Posts Tagged With: Montana

book news

First, the proof copy of Repeating History arrived in the mail today.  To say I am pleased and amazed falls rather short of the mark.  Not to sound like a cliché, but you know what they say about lifelong dreams?  Yes, that.

Anyway, here’s photos of the absolutely beautiful cover, if I do say so myself:


The front, obviously.

The front, obviously.

And the back.

And the back.

The photo is one I took.  The background texture is actually from the same photo.  And the design is all mine.  I couldn’t be more pleased.

I need to make a few small corrections, then I will be hitting the publish button and uploading the other three books in the Time in Yellowstone series to CreateSpace over the next week.  As soon as they’re available I’ll be posting links here.

Also, the third novel and a short story in my Time in Yellowstone series are now available at Smashwords.

Finding Home

“Homesick” , which includes chapters from all three novels, and is only 99 cents.

Both books are also being published on Amazon for the Kindle, and should be available in a day or so.  I will post those links here as soon as I have them.

Categories: "Homesick", books, Finding Home, geysers, national parks, outdoors, parks, Repeating History, self-publishing, True Gold, writing, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three weeks ago, Days 17 and 18

 And home again, home again, AKA bombing home on the Interstate.

It takes about a day and a half for me to get home from Yellowstone.  A very long day and a half, but still.  I left my cabin at Old Faithful early in the morning, feeling wistful as I always do, and comforting myself with the thought that I will be back.  At the rate things are going, I’m not sure when my next visit will be, but return visits will remain inevitable until I become too decrepit to travel.  A long time in the future, I hope.

I did not make any more stops in the park, as I hoped to get as far as Spokane that day, which is less than ten miles shy of 500 miles.  I did make two stops in West Yellowstone, one for just enough gas to get me to the Interstate, where it’s about thirty cents a gallon cheaper than in West, and the other at the hostel to pick up the wristwatch I had inadvertently left there two days before.  Fortunately, the cleaning staff had found it and set it aside for me.  And, I discovered later, sent me an email to let me know they had it.

After that, well, Kestrel and I could probably drive this route in our sleep.  North out of West to Hwy. 287, which runs along Hebgen Lake to Earthquake Lake, the site of the landslide caused by the earthquake I’ve been nattering on about for the last two weeks.  Up and over the natural dam, and downstream along the Madison River, past the Gallatin Mountains and through the little town of Ennis, which makes a great deal of its living from the fly fishermen who flock to the Madison every year. 

And on north.  It takes about three hours to get from Old Faithful to I-90, headed westbound.  From Old Faithful to Livingston is only about two hours, give or take an animal jam in the park, but that puts you an hour and half east from where 287 eventually debouches, so it’s not a time-saver that way.

Once past Ennis, the land opens up and the mountains draw back, but after I landed back on I-90 it wasn’t all that far to my last crossing of the Continental Divide on this trip, at Homestake Pass, then Butte, where my great long lasso of a trip reached its knot and I was back on highway I’d already traveled this trip.  I stopped in Butte for lunch and gas, then let Kestrel really start eating up the miles. 

It was about the middle of the afternoon, somewhere along about Missoula, I think, that I started thinking, why don’t I just keep going?  Theoretically, if I drove straight through (something I have never done in all my Yellowstone trips), I could make it home before midnight. 

I debated the idea for miles.  All the way through the last 100 miles of Montana and the 60 or so miles across Idaho as far as Coeur d’Alene, where, in spite of the fact that I still had over a quarter of a tank of gas, I stopped to get more because I knew the price would jump forty cents a gallon as soon as I crossed the state line into Washington.  However, the moment I climbed out of the car, I knew I wasn’t going to do it.  One of the odd things about spending the entire day making miles is that I tend to not realize how tired I am until I actually stop.  So I resigned myself to that one last night on the road.

I crashed and burned in a little mom and pop motel out by Spokane International Airport, and got up and out at the crack of dawn the next morning.  I was pretty much sick of breakfast bars by that point, so I decided I would see what the little town of Ritzville, which is the next wide spot in the road after Spokane, had in the way of a diner.  My mouth was set for pancakes.  I did find some, or, rather one enormous one after the waitress told me two would be overload, bless her, but only after giving myself the grand tour of the entire town.  It was worth it, though. 

Back on the highway, I stopped at a rest area to clean up, then took a glance to the west and did a doubletake.  Was that Mt. Rainier?  Surely not, I was still too far east.  I fetched my binoculars and stared again.  Lo and behold.  Home.

