Big Hole, MT – Picture Postcard Perfect

Big Hole, Montna

Big Hole, Montana

Late July, 2012 – From Darby, Montana, we met up with our friends and joined them on their annual trip to their favorite fishing hole tucked away in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana’s Big Hole River Valley.

Big Hole, Montana, Colors

Colorful reflections

They had often told us how beautiful this spot was, but it wasn’t until we stood there gazing at the mountains and feeling like we’d walked into the photos of a coffee table book that we really understood their affection for this place.

Big Hole, Montana, camping spot

Our own little oasis

Snowcapped mountains in Montana


The mountains were still decorated with snow from last winter and the lazy, wandering stream reflected the trees and skies from every angle.

Sunset in Montana

Sunset at the fishing hole

We weren’t really there for the fishing, but the opportunities for photos were endless.  We found a spot for the fifth wheel in a meadow and felt like we were settling into a private oasis that was all our own.

In nearby Jackson, Montana, a tiny town that is really just a handful of small buildings on the main drag, we discovered a unique community built on special, natural hot springs.  These hot springs are very hot, and we discovered they provide hot water and heating for many of the buildings in town.

Jackson, Montana

Views from Jackson, Montana


We wandered into the Jackson Hot Springs Lodge where there is an inviting swimming pool filled with water from the hots springs.  The water flows in one end and out the other, and provides an awesome place for a warm soak in between.



Jackson Hot Springs Lodge, Montana

The Pool at Jackson Hot Springs Lodge

A gal testing the non-chlorinated water in the pool told us this a favorite place among locals in the wintertime.  Big Hole is one of the coldest spots in Montana and winter temps hover around -20 F.  But the hot springs still gush water at about 135 F.  The water cools just enough before it reaches the pool to be very soothing.

Venturosa - a 103' ketch


We were told the folks in town tend to live longer than most people, and kids just love the pool when the decking is covered in snow.  When they pop their heads out of the water in January they can mold their quickly freezing hair into mohawks, antlers and funny shapes.

At the old fashioned Jackson Mercantile we noticed a photo on the wall of a big beautiful ketch under sail.  The clerk told us her husband had been one of the lavish yacht’s builders years ago in Seattle.

Fish Fry!

Fish Fry!

It was called “Venturosa,” was a whopping 103 feet long, and had been built by a millionaire as an anniversary gift for his wife.  (Gee, I’m happy just going out for dinner!).  Tragically, she fell ill before it was finished and never set foot on the boat — in fact, she never even knew it existed.

Back at camp, our friends Bob, Cole, Christopher and Todd had caught a bucketload of fish, and Bob’s wife Donna Lea fried them up into a delicious feast.  This brook fishing was pretty different than the fishing we had done off our boat in Mexico — there weren’t any 3 foot long fish in the bucket today — but the end result was just as tasty, if not moreso.

Big Hole, Montana, water reflections

Montana Reflections

Sunset in Big Hole, Montana

Montana Sunset


Todd & Bandit

Todd & Bandit take us to a beautiful meadow.

There are lots of trails to explore in this area, and Mark snuck out at sunrise and often disappeared again around sunset to capture whatever he could find on camera.  I joined him a few times and we were treated to some gorgeous views.  In the evenings we got to enjoy the scenery all over again as we reviewed our hundreds of shots on the computer.

One day our friend Todd and his dog Bandit led us on a trail to a spot he’d found that was particularly scenic.  We returned several times, finding a perfect, classic spider web and a delicate stalk of grass bent over by the weight of dew drops, as well 360 degrees of beautiful views.

Perfect spiderweb

A classic spiderweb

Pine cone

Dew drops on long grass

Dew drops on long grass

Big Hole Montana - beautiful scenery

Beautiful scenery all around

A happy week in this tranquil paradise quickly slipped by. It seemed that time had stood still. However, we eventually emerged from these scenic woods, said goodbye to our friends, and continued down the road, ready for a new chapter of in-town exploration in Dillon, Montana.

Views from Jackson, MT

Views from Jackson, Montana


<- Previous                                                                                                                                                                                       Next ->

Darby, MT – Fun Surprises in the Bitterroot Valley

Hamilton, MT, farmer's market eggs

Nita sells colorful eggs

Late July, 2012 – Right on the heels of our wonderful Bittersweet Guitars factory tour came the Hamilton, MT, Farmer’s Market.  Nita was selling her colorful eggs from her many egg-laying birds: turkey, duck and goose eggs were mixed in among chicken eggs, and her carefully hand-written sign explained that if you got a bad egg she would happily replace it with a good one.

Kids at the Hamilton, MT, Farmer's Market

Belle of the Ball

Nita was a fun old gal to chat with, but the real belle of the ball that morning was a little girl not quite two years old.  She already had the looks and style of a high fashion model.

Fun kids at the Hamilton, MT, farmer's market

Mark and Savannah play with the camera

Mark enjoyed hanging out with the two-year-old set for a while, and little Savannah loved making faces and then looking at her picture in the back of his camera.  This market is a family affair and the whole place was filled with kids.  What fun.

Flower at the Hamilton, MT, farmer's marketFrom Hamilton we made our way to Darby where we found the Pioneer Memorial Library filled with treasures from bygone days.  Ned was our tour guide there, and he pointed out an axe cover that his granddad had made from an old cowboy boot and a scale used for weighing buffalo.  Most intriguing was the telephone switchboard.  Ned’s mom had been a switchboard operator on a unit just like the one on display.

