Bighorn Canyon – A River Runs Through It in Montana!

July 2018 – The Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming have given us many special moments recently. We traversed the beautiful Bighorn Scenic Byway this past spring and spent part of last summer nestled alongside the Bighorn Mountains in the charming town of Buffalo, Wyoming.

In Buffalo we not only enjoyed a festival for the Longmire TV show but also took part in an unusual celebration of the Basque sheep herders who settled the area over a century ago.

During our time in this area the word “Bighorns,” in our minds, had become synonymous with “Mountains in Wyoming.” So, it was a huge surprise when I opened a Montana travel magazine a few weeks ago and saw a stunning photo of sheer canyon walls plunging down to a winding river with the caption: Bighorn Canyon. This we had to see!

Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Bighorn Canyon Montana and Wyoming

Bighorn Canyon.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is managed by the National Park Service, and there are two districts, the South District which is accessed from Lovell, Wyoming, and the North District which is accessed near St. Xavier, Montana.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

The drive into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area from Lovell, Wyoming, is very scenic.

The two districts are connected by the wonderfully twisting Bighorn River that snakes its way between the canyon walls for miles and miles in both Montana and Wyoming.

However, the Bighorn National Recreation Area is not contiguous for visitors unless you travel on the Bighorn River by boat. The dirt road connecting the South and North Districts crosses through the Crow Indian Reservation which is private property.

So, we decided we would check out the South District of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area since it is not too far from Cody, Wyoming, and then loop around to the North District and see the canyon from that angle.

Bighorn Canyon National Rec Area Scenic Drive Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

Bighorn Canyon Scenic Drive.

The shock to our senses after spending several weeks in the high elevations of the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Highway just outside Yellowstone National Park was incredible. Not only did we descend from cool summertime mountain temps in the low 70s to the baking heat of the desert in the mid-90s, but we went from lush greenery with wildflowers to a dusty crusty land full of red rocks.

Bighorn Canyon scenic drive Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Scenic drive by RV-min

Red rocks!

The most famous view on the southwest end of Bighorn Canyon is Devil’s Canyon Overlook just over the border on the Montana side. As we turned onto the road that heads out to this overlook we noticed a female bighorn sheep standing by the side of the road.

Bighorn sheep ewe Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

A bighorn sheep stops grazing to look at us.

BIghorn sheep ewe Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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After taking a few pics we noticed that there were several more bighorn sheep munching the grass by the side of the road. A mama and her sweet little lamb caught our eye.

Bighorn sheep at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip Montana and Wyoming

Mama Bighorn (shedding her winter coat) and her baby.

We got out of the truck to have a closer look.

Bighorn sheep lamb Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Montana and Wyoming

So cute!

We noticed two other little lambs close by. They were adorable!

Bighorn sheep lambs Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Twice as cute!

Bighorn sheep lambs Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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What a treat it was to see all these bighorn lambs right by the road!

Bighorn sheep lamb Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Just a little ways further on the view suddenly opened up and we were looking at the fabulous sheer walls of the Devil’s Canyon Overlook. Wow!

Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

The view at Devil’s Canyon Overlook is very dramatic.

Devil's Overlook Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Horseshoe Bend RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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The towering canyon walls and the thin ribbon of water snaking between them reminded us a little of both Goosenecks State Park in Utah and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.

We had the place to ourselves and we ran around taking pics like mad.

Photographer Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Overlook Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

What a spot to take some pics!

Buddy trotted along the fence line, and he seemed to be enjoying the views too, although maybe he was just keeping an eye on the mice and other varmints that were scampering near the edge!

Puppy checks out view Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Overlook Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip-min

Puppy Chow checks out the view and the varmints!

The Devil’s Canyon Overlook is a big area and we walked along the edge peering into the canyon for a ways.

Horseshe Bend Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Backtracking a little into the Wyoming side of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, we found the Horseshoe Bend Marina and Campground. We loved seeing the boats tied up to the docks with the rich colors of the red rocks behind them.

Horseshoe Bend Marina Bighorn Canyon Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

Horseshoe Bend Marina.

At dawn we ran down to the beach to catch the sunrise.

Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Sunrise on the Bighorn River.

Wild yellow daisies swayed to and fro by the water’s edge.

Daisies at sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Daisies dancing at dawn.

The water in the Bighorn River reflected the sunrise beautifully.

Sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Red rocks at sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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The red rocks on the far shore took on a rich shade of burnt orange.

Sunrise Red rocks Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming-min

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The beach and shoreline were deserted except for the three of us, and we had a wonderful time together playing by the edge of the water and watching the day wake up.

Photographer and puppy Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Happily busy on the beach at sunrise!

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is most popular during the spring and fall when the temperatures are cool. But for visitors who stop by mid-summer, there are electric hookups at the marina campground at Horseshoe Bend, and the air conditioners of a handful of campers were happily purring away 24/7!

Horseshoe Bend Campground Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Camping at Horseshoe Bend Marina and campground.

We will be back again at a more comfortable time of year, and we plan to visit the North District of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area when it’s cool too. Our visit this time was a brief but wonderful detour that took us out of the snow capped mountains and into red rock country, and it whetted our appetites for a return trip!

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Beartooth Highway Scenic Drive – Dazzling All American Road – WOW!!

June 2018 – The Beartooth Highway is a spectacular scenic drive in Montana and Wyoming that is so awe inspiring it has been given the well deserved designation of “All American Road.” Few roads in America have been singled out for this distinction, and the others we have driven knocked our socks off.

So, it was with great anticipation that we set out from Red Lodge, Montana, to drive the 69 miles of steep and arduous switchbacks into the heavens, passing endless sweeping vistas and stunning alpine lakes as we made our way towards the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Entrance to the Beartooth Highway Montana RV trip-min

A glimpse of things to come on the Beartooth Highway scenic drive.

The first snow capped mountain peaks crept into view between towering rock walls on either side of the highway shortly after we left Red Lodge, and then we drove straight into the sky until we had a fabulous view of it all at the Rock Creek Vista overlook.

Views on the Beartooth Highway Montana RV trip-min

Magnificent views of the Beartooth Mountains from Rock Creek Vista overlook.

This first formal lookout has a big parking area and a low rock wall to keep people and puppies from falling over the edge.

Puppy at Rock Creek Vista on Beartooth Highway Montana RV trip-min

Buddy liked the view too!

After the long grind going up the mountainside, our sweet pup Buddy loved seeing the view from the top! But he was most interested in the chipmunks that were scampering around on the ground!

Puppy on Beartooth Highway Montana RV camping-min

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Rock Creek Vista overlook is just the first big viewing area on the incredible Beartooth scenic drive, and from that point on we were on top of the world with jaw-dropping views out our windows in every direction.

Beartooth Highway Wyoming scenic drive RV trip-min

With every bend in the road the views got better and better!

Snowcapped views on Beartooth Scenic Highway Wyoming RV trip-min

Light clouds teased the mountain tops.

Snowcapped mountains with clouds Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV trip-min

A recent snowstorm showed the mountains off in their Sunday best!

RV trip on Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming-min

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My camera shutter was clicking as fast as my fingers could go. When I turned to look at Buddy, his eyes were glued to the view too!

Puppy's eyes like saucers driving the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming-min

Buddy’s eyes were like saucers as we drove!

There are pullouts and overlooks all along the Beartooth Highway, and we had lots of chances to get out and stretch our legs and soak in the view.

Mountain views Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV trip-min

A view even a puppy can love!

The Beartooth Highway is closed during the winter months, and it opens over Beartooth Pass only when the road is fully cleared and safe to drive. It had been open for a few weeks when we drove it in late June, but a cold snap had drenched us with rain for a few days down in the valleys, and that same rain had buried Beartooth Pass in snow once again and had even closed it for a day or two right before our drive.

This divine intervention meant that we were treated to lots of snowy vistas and the views were just magnificent.

Beartooth Highway Scenic Drive Wyoming RV trip to the mountains-min

Wow!!!

Signs of spring were everywhere, though, and as we climbed through elevations between 7,000 and nearly 11,000 feet we saw a wide variety of wildflowers in bloom at each altitude.

Wildflowers Beartooth Scenic Highway in Wyoming-min

There were wildflowers blooming everywhere.

Snow and wildflowers Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming RV trip-min

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Some of these wildflowers are extremely tiny and delicate and not more than a pencil eraser in size!

Pink wildflowers Beartooth Highway scenic drive on a Wyoming RV trip-min

Pink jewels in the meadows.

Blue wildflowers on Beartooth Highway scenic drive in Wyoming-min

Tiny tiny sapphire blue flowers.

The flowers were blooming in every possible shade, and some meadows were filled with mixtures of yellow and blue and pink.

