Two weeks ago, Day 9

My last day on the road, alas.  I got up and out early, and drove north from Seaside to Astoria, where I had an appointment with the curator (the librarian was on vacation) of the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

But that wasn’t until later in the morning, and in the meantime I wanted to visit the Astoria Column.  I’d seen it in the distance any number of times on trips through Astoria, perched up there on its hilltop, but I hadn’t ever actually gone up there.  So Kestrel (my car) and I crept up the steep, narrow streets — Astoria is much smaller than San Francisco in every aspect but its hilliness — to the top of the highest – peak may be an overstatement, but you can certainly see forever from up there.

It was eight in the morning, clear as a bell, and the shadows were dramatic.  I’d had it in my mind that I was going to climb to the top of the tower, but I should have known better.  I always forget about my fear of manmade heights.  I don’t mind natural heights.  I’ve stood at Glacier Point in Yosemite, 3200 feet above Yosemite Valley, a direct drop below, without a hint of trepidation.  But when I visited Chicago I took one look at the then-Sears Tower and said, no way.  Absolutely no way.

Then there’s the whole claustrophobia thing, which I do not forget about.  I am very uncomfortable inside a plane if I’m not in a window seat, because I need to be able to see out, for instance, and I really do prefer my elevators to be glass, although I can manage regular ones if I have to.  But caves don’t bother me, so I guess it’s the manmade thing again.  Odd.  At any rate, the inside diameter of the Astoria Column is about eight feet across.  No windows. 164 steps to the top.  I took about ten steps up and could just feel it closing in about me.

So I came back down and decided I would a) be satisfied with the views from the hilltop, which really were spectacular, and b) take my pictures of the column from the outside, which was much more interesting, anyway, with its mural about exploration.

And here’s the photographic evidence.

The Astoria Column, backlit.

The Astoria Column, backlit.

Towards the northwest from the base of the column.  That's the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.

Towards the northwest from the base of the column. That’s the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.

A view of the column and its spiraling mural.

A view of the column and its spiraling mural.

To the southwest from the base of the column -- those clouds mark the coastline.

To the southwest from the base of the column — those clouds mark the coastline.

A close-up of the very top of the column.

A close-up of the very top of the column.

By the time I was done at the column, it was almost time for my appointment.  The Columbia River Maritime Museum is on the waterfront, appropriately enough.  It’s a fabulous museum, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even the faintest interest in western or maritime history or boats or lifesaving, or…  But today I was there to do research, so I headed back to the library, where I met with the curator.

He was a very nice man, and it was a very nice library, but the library was not his area of expertise.  He was persistent, though, and finally produced the main item I was there to see, a thesis written by a student of American Studies at, of all places, the University of Utah, on lighthouses and their keepers on the Oregon coast.  She’d done a lot of field work on the coast, and research, and interviews, and one of the three lighthouses she focused on just happened to be Heceta Head.  Gold mine.  Even though the museum’s copy turned out to be missing its bibliography.

The curator also found me a number of other interesting items, and I had a very productive morning.

But after a beer-battered scallops and chips lunch at the Wet Dog Café, a place I’d eaten at before and loved (and which, unlike Mo’s, more than lived up to my memories of it), it was time to head home.

It was only a three and a half hour drive.  But it started with being stopped near the very top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge by bridge repairs.  I did mention my fear of manmade heights, right?  Well, I managed to distract myself during the wait by taking photos from the car.  I bet I’ll never get any from this vantage point ever again.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.

The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.

Down, down, down we go, to Washington.

Down, down, down we go, to Washington.

The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge.  I suspect William Clark is the culprit, but there wasn't anything there to explain it.

The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge. I suspect William Clark is the original culprit, but there wasn’t anything there to explain the origin of the name.

When I arrived home, it was to find that the condo hadn’t burned down and that the cats were just fine, and that was the end of this year’s “long” trip.  While I had a good, and productive, time, here’s hoping next year’s holds more new territory and lasts longer.  Sigh.