Telephone switchboard, Darby, MT

Telephone switchboard

I’d only seen these things in the movies and was surprised at how small it was – room for just one person.  There were Missoula phone books from the 1920’s and 30’s on display too.  Almost every family listed in the phone book was at an address given vaguely as “ranch N of Darby” or “ranch S of Hamilton.”  No street names!  The phone book also touted the ease of using the telephone, saying how friends and family were “right beside you.”  It explained in detail the sound and purpose of the busy signal.

1930's era Missoula, MT, phone book

1930’s era phone book

Reading that and thinking about my project of migrating our website to WordPress, integrating it with “social media,” and wanting it to look good on a smartphone made me laugh.  What would the people of those days have thought (as they read their little phone books telling them that the sound of a ringing bell in their ear-piece meant the phone was ringing at the other party’s house) if you had told them what was to come?  Of course many of them are with us today, romping around on the internet with joyful abandon.

Behind bars at the Darby, MT, Sherriff's office

The Darby, MT, Sherriff has a sense of humor

The Sherriff in Darby is a history buff, and he oversaw the renovation of part of his offices to replicate an old-time Sherriff’s office and jail.  Mark and I jumped behind bars for a quick pic.

Darby, MT, Logger Days

Darby, MT, is known for Logger Days

Darby is well-known for their Logger Days festival in July, and the preparations were in full-swing.  Rows of log towers had gone up for the log climbing competition, and a pool was being filled with water for the log rolling competition.  We missed the actual events, but folks in town kept asking us, “Have you seen the library?”  This seemed like something we definitely shouldn’t miss, and sure enough, when we stepped inside we were really surprised.

Darby, MT, library

Darby Library

For a town with a population of less than 750, the little library would do a much larger town proud, both for its construction and for what it says about the community.  Lots of people retire to the Darby area from scientific careers launched with PhD’s years ago (GlaxoSmithKline and NIH have large research facilities in the area), and grant writing and philanthropic giving are second nature to them.  At the same time, one of the challenges facing the local logging industry is the plethora of small-diamater timber that is clogging the woods.

Darby, MT, library is made from small-diameter timber

Vaulted ceilings in an unusual structure

Winning a grant from the National Forest Service and its Madison, WI, forest products lab (along with other grants and gifts), Darby built a library that is uniquely engineered and is the first of its kind, showcasing a clever construction technique that takes advantage of under-utilized small-diameter timber.  Rather than using single fat logs, the posts and beams in this library are made with groups of four skinny poles, and the visual effect (and physical soundness) is terrific.

Darby, MT, Library: unique use of small-diamter wood

Unique use of skinny poles

Groups of tourists from all over the world have come to admire the construction of what the locals affectionately call the “Sistine Chapel of Small-Diameter Round Wood.”  What a beautiful, sun-filled space this special library is for a quiet morning of reading or computer work.

Cyclist in Darby, MT, rides from OK to CA

Long-distance cyclist Mary McDaniel

The Bitterroot Valley is also a popular thoroughfare for cyclists on long-distance adventures.  We saw dozens of cyclists loaded down with panniers.  Mary and Kurt McDaniel had spent the last 7 weeks riding from Oklahoma, and they were on their way to San Francisco by way of Canada’s Jasper National Park.  These cycling travelers often group and re-group with each other on the road, and a young fellow from Korea had joined the for a leg of his travels that were taking him from Atlanta to California.

chipmunk in Gibbons Pass, MTThe cyclists urged us to drive the nearby wildflower-filled meadows of Gibbons Pass.  Out on this pretty road we saw a brown sign saying, “Hogan Cabin,” so we took the turn, expecting to find a historic cabin.  Nope!  An elderly couple emerged from the cabin as we pulled up and said to us, “We sure didn’t expect any visitors!”  Huh?  Wasn’t this public property owned by the NFS or another government agency?  “Oh sure, but we rented it for the night.  $35!  Shhh – it’s the best kept camping secret around!”

Hogan Cabin, Gibbons Pass, MT

Hogan Cabin, Gibbons Pass

Wow.  We had no idea that the NFS rented out cabins!  This was an old ranger’s cabin and inside was a wonderful pot-bellied stove and bunk beds.  We sat outside with our newfound friends and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.  It was as if they’d invited us to stop by and visit them at their own personal mountain retreat.

From the south end of the Bitterroot Valley we headed on towards Big Hole, Montana, where we found life-giving hot springs and gorgeous camping.



<- Previous                                                                                                                                                                                       Next ->

BitterSweet Guitars in the Bitterroot, MT

Big Creek Coffee Roasters, Hamilton, MT

Big Creek Coffee Roasters

Mid-July – After enjoying some ranching and quilting fun in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, we strolled the cute town of Hamilton where there is a high-end, ambiance-rich, specialty coffee bistro on every corner.  Our kind of town!  Wandering down one street, Mark noticed a guitar shop, and just had to stop in.  We got chatting with Cody, the young owner who, together with his wife Nichole, has taught guitar since they were in their early twenties and had recently purchased the store, Mountain Music Learning Center.