Tiny yellow wildflowers Beartooth Highway Scenic Drive Wyoming-min

A spray of yellow.

Magenta wildflowers Beartooth Scenic Highway Wyoming RV travels-min

Magenta delights.

Familiar wild lavender colored lupine bloomed in thickets here and there as well.

Wild lupines Beartooth Scenic Highway Wyoming-min

Familiar wild lupines stand tall.

One of the most dazzling images we found were the bright blue alpine lakes that shimmered in the sun between snowy banks.

Alpine lake Beartooth Highway RV scenic drive in Wyoming-min

What a view!

And patterns appeared on the hillsides showing a special kind of asymmetry that only the finest artist could render.

Gorgeous patterns Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV scenic drive-min

The snow made patterns on the mountainsides.

The Beartooth Highway is beloved by motorcyclists because it is truly the Ideal Ride. Groups of motorcycles and individuals were riding in both directions and loving the scenery with fresh air and no windows.

Motorcycle on Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming-min

What a place to ride!!

At last we reached the actual Bear’s Tooth Pass.

The Bear's Tooth on Beartooth Highway scenic drive on Wyoming RV trip-min

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Before we did this drive, back when we were down in Red Lodge, we had stopped into a cool metal works shop and started chatting with a gal who worked there. She had moved to Red Lodge so she could ski as much as her heart desired, and she spoke warmly of the spring skiing around the Beartooth Highway that begins on Memorial Day and continues through June.

We saw skiiers hitting the slopes, and gingerly walked out onto the thick snow ourselves. Much of the rest of America was experiencing a massive heatwave at that very moment, but up here on the Beartooth Highway life was cool.

Snow and puppy on Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming RV trip-min

Buddy loved playing in the snow.

Photographer and puppy in snow on Beartooth Highway scenic drive in Wyoming-min

Truly awe inspiring!!

Our cameras were going full speed ahead, and so were everyone else’s too. This is a place where digital photography is a true blessing. I can’t imagine how many dozens of rolls of film we would have both gone through if we’d been using film cameras!

Puppy portrait Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming-min

We got portraits and selfies…like everyone was doing…who could resist?

Selfie Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming RV trip-min

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In some places the snow banks along the highway were still 12′ high, and people were decorating the drifts with all kinds of graffiti. We had to add ourse too!

Love in the snow Beartooth Scenic Highway RV trip in Wyoming-min

We put our own graffiti on the snowbanks too.

And then, after cresting the top, we came upon the most incredible view that stretched for miles and miles out to the horizon. Just glorious!

Majestic views Beartooth Highway scenic drive Wyoming by RV-min

The view after cresting the summit took our breath away.

Majestic vista Beartooth Highway near summit on Wyoming RV trip-min

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The Beartooth Highway deserves more than one cursory drive-through, and we ended up driving all of it or part of it on three separate occasions. This gave us a day with fabulous storm clouds and a day with perfect blue skies and lots of time to savor the various overlooks until we reached saturation and returned home, satisfied in our hearts that even if we “left early” we’d be back in a day or two to take in a little more.

It is best to hit the Beartooth Highway early in the day, and on our first trip we discovered that starting from Red Lodge at 7:00 a.m. wasn’t quite early enough! Lots of people have the same bright idea of starting early, so there was a surprising amount of traffic on the mountain.

We started out another day shortly after 6:00 a.m. and when we arrived at Beartooth Lake, which is easily seen from the road about 53 miles into the drive, the water was as still as glass and held reflections of the mountains like a mirror.

Beartooth Lake reflections Beartooth Highway scenic drive by RV in Wyoming-min

Beartooth Lake was perfectly calm in the early morning hours.

Reflections at Beartooth Lake on Beartooth Highway scenic drive by RV in Wyoming-min

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We stopped at the overlook and then wandered down to the boat launch to see these wondrous reflections a little closer.

Mountain reflections Beartooth Lake on Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV scenic drive-min

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A short stretch of rapids broke up the reflecting images in the most beautiful way.

Reflections at Beartooth Lake on Wyoming RV scenic drive Beartooth Highway-min

The mirror reflections were disturbed by some silky rapids.

Reflections and rapids Beartooth Lake on Beartooth Highway Wyoming-min

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Reflections and rapids Beartooth Lake Beartooth Scenic Drive Wyoming-min

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Where the water was still, the air was even more still. It was a crystalline moment in a world apart. As we stared at the view we were alone in the universe save for a few chirping birds in the trees.

Morning calm Beartooth Lake on Beartooth Scenic Highway Wyoming-min

On our return trip past the lake the wind was whipping.
How fortunate we were to see the water like this earlier on!

Like much of Montana and Wyoming, this area was deluged with snow and rain this year and the lakes and rivers were overflowing. As I looked into the water from the shore I was amazed to see a beautiful clump of yellow wildflowers happily blooming under a few inches of water!

Submerged flowers Beartooth Lake on Beartooth Scenic Highway Wyoming-min

Overflowing water submerged a bouquet of yellow wildflowers!

A little further on we came across the Crazy Creek waterfall. Here we could see and feel the extraordinary power of the waters that had been elevated and swollen by unusual amounts of snow and rain.

Crazy Creek Falls Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV trip-min

Wildly frothing Crazy Creek Falls.

The sound was deafening and the water was leaping and spraying across the path above the rapids.

Wild Crazy Creek Falls Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV trip-min

The water pranced and sprayed and exploded everywhere.

The Beartooth Highway ranks among the most stunning scenic drives we have ever done. How wonderful it is to find that even after eleven years on the road we are still making fabulous discoveries, and what a thrill it is to witness such an astonishing place.

Stunning vista Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV scenic drive-min

We’d never get tired of these views!

If you are taking an RV trip towards Montana or Wyoming, the Beartooth Highway is well worth a big detour to see.

Bigger RVs are not recommended on this road. There are signs suggesting that rigs longer than 40′ not drive it at all, and we saw less than a handful of Class C and smaller RVs. However, Mark felt fully confident that he could easily take our trailer on the drive if we wanted or needed to. We just wouldn’t have been able to stop so often or so easily, and it would have taken a lot of concentration on his part.

Beautiful scenic drive Beartooth Highway Wyoming RV trip

Beartooth Highway rates among the most spectacular drives we have done anywhere. Do it!!

POSTSCRIPT

A little while after we drove the Beartooth Highway, we met a trucker who has been in the road construction and trucking business for many decades. He told us that he had been hired to help film an Ice Road Truckers commercial on the Beartooth Highway a few winters back. Rather than fly the film crew to Alaska where the TV series takes place, it was much cheaper to film the ad here in Montana and Wyoming. So, they did it on the first switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway on the Montana side.

His stories were fantastic as he described the week-long creation of this video which was, in many ways, quite similar to the three days of filming we participated in as part of an ad campaign for Camping World last winter.

The film crew needed four inches of snow on the Beartooth Highway, so it was plowed to leave four inches of snow behind, and when that melted more snow was piled on to bring it up to four inches. A frightening sequence where the truck skids backwards down the mountain was actually filmed on level ground while he and his fellow workers pulled the truck backwards with chains attached to another truck.

The film director wanted to stage a horrific rollover accident, and he had some fancy and expensive equipment made to help simulate the rollover. However, the equipment was designed and built on the California coast, and the difference in altitude between there and the Montana Rockies wasn’t taken into account in the design and the equipment failed.

In classic down home fashion, the Montana boys on the film set said, “Hold my beer,” and huddled together to come up with a solution. Using a truck with chains again, they put chains under the semi and jerked back on them with to flip the truck on its side (with no one in it, of course). The film director was delighted with the perfect shot and said, “I didn’t need anything from California. All I needed were some good Montana boys!”

I’m not 100% sure that the following video is the actual ad or is perhaps just a bit of footage from it, but it is definitely an ice road trucker on the first switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway in Montana, and the various sequences appear just as described. Enjoy!

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RVing Central Montana – Great Falls, Cool Coffee & Amish Buggies

June 2018 – After leaving stunning Many Glacier in Glacier National Park, we wandered east and south through central Montana on a wonderful and leisurely tour of rolling green farm country.

Small villages and hamlets dotted the landscape, and when we pulled into the town of Choteau (pronounced “show-tow”), it was so cute we had to stop and have a look around.

Airstream trailer RV parked in Choteau Montana-min

Tiny Choteau, Montana, was so intriguing we had to stop and check it out!

Choteau seems to love summer and summertime visitors, and we were intrigued by a collection of little buildings that stood side by side on the main drag. One was an ice cream parlor and another was a one room school house!

Ice cream parlor Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Choteau had a unique flair that was very inviting.