You see, I have this theory.  My theory is that there are place-oriented people and there are people-oriented people (kind of like the way there are introverts and extroverts). I am a very strongly place-oriented person, which is a good thing because a) I’m really bad at marriage, having tried twice and failed both times, and b) my blood relations are scattered all to hell and gone in places I wouldn’t live in on a bet.  I was born in New Orleans and grew up in LA, Denver, and San Franscisco (my father was an engineer, which is the next thing to being military for getting transferred regularly), so it’s not like I have a hometown, either.

But home is the Pacific Northwest, and in particular, my corner of western Washington, where I’ve lived for the last almost twenty years. I moved to Oregon in my mid-twenties and loved it, but then I made the mistake of falling in love with a Midwesterner who hoodwinked me into moving to Ohio.  He claimed that we’d only be there long enough for him to finish grad school before we moved back to Oregon. Then he got within two hours’ drive of his seven brothers and sisters and I never did pry him loose.

I finally managed to finish grad school myself, leave him, and find a job in Tacoma, Washington. I remember driving over Snoqualmie Pass in tears because, dammit, I was home. Never mind that I’d never lived here before. It was just like the John Denver song, only a different part of the country. 

Anyway, I still had about two hundred miles to go, but I was home.  Much as I love traveling, and as you can see I really truly do, I love coming home almost as much.  Especially since this is where I get to come home to.

I hope you enjoyed my travelogue, and that you will stick around for more adventures. For one thing, I am in the process of adopting a pair of kittens, which ought to be good entertainment value.  And there are always new places to discover, even in the old familiar stomping grounds.  And beyond.


There. On the horizon just to the left of the yellow sign, that’s not a cloud, that’s Mt. Rainier.

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: cats, exploring, food, national parks, outdoors, travel, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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 11

 Lewis and Clark, well, Clark, anyway, again

My journal entry for today begins, “A week from today I will be home <sigh>.  But I still have seven days to go.  That’s a lot.”  And later in the same entry, “I’m less than 250 miles from Butte, according to the signs on the Interstate — which means I’m less than 2 full days’ drive from home — but not yet.”  These trips always go too fast.

Neither I nor my car nor the Motel 6 in Miles City blew away overnight, although not for lack of trying.  The weather had calmed down considerably by morning, thank goodness, and after a grocery run and a fruitless search for block (as opposed to bag) ice again — the last ice I’d bought was the last available block at a convenience store in Williston, which lasted approximately twice as long as the bag I’d bought before that — I got back up on the freeway and headed out.

Although I forgot to mention my third (and determinedly last) quilt shop of the trip the afternoon before in Miles City, which had some wonderful tan tone-on-tone fabric created from national park maps.  I collect national park fabrics — I once made an entire quilt made in a national park theme, as a matter of fact.  So I jumped on this one with glee. 

Anyway.  Back to I-94.  It took a couple of hours for me to get to my first stop today, Pompey’s Pillar National Monument. Pompey’s Pillar is another of those newfangled national monuments, like the Upper Missouri Breaks, administered by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the National Park Service.  I know of a third category of national monuments as well, administered by the U.S. Forest Service — an example of one of those is Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a couple of hours south of where I live, and it seems there’s at least one more category other than that.  Apparently after a certain date, who administers a newly-created monument depends on whose land it was carved from.  The land on which Pompey’s Pillar NM sits was purchased from a private individual.  I assume when that happens the monument is assigned to whichever agency seems most logical.  

At any rate, I seem to be digressing something fierce today.  Pompey’s Pillar has always been sort of a minor item on my personal bucket list.  It was named from Clark’s nickname for Sacagawea’s baby son.  Lewis was not with Clark (they had split up to cover more territory on the way home), when Clark stopped to carve the graffito on the side of the pillar that is the only tangible in situ evidence of the entire journey.  “Wm. Clark, July 25, 1806”  From my journal again, “I’ve seen a lot of old documents in my time — the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, etc.  But there’s something mindboggling about seeing the name of an explorer carved in a rock along the actual route he took.”

Many wildflowers were in bloom, too, along the trail and the stairs leading to the top, from which was another of those it’s-got-to-be-more-than-180-degrees-from-horizon-to-horizon views.  And the ‘interpretive’ center, which was bright new, dating from the bicentennial of the expedition in 2006, was well-done.  I picnicked there, and then drove on to Billings, just past where I-94 ends as it runs into I-90.