Mountain Music Center, Hamilton, MT

Mountain Music Center

The wall was lined with Taylor and Takamine acoustic guitars, both of which Mark has owned and liked.  But tucked in among them were another brand, BitterSweet Guitars.  “I make those,” a voice said behind me.  Our eyes popped open as we turned to see a friendly looking fellow with a mustache.  Really?  Hand-made guitars and the builder right here on a stool at the counter??  His name was Ken Rumbaugh, and it turned out his workshop was just outside of town.


Playing at Mountain Music Center, Hamilton, MT

Cody & Ken strum a bit

He took a guitar down off the wall, strummed a few chords, and then began jamming with store owner Cody.  What fun!  Next thing we knew, Ken was inviting us to come see his workshop.  What an opportunity!!  A few hours later our buggy rattled down some narrow lanes as we followed Ken’s directions.   The pretty Bitterroot mountains made a picturesque backdrop in the distance across farm fields.

BitterSweet Guitar Shop, Hamilton, MT

Ken shows off his sign

Then there it was, the ten foot tall playable guitar Ken had built as BitterSweet Guitar’s sign.  Hopping out of the truck, the first thing we noticed after the enormous guitar was a cool ancient truck parked out back and a nosy sheep that stuck his head through the fence to have a look at us.  As Ken led us into the workshop we passed a large bank of Outback solar charge controllers.  The shop was powered primarily by solar power!

But like all of us who live with solar power, there were limits.  Our fifth wheel’s 490 watts gives us everything we need in the buggy except air conditioning.  Ken’s 5,000 watts in his workshop gives him everything he needs but his big air compressor… This was the second commercial building we had seen using banks of Outback controllers (the first was the NOLS school in the Sea of Cortez).

Classic old car


Sheep head through fence








BitterSweet Guitar Factory, Hamilton, MT

BitterSweet Guitar Factory

The BitterSweet Guitar workshop was filled with a wonderful array of sweet smelling wood and sawdust, impressive power tools, and instruments in various stages of completion and repair.  Along with building guitars, Ken repairs stringed instruments of all kinds.

"Tater Bug" Mandolin, BitterSweet Guitar Repairs

“Tater Bug” Mandolin

Throughout our tour he kept returning to a lovely “tater bug” mandolin, whose neck was in clamps, to check on it, as it needed to move on to its next phase of repair once the glue had been at a certain temperature for four hours.


Side of a guitar, BitterSweet Guitars

Beautiful curvy side panel

Ken walked us through every step of building a guitar, from selecting and shaping the wood for the sides to creating the neck and headstock to attaching the front and back.  Who knew that every guitar’s front panel is rounded as if it were part of the skin of a 32′ diameter ball?

BitterSweet Guitar Headstock

BitterSweet Guitar Headstock

He showed us a BitterSweet Guitar headstock inlaid with beautiful, iridescent, abalone pieces in the shape of a flower.  Each guitar was crafted with carefully matched wood patterns, and he spoke warmly of his customers who each come to him with very particular requests for their instruments.

Building guitars at BitterSweet Guitar, Hamilton, MT

Fitting a side panel into the jig

Guitars emerging from this shop are works of art.

Ken learned his craft as a young man, hanging around the Martin factory that was near his home in New Jersey.  The workers were happy to share tips with him, and he dumpster dove behind the factory to pick up and study their cast off necks, bridges and headstocks.  Having sold his cabinet-making business after many years, he now builds guitars as a fun retirement job.  What a satisfying skill to have.

Hamilton, Montana

Ride ’em Cowboy!

A few days later we met up with Ken once again at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market.  This is a lively summer Saturday morning event, and Ken, along with his bandmates, made wonderful music on the green in front of the county courthouse where there is a marvelous wooden statue of a rodeo bronco.

We hung around the Bitterroot Valley area a while longer, and returned to the Mountain Music Learning Center guitar shop briefly so Mark could learn the opening strains of a song shop-owner Cody had played so easily when we were first there (White Lion’s “When the Children Cry”).  And eventually we moseyed down to the small town of Darby, MT, where we found a unique library and ended up behind bars.

Music at the Hamilton Farmer's Market in Montana

Music at the Farmer’s Market








<- Previous                                                                                                                                                                                       Next ->

Did you enjoy this? Subscribe to our News Feed!!

Bitterroot Valley, MT – Traditional Roots in the Modern Age

Barn in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Barns add color to the scenery.

Mid-July, 2012 – When we left Mesa Falls, Idaho, and its glistening rainbow behind, we crossed into Montana to visit friends in the Bitterroot Valley.  This is a valley rich with the spirit of another time and place, where ranching still plays an important role.  Yet at the same time we heard rumors that some of the most astronomically rich, like the founder of Intel, own mammoth estates in the hillsides, giving the area a certain mystique.

Christmas in July

Christmas in July!

Our life on the road is far from grandiose.  In fact we have a hard time buying any kind of mail order goods, as not all things can be shipped to “General Delivery” at some post office somewhere.  Knowing we were headed to a real address, we went a little crazy mail ordering things we had wanted for ages.  Our friends Bob & Donna Lea very kindly became good buddies with the UPS and FedEx delivery people who brought a year’s worth of our shopping to their doorstep.  Donna Lea put bows on all the boxes and we celebrated a very fun “Christmas in July.”

Ranchers in the Bitterroot Valley

Cole and Bob get ready for work.