There was a Basque sheep wagon nearby too, something we can now recognize after enjoying the fabulous Basque festival in Buffalo, Wyoming, last year (blog post here).

Basque sheep wagon Choteau Montana RV trip-min

We noticed a Basque sheep wagon on display.

We really liked the slightly funky spirit of Choteau and got a chuckle out of seeing two dinosaurs in town.

Dinosaur Choteau Montana RV trip-min

The greeter…

Dinosaur in Choteau Montana-min

…and his sidekick.

We always enjoy visiting mom-and-pop coffee shops, and we noticed an “Espresso” sign in front of a shop called Maddimo & Company.

Maddimo interior design front entrance Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Maddimo turned out to be much more than just a coffee shop!

Their front door was made of old barn boards and was very cool.

Front door Maddimo workshop design studio Choteau Montana RV trip-min

The boards in this door were once part of a barn!

Inside Maddimo we found the most intriguing and inviting little boutique shop filled with home decorations and plaques with cool sayings on them and a coffee bar too.

Maddimo interior design Choteau Montana RV trip-min

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The owner, Samantha, started chatting with us as she made our yummy drinks. She explained that she holds crafting workshops right there in the shop, and she showed us a wonderful table filled with paints and other artists’ goodies.

Maddimo workshop Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Samantha offers workshops on how to make these wonderful plaques and home decorations.

Samantha makes all the plaques she sells, and she teaches other people how to make them too.

One had a saying that is perfect for would-be adventurers who are on the fence about becoming full-time RVers!

Plaque from Maddimo Choteau Montana RV trip-min

Indeed!

Samantha also sells stencil templates so craftsy people can make sets of plaques for friends and family.

‘It’s a work in progress,” she said, gesturing around the cute little shop. Growing up in Choteau, Samantha’s family had owned a deli restaurant that they eventually sold. After she moved away and lived elsewhere for a few years, Samantha and her husband decided to move back to Choteau and, along with her mother, they bought back the deli and opened it again.

This was the first season for their new venture, and the place was hopping. How satisfying it must be to return home to your roots and buy back and reopen the family business to great success!

Maddimo unique gifts Choteau Montana RV trip-min

There were lots of neat sayings and stencil templates to reproduce them easily.

We continued on down the road towards Great Falls, Montana, which has always had a special place in my heart even though I’d never been there. One of my childhood idols, the figure skater John Misha Petkevich, grew up in Great Falls. For years I cherished an embroidered patch from his figure skating club in my collection of club patches, and I always wondered what his hometown of faraway Great Falls was like.

We aren’t city folk, but with a name like Great Falls, we figured this town had to have some kind of fabulous waterfall, and sure enough there are several.

We drove to Ryan Island at the edge of town, a lovely little grassy park that is accessed via a suspension bridge for walkers. Tall shade trees fill the park and a short and pretty trail takes you to an incredible view of Ryan Dam and the Missouri River spilling over.

Ryan Island Park Great Falls Montana-min

The grassy park at Ryan Island has lots of big shade trees. A bald eagle had a nest in one!

Rainbow in Ryan Dam Waterfall Great Falls Montana-min

Great Falls, tamed a bit by Ryan Dam.

Back in 1805 when Lewis and Clark made their 16 month trek across America from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, they came upon these waterfalls. At the time, of course, the falls flowed freely and unhindered. I got goose bumps when I read a plaque that said Merriweather Lewis had likely stood right where I was standing.

Ryan dam waterfalll Great Falls Montana RV trip-min

Merriweather Lewis stood somewhere near here!

Mandan Indian Chiefs had told Lewis that his group would encounter the falls during their voyage on the Missouri River. Lewis wrote in his diary:

“…my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a column of smoke…..it began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.”

After arriving at the falls, the entire Corps of Discovery team, about four dozen people, spent the next three weeks carrying all their boats and equipment 18 miles around the falls so they could continue their journey afloat on the Missouri River.

In contrast, we had driven up in an air conditioned truck with music playing over multiple speakers and had adjusted our heated and vented electric seats just so.

Interestingly, Captain Lewis had stood pretty close to where we were standing on Thursday, June 13, 1805. It was now Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The dates were so close yet were separated by over 200 years and such radical change. How awesome!

Rainbow in Ryan Dam Waterfall Great Falls Montana-min

The Lewis & Clark expedition had to carry their boats and equipment overland 18 miles to get beyond the series of waterfalls.

We continued our back road RV travels in Montana heading east and south from Great Falls. Pastures and farm fields stretched in every direction on gently rolling hills.

Central Montana farm land-min

Our drive through rural central Montana took us past beautiful rolling farmlands.

We passed an old truck with a straw man riding a stack of hay bales bronco style in the bed. Cute!

Bronco riding a hay bale on a farm truck in Montana-min

Ride ’em, Cowboy!

Suddenly we saw a horse-and-buggy warning road sign, and within a few minutes we spotted a horse pulling a young Amish couple in an open two person “courting” buggy that the young men drive. We had talked to a young Amish man about his cool ride in upstate New York. He was as proud of his buggy as any teen is about their new wheels. How neat to find more Amish out here in rural Montana!

Amish couple riding in a courting buggy in central Montana-min

Some Amish families have settled in this area.

Amish couple riding in a courting buggy in central Montana-min

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Within a few minutes we saw another Amish horse and buggy go by. How fun!

Amish buggy trotting down the road in central Montana-min

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As we dropped south and approached the small town of Harlowton, Montana, we suddenly started seeing a different kind of farming: wind farming. There were rows and rows of windmills in huge clusters here and there.

Wind farm in central Montana-min

We came across a different kind of farming!

We stopped in Harlowton and noticed that windmills adorned a lot of buildings and business logos.

Harolowton Montana wind farm appreciation-min

Windmills are a common theme on stores and businesses in Harlowton, Montana.

Even the local brewpub, Gally’s Brewing Company, had a windmill on their logo!

We decided to grab a pint and stepped inside Gally’s Brewing Company. I asked the bartender why they had a windmill on their logo and why windmills were such a popular motif all around town. She explained that the wind farms were bringing a lot of money to the community.

The brewery wasn’t open for a few more hours, so we didn’t get to taste any of their brews, but we continued chatting with the bartender and she explained a little more about these wind farms. The ranchers graze their cattle on their land and also lease it out to wind generating companies to erect windmills. The cattle just munch the grass all around the base of the windmills.

So, the ranchers make money from the leases, the community makes money from taxes that the wind generator companies pay, and there are a few more jobs to be found. “It’s a win-win,” she said with a smile.

Gally's Brewing Company Harlowton Montana-min

There was even a windmill on the brewpub’s logo!

We continued driving south towards Big Timber through this is a very quiet part of the country. There were lots of open spaces and small peaceful spots tucked under the trees alongside streams and rivers.

Big storm clouds swept across the sky, whipping themselves into a frenzied windy storm that dumped buckets of rain across the land.

Afterwards, a beautiful rainbow appeared.

Rainbow between the trees in central Montana-min

Stormy skies and a huge rainstorm produced a beautiful rainbow.

Rainbow over farm fields central Montana-min

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And then the sun set in vibrant shades of pink and orange that filled the sky.

Montana sunset-min

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If you are traveling across Montana, whether with or without an RV, these quiet roads through the middle of the state make for a rewarding trip, and the village of Choteau, the waterfall and dam at Ryan Island in Great Falls, and the town of Harlowton are fun stops along the way.

RV camping at sunset in central Montana-min

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Perhaps you’ll catch Gally’s Brewing Company when they’re open for business in the afternoon and you can sample some of their brew and tell us how you like them!

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Glacier National Park’s “Many Glacier” – Crown of the Continent!

June 2018 – We have visited Glacier National Park three times, and each time we have seen another jewel in this appropriately named “Crown of the Continent” National Park.

Glacier National Park has several entrances, and all of them head towards the mountains in the crown. Like all the biggest and most famous National Parks, it deserves at least a week of exploring — or many return trips — to experience the beauty in any kind of depth.

Approaching Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana-min

As we approached Many Glacier the mountains rose before us in the distance.

The most popular entrance to Glacier National Park is on the west side at West Glacier, but some of the most jaw-dropping views are on the east side, 120 miles away via an easy drive around the park or 50 miles away via the twisty, curvy mountain road that traverses Logan Pass in the middle of the Park.

A few years ago we explored the park at the Two Medicine and St. Mary entrances on the east side, but somehow missed the stunning Many Glacier area. It is the furthest north entrance to the east side of Glacier National Park and is just 50 miles from Canada’s spectacular Waterton Lakes National Park.

Waterton Lakes National Park abuts Glacier National Park along the US/Canadian border, shaking hands across the border in what is officially called Waterton-Glacier National Park in both countries.

