christine in her colorful shop of plush yarns

Christine Rodgers is the German-born owner of this shop, and she eagerly showed me her many different wares.  She explained in detail how each yarn was processed, what kinds of animals it came from and what kinds of projects it would be best suited for.  She took me from shelf to shelf, putting soft fluffy skeins in my hands and describing how the wool had been pulled or twisted to create the yarn.  Coarse yarn, silky yarn, thick yarn, thread-like yarn – she has it all.  She even demonstrated the use of a primitive spinning wheel like the one the traditional Zapotec Weavers had shown us in Chiapas, Mexico last spring.

The woolly animals responsible for Christine’s lovely yarns are raised on special farms, but some other furry creatures entertained us right outside the buggy that afternoon.  We got a much needed deluge of rain, and a horse that had been quietly munching grass in the pasture behind our trailer suddenly went berserk, rolling around in the wet grass in a show of unbounded joy.

Ennis Montana Mule Deer

Deer frolicked near the buggy

Just as we were laughing about his crazy behavior a group of deer joined in the sport and soon they were all rubbing their backs in the grass and kicking their legs in the air in glee.

Airstream Trailer Caravan Summer 2012

We saw streams of Airstreams

The small herd of deer hung around quite a bit, and the next morning they wandered past our trailer several times on their way to and from the nearby woods.

Earthquake Lake Montana

Earthquake Lake

We finally tore ourselves away from Ennis and journeyed south towards Earthquake Lake.  We always take note when we see other RVs on the road, but this morning was special: at least twenty or thirty Airstream trailers passed us going in the opposite direction.  It’s uncommon  to see just three or four Airstreams in one day, so after the first half-dozen went by we knew something was up.

Earthquake Lake Montana

Sure enough, when we got to the Earthquake Lake rest area we poked our heads in on a couple in an Airstream and found out we were crossing paths with an Airstream Caravan, an organized 52-day rally of twenty-five trailers that was following Lewis & Clark’s journey.  On this particular day they were coming from Yellowstone in Wyoming and going to Dillon, Montana, but their overall route went across the country, following the explorers’ path.  What a fun way to spend a summer!

We hung around Earthquake Lake for a while and learned a bit of its intriguing history.  We hadn’t known that on the fateful night of August 17, 1959, there was a 7.5 earthquake right there in the Madison RIver Canyon.  In just moments the earth’s crust plunged 19 feet, submerging the north shore of Hebgen Lake (along with all its shoreside cabins) and thrusting the south shore upwards.  The lake became a giant, rocking bathtub, with water sloshing back and forth and over the dam.  28 lives were lost and hundreds of vacationers were trapped as portions of the highway slid underwater.  What a mess.

Views of Earthquake Lake Montana while boondocking in our RV

Earthquake Lake Montana

But today Earthquake Lake is beautiful and tranquil and you can’t even see a hint of the fiery forces beneath the earth’s surface that created such chaos above.

These were our final days in Montana, and it was sad to say goodbye to a state that had taught us so much history and shown us so much beautiful scenery over the past month.  But the lure of the stunning Grand Teton National Park tantalized us and drew us south to Jackson, Wyoming.

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Nevada City, MT – Rebuilding History in a Vanished Ghost Town

Nevada City, Montana

Nevada City, Montana

Early August, 2012 – Just a mile and a half from Virginia City, Montana, lies a similar gold rush ghost town: Nevada City. Curious about Montana’s gold mining history, we rode our bikes over to Nevada City to have a look. The difference between Virginia City and Nevada City is that Virginia City’s layout and historic buildings are essentially the same as they were in the 1860’s. In contrast, Nevada City got dredged out of existence long ago by massive machines that floated downriver and sifted through the riverbed, panning for gold on a colossal scale.

Gold digging dredge Nevada City, MT

Gold digging dredge with 62 buckets for river mud

A dredge similar to the ones used in Alder Gulch — the river that offered up Montana gold to the prospectors of the 1860’s — is one of the first things we saw upon arriving in Nevada City. The way these dredges worked is that as they floated downstream, their conveyor of buckets dug up the riverbed and passed it through “trommels” or enormous sieves that sifted out the rocks and the gold.

Nevada City, MT, row houses

Nevada City, Montana

The refuse was dumped behind the dredge, leaving “tailings” that scarred the landscape forever. Looking at the rusting, hulking mass in the grass today, it is hard to imagine the groaning and creaking and effort put out by this machine as it slowly chewed through the riverbed floor, taking out whole towns in its path, while hardworking men oversaw the operation and maintenance of all its mechanical parts. What a voracious beast!

Nevada City, MT Barber

Barber shop

Nevada City, MT Mercantile

The Mercantile




Nearby Virginia City’s existence today is due largely to the preservation efforts of Charles and Sue Bovey who gradually bought the city’s buildings in the 1940’s. This wasn’t a new hobby for them. They had begun collecting old buildings in Great Falls, Montana, but were eventually asked to move their collection.