Their neighbor Carl is a rancher, and he invited us to come over to his ranch to watch a small “cattle drive” as he and his ranch hands moved the herd from munching on grass in one field to dining on another.  I had gotten caught up with computer work and missed the fun, but Mark enjoyed a fabulous morning among horse hooves and snorting cows as the ranchers rounded them all up.

The cows

The cows are about to be moved. Do they know?


Cattle roundup

Ranchers on horseback in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Cole, Bob, Jack & Carl pose for pics!

These cows are well loved and are more obedient than most, I imagine, and in no time the two dogs and four mounted ranchers had persuaded the stomping and mooing group to move on to greener pastures.

Our ranching host

Carl, our ranch host.

In these parts there is often a trade that goes on between ranching and non-ranching landowners.  There’s a lot of value in having a herd of cows take care of your mowing, especially if you’ve got a lot of acres to mow.  At the same time, the cost of feeding a large group of very large animals can be a bit steep.  So just about the time that a herd of cows needs fresh greens — and just about the time that a non-rancher’s land is beginning to look a little overgrown — the two neighbors get together, shake hands on the trade, and the herd is moved.

Computer driven sewing machine

Computer driven sewing machine!

This is also an area where traditional crafts are treasured, and one morning I joined Donna Lea and her daughter Diana on a trip to the local quilting show.  I love handcrafts, needlework and all things to do with fabric, thread and yarn, so this was a real treat for me.  What a surprise it was to discover that quilting has gone high tech.  The sewing machines were incredible: huge and computer driven with electronic displays where you can select stitches and sizes and everything else.  The fabrics are out of this world as well with photographic quality images of everything from animals to mountains printed in all sorts of hues.  The days of hand stitched geometric designs made of calico patterns are long gone.

Spinning wheel

The old way…

Fortunately the roots of needlework are still valued, and a woman sat at a spinning wheel in the center of the room explaining the old fashioned techniques to an audience of young kids that buzzed around her.


Modern quilt designs are beautiful.

Best of all, though, was the exhibition of quilts hanging in rows along one end of the hall.  There were historic quilts with notes saying this like, “This quilt was owned by great-aunt Betty in 1927,” and there were traditional quilts made in the old style.  But my favorites were the modern ones that have unusual designs and motifs you would never expect in a hand-made quilt.

The Bitterroot Valley charmed us for two weeks, and we soon discovered more fine craftsmanship in the town of Hamilton, Montana at BitterSweet Guitars.



<- Previous                                                                                                                                                                                       Next ->

Helmville Rodeo, MT – RV Camping with Horses

Livestock / rodeo horses

The rodeo horses run in from a distant pasture.

Some rodeo kids stop by our rig.

Ladies barrel racing Helmville Montana Rodeo

Ladies' Barrel racing.

Ladies barrel racing Helmville Montana Rodeo

What a thrill!

Ladies barrel racing Helmville Montana Rodeo

Sharp turns and quick starts and stops.

Mom and daughter watch the races.

Juniors barrel racing Helmville Montana Rodeo

The 10-and-under riders took their time.

Future rodeo star.

Mutton busters Helmville Montana Rodeo

Kids clamp onto sheep's wool for the

Mutton Busters race.

Mutton busters Helmville Montana Rodeo

They all fell off eventually.

Mutton busters Helmville Montana Rodeo

Some get plucked off when the going gets too rough.

Mutton busters Helmville Montana Rodeo

One tried to ride upright.

Mutton busters Helmville Montana Rodeo

He was a crowd pleaser.

Kids love rodeos

The kids loved every bit of the rodeo scene.

Kids love rodeos

Can I pet you?


Professional rodeo riders

The pros.

Professional rodeo riders

Resting between events.

Professional rodeo riders Professional rodeo riders

2009 Finals

Elite Professional Bullriders, Inc.

Bull riding Helmville Rodeo

And that's what this profession is all about.

Bullriding at the Rodeo

Youngsters learning to take the kicks...

Professional Bullriding at the Rodeo

Face plant.

Steer wrestling at the rodeo

Steer wrestling.

Tie down roping at the rodeo

Tie down roping - first rope the calf.

Tie down roping at the rodeo

Then tie it down as your horse keeps tension on the line.

Tie down roping at the rodeo Tie down roping at the rodeo

Tie the knots well so the calf can't wriggle free later!

Team cow roping and milking at the Helmville Rodeo

Team cow roping and milking.

Team cow roping and milking at the Helmville Rodeo

Getting a cup of milk for the referee.

Horseback riding

Helmville, Montana Rodeo (2)

Labor Day Weekend, 2009 - The Helmville Rodeo

in Montana had so much going on that we took

1,000 photos between us and had a hard time

choosing just 50 for the website.  First thing in the

morning the rodeo horses were all driven from a

distant pasture over to the arena, right past our

campsite.  What a magnificent sight as they

thundered effortlessly past us, manes and tails

flying, nostrils flaring and snorting.

A group of kids stopped by our trailer to sell us some bead

jewelry they had made.  Their freckles and happy faces

were irresistible.  Mark bought a bracelet so he could

engage them in conversation for a little while before they

ran off.  "Hey, can you girls stand over there so I can get a

photo?"  He asked.  A little voice piped up from the back.

"I'm not a girl!"  Oops.  But so cute!!  Several were siblings,

and all of them turned up later in the the 10-and-under

barrel race.