Categories: cats, exploring, food, Ghost Light, highways, history, museums, outdoors, parks, research, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two weeks ago yesterday, Day 6

Sorry, yesterday got a bit out of hand.  I’ll do today later on today.

I woke up early this morning two weeks ago today.  I always do that when I’m camping.  In the summertime this far north the sun rises pretty darned early.  The day didn’t start out all that excitingly.  I needed to do laundry.  So I got up and out and headed back to Florence to a laundromat I’d noticed the day before, which opened early, fortunately.

With clean clothes neatly packed back in my suitcase, I headed back to the public library, where I finished going through their local history section and attempted to look at some microfilm of the local newspaper for a couple of particular dates, but was utterly stymied, first, by the fact that the young woman who responded when I asked for help did not know, and made it clear she did not want to know, how to run the microfilm machine.  The machine in question made me realize how long it had been since I last worked as a librarian, too, because it was a fancy, newfangled variety attached to a computer, and it took me some time to figure out how it worked.  Once I did, however, I discovered that the roll I wanted to look at had been wound onto the spindle so that it viewed upside down and mirror-imaged.  Totally useless.  It could be fixed, but not on that machine, not by me.  So I made note of the name of the paper, and resolved to interlibrary loan the microfilm when I got home, so I could use it at my local library, where the librarians are much more helpful.

By that time it was lunchtime, so I found some lunch, then headed north, where my day improved drastically.

I was headed for Heceta (he cee’ ta) Head Lighthouse, my favorite place on the Oregon coast, and the setting for the new book, which is going to be a complete rewrite of a story I wrote a number of years ago — it won’t be recognizeable as the same book by the time I’m done with it, I suspect.

Heceta Head is named after a Spanish explorer, Bruno de Heceta, whose real claim to fame was that he was looking for the great river of the West way back when, and totally missed the mouth of the Columbia.  But he did leave his name behind on the headland, and when the lighthouse was built there it, too, took his name.

That lighthouse and I go way back.  My association with it started when I lived in Eugene in the 1980s and went through my first divorce.  The lighthouse was only a little over an hour from where I lived, and was my favorite escape hatch when things were getting too messy at home.  The keepers’ quarters, which are in the Victorian cottage near the lighthouse, are supposed to be haunted, too.  I didn’t know this when I saw something in one of the windows of the then-unoccupied house on one of my many trips there.  As it turns out, what I saw might have been the result of a prank.  But then again it might not have been.  I’ll never know.

But that’s the basis for the story I’m going to write.

I spent most of the afternoon at Heceta Head, touring the keepers’ quarters, which are now a very expensive bed and breakfast, and visiting the lighthouse.  I was too early for the re-opening of the lighthouse itself to tours, after a two-year renovation, by a week, alas, but I did get to see what I needed to see.  And I also got to see lots of shorebirds on the seastack nearby, through a telescope set up by volunteers at the foot of the lighthouse.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers' quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers’ quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.

The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The keepers' quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The keepers’ quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.

One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.

The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.

The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.

The trail to the lighthouse.

The trail to the lighthouse.

A closer view of the keepers' quarters.

A closer view of the keepers’ quarters.

The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers' quarters.

The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers’ quarters.

The parlor in the keepers' quarters.

The parlor in the keepers’ quarters.

A closer view of the lighthouse itself.  You can't see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they're done.

A closer view of the lighthouse itself. You can’t see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they’re done.

Cormorants and seagulls through the telescope at the lighthouse.

Cormorants and common murres through the telescope at the lighthouse.

Westward, the next stop is Japan -- from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

Westward, the next stop is Japan — from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

And I spoke with the man who runs the bed and breakfast, who gave me some photocopies of some research he’d collected, and spent the better part of an hour with me, talking about his experiences there and the history he’d learned.  Which was extremely helpful.