Nevada City, MT, Front Porch

A front porch…with wash tubs

Many of their buildings wound up in the “new” Nevada City which they re-assembled to be a recreation of the town that once stood there. We’ve met collectors of Pepsi memorabilia and Pez candies, things that can be housed in a bedroom. But collecting historic buildings was a new one for us!

Nevada City, Mt Boots and Shoes Building

Small buildings in those days…!

These homes aren’t very big, however. We paced out the footprints of several houses and found they were often as small as 12′ x 18′ or so, and the doorways were short, even by my standards!

Nevada City, MT Schoolhouse

Montana’s oldest standing one-room schoolhouse — with a teacher’s apartment out back

Over the years Nevada City has grown to become a repository for old buildings from all over Montana, so it is now a large collection of structures from many eras and in all stages of disintegration. The building I liked most was the little schoolhouse. It was built and used in nearby Twin Bridges and was set up with desks for about 20 tightly packed students (two to a desk). More intriguing than the 15′ x 15′ classroom was the tiny teacher’s apartment out back. It was a single room, about 12′ x 12′, with enough room for a wood stove, a wee table and chair by a single window and a twin bed.

Nevada City, Montana Classroom

The teacher’s apartment is through the back door of the classroom.

Our fifth wheel trailer has more than twice as much square footage! Not to mention hot and cold running water, shower, flush toilet, climate control and modern appliances that those early Montana teachers couldn’t even conceive of. How did they ever make it through those vicious Montana winters in that tiny space?

Nevada City, MT Firehouse

The old firehouse

The folks that ventured out west in those days were very hardy souls. Eking out a living in a tiny cabin in a region that can be buried by snow from as early as September to as late as May seems challenging enough, but many of the miners walked to the Montana gold fields from distant places like Salt Lake City and Denver.

In this day and age of pedometers, where we are urged to get off the couch and take at least 10,000 steps a day — yet still rush to grab the parking spot closest to the supermarket door — it is impossible to imagine walking hundreds of miles to apply for a job.

Nevada City, MT, Victorian House

More upscale living at this address…

A lot of the scenery and stories and buildings of Nevada City and Virginia City made us think of favorite western movies, especially those with Clint Eastwood riding into town on a horse to save the good townspeople from some nasty group of scoundrels. But he always arrived on horseback! He’d slip off the beast with the ease and confidence of a seasoned horseman. No doubt the folks coming to Montana were seasoned horsemen, but owning a horse wasn’t in everyone’s budget. If you wanted to get there to be part of the gold mining action, you walked.


Nevada City, MT Wagon Shop

The “Wagon Shop” used to be the Yellowstone Dining Lodge

Another intriguing building was a cavernous barn-like structure that was loaded to the gills with wagons of every description. From carriages suitable for Cinderella to horse-drawn “buses” that could carry 30 people, to simple hay wagons, every conceivable rolling contraption that could be towed by a horse is in that barn. It turned out that the building itself was originally the dining hall at Yellowstone National Park. The Park Service replaced all the log buildings at the canyon with more modern structures in 1959, so Charles Bovey disassembled it and brought it to his new Nevada City.

Nevada City, MT, Wagons

Everything you need to build or repair a wagon is in this shop!

As we walked through the “town” we could hear the sounds of a player piano and made a bee-line to a building filled with historic automated music making gear of all kinds. One of the player pianos was acting up, and a technician was deep in the bowels of the instrument troubleshooting the problem. We got the sense the museum wasn’t really open, so we left. Unfortunately, I think we missed out on one of the prize displays in Nevada City. Oh well — good reason to go back someday!!

Happily saturated with Montana gold mining history, we made our way from Nevada City to Ennis, Montana, and Earthquake Lake.



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Virginia City, MT – Living History in a Ghost Town

Virginia City, Montana, Court House

Virginia City Court House lit up at night.

Early August, 2012 – The history of Dillon, Montana, a town built on a railroad spur that supplied Montana’s gold camps, intrigued us, but we found the heart of Montana’s history lies in the ghost town of Virginia City.

Hitchhiker Fifth Wheel Trailer

Special effects on our buggy!

We had always thought that the 1850’s gold rush was all about California, but we learned that Montana played its part too, and Virginia City was at the center of it.


Virginia City, Montana, tours in a firetruck

Take a tour in a fire truck

Virginia City was also the spot where Mark took a lot of the photography reading he had been doing and began applying it.  Suddenly some very interesting special effects started emerging from his camera.  What a perfect place to try out all these techniques.

Virginia City, Montana, antique car

History everywhere

Nowadays Virginia City is a tourist town, and you can take a tour around town in a fire truck, a horse drawn carriage or an open-air, narrow gauge rail car.

Virginia City, Montana, narrow guage railroad for tours

Tours are offered on open-air railcars too


Virginia City, Montana, narrow guage rail line

A bumpy ride…

Just 132 full-time residents were living here at the time of the last census, and catering to tourists is a full-time job they all do very well.