First views entering Many Glacier at Glacier National Park Montana-min

We got a glimpse of Lake Sherburne as we drove in.

Of the 60+ National Parks, Monuments and World Heritage Sites we have visited so far, Canada’s Waterton Lakes is one of our favorites. For anyone visiting Glacier National Park, we highly recommend driving the short distance and going through the very easy and small border crossing to have a look at Waterton Lakes, a vibrant and breathtaking jewel in the crown of Waterton-Glacier National Park.

However, if you don’t have your passport with you, Many Glacier is very similar to Waterton Lakes and is truly awe-inspiring as well.

Lake Sherburne and wildflowers Many Glacier Entrance Glacier National Park Montana-min

Many Glacier at Glacier National Park in Montana

When we visited Many Glacier this year, we got excited as soon as we saw the mountains appearing down the road in front of us. We stopped to enjoy the glorious wildflowers that were blooming along Lake Sherburne.

Wildflowers blooming at Many Glacier National Park Montana-min

Wildflowers were in bloom everywhere.

Glacial lakes are vivid shades of turquoise and blue when the light catches them just right, and the mountains behind Lake Sherburne were truly majestic.

Mountains and Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana

Wow!

Montana had an enormous amount of snow this past winter, and the rivers and lakes have been swollen for weeks as the snow has melted.

A waterfall to our left on the road alongside Swiftcurrent Creek that is probably very modest at other times of the year was crashing over the rocks in an all fired rush to get downhill.

Thunderous waterfall Swiftcurrent Creek Many Glacier at Glacier National Park Montana-min

The waterfall on Sherburne Creek was roaring!

Huge waterfall Swiftcurrent Creek Many Glacier at Glacier National Park Montana-min

Montana had big snows and a rainy spring, so the water was rushing at full throttle.

We walked along a short trail on the edges of the waterfall to get a closer look.

Waterfall at Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana-min

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Rushing waterfall Many Glacier at Glacier National Park Montana-min

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At the end of the road leading into Many Glacier we crossed another area of rapids that is just upstream from the waterfall.

Rapids on Swiftcurrent Creek at Many Glacier section of Glacier National Park Montana-min

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And then we arrived at the most fabulous view. Jagged mountains formed a fantastic backdrop behind Swiftcurrent Lake. In the distance, the historic Many Glacier Hotel proudly watched over the lake as it has for over a century.

Many Glacier Hotel Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park Montana-min

Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier!

Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park on Swiftcurrent Lake-min

Many Glacier Hotel is a Swiss Chalet style hotel that was built in 1914-15.

We were mesmerized by the view, and we both shot at least three photos with every step we took as we wandered around on the shore. Looking at our photos later, Mark noticed he had captured a butterfly in one of his images. How cool!!

Butterfly at Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana-min

A butterfly flitted through Mark’s pic!

The weather was constantly changing with the clouds chasing the sun away and then the sun trying very hard to chase the clouds away.

Pine tree at Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana-min

Many Glacier is so photogenic we had a blast wandering around taking pics.

Mountains at Swiftcurrent Lake Many Glacier Entrance of Glacier National Park Montana-min

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The valleys left by the immense earth-moving forces of the glaciers are all U-shaped with sloping sides and rounded bottoms.

Glacier carved valleys across Swiftcurrent Lake Many Glacier National Park Montana-min

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Pine tree at Swift Current Lake Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana-min

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There is a small gravel beach along the shoreline and a dirt road wanders around the hotel property.

Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier in Glacier National Park Montana-min

A dirt road wanders near the shore and hiking trails go all over the place.

Beach at Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier section of Glacier National Park Montana-min

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In 1914-15, long before Glacier National Park was created in 1932, the Great Northern Railway built the Swiss Chalet style Many Glacier Hotel on the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake. The railroad barrons at the time wanted to encourage people to travel on their trains, so they went to great lengths to create enticing destinations at the ends of their lines.

Another beautiful resort that sprang into existence this way is Sun Valley, Idaho, which was created as a skiing destination for the Union Pacific Railroad.

What a fabulous property Many Glacier Hotel is, and how exotic it must have been to journey there and spend some time over 100 years ago. It would be fabulous to stay there now!!

Many Glacier Hotel Glacier National Park Montana-min

Many Glacier Hotel

Many Glacier Hotel Glacier National Park Montana-min

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Many rooms not only have lake views but have a porch that opens onto the lake.

Balcony view of Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glaicer Hotel in Glacier National Park Montana-min

Some rooms have a little porch and a fabulous view.

As we wandered around the hotel we noticed two restaurant workers from the fancy Ptarmigan Dining Room taking a break and soaking in the views from the parking lot.

I started chatting with one of them and discovered that he was living right at Many Glacier in dormitory style housing while working at the restaurant for a four month summer job gig. It was his fourth summer doing it, and he absolutely loved it.

“All you need to bring is your hiking boots,” he told me, “and we make great money too!”

Wow!!

He’d had restaurant serving experience before, but he said the hotel was still hiring for this summer and that folks with no restaurant experience bus tables and do other entry level jobs.

Swiss Chalet style Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park Montana-min

Climbing up on the hillside opposite the hotel we got some wonderful shots.

Future full-time RVers often wonder how they can make money on the road. Working at a restaurant overlooking a stunning view serving happy guests who are on vacation in one of the most picturesque spots in our country wouldn’t be a bad way to pick up some pocket money.

And for folks who don’t need a summer job themselves but who know young adults who’d appreciate a thrilling summer experience, what a fabulous summer that would be! You have to be at least 18 to apply. I know I would have far preferred working in the Many Glacier Hotel kitchen over the urban kitchen that did employ me my 18th summer so many decades ago!

Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park Montana-min

What a place to call home for a few days or a few months!

We just scratched the surface of Many Glacier on a quickie in-and-out visit this time around. But we will be back to explore it in greater depth in the future. Unfortunately, adorable puppies aren’t allowed on National Park hiking trails, which hampers us a little nowadays. For folks without a dog in tow, there are oodles of hikes and alpine lakes and mountain views all around Many Glacier. What a jewel it is!

Many Glacier Hotel viewed across Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park Montana

Looking back across Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier Hotel.

The restaurant hadn’t yet opened for the season when we visited, so we didn’t have a chance to check it out. But many tables are situated next to big windows that look out on the lake, and the server I talked to assured me the food was really good. Sounds awesome! It is on our list for next time!

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East Glacier Scenic Drive – Treasures OUTSIDE Glacier National Park

June 2018 – America’s stunning National Parks get all the press, but sometimes the drive towards them is almost as beautiful. As we made our way to the eastern side of Glacier National Park in Montana via US-2, the image of a mountain reflecting in a pond caught our eye.

Mountain reflections in a lake at Glacier National Park Montana-min

US-2 is a beautiful drive. These pretty reflections made us stop.

We just had to pull over for a closer look. The day was a big gloomy but the landscape was lovely.

RV trip to the east side of Glacier National Park in Montana-min

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The wildflowers were beginning to bloom, a perfect foreground for these snow capped peaks.

Wildflowers and mountains Glacier National Park Montana RV trip-min

Pretty wildflowers were in bloom!

Huge snows last winter and a bunch of rain this spring has made all of the rivers and streams in Montana swell almost beyond the riverbanks, and there are waterfalls, big and small, everywhere.

Waterfall Glacier National Park Montana RV trip-min

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Hopping back in our rig, we drove alongside the eastern side of Glacier National Park on US-89, and the scenery got better and better.

Mountain views east Glacier National Park scenic drive in an RV-min

Spectacular views east of Glacier National Park.

Big rigs can’t drive the narrow and twisting Route 49 that goes to the Two Medicine entrance of Glacier National Park. Instead, we had to route through the town of Browning, but the views we saw as we headed north towards Saint Mary were fabulous.

Scenic Drive east Glacier National Park Montana RV trip-min

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Scenic drive East Glacier National Park Montana RV trip-min

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Suddenly the U-shaped valleys of Glacier National Park that were carved by glaciers eons ago came into view. Again, we had to pull over, if only to get a shot of our rig in such a setting!

Snowy mountains east Glacier National Park scenic drive in an RV-min

Rounded valleys carved by glaciers come into view.

RV trip east Glacier National Park Montana-min

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Upper St. Mary Lake is located inside Glacier National Park, and we loved exploring it two years ago, but Lower St. Mary Lake is located outside of the Park, and pullouts along the road offered some fabulous views too.

Lower St Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana RV trip-min

Lower St. Mary Lake outside Glacier National Park

When the sun is out, St. Mary Lake is a rich and luscious shade of blue, but on this overcast day the air was perfectly still and the mountains were able to check out their reflections in the silvery water.