After taking far too many photos (research, I tell you!), I walked back down to the beach, where I noticed that there are caves at the base of the headland.  Thinking they might end up in the book, I went and checked them out, too.  You never know…

It was getting on late in the afternoon by the time I left Heceta Head, but I had one more place I wanted to visit before I stopped for the night, Cape Perpetua (pronounced like perpetual without the L).   It’s one of the highest points on the Oregon coast, and there’s a winding, narrow road leading to a viewpoint at the top.  The view is one of those curvature of the earth things, where you’d swear that you were seeing more than 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.  I’d somehow managed never to go up there before, but I’m glad I did this time.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua.  The highway below is 101.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua. The highway below is 101.

The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

By the time I got back down to Highway 101 it was getting late, and while I was only going as far as the tiny town of Yachats (ya’ hots, not yach’ ets as my father teased when we were here when I was a kid), it was time I got there and settled in.  To a nice little mom and pop motel, where I spent a very comfortable night.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, Ghost Light, highways, hiking, history, museums, outdoors, parks, research, travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two weeks ago, Day 5

It’s very odd to go back to a place where you used to live thirty years before.  Or maybe it isn’t for most folks, but it is for me.  The three years I lived in Eugene, Oregon, were extremely tumultuous for me personally.  Perhaps that’s why I always feel odd when I go back there.

At any rate, this time I wanted to go back to a particular place, Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, which is in the hills east of Eugene and south of its twin city on the other side of the freeway, Springfield (yes, That Springfield for you Simpsons fans, according to Groening himself).

But I digress.  Mt. Pisgah isn’t an arboretum in the strictest sense of the term, or at least it’s not what I think of when I think of an arboretum, where lots of different kinds of trees and shrubs are planted and labeled.  It’s more just a park.  A really nice, wild park, with quite a few wildflowers in late spring.

I strolled the trails for a couple of miles, under the oak trees and through the meadows.  I always forget how much this part of Oregon looks like parts of California.  And what those big oak trees are like.  I love them.  I also saw a few critters, and even got photos of a couple of them.

Here’s what it looks like, and a sampling of the flowers.

Columbia columbines at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum

Columbia columbines at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum

I think these are some kind of penstemon.  Or perhaps some sort of corydalis.

I think these are some kind of penstemon. Or perhaps some sort of corydalis.

Meadow and oak trees at Mt. Pisgah.

Meadow and oak trees at Mt. Pisgah.

The Willamette River at Mt. Pisgah.

The Willamette River at Mt. Pisgah.

I don't know what these are, and I couldn't find them in my flower ID books.  Which is just wrong, but they're still pretty.

I don’t know what these are, and I couldn’t find them in my flower ID books. Which is just wrong, but they’re still pretty.

A red squirrel.

A red squirrel.

I don't know what kind of bird this is.

I don’t know what kind of bird this is.

After that, I went looking for some of my old stomping grounds in Eugene, mostly the apartment (since converted to condos) I lived in with my first husband, which was way up in the hills on the south end of town with a spectacular view down the valley.  I didn’t take any pictures of it this time because I didn’t want anyone accosting me asking me what I was doing that for.  I left my first husband in Eugene, and I met my second one there, too, probably way too soon for my own good.  I also went looking for the apartment my second husband and I lived in for a brief time before we left the Northwest, which was one of the dumbest things I ever did (leaving the Northwest, that is), and found it, too.

Then, after a fast food lunch, filling the gas tank (I will never get used to not pumping my own gas, but they don’t let you do that in Oregon), and getting some cash, I headed west towards the coast.

It’s only an hour’s drive from Eugene to Florence, which is situated at the mouth of the Siuslaw (sigh’ oo slaw) River just about halfway down the Oregon coast.  I visited the Old Town section, right on the harbor, then found the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum.  After perusing their exhibits, I went to their library, which was staffed by a nice volunteer in her eighties who had recently taken the collection over from her predecessor who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  She was still trying to deal with the results.  But she helped me find some good things, and make copies, and it was several hours well spent.