Over at the

rodeo that

afternoon the

young cowgirls

showed us

what barrel

racing is all

about.  These

gals flew past

in a blaze of


The distance

wasn't far, but

getting around the barrels

required perfect timing and

impeccable human-equine

communication to slow down

enough to get around in a tight

turn without knocking over the

barrel and then accelerate to

the next barrel.

The joy of riding at such

speeds lit every girls face, and

was by far my favorite event.

The fastest time was an

electrifying 27 seconds or so.

The kids were up next, and we

rooted for each of our young

friends from around our

campsite.  The little boy whom

Mark had accidentally lumped

into the group of "you girls" did a

stately walk on his horse around

the course.  The littlest girl went

at such a leisurely stroll that she

finished with a noble time of

some 1 minute 52 seconds or so.

"Don't worry," the announcer said as her horse walked down the back stretch,

"We've rented this rodeo space for the whole afternoon."  The kids store our


Scanning the stands, our hearts

were stolen again.  Donna Lea

snapped a photo of a little boy

sitting on a toy steer wearing a

large cowboy hat.

Out in the rodeo arena the

announcer got us all chuckling as

we watched the "Mutton

Busters."  Here the under-7 set

clung onto the backs of sheep as

they raced across the field, trying

like heck not to slip off.

Eventually each kid wound up on

the ground and the sheep

scampered away, some of them

leaping as they went.

Some kids got plucked off the backs of the sheep by their

beltloops when it looked like they might get trampled

under the sheep's hooves.

One little boy tried riding his sheep like a horse.

It didn't last long, but he sure knew how to ham it up after he fell off.

The kids were the true delight of this rodeo.  They were

everywhere, and they seemed to love every bit of it.

Even the cattle pens looked like so much fun the kids climbed

in with them to pet them.

I don't know if I'd want to get that close.  Saying hello through

the bars of the pen was good enough for me.

But there is a professional

side to the rodeo business,

and we enjoyed watching

the cowboys preparing and

resting between events.

It was a world apart for us.  For

them it's a profession and involves a

lot of hard work, big kicks and pride.

Seeing them getting tossed from the

bulls seemed like a rough way to

make a living.

There was a category of bull riding

for kids too.

Next up was the steer wrestling.  In

this event the cowboy chases after

the calf on his horse and

then slides off onto the

ground, grasping the

steer's head in his

arms.  Once on

the ground, the

cowboy uses all

his might to twist

the steer's strong

neck to thrust it

onto it's back.

This was followed by the tie down

roping.  Here the cowboy roped the calf

by the neck and then relied on his

horse to hold the line to the calf taught

while he tied up the calf's legs.  The

horse would slowly back up if the line


Then, to prove that the calf was

properly tied, the horse

would walk forward to

release the tension on

the line slightly.  At that

point several calves

wriggled free, showing

that the cowboy needed

to go home and work on

his knots.

The last event was a crazy free-for-all.  Pairs of people ran across the

field swinging ropes while a herd of mother cows was released at the

other end.  The goal was to rope a cow and get her to stand still while

you got a cup of milk from her.  Right!  Sure enough, one pair of guys

in front of us pulled it off.  As they rushed to the referee with their cup

of milk we saw another pair of guys at the opposite end running to the

referee at the same time, cup of milk held high.  It was a tie.

We left the rodeo still chuckling.  What a fun celebration of

the ranching lifestyle.  Each event represented a ranching

technique that is (or was) used in the daily process of

managing cattle in far flung ranges.

We spent days trying to trim our gazillion pictures down to a manageable number.  The air was getting chilly too, so

we turned the trailer south on I-15 through Utah to head to the annual Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas,




















































































Helmville Rodeo, MT – Bull-riders, Bucking Broncos and Cute Kids

Helmville Montana

We select a campsite in the pasture.

Helmville Montana horseback riding

Families exercisied their horses all around us.

Helmville Montana horseback riding

9-year-old Szeplyn was on her horse all afternoon.

Helmville Montana horseback riding

She stopped by for a visit.

Helmville Montana Labor Day Rodeo

Szeplyn shows us how her horse can smile.

Helmville Montana Labor Day Rodeo

The steer dashes across the field with the ropers in pursuit.

Roping at the Helmville Rodeo

Ropes fly as the "header" tries to snag the horns.

Roping at the Helmville Rodeo

Success - the steer's horns are caught.

Roping at the Helmville Rodeo

Tied head and foot, the steer rolls his eyes.

Roping at the Helmville Rodeo

Header and Heeler pause for a split second then release the steer.

Roping at the Helmville Rodeo

Catching a steer this way is no easy task.

The round-robin ropers wait their turn and laugh at the

antics of a buddy in the ring.

The steer are herded from the landing pen back to the

starting pen for another round.

Cattle at the Helmville Rodeo

Standing room only in the starting pen.

Family fun

No kid is too young for a rodeo.

Montana flag

Montana !!

bucking bronco riding

The bucking broncos do their best to

fling their riders into the air.

bareback riding Helmville Rodeo

Hang on!!

Bareback riding bronco riding Helmville Rodeo

This is not for the faint hearted.

Bareback riding bronco riding Helmville Rodeo

This horse came out kicking.

Bareback riding bronco riding Helmville Montana Rodeo Bareback riding bronco riding Helmville Montana Rodeo Bareback riding bronco riding Helmville Montana Rodeo Bareback riding bronco riding Helmville Montana Rodeo

Mark does Annie Oakley.