Billings is the biggest city in Montana, and it actually looks and feels like a city, with tall buildings and everything.  I needed to do some practical things, like get gas and cash and do laundry, so I spent a couple of hours there.  I think I was most impressed by the flowers in people’s yards.  I am inclined to notice such things, anyway, and it was early June, after all, but they really were lovely. 

 It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time I left town, and I had thought of finding another motel, but after being cheated out of camping the night before by the weather, I really wanted to camp.  Besides, the weather had cooled considerably, and I was back in the eastern foothills of the Rockies, at last.

So I drove on to the small town of Columbus, where I saw an RV park by the side of the highway.  I stopped there, only to be told I had to have an RV to stay there, but the lady said that if I went south through town to where the state highway crossed the Yellowstone River, there was a nice free municipal campground.  So I did, and there it was, right on the river, shaded by the ubiquitous but very pleasant and enormous cottonwoods, where I settled down for the night.

The river was very full, and the place was very peaceful except for two extremely unexpected sheep.

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

Categories: exploring, history, museums, national parks, outdoors, plants, quilting, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 10

In which I almost blow completely off the face of the earth.

The wind was howling this morning.  Quite literally howling as it swept around the building loudly enough to wake me up.

But it was sunny and also well over 70 at eight in the morning, and I had the other half of a national park to visit, so I ate my breakfast bar and packed up my luggage, and headed west again.

Belfield is only about a dozen miles east of  Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit, which abuts the freeway for about a dozen miles on its southern edge.  Coming from the east, the first stop in the park is actually a combination rest area/visitor center/viewpoint at a place called Painted Canyon.  The name fits, I must say.  And I was grateful for the big plate glass windows in the visitor center that overlooked it, allowing me to enjoy it without getting blown off the edge of the canyon and hurled to the bottom of it.  I asked the young man staffing the desk what the weather forecast was for the rest of the day, and he said, oh, it’s supposed to get windier later.  Might even get up to 60 mph sustained.  And the temp’s supposed to go up over 90.  He smiled.  I did not.

But it was my one day to go enjoy what the South Unit had to show me, so I got back on the freeway and drove the few miles to the town of Medora, and the main entrance to the park.

Medora, North Dakota, is to TRNP’s south unit what Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is to the Great Smokies.  Not just an adjunct to the park, but sort of a theme park in its own right.  I would check it out later, though, and I headed immediately to TRNP’s main entrance, which is rather oddly situated right in town.  I showed my parks pass, acquired my brochures, and drove up and over the interstate, which actually passes through the southern edge of the park for a few miles, into the park proper.  I don’t know if the highway came first or the park did, but TR is the only national park I know of with part of a freeway running through it.  It’s much less intrusive than I’d have thought such a thing to be, though, perhaps because this southwestern corner of North Dakota is such an isolated place to begin with.

The park’s main access is via a thirty-odd mile loop road, winding up and down and around from the edge of the bluffs to down in the bottom of the valley and back several times in its course.  I drove slowly, enjoying the badlands views.  I stopped at a prairie dog town and watched the noisy antics of the whack-a-dog game they seemed to be playing with invisible hammers.  I had forgotten what a racket prairie dogs can make.  You know how some people put their fingers in their mouths to create a piercing whistle?  That’s about how loud prairie dogs are. 

I saw more beautiful views than you can shake a stick at, and walked a couple of nature trails, one of them to the top of a hill with a magnificent vista.  The only problem was trying to take photos of it while the wind was blowing hard enough that I could not hold the camera still.  I literally had my feet planted at least two feet apart and was leaning forward at about 10 degrees off plumb just to stay upright.  But it was worth it, and down in the canyon the wind wasn’t bad at all.

And it wasn’t 90 degrees quite yet.

I was about halfway around the loop before I saw my first bison, a lone male lying under an overhanging ledge out of the wind.  Smart critter.  I passed another one soon after, but I was beginning to wonder if I was going to see the main herd at all.  At last I came around a corner to see a number of mama bison and their babies, grazing peacefully while the wind whipped around them. 

They were sharing their meadow with more prairie dogs, too.  That was nifty.

I had been planning to spend the night at TRNP, in what would have been a nice campground in better weather, but I changed my mind and drove back down to Medora, first stopping at the visitor center on my way out.  My main reason was to see Theodore Roosevelt’s first ranch cabin when he came out to North Dakota as a young man (in his mid-20s, actually) after the horrible experience of losing both his mother and his young wife on the same day back in 1884.  The cabin has been moved around the U.S. several times over the years, but has come back and it now sits directly behind the visitor center.  A ranger took several of us on a tour of the three-room cabin and talked mostly about the differences between it and more typical cabins of the place and era (for starters, most cabins then and there were one-room affairs, and did not have bookcases in them). 