Lupines blooming at St Mary Lake Montana-min

Lupines were blooming on the hillsides.

Reflections St. Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana-min

St. Mary Lake can be a vivid blue with waves twinkling in the sun, but we caught it on a pensive, reflective day.

Lower St Mary Lake reflections near Glacier National Park on RV trip-min

The water was like glass.

The most famous part of Glacier National Park is the Going to the Sun Road that traverses the park via Logan Pass between the east and west sides. This road is so high that it is buried in snow well into the Spring, and the risk of avalanches keeps the road closed until mid to late June (or even early July!).

Mountain reflections Lower St Mary Lake near Glacier National Park on RV trip-min

The east side of Glacier National Park may be its more beautiful side.

For Park visitors that arrive early in the season, like we did, the views outside the Park are almost as stunning as the Going to the Sun Road, and there’s very little traffic.

Lower St Mary Lake reflections near Glacier National Park Montana-min

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US-89 runs through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and some lucky souls have homes overlooking the lake. We spotted one on the far shore. How cool!

Reflections Lower St Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana-min

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Out in the pastures we saw some horses romping around too. Beautiful!

Horses running near Glacier National Park Montana-min

Horses ran free in a nearby pasture.

Our goal this year was to visit Many Glacier, one of the most spectacular spots in Glacier National Park and a place we had never visited before. As we anticipated, our photos from there will fill an entire upcoming blog post! Once we finished our visit, we were back out on glorious US-89 once again heading south, this time with sunshine.

Mountain views east of Glacier National Park Montana on an RV trip-min

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At one pullout a dirt road beckoned us to take a walk towards the mountains.

Trekking down a road towards Glacier National Park Montana-min

Buddy leads us into the mountain views.

Stream and mountain views Glacier National Park Montana-min

A river runs through it.

The wildflowers were blossoming in all their glory.

In the past, we have searched high and low for fields of wildflowers to photograph, often with little success. But it seems that the best way to find anything super special in this life is not to go looking for it! Here we were soaking in the awe-inspiring mountain views when we discovered we were surrounded by fields of wildflowers.

Glacier National Park mountains with wildflowers-min

Mountains and wildflowers.

Wildflowers in northern Montana-min

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Buddy posed by some flowers for a pic.

Puppy in wildflowers in Montana-min

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The flowers inside Glacier National Park might be more plentiful and the mountains might be taller and craggier than what we saw on this special scenic drive outside the Park, but it was pretty darn gorgeous.

Glacier National Park mountains with wildflowers-min

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Wildflowers and views of Glacier National Park Montana-min

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Wildflowers east of Glacier National Park on Montana RV trip-min

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For RVers heading to Glacier National Park, the trek from the more heavily visited west side to the less visited east side is a 100 mile trip. But despite the extra miles it is well worth doing, not just for the majestic scenery inside the Park at Two Medicine, St. Mary and Many Glacier, but for the eye-popping views you’ll see on the way there and back!

RV trip to the east side of Glacier National Park Montana at St Mary Lake-min

US-89 is easy to drive with a big rig and there are lots of large pullouts where you can stop and savor the view.

Please note that there was construction on US-89 when we drove it in June 2018. We experienced long delays as a pilot car led groups of vehicles through the lengthy construction zone. Hopefully next year the road improvements will be finished and it will be a breeze to drive!

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Glacier National Park Entrances on the East Side:

More info about the eastern side of Glacier National Park:

Other blog posts from Waterton-Glacier National Park:

PLUS – All of our blog posts from Montana
PLUS – Links to all our visits to the National Parks

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Montana Road Trip – Wildflowers, Bison, a Mission Church + Good Eats!

June 2018 – We recently visited our friends Bob and Donna Lea in western Montana, and they took us on a wonderful daylong road trip into the wildflowers and mountains that lie between Missoula and Flathead Lake.

Scenic views driving Montana back roads on an RV trip-min

We saw some wonderful pastoral scenery on a day trip in western Montana.

The scenery on the drive was delightful, with snow capped mountains and pretty farms dotting the landscape.

Barn in the mountains Montana-min

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After we’d drive on lovely back roads for a little while, we pulled into the Windmill Village Bakery in Ravalli for a cup of coffee and some freshly made pastries.

Windmill Village Bakery Ravalli Montana RV trip-min

Windmill Village Bakery is known for fresh made donuts.

This cute little roadside bakery is known for its fresh donuts, which are made right behind the counter, and for its beautiful patio that overlooks a small pond and windmill.

Windmill Village Bakery Ravalli Montana RV trip-min

Out back there is a patio overlooking a pond with a windmill.

With our tummies happily full, we made our way to the National Bison Range. Managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, this land is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and is a refuge for 350-500 buffalo that was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

National Bison Range in Montana RV trip-min

The National Bison Range has buffalo and a whole lot more!

Other animals also call the refuge home, and when we arrived we saw an enormous stack of elk antlers. Elk naturally shed their antlers each year, and these antlers were collected at the range.

Antler pile National Bison Range Montana RV trip-min

A pile of shed elk antlers greeted us at the Visitors Center.

There is a loop drive that meanders through the refuge, and as we drove into the park we climbed quite high up in the hills and had a great view of the Flathead River.

River view National Bison Range RV trip-min

The loop drive took us high up for a view of the Flathead River.

The scenic drive is a gravel road, but it is easy to drive in a passenger car.

Winding road National Bison Range Montana RV trip-min

The ribbon of road is gravel and easily driven.

We arrived just after the peak of wildflower season, but there were still lots of beautiful flowers in bloom blanketing the hillsides. We walked on a trail through the vast beds of flowers and spotted some wild photographers sitting among them!

Photographing wildflowers National Bison Range Montana-min

Photographers were enjoying quiet moments with the wildflowers.

Photographing wildflowers National Bison Range Montana-min

A trio of photographers.
The peak for wildflowers in the BIson Range is mid-May but they were still lovely two weeks later.

The flowers were so thick and so colorful that we vowed we will return another year to experience this place during the peak in mid-May.

Spring wildflowers National Bison Range in Montana-min

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Spring wildflower National Bison Range Montana RV trip-min

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Of course, flowers don’t follow the Gregorian Calendar too closely, so we’ll call ahead to see how the flowers are doing before visiting!

Lupine in bloom National Bison Range Montana-min

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As we were strolling and crouching between the flowers to get their pics, Bob pointed out the Bitterroot flower. This beautiful pink flower is the namesake of the Bitterroot Valley.

Bitterroot flower National Bison Range Montana-min

Bitterroot flowers used to be very common in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley!

This seemed like a fantastic place to get a selfie. Of course, nowadays our selfies include a certain furry person, and sometimes it takes more than one shot to get it right. In the first pic he let out a big yawn. Luckily we got another!

Selfie with puppy yawning at the National Bison Range in Montana-min

What a great spot for a selfie. Oops, Buddy was yawning!

Selfie with puppy at the National Bison Range in Montana-min

That’s better.

Montana had a ton of snow this past winter and loads of rain in the spring too, so the rolling hills were lush and green.

Montana rolling hills National Bison Range-min

Rolling green hills of Montana.

We were very surprised to learn that the very flat valley below us was once the bottom of a huge lake that reached from the mountains we were standing on to the mountains in the distance.

Mountain views National Bison Range Montana RV trip-min

At one time a lake filled the valley between the mountains.

Just like driving through parts of Arizona and Utah that were once covered with an inland sea where you feel like you are driving on the bottom of an ocean with tall islands sticking up around you, it was easy to imagine a huge glacial lake with waves lapping the sides of these mountains. The lake came up about two-thirds of the height of the mountains.

Snowcapped mountains and valley National Bison Range Montana RV trip-min

Looking down at the ancient lake bottom.

We had been enjoying the wildflowers and the beautiful views, but the buffalo herd was apparently on break that day. We did see two sauntering by the car at one point but couldn’t get our cameras going fast enough to get a photo. However, near the end of our drive we saw a lone buffalo in the distance.

A lone bison National Bison Range Montana RV trip-min

A solitary bison.

By now we were ready for another scenic snack so we stopped at the Ninepipes Lodge which has a wonderful outdoor patio overlooking a pond with mountains in the distance.

Views at Ninepipes Lodge on Montana RV trip-min

We had a fabulous view for lunch from the patio at Ninepipes Lodge.

There’s an indoor dining room too, but the weather was just perfect to sit outside. The fish and chips was terrific, and we got a kick out of the gift shop too!

Dining room view Ninepipes Lodge Montana-min

The indoor dining room was beautiful, but we liked being outside on the deck.

Gift Shop Ninepipes Lodge Montana-min

The gift shop had lots of goodies.

