Days in Montana

Last night while preparing to get a good night’s sleep for my long drive to Three Forks Montana, the air quality was not good. Fortunately, the air temperature did cool enough for me to only use the front door air vents. In the morning my weather app indicated poor air quality due to wildfire smoke. I witnessed the smoke across Wallace Idaho where many were attending a flea market under the interstate and across much of Montana. Finally about 50 miles beyond Butte, the sky cleared of smoke and was blue; sunglass time again!

Montana’s interstate speed limit is 80 mph. I am comfortable driving the van at 75. Years ago, on our way to a bicycling tour in Wallace, we stopped in Missoula. So just like driving through Wallace, I did the same in Missoula. Both towns have really populated. I stopped in Butte, it too is larger than past stop here, to do my food shopping. As I was parking, I noticed a guy carrying ice to his camper. After talking with the couple, I learned that a short walk away was where to get the best priced bag of ice; $1.89 per bag. The store owner was cranking ice out like crazy. He was trying to keep up with demand. Apparently Butte is a high desert town and this is typical weather for them… yikes … get me to the mountains!

Sometimes technology drives me crazy…

I do not know what the issue is with my van’s back-up camera/radio. First, the back-up camera was on as I drove forward for a few miles. I drove on to a place where I could stop and start the van again. Now the display/radio was black and no radio or media connection was working. A few miles down the road, the radio came on again and when I went to back-up into a parking area, that camera worked!! For the next couple of days … as I write this … all is working!

Welcome to Montana: I got my first mosquito bite, entered a different time zone, magpies and yellow jackets are numerous, and a bag of ice at the campground cost $3.75. This state is correctly referred to as “Big Sky” Country since you look across fields, ranches, and between mountain peaks and the rest is big sky! Unfortunately much of it these days is in wildfire smoke.

Places visited:

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park: It is smoky here. My goal in the heat and smoke was to hike the Greer Gulch Nature Loop and Trail … just over 2.0 miles. When I paid my $8.00 entrance fee the woman said the trail is mostly in the trees. I was glad to hear that since it was already 74 degrees and on its way to a 90 degree day, but I should be done with this trail before we reach the high temperature.

I walked to the trailhead and there is a sign about possible black bear in the area. Interesting, no one at the visitor center mentioned this to me. I know when we visited Glacier National Park, a few years ago, (256 miles from here) we had bear spray. So I carried my pepper spray, wore my emergency whistle on my backpack and made noise … saying Yahoo, hello, and my walking meditation aloud … to warn any black bear munching on trailside berries. No bear to report on this hike; however, in 2 different locations I flushed out mule deer. (Those deer were as surprised as I was!) More people were at this park for the cavern tours.

Interesting last line on this sign … what kind of person would remove it?
Plenty of switchbacks
Wildfire smoke in the air so distant mountains are tough to see.

Iron Horse Cafe: The campground host was telling us all to stop here for pie! In my limiting the amount of wheat I eat, I organized my meals so I could indulge in one slice of cherry almond crisp pie. The cherries were whole and huge; the pie delicious! Worthy of a visit here.

Madison Buffalo Jump State Park: A few miles off Interstate 90 is this state park. A quarter mile uphill hike to the interpretative exhibit clarifies where the Native Americans drove the bison over the limestone cliff. Bison were used in so many ways for these people. My photo and the exhibit sign will hopefully clarify it all for you.

Compare this with photo below
Compare with exhibit sign above

Bleu Horses: A long-time Montana metal sculptor, Jim Dolan, hopes to inspire others to give back to their community, town and state just as he did with these Bleu Horses. The name comes from the blue roan horse which in real life is grayish. There are 39 steel sculptures on a hillside in Three Forks, Montana. I could not get any closer to the sculptures than the photo below and even that I was in a “no parking” area. Take a moment to really look at the sculptures at bleuhorses.com

What you see from a distance, but check the link above for amazing work done per horse!

Missouri Headwaters State Park: I decide to make mybreakfast at this park and to relax in a new location.History buffs would love visiting this area of Montana. While I am drinking my coffee, I am reading the informational exhibits which explain the historical importance of this river. While I walked the trail by a creek, grasshoppers were jumping all over the place and I unfortunately flushed a Wilson’s snipe. I have seen black-billed magpies all over Montana and now remember the last time I saw this bird was in Penticton, Canada. The only other things flying around are yellow-jacket wasps. Anyway, by the confluence of the Missouri River, people were laying in the sun, fishing and hiking. 

People also at the park on this day: I met a recently retired woman from Tucson, Arizona, originally from Couer D’ Alene, Idaho. She is traveling in her fully-equipped van, spending time in Yellowstone Park and then heading back to Tucson. A couple from Orlando, Florida flew in … they love Bozeman airport … and are visiting the area for a week. They thought it would be cooler weather here than home. Not true, smoky hot skies here, but cool nights! Another man, a heavy equipment operator, just finished a job west of the state park. Before he returns to St Louis, Missouri, he is sight-seeing – a perk he loves about his job. 

Museum of the Rockies: Many people asked me if I visited this museum, so I decided an air-conditioned place would be wonderful away from heat and wildfire smoke. Wow, one could spend half a day here! My timing with this visit is perfect. It was the last day of the Living History Farm and the Apsáalooke Women and Warriors exhibit closes the next 2 days to culturally place the sacred war shields in the sun and then be cleaned. 

My first stop: planetarium show on super-volcanoes, then so many exhibits about dinosaurs, fossils and archeological work in Montana, and the Crow Native American culture, history of many things with a combination of murals to read, videos to watch and some items to try. Next door to the museum, the Living History Farm with docents dressed and explaining the history of the place and the Tinsley family in the house here until 1920.

Living History Farm

Photos below: 

Big Mike, is a bronze sculpture of the life-size Tyrannosaurus rex at front door of museum. Many real bones and fossils inside.

Rusty, a draft horse sculpture. In the early 1980’s, Bozeman schoolchildren collected recyclable cans to raise funds to gift Rusty to the museum. Jim Dolan is the sculptor of Rusty – same man who made the 39 Bleu Horses mentioned above.

Big Mike – T rex
Rusty

Sam Lena Recreation Area, Tucson

The Kino Sports Complex is huge when you consider the north and south side, but today I am only focusing on Sam Lena Park which is part of the north complex. Sam Lena was a longtime politician, member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, served twice in AZ House and four terms in the State Senate. As a supporter of parks and recreation, the park was named in Sam Lena’s honor (1921-1996) along with a Sam Lena – South Tucson Library which he advocated for many years.

I was visiting the park to see what birds might be around since the last time I was here was about a year ago when I first began birding and had a birding workshop here. While walking a small part of the park, I noticed ramadas, fitness/1 mile walking trail, softball fields and had to keep an eye open as some played disc golf around me and where I was also watching a few birds.

I saw a number of birds:

Gray flycatcher
Greater yellowlegs
Ring-necked duck
Northern shoveler
Great blue heron
Roadrunner

If it wasn’t for the pandemic we are currently experiencing, this park would be very busy with people. Almost everyone I saw today was wearing a facial mask and many were visiting with me to ask what birds I was seeing and asking about my camera equipment. I like those teachable moments and it seemed all were wanting some conversation! The disc golfers even showed me their discs! I am not sure I will ever play that game as I can only envision losing the disc just like I lose golf balls! Who knows, someday maybe I will give it a try. I can always use another new activity in my life!

Sorry to tell them they have a spelling error on the “disc” golf.