Virginia City, Montana, Brewery building

The Brewery was easy to find

Back in the spring of 1863, however, there was nothing out here when nearby Alder Creek turned up some gold in its riverbed.  Suddenly the rush was on.


Virginia City, Montana, historic buildings

By that fall 10,000 people were scattered in the surrounding hills in a series of camps along the river’s edge in an area dubbed “Fourteen Mile City.”  Most were gold miners from California and 30% or so were Chinese.

Virginia City, Montana, historic buildings

Within a year, the Territory of Montana was carved out of the Territory of Idaho, and soon Virginia City was the capitol of Montana and its in-town population swelled to 10,000.  In the next 25 years $90 million of gold (in 1880’s dollars) was removed.

Virginia City, Montana, historic buildings

Gold was the one thing on everyone’s mind in those days, and the currency around town was gold dust valued at $16 to $18 an ounce.  What a way to pay for a beer!

Virginia City, Montana, wooden trim on building tops

Trim detail on the wooden awnings

Virginia City, Montana, ghost town

It’s a ghost town



Life was a little raucous, I suspect.  One fellow wrote in his diary upon his arrival in Virginia City in 1865:  “There was nothing visible to remind a person in the slightest degree that it was Sunday. Every store, saloon, and dancing hall was in full blast.”

Virginia City, Montana, historic wooden sidewalks

Wooden sidewalks

There are now 227 buildings in Virginia City, of which about 100 are historic. We rode our bikes around town and strolled down narrow alleys, enjoying the quirky sights of a bygone era.

Virginia City, Montana, Montana Post newspaper building

The Montana Post was the first newspaper

Virginia City is known for having one of the best collections of mid-nineteenth century commercial buildings, and of course Mark found the old Brewery right away.  This place still sells beer, but it wasn’t open at the moment.

Virginia City, Montana, army barracks converted to house workers

Army barracks buildings were dressed up to house the tourist workers

The Montana Post was the new capitol’s newspaper in the 1860’s, and its headquarters still stand today.  Rows of small homes line the back streets along the creek, and the wooden sidewalks with their wooden awnings evoke images of women in long dresses.

Virginia City, Montana, antique gas pumps

Oddly, if you peek in the open windows and doorways, there are still beds with moldy mattresses. We were told by one Virginia City worker that tourism workers used to live in these homes until fairly recently, and that one row of buildings used to be army barracks that were brought in as housing for the tourism workers.  He told us the barracks were given a false old-fashioned western-style front to fit the town’s decor.

Virginia City, Montana, historic building

Mark gets all kinds of special effects out of his camera

This surprised us, because so many of the town’s buildings are authentic and original to this spot.  However, Virginia City has an unusual history.  After its surge in the 1860’s — in 1866 it was the first Montana town to get a telegraph and that same year became the first Montana town to get a schoolhouse — the pursuit of gold soon took most of the townspeople away to better prospects.  There was a huge gold strike at Lost Chance Gulch, which later became Helena, and it lured most gold miners away.

Virginia City, Montana, commercial building

Virginia City has a great collection of commercial buildings

Although Virginia City became home to the administrative headquarters for Yellowstone when it was designated as America’s first National Park in 1872, and was also a favored staging area for folks getting outfitted for expeditions into Yellowstone, the vaulted title of State Capitol eventually went to Helena where it still remains.  By 1875 Virginia City’s population had dwindled to 800 resident, leaving many of its 1200 buildings vacant.

Virginia City, Montana, historic building

History sags a bit sometimes

But the remains of these empty buildings are fascinating today, as they tell the story of the raw enthusiasm, energy and hopes that filled the American west during its years of greatest expansion.  Everyone was in a hurry to get rich.  The buildings were thrown together to replace the tents that first housed the miners, and there was little care about the impact of mining on the environment.

Virginia City, Montana, artist's building

Huge pressurized water jets scoured the hills of everything, laying the rock and its gold bare.  Enormous dredges floated downstream, chewing up everything in their path, including towns.

Virginia City, Montana, ghost town

Virginia City was spared this fate because it doesn’t sit directly on a gold vein, but nearby Nevada City and many others were swallowed up by the dredges.

Virginia City, Montana, ghost town

Mark gets some ghostly images in this ghost town

By the 1940’s nothing was happening in Virginia City, and Charles and Sue Bovey began buying the town’s buildings with an eye towards preservation and tourism.  Virginia City already attracted a lot of curiosity seekers, and by bringing in and housing workers to run the old time shops and bars and dance hall, the Boveys created a town of living history for tourists.

Virginia City was declared a National Landmark in 1961 and soon after was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  After Charles Bovey’s death the state of Montana began buying his buildings, and today Virginia City is a state operation.

Just a few miles down the road lies Nevada City, a slightly different type of historic community, and during our stay in Virginia City we took a day trip over there to check it out.

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