It was by then well past lunchtime, and I ended up in Old West Medora looking for somewhere to eat.  Medora may be a tourist town, but on this hot, windy June Tuesday, the tourists had pretty much forsaken it.  I did finally find a hamburger stand, and then poked through a few of the shops before deciding to head on west.

I drove, fighting the wind which kept trying to yank the steering wheel out of my hands every foot of the way, across eastern Montana, where the only real amusements were some of the exit signs.  I got as far as Miles City, Montana, where it was 99 degrees according to a bank sign and the local news said there’d been 70+ mph wind gusts.  I holed up in a second-story room in the air conditioning in a Motel 6 and spent most of the night waiting for the power to go out or the roof to get blown off.

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

Categories: animals, exploring, history, museums, national parks, outdoors, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 7

A day for getting things done, among other things. 

I didn’t go very far three weeks ago today, 150 miles give or take, but I went to the grocery store, did laundry, and made some motel reservations.  And still managed to see some interesting sights.

There was no running water at the campsite.  Fortunately, there was running water at a rest area a few miles down the road, so I was able to stop and “brush my teeth, wash my face, and comb my knotty hair” as my mother would say, before I reached Glasgow, the next town along the Hi-Line, where I found, of all things, a chain grocery store (an Albertsons).  I replenished my picnicking supplies and bought a bag of ice for my cooler — I’d have preferred a block, but block ice proved ridiculously hard to find for most of this trip.

You might wonder about the names of some of these towns:  Harlem, Glasgow, Malta…  U.S. 2 runs parallel to the Northern Pacific railroad across eastern Montana, and apparently the person in charge of naming the new little communities along its route back in the 1880s decided that blindfolding himself and sticking a pin in a map of Europe was a good way to name towns.  Or at least that’s what it seemed like to me.

From Glasgow I headed down to Fort Peck Dam  on the Missouri River, which was very impressive (one of the largest earth-filled, or, more accurately, mud-filled, as I learned later, dams on the planet).  It had a wonderful ‘interpretive’ center, too, with a rather odd combination of ancient wildlife — skeletons of dinosaurs and ancient marine mammals from the famous-to-paleontologists local Hell Creek Formation (you’ve seen Jurassic Park, right?  Remember the desert where Richard Attenborough in the helicopter comes to pick up Sam Neill and Laura Dern?  That’s where they were.) — modern wildlife — the enormous reservoir backed up by the dam is surrounded by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge — and historical panels and artifacts telling the story of the construction of the dam itself as the single largest make-work project of FDR’s New Deal back in the 1930s. 

I drove across the top of the dam, too, which provided some great views.  And visited the former company town of Fort Peck, the only survivor of the many ‘instant’ communities that sprang up to house and service the thousands of men and their families who came from all over the country in search of work, spent over half a decade constructing the dam, and then vanished as suddenly as they came. 

After I made my way back up to the Hi-Line, I stopped in the small town of Wolf Point to eat lunch at a small café and to do laundry.  At that point, I was only a few miles from the next small town, Poplar, but due to highly unusual and unexpected-to-me circumstances I will attempt (they still seem incredibly odd to me even now) to explain tomorrow, I stopped there for the night, even though it was only the middle of the afternoon. 

The motel was okay, the cell phone reception was awful (non-existent except in the parking lot where I think I had one bar, which was better than the non-existent period that I’d had pretty much since Havre), the ice cream stand a block away was very welcome, and the shower facilities were — interesting.  In the Chinese sense of the term (as in the curse “may you live in interesting times”).  But given the thunderstorm that passed overhead that night, I was just darned glad to be indoors.  The lightning got way too close for comfort, in my not so humble opinion.  At least it didn’t strike my car…

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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, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Three weeks ago, Day 6

 The Hi-Line of Montana

 Have you ever heard of the Hi-Line?    The first time I ever ran across the term was in William Least Heat-Moon’s book Blue Highways about 25 years ago.  It captured my fancy then, and I’ve thought about driving it off and on ever since. 

The easiest way to explain the Hi-Line is that it’s the stretch of U.S. Highway 2 (the northernmost east-west highway in Montana) east of the Rockies to the North Dakota state line.  I lived in Libby, a town along U.S. 2, for a few months almost twenty years ago, but it’s in far western Montana in a mountain valley, and so it doesn’t count. 