I also spent some time in the local history section of the public library, and found more good stuff.

Then I went looking for a campground, and discovered something disgusting.  I am normally a fan of forest service campgrounds.  They’re usually cheaper, nice, and in quiet locations.  Not this time.  Most of the forest service campgrounds along the Oregon coast have been leased to private companies for management, and they might as well be privately owned for all their price and ambiance.  I was appalled.  $22 for a plain site (as opposed to one with hookups) is absolutely ridiculous.  Camping in Yellowstone National Park costs less than that.

But I didn’t have a whole lot of choice.  The three campgrounds I checked (one private, one state park, and the forest service one) were all the same price and the others were even worse for ambiance.  So I paid my money, and I still may write my congresscritters about it.  That was just Wrong.

There was a nice trail at the campground with a sign that said “to the beach” at the beginning of it, though.  So I decided to walk it.  I never did get to the beach — I checked the next morning, and it was several miles one way — but I did have a very nice walk.  At one point, the trees arched overhead looking like that scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where the Black Riders are after Frodo.  And flowers — mostly false lily of the valley and rhododendrons.  Florence has a festival every spring celebrating the rhododendrons, which I’d just missed (which was fine).

Native coastal rhododendrons.

Native coastal rhododendrons.

Where are the hobbits?  Or the black riders?

Where are the hobbits? Or the black riders?

False lily-of-the-valley.

False lily-of-the-valley.

After my walk, I fixed supper and settled in for the night.  And that was my only night camping on this trip.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, hiking, museums, outdoors, parks, plants, research, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two weeks ago today, Day 2

I love research.  Yes, I’m a history geek as well as a writer, and that’s just the way it is.  First thing in the morning I caught a bus to downtown Portland and walked the couple of blocks from the bus stop to the Oregon Historical Society Museum.  Fortunately, the weather had cleared up nicely, and was even warming a bit.

 Their library didn’t open until the afternoon, but the museum opened in the morning, and since I’d never been there before I wanted to see the exhibits. The early history exhibits were well done, but the part I liked the best was the recent history room, highlighting Oregon’s somewhat schizoid politics.  I lived in Eugene, Oregon, for several years during the mid-80s, and had been rather struck by them then — Eugene at the time was a cross between a college town, a logging and other resource-heavy economy, and the hippie equivalent of the elephants’ graveyard.  The juxtaposition was, fascinating, I think, is the term I want to use.  I’d forgotten a lot of that bemusement, and the museum brought it back to me.

 After the exhibits and before the library, I walked up the park blocks, a lovely thing to find in the middle of a city, to Pioneer Courthouse Square, in search of some of Portland’s quasi-legendary food carts.  It was a good place to look for them.  My choices included burritos, cheese steaks and several others.  I chose a cheese steak, which was as good as the ones I’d had in Philadelphia, their hometown, if a sandwich can be said to have a hometown, years ago.

 But the fun part was the quiz the proprietor gave me, based on a page-a-day calendar about famous mustaches, of all things.  The first question described Cesar Romero as the Joker in the old Batman series, and the second Raul Julia in the movie version of The Addams Family.  I got them both right, which won me a very surprised proprietor and a free soda. 

 After enjoying my cheese steak, and my soda, and watching floral decorations being installed on the square for the upcoming Rose Festival, I ambled back to the museum by way of the Multnomah County Library‘s main branch, where I wandered into the children’s room, named after Beverly Cleary, who is a Portland icon, and upstairs to the history section, where I wrote down the titles of some books that looked useful for research that I will interlibrary loan later.  I was very surprised that they didn’t have a local history room.  The Multnomah County Library is, I suspect, the biggest Carnegie library I’ve ever been in (it certainly fits the style, architecturally), but no local history room? 

