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July 2019

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Frances K

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The Big Sky State……..

In case you haven’t heard of that nickname, this is Montana.  And I have to tell you it’s big and has a beautiful blue sky most days, endless valleys and plains, majestic mountains…..  It is beautiful.  Wildlife plentiful, most days we traveled we saw at least one deer, fawn, pronghorn.  In the national parks, there were so much more.  Acres of land for grazing cattle and horses.  What were few were towns, homes and people. 

We left the bustling area of northern Utah behind.  Much as I prefer to travel state and US roads, usually much more scenic than interstates, we went north via I-15.  Had somewhere to get to and that was much faster going through the towns of Utah and Idaho. We skirted most of the snow topped mountains, though they were almost aways in view.  At some points we were riding adjacent to the Missouri River.  While part of the time it was banked by trees, gentle slopes, soft currents, one section we passed it was towered by jagged, ancient cliffs, and rapids ruled the river.  Occasional signs would reference the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and of their travels through the north west.  Unfortunately my memory is faulty (it has been a few years since high school and history wasn’t all that interesting back then) but it was interesting now to review some of that history.

We reached Driftwater RV park in Cameron, MT and it was surrounded by beauty.  The Madison River was just a stones throw away. Snow topped mountains on all sides of us.  Miles of open land,  just an occasional home in view.  We were literally miles from anywhere.  It was liberating.  It was also quite isolating.  The park itself was small but nice with full hookups. The owners lived on site and were very friendly, especially Rachelle. She made our stay there very pleasant and relaxing. Took the time out for conversations, even delivered our mail to our coach (that never happened before).

What I didn’t realized when I booked our site the summer season had not quite started yet in early June.   Weather was still pretty chilly, if not down right cold most days.  We hit lots of rain, almost daily.  And snow.  One morning we woke to about two inches of wet snow. Fortunately we had lots of propane and electricity was included in our rate, so we had heat.  We were home so we had whatever winter stuff we needed.  

Views from our RV site……….

The rv park is in the town of Cameron, the center of which is about ten miles down the road consisting of a post office, general store, a fishing store and a population under 200.  This is fly fishing country, lots of fishing stores everywhere.  With the Madison river so close, its a shame we aren’t fishermen. The next town west was another 30 miles or so, Ennis, MT, cute little western town, with a few touristy spots along main street, a few small restaurants, plus the must needed necessities of a grocery store and gas station.  East of Cameron was West Yellowstone, about 30 miles away.  A little closer than Ennis but as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, was real touristy and really expensive.  We were advised to not shop there.  Truly I didn’t mind the drives to get the basic necessities done, but then I didn’t have to do so on a regular basis.  Staying there long term would probably give me a whole new perspective on living there.  

Town of Ennis, MT

By the Madison River…….yep it was cold that day!

Yellowstone National Park was awesome.  Home of 10,000 or so thermal features, including the most well know Old Faithful.  Stunning really.  I had never seen the like and it was interesting to find them, big and small, all through the park.  Old Faithful erupted on time and yes, it is a sight to see. Hot springs in various sizes, shapes, shades of different colors.  Mud pots. A bubbling mud bath that’s just too hot to handle showering mud through the air.  Steam vents. Just look for the steam. Found a few popping through the cement on a sidewalk. 

Old Faithful
Mud Pot
After dinner at Bullwinkles in West Yellowstone

And the wild life.  The first day there was cold, really cold and it seemed like the park residents were still hunkering down, very few showed themselves. We were told the bears were just coming out of hibernation.  The crowds were at a reasonable level, there but not extremely crowded. The next trip out was beautiful, sunny, perfect temperature to enjoy the day.  Bison were out grazing, roaming the park, walking the roads, elk were plenty, we had lunch within petting distance of several elk. Caught a young bear crossing the road.  Spotted a juvenile wolf trying to catch a meal.  Couldn’t ask for a better day.  We were fortunate.  Soon though the daily rains came, the snow and halted our excursions for a while.

When the weather took a turn for the better we ventured out to Nevada City / Virginia City, MT.  It was less than an hours drive from our rv park, and definitely worth the trip…..this is if you are a fan of westerns or just a little bit of history. Established mid 1860’s. It was like taking a trip back in time. Designated as a National Landmark Historic District. Both mining towns a mile or so apart. Pretty much ghost towns, though Virginia City does have a small year round population (under 200).  We have visited other “ghost towns” in different areas, most are just ruins or complete reconstructions.  In Virginia City, the buildings are authentic, some claimed from surrounding areas. Stores were stocked with facsimiles, some name brands still on shelves today. Post office p o boxes haven’t changed much in over a hundred years, a switchboard like we’ll never see again. It was fascinating and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. 

Nevada City

Virginia City

Driving around it seemed most homes were miles (though probably more like acres) away from each other.  Most had that rustic look (though very modern) with gorgeous scenic views around them.  Some with small herds of cattle, and horses.  Once spotted a small herd being rounded up, cowgirls on horseback, a regular mini old time cattle drive.  A few other times the hands were doing the round up in ATV’s.  Kinda took away from the mood, though fun to watch. There were mule deer and pronghorns scattered in the fields.  Yes, I am awestruck by wildlife.  Part of that, I’m sure, is I grew up in suburbia, inside the Beltway a few miles from Washington, D.C. The most wildlife I saw were tree squirrels (not counting politicians).

I have to admit, this was a really friendly area.  Everywhere we went there was at least one person that struck up a conversation. Honestly, we don’t go looking for it. I’m not that friendly. I’m sure we are obvious tourists, asked where we were from and once learning we full time and just travel, the conversation starts.  It’s amazing how so many people have settled down in small towns from somewhere else, found a lot of ex-Californians. A lot have done in the past what we are doing now.  A lot consider this a great way to travel, to retire or do “someday”.  Anyway, meet a lot of nice people along the way. 

Our stay in Cameron lasted two weeks then we headed north. Next stop was outside East Glacier National Park, St Mary, MT.  Montana has such a variety of landscapes from the tops of the mountains to flowing valleys and prairies. More agriculture than I realized would be, lots of ranches and open land.  Couldn’t help but wonder if eastern Montana would be the same.  But not to see on this trip.

To be cont…… stop Glacier National Park…… FjK

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