Our final stop for the day was at St. Ignatius Mission Church. This church was built in 1891.

St. Ignatius Mission Montana with wooden sign-min

St. Ignatius Mission was built in 1891.

St. Ignatius Mission Montana RV trip

We explored the pretty interior of this Catholic church.

The mission is very ornate inside with elaborate paintings on every nook and cranny. There are 58 paintings in all, each one painted by Brother Joseph Carignano.

Inside the St. Ignactius Mission Montana-min

The church walls are decorated with 58 different paintings.

Inside the St Ignatius Mission in Montana-min

Church services are still offered here.

The paintings have been meticulously restored and are vibrant and colorful.

Alter in the St. Ignatius Mission in Montana-min

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Interior of the St. Ignatius Mission in Montana-min

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Detail painting from the Interior of the St. Ignatius Mission in Montana-min

Almost all the paintings have been lovingly restored. Just a few remain to be done.

If you are taking your RV to Montana and are looking for a scenic drive with some unique places to see that are not necessarily the headliners in the tourist literature, the National Bison Range and St. Ignatius Mission are well worth a visit, and you’ll find tasty eats in a beautiful setting at both the Windmill Village Bakery and at the Ninepipes Lodge!

Rainbow in Montana on an RV trip-min

What a beautiful day in a pretty state!

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    Ross Creek Cedars & Kootenai Falls – Giant Trees & Swings in Montana!

    July 2016 – Up in northwestern Montana, not too far from Libby and the beautiful eagle that lives at Libby Dam, we came across two wonderful out-of-the-way scenic spots: Kootenai Falls and the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area.

    At Kootenai Falls, which is 12 miles west of Libby, the pretty hiking trail took us over an overpass high above a set of train tracks. We were lucky to be on it just as a big train zoomed underneath.

    Railway train at Kootenai Falls Montana

    Hiking into Kootenai Falls, an overpass took us high above an oncoming train – cool!

    As we hiked on the trail through the woods down towards Kootenai Falls, suddenly the view opened up and we could see the fast moving Kootenai River,

    Kootenai Falls Montana

    Kootenai River at Kootenai Falls in Northwestern Montana

    There were some slabs of rocks along the banks that had fabulous swirling patterns in them.

    Kootenai River at Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area Montana

    Swishes and swirls in the rocks on the riverbank caught my eye.

    The trail branches into several short offshoots that go to pretty overlooks, but the direction everyone heads is towards the Swinging Bridge.

    Kootenai Falls and swinging bridge Montana

    Besides the falls, this area is known for its wonderful and wobbly swinging bridge.

    This rickety bridge spans the Kootenai River high above, and it is not exactly a rugged structure. Only five people can use it at a time, so a little line had formed with people waiting to get across.

    Swinging Bridge Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area Montana

    Not everyone ventured across the river on this thing, but those that wanted to had to wait!!

    Once on the bridge, it felt a little dicey underfoot. Some folks tip-toed across, hanging onto the rails for dear life as the bridge swung and swayed, but most stopped for a pic and a wave.

    Swinging bridge at Kootenai Falls Montana

    It was a neat fun-house kind of walk high up in the air!

    On the other side there were many places to get a lovely view of the river, and we found a family fishing on the riverbank.

    Fishing on the Kootenai River at Kootenai Falls Montana

    Catching dinner on the Kootenai River.

    The falls themselves are shallow and wide, nearly spanning the width of a bend in the river, and the water pours over the slabs of rock at a very fast clip.

    Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area Montana

    The falls are flat and wide, but a telephoto lens brought them in close

    We enjoyed the tranquility and peacefulness of Kootenai Falls so much that after our first visit on a very busy weekend, we returned a second time mid-week when we had the trails almost to ourselves.

    Kootenai Falls Wildlife Management Area Montana

    Kootenai Falls

    Twenty-five miles south of Kootenai Falls is the wondrous Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area.

    Path through the woods Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Montana

    A boardwalk on the trail at Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area.

    This beautiful 100 acre woods is filled with cedar trees that are as old as 1,000 years.

    Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Kootenai National Forest Montana

    These mossy woods seemed to come straight out of a fantasy novel.

    The hiking trails wanderes around in glorious loops that were not particularly well marked. But that is part of the fun of this magical place.

    USFS Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Montana

    Beautiful greenery all around.

    We strolled here and there, mesmerized by the green mossy undergrowth and waving leaves.

    Leaves at Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Montana

    Mark’s creative juices were flowing with this shot!

    The ferns were thick and there was a delightful pungence in the air.

    Ferns and cedars at Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Montana

    Ferns grew thickly here and there on the forest floor.

    But the eye-popper at Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area is the massive cedar trees themselves. These giant and ancient trees bring out the kid in everyone who wanders these trails, and Mark was no different. When he saw a split in a tree trunk, he couldn’t help but climb inside!!

    Enormous Ross Creek Cedars Kootenai National Forest Montana

    What we came for — the ancient and giant cedar trees. Wow!

    Well, two can play that game, so I jumped into another one with him!!

    Happy campers at Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Montana

    There’s room for two!

    The trees’ tip-tops tower above this forest, but we couldn’t take our eyes off their enormous trunks. Walking from tree to tree, we pondered their age and gentle spirits and the many centuries of human history they have quietly lived through while standing in one place in a remote Montana forest.

    The Ross Creek Cedars are smaller than the Giant Sequoia trees we saw in Yosemite National Park years ago, but they have a special aura because they aren’t world famous and they can’t be found on post cards!

    Gigantic Cedar trees at Ross Creek Montana

    The gigantic tree trunks were awe-inspiring.

    Of course, this was a fun place for photography too. There are fallen trees strewn here and there, and we found many lying on the ground. At one point, we heard a loud crash and breaking of branches high in the trees about 100 feet away from us. Apparently, a huge limb had fallen. We searched and searched, though, and never found it!!

    Crazy trunks on fallen cedar trees Ross Creek Montana

    There were fallen trees that let us see their roots from underneath.

    One dead trunk was still standing but had lost all of its interior. It was just a shell of its former self with a small opening on one side.

    We stepped inside and were instantly surrounded by the outer walls of the tree. I couldn’t help but feel that this was as close as I would ever come to knowing what it’s like to be a tree. The trunk was so huge that it was like standing in a closet, but the tree went up and up and up to the sky high above me.

    As we wandered around on the trails — they all seemed to be loops, so no matter where we went, we eventually wound up where we started — we met lots of other people who were hiking in this magical forest too.

    Suddenly a very little boy appeared on the trail ahead of us. He was so young, he had only recently learned to walk. He was totally dwarfed by the giant tree trunks around him and seemed to be loving the hike.

    Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Kootenai National Forest Montana

    A wee hiker showed up between the trees.

    He made his way between the tree trunks and looked for all the world like he was out on safari, complete with a stick over his shoulder and a huge grin on his face.

    Ross Creek Cedar Scenic Area Kootenai National Forest Montana

    This little guy has adventure in his soul!!

    Nearby, we found a collection of Inukshuks in a riverbed. When we were up at Athabasca Falls at Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, we bumped into a whole riverbank full of these unusual rock cairns that people had built. We had no idea what they were at the time, but several knowledgeable readers pointed out that they have their origins with the Inuit native people of the far north and can be found all over Canada.

    Apparently, they can be found in Montana too!

    Inukshuk at Ross Creek Cedars Montana

    We were surprised to see a collection of Inukshuks in a riverbed.

    We thoroughly enjoyed our RV trip through the northwestern corner of Montana.

    RV trip to Kootenai Falls and Ross Creek Cedar Scenic Area Montana

    Peace in Montana

    Full moon Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area Montana

    A full moon rises behind the trees.

    And we took our time making our way past lovely Bull Lake and on towards Idaho.

    Sunset Bull Lake Montana

    Sunset at Bull Lake.

    If you have a hankering to take your RV on a road trip to these beautiful spots, there are more links about them below.

    Reflections on Bull Lake Montana

    Morning mist on Bull Lake.

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    Kootenai Falls, Ross Creek Cedars, and Other Info:

    More blog posts from our RV travels in NW Montana and Northern Idaho plus another Famous Swinging Bridge:

    Dudley Moore’s Swinging Bridge – A Visit to the Set of the Movie “10” !! 12/21/2010

    Our most recent posts:

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    Eagles and Hummingbirds in Libby, Montana

    July 2016 – While RV camping in Libby, Montana, we had some fabulous encounters with wild birds: a beautiful big bald eagle and a mixed flock of tiny hummingbirds. Over at Libby Dam, we were thrilled to see a bald eagle soaring high overhead.