And then there was the library at the Ohio Historical Society Museum.  Maybe that’s why the public library doesn’t have a local history room?  What I do know is that the librarian pulled a number of goodies out of her closed stacks, including a forest service document, book, really, of all things, discussing the early history and architecture of Heceta Head Lighthouse and its keepers’ quarters, which is going to be the setting of my new book.  So that made my day.

 After several hours in that library, I decided to check out Portland’s streetcar and see where it went, since I had the all-day pass, which includes the streetcar and light rail as well as the bus.  The streetcar went to northwest Portland and the trendy shopping district on NW 23rd.  I hadn’t been there in years, and it was only a couple of blocks from the end of the line to the New Renaissance Bookshop, another favorite bookstore.  So I strolled there and browsed for a bit, but it was getting late and I was tired, so I wound my way back to the hostel via streetcar and bus, and collapsed in a heap on my second evening on the road.

Categories: books, exploring, food, history, museums, parks, research, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three weeks ago, Day 13

 Morning to research and afternoon to explore.

The elk were gone from the campground in the morning, apparently having moved to the Gardiner school’s athletic field.  And the pronghorns were grazing on the hillside, too.  I drove back down to Gardiner, bought milk and ice — the Gardiner supermarket is sensible enough to carry block ice, thank you very much — and went back to the Heritage Center to finish this trip’s round of research.  They let me leave bookmarks behind in their rack, too, which was nice of them.

After that, I headed back into the park, and down towards the Norris Geyser Basin.  Norris has two basins, actually, the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin (geysers always occur in low spots, which is why they’re called basins).  I wanted to walk the Porcelain Basin, called that because the sinter looks rather like it from a distance.  All smooth and pale and with very little in the way of plants in the basin proper.  The main thing I like about Porcelain Basin is the little spring/spouters that make this really nifty spitting/sizzling sound.  I grin every time I walk by them.

After that, I decided to drive over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, to see all that high water I’d been seeing in the Yellowstone River for the last couple of days go over those spectacular falls.  The falls were about as full as I’d ever seen them, which is saying a fair amount.  And I discovered a new-to-me place, which is not something I can say very often anymore about my park.  Somehow, in all of my visits, I had missed a little sign along the road between Canyon Village and the Chittenden Bridge saying temptingly “brink of upper falls.”  This time I didn’t.  I turned off down the short road and came to a parking area and a path, which ended in a staircase.  At the bottom of the staircase, it was almost like standing at the railing at Niagara.  Not anywhere near as enormous, obviously, but every bit as loud and misty.  Complete with a rainbow.  Just lovely.  And I saw some veronica along the way.

After that it was back to Norris (it’s only twelve miles one way between Canyon and Norris, across the center of the figure eight that is the Grand Loop Road), which is named after the second superintendent of the park, back in the 1870s, Philetus W. Norris, who had a penchant for naming things after himself.  He has a bit part in Repeating History, and was an interesting fellow.

This time I wanted to walk the Back Basin trail, a mile and a half through the woods and along the boardwalks past geysers and springs and fumaroles.  This trail goes past Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest but also one of its most erratic geysers (its recorded intervals between eruptions range from two days to over fifty years).  I would give my eyeteeth to see Steamboat erupt someday, but the chances are slim to none.  Still, this is one of the best walks in the park, and there’s lots of interesting things to see.  Including, today, a flower I’ve never seen before, bog laurel or Kalmia microphylla.  It’s the same genus as back-east mountain laurel, which is one of my favorite plants.

By the time I made it back to my car, it was late enough in the afternoon that I needed to head to West Yellowstone (known locally as just plain West), where I had a reservation for a bed in the hostel at the Madison Hotel, the oldest hotel in town, which is, as I know from personal experience, haunted [g].

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If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Categories: exploring, geysers, history, museums, national parks, outdoors, plants, Repeating History, research, travel, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 12

 “I am back in my park.”