Helmville, Montana Rodeo (1)

Labor Day Weekend, 2009 - Our Stevensville, Montana friends, Bob

and Donna Lea, wanted us to get a taste of the real western cowboy

experience, so they took us to the Helmville Rodeo.  This is an annual

three-day event over Labor Day weekend that attracts rodeo stars and

ranch hands from all over the west.  Spectators and entrants alike find a

spot in the pasture to park their campers and horse trailers, and

everyone sets up for a fun-filled weekend.

We soon found

ourselves surrounded

by kids and their

parents exercising

their horses.  The

thick grasses and

expansive lands that

spread out against

the rolling brown

Montana hills seemed

perfect for taking your

horse out for a spin.

One little girl in

particular caught our

eye.  Nine-year-old

Szeplyn had a

magical way with her

horse.  She pranced past us repeatedly,

hair flying in the wind, as free and happy

as any girl her age could be.  At other

times she would wander by in a more

contemplative mood, scanning the

distant horizon.  She seemed to drift by

us on silent feet, at one with her horse,

the breeze and her world.

She stopped by our campsite to pay us a

visit and introduced herself.  She was

going to be in the barrel race the next

day.  There was a special category for

kids 10-and-under from the local area.

She was excited and we watched her

practicing with her dad.

During our visit she showed us how she

could make her horse smile.  Funny thing, he didn't seem to mind much as she pulled his lips into a

big toothy grin.  There was a real affection in this relationship that went both ways.

Next morning, down at the rodeo fairgrounds, the round-robin team

roping event was already underway when we got there.  In this event

a steer would be released to run across the field.  Two ropers would

the follow in hot pursuit.

One roper, the "header," would attempt to rope the steer's

horns.  Only one in five ropers managed to snare those horns.

Most steer got across the field in record time, untouched.

If the steer's horns were caught, the other roper, the "heeler," would

attempt to rope the steer's feet.  The was very tricky, as the feet are

running darned quickly and the rope has to slip under them mid-stride.

Of the steer whose heads were caught only a few got their feet caught


Once the steer was strung out between the two ropers, a

huge cheer would go up.  Then, as fast as you could click

the shutter on your camera, the steer would be released.

Of the forty or so round-robin ropers waiting their turn, every header in the

bunch would pair up with every heeler, giving every possible pairing of

ropers a chance.

There was a

large herd of

cattle that


and once they

each had run across the field in a

scrambling effort to evade getting

caught, they would all be herded back

to the starting line so they could run

another time.

The holding pen of steer waiting to

run across the field was very tight.

We learned later that these cattle are

rented to rodeos for performance purposes, so

they have a pretty good handle on what's

ahead of them.  I'm sure some of all that

mooing in the pen was a lively discussion about

how to outwit the ropers.  There might have

even been a bit of story telling among them about their

escapades in the rodeo.

The rodeo was a family event, and we saw kids of all ages

enjoying the fun.  No youngster was too small to be a part.

After the round-robin event was over, the professional show

started, kicked off by a circling of the Montana flag, then the

US flag, and finally everyone stood for the national anthem.

The bucking broncos were a real eye opener.  These horses get

their privates cinched up in a way that makes men cringe.  The

gate is flung open and the horse leaps into the air while the

cowboy hangs on for dear life.

Some horses really let their riders have it.  But

some riders manage to stay on for a miraculously

long time too.

One horse came out clawing the air.  His rider

somehow stayed on his back, even though the

horse reared a second time before giving him a rip-

roaring ride.

The facial expressions of the riders were priceless.

The event is timed in seconds, and rarely lasted

more than a few, but time must have been standing

still for those dare-devil men as they got

flung about like rag dolls.

The rodeo was a place where testosterone

was in very good supply.  Getting a burger,

we stood behind a fellow whose thoughts

about gun ownership were proudly

emblazoned on the back of his shirt.

There was a raffle for a gun Mark thought

was especially cool, and he did his best

Annie Oakley after he bought a ticket.  I

don't know what his plans were for the gun

if he'd won it, but his ticket didn't turn out to

be a winner in the end.

Neither of us has

spent much time

around horses or

farm animals, so we

loved every minute of

this action packed

weekend.  In the

evening we retreated

to our campsite,

watching the kids

trotting around on their horses.  We fell asleep to the sounds of horses

whinnying and snorting all around us as they stood outside tied to their

trailers.  Next morning we were up bright and early to catch more of the

Helmville Rodeo.










































































Stevensville, MT – Real Ranching and Grass Fed Beef!

Salmon Idaho hat shop

Hat shop in Salmon, Idaho.

Salmon Idaho cowboy hat shop

Trade-in hats from loyal customers.

Lemhi County Fair Idaho

Lemhi County Fair

Lemhi County Fair Idaho

Cowboys watch the rodeo.

BItterroot Mountains Montana

Beautiful barn and ranch in the Bitterroot.


Little Buck eyes me up.

Horseback riding

He did exactly as my reins told him.

BItterroot Mountains Montana ranch

A peaceful but busy ranch.

Ranching in Montana

Calves come barreling down the chute to be


Ranching in Montana

They are held in a small pen for their shots.

Ranching in Stevensville Montana

That's a mighty big syringe!

Ranching in Stevensville Montana

Two quick shots.  Some calves barely seemed to


Ranching in Stevensville Montana

And off they run to join their waiting friends.