Loma, of the magnificent bed and terrific Mexican food, is about an hour south of Havre, the unofficial capital of the Hi-Line, and its biggest town.  Also the only cluster of more than one fast food place between Glacier National Park and North Dakota, not that it mattered.  I did stop for gas, and was approached by a woman carrying an iPad who was conducting a tourism survey for the University of Montana.  I answered her questions, but drew the line at taking a mail-in version along with me. 

From Havre I headed east across the plains, which aren’t nearly as flat as you’d think they are.  I swear it’s over 200 degrees from horizon to horizon, though, instead of 180.  There’s a reason they call Montana the Big Sky country.  It’s enormous here.  The clouds march across it in ranks like soldiers, except no soldiers in the field were ever that clean.

I turned south at Chinook to visit the Bear Paw Battlefield, where Chief Joseph and what was left of the Nez Perce surrendered to General Miles.  “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”  Chief Joseph has a brief role in Repeating History, setting my kidnapped tourists free.  I hope I did him justice. 

I never know what to say about places like the Bear Paw Battlefield.   It is a very lonesome place.  It doesn’t look any different from the thousands of square miles of undulating prairie surrounding it, but it is.  There weren’t even any trees, just a low place in the ground with two springs and a creek, which I’m sure is why the Nez Perce chose that place to camp.  The modern facilities are modest in the extreme — a pit toilet, a couple of sheltered picnic tables, several brass and stone monuments, and several more modern interpretive signs.  I did not walk the trail, because a) there wasn’t another soul out there, and b) there were signs all over the place warning of rattlesnakes.  Like every other battlefield I’ve been to over the years, Bear Paw Battlefield is a very sad place, permeated with memories.  I’m glad I made the detour, but it did make me feel like apologizing, if there had been someone there to apologize to.

I probably should have eaten lunch in Havre, even though it was way too early.  Chinook did not have much to offer.  The towns along the Hi-Line are sparse and tiny.  I did finally find lunch in the Indian Reservation community of Harlem, in a diner where I had another excellent hamburger and an ice cream cone.  I passed through the next town of Malta, halfheartedly looking for a grocery store and not finding one, then stopped at a BLM campground on Nelson Reservoir, a couple of miles north of the highway.  Nelson Reservior was gorgeous, especially as the sun began to set.  And I saw a white pelican floating on the water.  It was a great place to camp.  And so I did.

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

Categories: animals, books, exploring, history, national parks, outdoors, philosophy, Repeating History, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 5

The oldest town in the state of Montana isn’t that old.

If you’re an Easterner.  Or a European.  But by intermountain West standards, ~160 years old is pretty ancient. 

Fort Benton, Montana, was the head of steamship travel on the Big Muddy, and hence one of the most inland ports in the world, from the 1850s, when special steamships were devised that could handle the shallow waters, snags, and other impediments of the Upper Missouri, and the late 1880s, when the railroad came to Montana (I’ve occasionally wondered if Charley, the hero of Repeating History, which is set in the late 1870s, might have traveled by steamship from Fort Benton at one point — maybe someday I’ll find out).  Nowadays, it’s the seat of Chouteau County, and bigger than I had thought it would be, with an elegantly remodeled Carnegie Library (about which more anon), and a stately stone courthouse.  It is, after all, Town for a great many farmers and ranchers, who are the main reason for its continued existence. 

But it also knows its large place in Montana history, and does some lovely things with it.  The riverfront, for instance, where once upon a time hundreds of puffing, smoking steamships disgorged thousands of tons of freight destined for the gold mines of Virginia City and Last Chance Gulch, is now a grassy promenade studded with signs telling the town’s fascinating history.  Did you know that an acting governor of Montana drowned in the river here?  Or that a dog named Shep once gained national fame for waiting here for years for a master who never came back?  (the man couldn’t help it — he’d left town in a coffin)  The Grand Union Hotel still welcomes guests (albeit at a price that was completely out of my range) behind its stocky but elegant red-brick façade.

And then there are the museums.  Sorry.  You know by now that in one of my lives I am a freelance museum curator, and it will probably come as no surprise to you that I was, in part, a history major in college.  Fort Benton, oddly enough, has a restored fort.  The Museum of the Upper Missouri tells the story of the steamship era.  The Upper Missouri River Breaks Interpretive (sigh) Center introduces the shiny new (so new that the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2000 when a friend and I kayaked part of the Upper Missouri, it didn’t exist yet) Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.  And then there was the Museum of the Northern Great Plains, which tells the story of the homesteaders and ranchers, and the tough lives they led and still lead. 