So starts my journal entry for the day.  The park in question being Yellowstone.  I think, with nine visits in the last not-quite-fourteen years and one book set there so far and another in the works, I am qualified to be possessive about it.  My other park is Mt. Rainier, but that’s because I live within sight of it and, depending on where in the park I’m going, as close to it as a 45 minute drive (the northwest entrance, at Carbon River).

I was also back in the land of research and promotion, for the aforementioned book.  My first stop of the day after I hit the road was in Livingston, a small town with a fascinating history.  You see, Livingston was the original entry point to Yellowstone, back in the days when almost all long distance travel was accomplished by passenger train, and you had to be rich to do much traveling.  Oh, for the days when a five day package tour of the park cost less than $60, all inclusive.  Which was a lot of money back in the 1880s.

I visited the two main museums in Livingston to tell them about my book and to leave bookmarks as well as peruse the exhibits.  First was the Livingston Depot Museum.  The building itself is not the first depot on the site and only dates back to 1902, but it is a magnificent building, and they’ve done a terrific job with it.  I think my favorite part was the 1920s film promoting travel to the park.  The other museum I visited was the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, housed in the old Livingston school.  It used to be one of those “everything including the kitchen sink” museums, but it has a new director and new exhibits these days.  The redesign is well done, but it’s very different than it used to be.  One set of artifacts that I am assured is only in storage, but that I missed seeing this time were souvenirs from the early days of the park that had been created by putting objects into the springs at Mammoth and letting the travertine coat them. 

After an early lunch I drove down the spectacular Paradise Valley (where a number of movie stars own ranches) to the town of Gardiner, the northern entrance to Yellowstone and the home of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, the official park library and archives.  I spent most of the afternoon collecting material on the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake for my next book, and the rest of it at the Yellowstone Association headquarters bookstore getting contact information for their book buyer.

When the research center closed at four, I drove the five miles (across both the Wyoming state line and the 45th meridian marking the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole) south to Mammoth Hot Springs and Fort Yellowstone.  I went to the campground there, paid for and was assigned a campsite, then went up to see how the Springs themselves have changed since the last time I’d visited, two years ago.  They always do.  New springs pop out and grow, old ones die, and sometimes, although not often, they encroach on existing roads, trails, and/or buildings, and then the park service has to figure out how to preserve, say, an historic building like this (click to page 3), designed by Robert Reamer in 1908 in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a rapidly growing hot spring, all at the same time.

I was pleasantly astonished at the wildflowers that populate Mammoth at this time of year.  The last time I was in the park in June was 27 years ago, in 1985.  I had forgotten.  A hillside of phlox, several meadows’ worth of larkspur, forgetmenots surrounding more balsamroot, and a few others. 

When I got back to my campground, it was to find, to my bemusement, several cow elk browsing unconcernedly between campsites.  Now in the past, when I’ve stayed at the Mammoth Hotel in autumn, I’ve been kept awake by bull elk bugling under my window all night, and I kept a wary eye out for calves this time, but all in all, the ladies turned out to be good neighbors.  Quiet, thank goodness, and they kept to themselves.

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If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Categories: animals, books, exploring, history, museums, national parks, outdoors, plants, Repeating History, research, self-publishing, writing, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 3

 Helena, Montana, is a nice town.  If I could stand the climate, which is hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and very dry all year round, it wouldn’t be a half-bad place to live.  Granted, it’s a bit isolated out there in the eastern foothills of the northern Rockies, but no more so than anywhere else in Montana.  It’s an hour from Butte, a couple of hours from Great Falls, and only four hours from Yellowstone, after all.

But I was heading in the opposite direction from Yellowstone.  At least for the time being.