Ranching in Stevensville Montana

Sunset casts a warm glow on the Bitterroot mountains.

Kootenai Creek Fire Montana

A wildfire had burned for a month in the nearby hills.

Mountain biking Bitterroot Mountains Montana

Carl shows us what ranchers do in their free time.

Mountain biking Bitterroot Mountains Montana

The views became more and more

grand as we climbed.

Mountain biking and hiking Kootenai Creek Montana

New growth from the wicked 1910 blaze to the left and

new charred scarring on the right.

Mountain biking and hiking Kootenai Creek Montana bark beetles pine trees Montana

Beetles bore into the tree bark

and the tree responds by oozing

thick sap.

cow dog Montana ranch

The newest ranch hand.

Wild turkeys Montana

Wild turkeys pay us a visit.

Just a few feet to one side and we'd have had a good sunny

glimpse of the family.

Bambi deer Montana

Bambi trots across the grass nearby.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

The cows come when called.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

Yum, freshly mowed grass!

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

That's something to moo about.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

The moms circle us.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

A few treats to lure them in, and they know the next

step is a romp in a new pasture.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

This guy was hopeful mom still had some milk for him.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

And they're off to greener grass on the other side of the fence.

Stevensville, Montana

Late August, 2009 - We left Stanley, Idaho and continued traveling

north towards Montana, following the wonderful twists and turns of the

Salmon River as it descended down the mountains.  During two days of

leisurely driving along the river's edge, we watched the terrain gradually

change from tall pines on steep mountainsides to rolling, barren hills that

seemed to have been shaped and smoothed with care.  We slowly

began to feel the mood changing from fly fishing in fast-moving streams

under cool trees to ranching on the wide open range under the big sky.

Stopping in the small town of Salmon, Idaho, we found a shop filled with

cowboy hats.  The new ones on the racks looked very crisp, but the

ones with real character were the crumpled ones the customers had

turned in.  These hats lined the tops of the walls in the store.  Each hat

was crinkled and worn in a different way, and each had the owner's

name under it.

Outside of town we found the Lemhi

County Fair in progress.  There was

all kinds of horse activity going on,

and we watched a little as the riders

competed with each other to be the

fastest one to sort out a single cow

from the herd.

It was more fun watching the

cowboys watch the event.

Some of the ranches and farms we passed were beautiful properties.  One red barn in

particular caught my eye, and later I found that this same barn

was featured on a glossy Montana calendar.

We went to Stevensville to visit our friends Bob and Donna Lea.

Before we'd even said "hello" to them, we met their horse Little

Buck.  He was carrying Bob's ranching boots on his back.

I got a chance to try my legs at

riding a horse.  This was just the

third time I'd been on a horse

since my first outing on a pony at

the church fair when I was five.  I

managed okay, but I got the

signals crossed for turning right

versus left and consequently had

to duck under a very low branch.

Bob had work to do at his

neighbor Carl's ranch, and we got

a fantastic inside view of what

ranching is like.  This was the day

the cows and their calves had to

be inoculated with two vaccines

and sprayed with an anti-fly

spray.  I had no idea what to

expect, but I loved the sights and

smells and busy activity on the


First the calves were sent down a chute to a single-calf sized holding

pen.  There they were held in place with a clamp on either side of their

neck so they could bob their head up and down but couldn't wriggle out.

This made it easier to give them their shots.  They didn't seem thrilled

with the idea, but they didn't protest too much.  A scratch on the head

helped the medicine go down.  Next, two ranchers lined up with the

shots.  The syringes were pretty good sized.  Bigger than I'd want,


Then the vaccines were injected and

the calf was released to run off to his

friends down the hill.  There was all kinds of mooing going on in the distance, as the calves and

cows had been separated from each other for this project, and they kept calling to each other

from their separate pens.

Eventually everyone got their shots

and later they all got their spray.  We

had a chance to go through the

calving barn to see where and how

that is done (in March when it is zero

degrees and snowing).  As I looked at

the apparatus for handling a breach

birth and for nurturing a sickly calf, I

was amazed at how much biological

and medical knowledge a rancher

needs to have.  I missed most of the

scientific words Carl was throwing


Yet there was a cozy intimacy to this family enterprise that brought a new group of calves into

this world each year.  I felt like I was peeking in on a James Herriott story.  In the distance that

evening the mountains were lit with a momentary splendor, adding a special glow to this world of

Montana cattle ranching.

A wildfire had been burning in the

nearby mountains for a month.

During the day you could smell the

smoke, and at times the fire danced across the mountainside,

sending up a ribbon of smoke first from one area and then another.

A few days into our visit a torrential rainstorm came, dropping an inch

of water on the mountains and valley (along with a thin layer of pea-

sized hail).  That doused the fire long enough for us to take a

mountain bike ride up to a nearby peak to get a closer look.

Our new ranching friend Carl showed us that ranchers don't just raise

cattle.  They mountain bike too.

Once we got up in the hills a

few miles we had an

expansive view of the

Bitterroot Valley below.  We

met some US Forest Service

rangers at the crest of the

mountain, and they told us that

the fire was subdued but not

quite out.  As we looked out at

the charred hillside in the

distance (on the right side of

the photo below) we could not

see any smoke just then, but

in later days it returned.