    Bald Eagle Flying in Libby Montana

    A bald eagle flies near Libby Dam in Montana

    This eagle was well known to the employees and volunteers who work at Libby Dam. He liked to fish in the water just below the dam where the fish pile up as they migrate upstream and find themselves trapped by the dam. The pool of fish made a smorgasbord for this very happy eagle, and he had an easy time getting breakfast, lunch and dinner whenever he got a bit hungry.

    One morning we spotted him sitting high up in a tree right by the dam.

    Bald eagle near Libby Dam Montana

    We looked up to see this guy at the top of a tree.

    We started snapping photos as we crept towards him, and assumed he would fly off any second. Surprisingly, he stayed put!

    Bald Eagle Montana

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    Hoping for some better pics, we returned the next morning with our long lenses and tripods. There he was again, checking us out over his shoulder.

    Bald Eagle in tree Libby Montana

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    He sat still for a while, preened a little bit, and then started making noises. I think he was trying to talk to a good buddy on the other side of the Kootenai River. He let out a loud squawk.

    Bald Eagle squawking Libby Montana

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    We didn’t hear a response, but he squawked a few more times.

    Bald Eagle Calling Libby Montana

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    He must have heard a reply, or decided to go looking for his friend in person, because suddenly he crouched.

    Bald Eagle Ready to fly Libby Montana

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    And launched…

    Bald Eagle Taking off Libby Montana

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    Bald Eagle Launching Libby Montana

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    What a magnificent sight in the sky!

    Bald Eagle flying Libby Montana

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    Bald Eagle in flight Libby Montana

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    Meanwhile, back at our trailer, we had noticed some hummingbirds poking around, peeking in our windows, and generally scoping us out. We put out our window hummingbird feeder that attaches to the RV window with suction cups, and sat back to see if anyone would find it.

    Within minutes, the word was out. The hummingbirds in this area know what feeders are, and they have passed the info on from friend to friend and generation to generation. As soon as a new feeder is found, a memo goes out to the whole community.

    Hummingbirds at feeder on RV window

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    By sunset, the feeder had been drained! By noon the next day it had been drained again!

    We’ve always had a few hummingbird feeders with us, but we were chagrined to find that they all leaked because we hadn’t used them in a long time. We were also out of regular granulated table sugar. So, we went into town to get another five pound bag of sugar and a second feeder. Luck was with us, and there was one last window feeder left on the shelf!!

    Hummingbird flying above feeder

    Almost close enough to touch!

    For the next 10 days, we filled these two feeders every morning and every evening, and our world was abuzz with hummers.

    We noticed that these little hummingbirds had different spots and colors, and we got curious about which ones they were. Our general purpose Peterson bird guides and National Geographic bird guide don’t make it so easy to tell one hummingbird species from another.

    Luckily, we have found a super book about hummingbirds that makes it really easy to know who’s slurping up all the sugar water we’re putting out.

    Hummingbird flying Libby Montana

    Black chinned hummingbird. His neck flashes violet in the sun!

    It’s a small book called the Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds by Donald and Lillian Stokes.

    What’s neat is that the very first two pages show which hummingbirds can be found in which of the four regions in the country: East/Central, Gulf Coast, West, and Southwest. It also delineates the species by the color of the male’s throat: Orange, Red/Pink, Purple/Violet, Green, White and Blue.

    It also marks the sides of the pages by color, so you can easily flip to the appropriate section and see multiple photos of both the males and females and see a map of where they live.

    Hummingbird in flight Libby Montana

    The female black chinned hummingbird wears a whole different wardrobe!

    We determined that we were seeing Black Chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds. The males were easy to spot because they have dramatic coloring on their necks and heads. But the muted and spotted colors of the juveniles and females made them all look alike!

    The fun thing about the Black Chinned hummingbirds is that they truly buzz when they fly. They sound like a bunch of bees as they zoom around, but they’re a whole lot cuter.

    The Rufous hummingbirds have bright orange on their necks and an orange tint to their little bodies. They are beautiful and very petite. But they act be like little Napoleons sometimes. They are extremely skittish, but nonetheless some of them want to rule the world anyway, and they make every effort to.

    Rufous Hummingbird Libby Montana

    Rufous hummingbird – Small, skittish and domineering!

    All hummingbirds can be very territorial about their feeders, and the turf wars can be astonishing to watch.

    The King of the Feeder will stand watch over it from a nearby branch, and will dive bomb any other hummingbird that tries to get a drink! It is particularly funny when one little Rufous decides to chase off twenty other hummingbirds from his personal feeder. He is one busy little guy!

    Rufous Hummingbird_

    Mine!

    Over the years, when it has seemed that one particular hummingbird has become a little too dominant at our feeder, we’ve found a good solution is to put out multiple feeders in such a way that one hummingbird can see only one feeder at a time. Hanging them on opposite sides of the trailer is a good trick.

    But for the most part, it seems that everyone gets a turn eventually.

    Hummingbirds share a drink at the RV window feeder

    Hummingbirds can be territorial, but they do know how to share too!

    We got immense pleasure from watching these guys from inside our RV. Our trailer’s windows are darkly tinted, and with the feeder mounted on the window, if we didn’t move or make any noises in the trailer, we could watch them from just a foot or two away from inside.

     

    We were astonished to see that sometimes the hummingbirds would double dip, with two of them poking their beaks into one hole in the feeder at the same time, even though the holes in the feeder are tiny. At other times, the bird sitting on the perch would lean way back while the one hovering overhead got a quickie slurp. They would take turns drinking that way.

    Hummingbirds share RV window feeder

    Two for one!

    Sometimes they even lined up in front of the feeder, like airplanes in a landing pattern, with each bird getting a chance to drink his fill before flying off.

    Hummingbirds line up at RV window feeder

    The hummers get into a landing pattern at our feeder!

    By the way, the recipe for hummingbird nectar is super easy:

    1 part sugar
    4 parts water

    I like to mix up one cup of nectar at a time. I’ll put 1/4 cup of sugar into a 1/4 cup of warm water and stir it until it dissolves. Then I’ll add another 3/4 cup of cold water and stir some more before serving.

    Hummers aren’t Natural Food fanatics, so they don’t go for Raw or Turbinado sugar or brown sugar, and they don’t like other sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup or confectioners sugar either.

    There was lots of wildlife in around Libby Dam and in the neighboring Kootenai National Forest, and staying in the Libby area, it felt like we were a world apart.

    Deer near Libby, Montana

    We saw lots of wildlife in Libby, Montana.

    If you take your RV to northwestern Montana, and especially to the small town of Libby, pay a visit to the Libby Dam and keep an eye out for the big, beautiful bald eagle. And if you are there in July, put a hummingbird feeder out, and be prepared with a stockpile of sugar and your camera!!

    There’s more info on Libby, Montana and hummingbirds below.

    RV at sunset Montana

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    Long Ride Travel by Horse and Bicycle!

    July 2016 – One of the best things about our traveling lifestyle is having a chance to meet some of the really unusual and inspiring people who are out there traveling and seeing the world.

    There are many ways to get out of the house and away from convention to start a life on the road exploring, and because we are out and about ourselves, we’ve bumped into some fascinating folks who have taken an approach to travel that is nothing like our own. Each one, in their own way, is having an adventure that is truly extraordinary.

    Long Ride Lady with horses in Montana

    Traveling full-time by RV is cool, but how about doing it by horse?!

    On the 4th of July we stopped in Troy, Montana, way up in the northwest corner of the state near Idaho and Canada, so we could enjoy their “Old Fashioned” small town Independence Day celebration with a parade and a car show.

    Troy Montana 4th of July Parade

    The 4th of July parade kicks off in Troy, Montana!

    The parade was terrific. There were lots of fire trucks and sirens and honking of horns, and tons of candy was thrown out on the ground for the kids to scramble after.

    Little girl at 4th of July Parade Troy Montana

    Little kids were diving for candy all over the place!

    We joined a sizable throng lining the highway (which had been temporarily shut down for the parade), and we cheered everyone on.

    Troy Montana 4th of July Parade Car Show

    Now there’s a sweet ride!

    Near the end of the parade, some horses went by. One in particular caught our eye. A petite woman in a very broad brimmed hat sat astride a horse, and she held the reins for a second horse that she had in tow. The second horse was carrying saddle bags and had a large sign on its back that said:

    Lady Long Rider. 12 Years. 28,000 Miles. Today ends 8,000 mile Coast to Coast Journey.

    Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende 28000 miles 12 years

    28,000 miles…by horse?? Wow!

    Holy Smokes!! Who was this gal and what was her story??

    In a few seconds she was gone down the road, along with the rest of the equestrian part of the parade, and we were caught up once again in watching the kids dive for candy and cheering the floats that went by.