I had two research stops planned on this trip, and Helena was the first.  The Montana Historical Society is headquartered in Helena, with a terrific museum and a research library staffed by some extremely helpful librarians.  I spent the morning there poking through clipping files and microfilm, looking for anecdotes written by people who had been in Yellowstone during the days after the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake since I am going to be placing another character in the park during that event.  The Hebgen Lake Earthquake was the largest (7.2-7.5 on the Richter scale — the 1906 San Francisco quake was a 7.9, for a basis of comparison) earthquake in the Rocky Mountain region in recorded history, and, in the area immediately west of the park, it caused a landslide that killed almost thirty people and created an entirely new lake. 

Inside the park, no one was killed, but a great many buildings (including the Old Faithful Inn) and quite a few miles of road were severely damaged, and what the earthquake did to the thermal features (geysers, hot springs, etc.) apparently put on quite the show.  Some of the changes were permanent, some temporary, but it is safe to say that the Hebgen Lake Earthquake profoundly changed Yellowstone, and the stories people told about it are a novel begging to be written.

From research to what I’ve been calling shilling, for lack of a better term.  After lunch, I went to the Lewis and Clark County Library, where I spoke with one of the librarians and left bookmarks, then I strolled on down Last Chance Gulch, which is a) what Helena was called back when it was a mining camp in the 1860s before it became Helena, and b) the name of the main drag downtown, which is now a tree-shaded, lilac-lined pedestrian mall.  I stopped at the city hall’s historic preservation department, the chamber of commerce, a local bookstore, and at the Lewis and Clark County Historical Society along the way, trailing bookmarks as I went.  I also found a new-to-me quilt shop, and, of course, left with fabric.  Ahem.  My name is M.M. Justus, and I am a fabricoholic.  There.  That’s out of the way.

By that time it was late, and I went back to my motel to get ready to head on the next morning.  I do like Helena.  It was a good place to set part of a novel.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of today.  But there will be more tomorrow.

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Categories: books, exploring, geysers, history, museums, national parks, plants, quilting, Repeating History, research, self-publishing, travel, writing, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three weeks ago today, Day 2

In which I discover that Butte is not just a place to get lunch and gasoline on the way to Yellowstone. 

Day two started damply, to say the least.  I suspect it snowed a bit overnight, but by the time I woke up it had changed over to a drizzle just a few degrees above freezing.  I packed up quickly and left out before my only neighbors in the campground woke up because I wanted to get the heat running in the car.  I have a sleeping bag that has kept me warm in the snow before, but it doesn’t do much good after I get up.  

Speaking of the neighbors, they were a retired couple from Florida who were spending the summer as campground hosts.  The concept of a campground host is something I don’t remember from camping as a child, but it has become very popular over the last ten-fifteen years, and I think it’s a good thing, especially when I’m in an otherwise empty campground on my own.  

The male half of the host couple and I had a very nice conversation the evening before, and the upshot was that he was the first person to whom I gave a Repeating History bookmark on this trip. 

So.  On the road again.  My goal that morning was Butte, Montana.  “The richest hill on earth.” (local slogan)  “The noisiest place we ever camped.” (my mother)  And what I’ve always thought as a rather ugly stop on the Interstate just west of Homestake Pass (aka the Continental Divide).  Convenient, but ugly. 

I don’t know how the World Mining Museum arrived on my radar, but it did, and so a week or so before I left my route changed from a straight shot to Helena to a slight detour to Butte.  The World Mining Museum is on the campus of Montana Tech, which must be a very odd place to go to school.  You see, Butte, Montana, appears to have been stalled in time, to back around the turn of the last century.  The museum itself was fascinating, in a small-town let’s-collect-everything-we-can sort of way.  There was an entire village of buildings full of antiques.  Another village of vintage dollhouses.  A room full of minerals (including a blacklighted section for those that glow in the dark).  And a room telling the story of the richest hill on earth and one of the largest manmade holes in the ground on the planet, the Berkeley Pit, from which millions of dollars of copper were extracted up until the 1980s.  