The modern wildfire fighting method is to let them burn, as fires are natural in this part of

the country.  The hillside on the left of the photo shows the forest's re-growth since the

1910 inferno that roared from Washington state across Idaho and into Montana.  The shorter, even trees covering most of the hill

are the regrowth and the taller, darker ribbon of trees that lines the ravine going down the hillside are the original pre-1910 trees.

One hundred years later and the evidence of that fire is still plain to see.

Hopefully the burnt areas from this year's fire will grow back

a little faster, as the fire was not hot enough to sterilize the

ground (like the 1910 fire did).  All the fire talk aside, it was a

good moment for a photo op.

The fire was working its way across many healthy trees, but

we found ourselves in a stand of beetle infested trees.  The

beetles bore into the bark and the tree tries to repel them

with thick sap.  This gives the tree a pock-marked look.

Some trees are able to stave off the infestation, but most

eventually die

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Carl had just acquired an

adorable new cow dog.  She was all cuddles and goofiness,

just settling in to her new home before learning the ropes of

her ranch job.

Out in the "wildlife sanctuary," a portion of the pastureland allowed to grow

wild, two families of wild turkeys showed up.  They had been in the area all

summer and at one time numbered two adult females and 17 chicks.

We counted 15 chicks with

the moms, but couldn't get

them to stand still or pose for

us in the sunshine for a family

portrait.  They ran across the

road in the shadows instead.

In the midst of taking way too

many photos of these

turkeys, I looked up and saw

Bambi running across the

field, white spots and all.

A few days later, Carl invited us

over to see a "cattle drive" at the

ranch.  This wasn't the big round-

up you might imagine, but a simple

walk-through from one pasture to

another.  The cows had made

short work of all the grass in their

current field, and when Carl called

to them, they came running.

He presented them with some

freshly mowed grass and they got

very excited.  The mooing was

tremendous, and each cow came

bellowing over to us, calf in tow.

They all stood around us in a circle,

expectantly.  He hand fed a few,

telling me some of the stories behind

each one.  The bulls were lounging

under the trees in another pasture

way down the hill.  It was like a boys

school and a girls school with each

waiting for spring time when they

could finally get together at the prom.

Each May he puts two bulls in a

pasture with 50 cows for 70 days.  By

the end just about every cow is

pregnant and the bulls have a

lot of notches on their belts.

Some cows had been on his ranch

for 13 years, and others for just a

year or so, but each had a history

and a personality.

This big guy was still nursing (a

little old for that, perhaps!).  He

spent quite some time going round

and round from teat to teat, quite

sure that there was something

there for him, but not finding what

he wanted.  Finally momma just

walked off.

Carl led the cows and calves through the gate, and they went running down

the lush green hillside.  They were delighted with their new digs.  The grass

was tall and soft, and the view was superb.  The cattle on this ranch have it


We said goodbye to Carl, and took off with Bob and Donna Lea for the

annual Labor Day Helmville Rodeo.








































































































Glacier National Park, MT – Mountain Goats and Lake Views

Glacier National Park

The air was still hazy.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park was engulfed in smoke from wildfires

just days before our arrival.

Red limo tours at Glacier National Park

The best way to see it is to let someone else do the driving.

It is a spectacular drive up and over the mountain range.

Logan Pass boardwalk at Glacier National Park

Boardwalk hike at Logan Pass.

Hidden Lake at the summit of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

Hidden Lake at the top of Logan Pass

Hidden Lake at the summit of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

Logan Pass summit views.

Hidden Lake at the summit of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

A glorious day.

Logan Pass Glacier National Park

A helicopter and pilot stand by as medics attend to an

unfortunate tourist.

Once the unfortunate tourist is onboard, with all eyes from

the visitors center watching, the helicopter rises up and

disappears beyond the mountains.

Mountain goats at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana

A mountain goat lazes about at the summit of

Logan Pass.

Mountain goats at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana

National Park animals seem fearless of humans.

Mountain goats at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana

She kept her baby close by.

A "stressed" forest lined the slopes of one hillside.

Glacier National Park, Montana

September 3-5, 2007 - Traveling east from northern Idaho, we visited Glacier National Park in

northern Montana.  There had been terrible wildfires for most of the summer.  Rangers told us

that two weeks before we arrived you couldn't see any views in the park.  Luckily the smoke had

cleared somewhat by the time we got there, but the air was still very hazy.  We drove from the

west side of the park up to Logan Pass and back down again.

At Logan Pass there is a beautiful

3 mile round trip walk that you

can take to the summit.  Some of

it is on a boardwalk that stairsteps

up the hillside and some is a

gravel path.  At the summit there

is a gorgeous view of Hidden


Before we embarked on our little hike we saw a lot of commotion

in the visitors center.  A tourist had a medical problem.  We

ventured on with our hike but stopped midway up to watch a

helicopter fly in, pick up the hapless visitor, and fly him off to the


At the summit we watched a mountain goat and her baby munching

the grass.  They wandered in and about the many tourists,

unperturbed by our presence.

Making our way back down the

mountain road to West Glacier we

spent some time enjoying our luxury

accommodations at the West

Glacier KOA.  The hot tub and

swimming pool were just what the

doctor ordered to relax and

ponder the beauties of all we had

seen.  Once our internal batteries

were recharged a bit we took to

the road again and followed the

very scenic south and east

through Montana towards

Yellowstone National Park.