And, of course, there’s the Hornaday buffalo.  Have you ever seen a buffalo nickel?  This was the fellow they modeled it on.  Ever gotten a good look at the bison on the National Park Service logo?  Yeah, him, too.  The whole diorama, which consists of sixteen, if I remember correctly, bison of all ages and sexes, lived in the Smithsonian Institution for decades before making its roundabout way back to Fort Benton, where it is on permanent display now.  I have to admit to a strong preference for live and wild over taxidermied when it comes to any animal, but still.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I discovered every motel in town was full — not tourists, but some nearby road construction project.  I went to the library to see about some wifi so that I might find an alternative (camping is all well and good, but not several nights in a row).  As it turned out, while it was nice to check my email, the librarian was of much more help.  Seems there was a set of cabins, mostly used by hunters, in the next little town down the road.  I was dubious, but I called, and yes, since it wasn’t hunting season, they had a vacancy.  I snagged it, thanked the librarian, and tooled twenty miles north to the wide spot in the road called Loma (population 85).

Not only was that no hunting cabin (unless you counted the elk motif decorating the entire place), it held the most comfortable bed I slept on during the entire trip.  The restaurant next door was called Ma’s Loma Café.  As I was to find out, Thursday nights were Mexican night.  Cooked by Ma, who was first generation Mexican-American.  I had the best fajitas and guacamole I’ve had in years.  Not hot spicy, but delicious spicy.  Combined with classic Montana beef (in my humble opinion some of the best on the planet).  I’m drooling just thinking about it.  I did not eat alone, either.  As soon as I sat down, the couple at the next table invited me to join them, and I, for one, had a wonderful time.  They were locals, and as interested in me as I was in them. 

And after that?  I wandered back to my cabin, sank into the bed from heaven, and that was the end of me for the night.

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

Categories: exploring, food, history, museums, outdoors, philosophy, quilting, travel | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 4

From the state capital to the first settlement in Montana, in 132 easy miles.

I guess I should have expected a road through something called the Gates of the Mountains, named by Lewis and Clark no less, to be more beautiful than I thought it would be.  But for one thing, Helena’s geographical situation is rather like Denver’s, right where the Rockies start to rise out of the Great Plains.  And Great Falls is even further east, along the, well, Great Falls of the Missouri River, which were (they’re mostly tamed by hydroelectric dams now, to the point where one of Great Falls-the-city’s nicknames is The Electric City) really more cascades than falls.  So, logically, I should have been driving through flatlands between the two cities.

But no.  I had a hard time getting photographs — there weren’t many places to pull over, and while I have been known to aim the camera through the windshield on occasion, a) the windshield was fairly bug-pocked by that stage, and b) it’s not the greatest, or safest, technique in the world.  But there was a shiny new rest area at one point, so what pictures I have of a road that must have been quite the engineering feat were mostly taken there.  It almost reminded me, the way it was carved through the canyon, bridging and rebridging the Missouri and cantilevered out in places from the cliffs, of the Virgin River Gorge portion of that selfsame I-15 in the far southwestern corner of Utah.  Quite spectacular.

And then the canyon walls opened out onto the northern Great Plains and someone laid the highway out with a ruler the last few miles to Great Falls.

Great Falls is a brick city (the third largest city in Montana, which really isn’t saying much) with one-way streets downtown and shady trees and a charming park lining the Great Muddy (the Missouri’s other name) for several miles.  With gardens, where the iris were blooming, and a pond with fountains, and lots of big shady trees.  And geese.  I stopped for a bit and walked around, then drove on along the river out of town until I reached the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. You cannot stumble over a rock in many parts of Montana without figuratively falling over Lewis and Clark.  And I can’t say I’m overly enthused about the term “interpretive center.”  What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned “visitor center”?  But I was charmed by the native blue flax growing even in cracks in the parking lot, and, when I went inside, by the breadth and depth of the exhibits.  And I must say, just looking at the prickly pear cactus and rocks over which those men hauled their canoes during a twenty-plus mile portage made my feet hurt.

After that, I only had another hour’s drive to go to reach my destination for the night of Fort Benton.  I will write more about this most historical of Montana towns  in tomorrow’s post.  Suffice to say today that I arrived, ate a delicious hamburger in the VFW hall, which was the only restaurant in town open after 5 pm, and camped that night in a municipal riverfront campground, which was just about all I could ask for.

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

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