But it wasn’t just the museum that was arrested in time.  The entire downtown (Butte has a nationally-registered historic district second in size only to New Orleans’), perched on the mountainside, looks like you’d expect ladies in long skirts and men in tailcoats to stroll by.  The copper kings’ mansions (one of which I toured) have turrets and stained glass and gilded wallpaper and hand-carved staircases.  

Absolutely none of which you can see from the freeway, from which vantage Butte simply looks like a dirty, gray huddle of buildings on the mountainside. 

Then there is the Berkeley Pit.  They quit mining from it in 1982.  The last time I spent any time in Butte was in the late 1960s, when it was being mined 24/7 (hence my mother’s comment about the noise).  It is now over half full with water so contaminated that the whole town is a SuperFund site.  But it’s still pretty darned impressive to look at. 

I spent most of the day in Butte, and found every minute of it fascinating.  Yes, the town has problems the way Crocodile Dundee has a knife, but it’s still an amazing place.  And not just a stop for gasoline and food. 

Late that afternoon I turned north on I-15 towards Helena.  Helena is the capital of Montana, and a very nice town I’d visited a couple of times before.  Oddly enough, the farther north I drove (once I crossed the Continental Divide), the better the weather got.  The cold drizzle in Butte changed over to sunshine.  The views down the valley were beautiful.  And it was a new road to me, at least for a few miles. 

I had a date with a research library the next morning and the hope of handing out as many bookmarks as I could.  After all, about a third of Repeating History is set in Helena.  In 1877-8, granted…

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Categories: exploring, history, museums, outdoors, philosophy, Repeating History, research, travel, weather, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

another blog interview!

The Dames of Dialogue are graciously hosting me, with an interview about how Repeating History came to be.

Categories: Repeating History, research, self-publishing, writing, Yellowstone | Leave a comment

A visitor

And now I am welcoming Meg Mims to my blog, in return for her gracious hosting of me.  She has written a terrific little essay on the importance of research in historical fiction.  I found it a hoot, but then I was a librarian for sixteen years…

Getting the Research Details Right

How easy is it to research? If you’re a diehard librarian or bookworm, it’s easy. Trawl the shelves, pore over bibliographies for even more sources—especially original sources such as diaries, letters, or books written in the past century. As a last resort, do a Google search for any details you may have missed.

What if the idea of research is a four-letter word to you? What if you hate all that extra hard work? What if you think your readers won’t know the difference?

Think again.

Readers nowadays (and in the past, for that matter) are savvy. They’ve watched PBS series such as Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs, Ken Burns’ Civil War series and other documentaries, plus they’ve read an extensive amount. They also have an uncanny ability to “sense” when something’s ‘hinky’ – and that will throw them out of the story in two seconds flat. Sorry about the cliché, but it’s true. And the truth sometimes hurts.

It hurts authors in reviews, for one thing. Call me crazy, but I would rather have a reader or review criticize me on wanting more romance than mystery than some minor detail like “they didn’t have modern plumbing on trains back in 1869.” And no, they didn’t. Trust me on that—I researched that before I started writing my western-set historical. Travelers lifted the commode lid and saw the train tracks flashing beneath, so no wonder railroad tracks were so unhygienic after a few decades! Ugh.

Me? I love research. Give me a stack of books or photo-studded websites and I’m there with bells on! I can’t explain that wonderful “Aha!” feeling when I stumble over a really fabulous and authentic detail I can utilize in my books. Call me crazy. Call me an old-fashioned library hound. But I can usually make a call on spotting a research detail problem in a book—from a modern phrase to an inaccurate setting or the wrong costume for a character. Why? Because I’ve made those mistakes too. And learned from it.

And learned from them. That’s the key, to know better and take the time to do the hard work rather than take the easy way out. The devil is in the details, after all.

Ms. Mims’s new books are


They are available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Astraea Press. 
Her website is

Thank you for visiting, my fellow Meg!

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