    Later that evening, as we went through our photos from the day, we both stopped at our pics of this unusual “lady long rider” and wondered again what her story was.

    The next day, when we were driving on a back road near the town of Libby, we were both completely shocked when we looked up the road and saw the Lady Long Rider walking towards us with her two horses, right down the middle of the road.

    What luck! We pulled over and jumped out to talk to her.

    Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende in Montana

    The Lady Long Rider paused for a few minutes to chat with us and answer our flood of questions about her life.

    She smiled warmly and began telling us about her journey as her horses took advantage of the moment and started doing some serious grazing in the tall grass.

    Norwegian Fjord Horse

    Her two beautiful Norwegian Fjord horses passed the time grazing while their mistress talked to us.

    Her name was Bernice Ende, and we found out she has been traveling alone with her horses since 2005. She has covered 28,000 miles all together, criss-crossing the US and Canada several times. Her two horses, Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, are both Norwegian Fjord horses. They are steady, strong and mellow horses that are ideal for this kind of long distance journey.

    Bernice Ende Long Ride Lady with horses in Montana

    We had a wonderfully low key encounter on a little used road.

    Raised on a Minnesota dairy farm, and trained as a classical ballet dancer, she enjoyed a twenty-five year career as a ballet dance teacher that included teaching stints from San Francisco to Montana. After retiring from teaching, she struck out on a 2,000 mile Long Ride at age 50 with her first horse, Pride, to see a bit of the world. She hasn’t looked back since.

    Her story touched me deeply, because much of it paralleled my own journey, with my performing arts figure skating background and my own powerful middle-aged yearning to seek adventure on the open road.

    Like me, Bernice was raised by a strong, colorful mother who, along with her four aunts, inspired her with their independent and brave spirits. She says her mom “sought to change the world through education, the arts, science and…adventure,” and she instilled in Bernice an insatiable curiosity to find out what lies over the horizon.

    Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende with horses in Montana

    Bernice has been traveling with her horses since 2005.

    She carries everything she needs on her horses, and she told us she hasn’t slept in a bed in a house since 2008. Totally self-sufficient, she even shoes her horses herself! We were amused to discover she lives without a cell phone too, just as we do.

    She has dealt with adversity and faced some scary experiences, but the twinkle in her eye gave away her total love of this lifestyle.

    “I cried the day I left and cried for weeks until fatigue finally broke the fear into tiny digestible  pieces. I eventually found a life that tantalized and called to me, a life that suited me. I remember thinking, ‘How will I ever return to a normal life?’ Well, I guess I never did.”

    Her long rides have taken her all over North America on treks ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 miles and lasting from a few months to a few years, always bringing her back to Montana for a little R&R between trips.

    Boots and packs on a long ride on a horse

    Everything she and the horses need, from clothes and food to boots and shoes, is carried in packs.

    We were both astonished to hear her story unfold. When Bernice started traveling, although she had ridden horses her whole life, and had even galloped around standing on her bareback horse at age 8, she knew little about long riding. Like so many brand new full-time travelers, she had much to learn.

    She has ridden these long rides with several different horses. One of her most beloved horses, named Honor, died in a tragic corral accident that nearly ended her horseback travels. But she persevered and was encouraged and supported by newfound friends along the way, and she resumed her travels with another eager and willing horse named Hart who carried her for 8,000 miles before retiring at age 18.

    Bernice Ende on 28,000 mile long horse back ride

    Bernice, and her special mares Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.

    As we chatted, Bernice’s two mares munched the grass around us. She introduced us to each of them, but they were content to let us chat with each other while they got a quickie mid-morning snack and ignored the conversation.

    Bernice’s little traveling trio was once a quartet that included her faithful companion Claire Dog. Named after Clara of the “(Not Quite) Nutcracker” performances her ballet classes put on, but with a much more unruly personality than her namesake, Claire Dog accompanied her mistress for 7,000 miles on her own four paws (sometimes wearing leather doggie moccasins) and then rode in a doggie box atop a horse for another 12,000 miles.

    Sadly, Claire Dog left this earth last year at age 16, but Bernice herself shows no signs of slowing down or ending her travels.

    Horses with Bernice Ende the Long Ride Lady in Montana

    Bernice lets the horses know that snack time is over.

    After spending a little time back in her cabin, which has been cared for by a friend in her very long absence, she will be out on another Long Ride to the eastern states soon.

    One of her reasons for her Long Ride is to encourage women’s leadership. She visited Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace for the women’s rights movement, and she has been invited to speak at Harvard University as well as at several women’s colleges in the eastern states. So, in her next tour she will travel to these campuses on her way to the Appalachian Mountains and the Smokies.

    Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit with Bernice Ende in Montana

    This trio will be walking and riding the eastern states very soon.

    Our jaws were still agape long after Bernice had gathered her horses together and begun making her way down the road once again.

    We had forgotten to ask her how far she was going that day or where she planned to stay that night. But she had told us she never plans ahead too much, and she camps much as we do, finding out-of-the-way places on public land.

    Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit and Bernice Ende on Long Ride in Montana

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    Adventure travelers come in all shapes and sizes, and just a few hours after seeing Bernice disappear down the road, we bumped into a pair of cyclists who have been touring for 3,000 to 4,000 miles each summer for the past five years. This couple had pitched their tent near us, and when I saw their cycling shorts hanging out on a line, I had to go over and find out more.

    Rupert and Cyndy long distance cycling on bikes

    Our Luxury Mobile makes a fine backdrop for these two rugged cyclists and their touring bikes.

    Their names were Rupert and Cyndy, and it turned out that they had ridden with some of the same bike clubs and on some of the same long distance bike tours as we had back about ten or fifteen years ago, and we knew quite a few of the same people and cycling routes. What a small world!

    For this summer, Rupert and Cyndy had decided to do multiple “loop tours” in western Montana, rather than riding in a straight line from one destination to another or doing a single big loop from home. So far they had covered about 1,000 miles around east and west Glacier National Park, up into Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and around Whitefish, Montana.

    Rupert and Cyndy long distance bike riding cyclists

    Rupert and Cyndy have about 18,000 miles of international self-supported
    bike touring under their wheels.

    Like Bernice, Rupert and Cyndy are very experienced in their mode of travel. They have done about 18,000 miles of self-supported bicycle tours all over the world. They have ridden all around the western states, up and over the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, all through Maine and New Hampshire and into Nova Scotia and even in Newfoundland. They’ve ridden throughout the Canadian Rockies, including two trips along the breathtaking Icefileds Parkway.

    They’ve also ridden their bikes overseas, touring both the north and south islands of New Zealand and cycling all over Italy.

    Perhaps the most fun surprise for me, though, was discovering that Cyndy studied ballet for 13 years and had a 30 year career as a gymnastics instructor. What are the odds of meeting two such similar women as Cyndy and Bernice within hours in one day?

    Long Distance Cycling

    The rainy forecast didn’t daunt these two as they set out to ride 60 miles or so to their next stop.

    Rupert and Cyndy often take advantage of a wonderful website for cyclists, WarmShowers.org, where folks that wish to host traveling cyclists can make their home available to them and where cyclists looking for a place to pitch their tent and take a warm shower can find one.

    They have hosted lots and lots of cyclists from all over the world at their home, and during their cycling tours they have been hosted many times as well. They’ve found it’s a really rewarding way to travel.

    They sipped a cup of coffee with us at our campsite before they left and then headed out for the day’s 60 mile ride to their next destination. Like Bernice, they weren’t sure exactly where they would bed down that night, but they talked with excitement about the travel adventures that lay ahead, and they couldn’t wait to hit the road and get started.

    18 721 Long distance cycling

    There are many ways to travel, and our truck and trailer and sailboat have given us some beautiful experiences over the last nine years. But it is a thrill to cross paths with other travelers who are voyaging long distances for extended periods of time via very different means.

    I’m not sure I could be a Long Rider or a long distance self-supported touring cyclist, but what a joy it was to chat with these travelers and hear about their lives on the road. In the end, though, as our conversations flowed and we found our common bonds, it seemed that the most significant journey we had all taken in our many years of travel was not to one particular destination or another but was the journey within that happens when you leave convention behind and follow the rhythm of your own heart.

    As Bernice wrote on her website after six years of travel:

    “I think with each ride I grow a deeper appreciation for others, for the country I live in, and for the animals that willingly travel with me… Now, with nearly 17,000 miles under my saddle, I am beginning to know what long riding is about….A never ending education. A reminder that the most important thing about traveling from A to B is what is in between.”

    There are links for Bernice’s website, Long Riding and Long Distance Cycling below.

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    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

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    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

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    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

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

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    More info about Libby Montana:

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