Month in Montana

We got to know Montana while workamping in the Summer of 2010.  We loved the Big Sky, the rural atmosphere, the abundance of wildlife, the friendly people.  As we planned our travels for the Summer of 2017 we hoped we could visit Montana or Colorado.  Turns out we visited both.  This time around we spent time in Hamilton, Whitefish and Missoula with a side trip to Wallace Idaho.  Unfortuntely Montana had one of the worst wildfire seasons in its history.  Smoke was an issue all over the state with no real relief expected until the Fall rain and snow.  For part of this time our grandson Graham joined us.

Hamilton is the site of copper king Marcus Daly’s home.  Irish born Daly made a fortune in Butte copper and Hamilton timber.  His home reflects his success and its still a focus in the town of Hamilton.  Our guide was a life long resident.

Daly Mansion














Missoula is home to the University of Montana, Fort Missoula, the US Forest Service Smokejumper Center and a fabulous farmers market.  We went whitewater rafting on the Clark Fork River.  North of Missoula we visited the National Bison Range, a preserve established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

Missoula Smokejumper Center


Not a museum. this is where men and women prepare to parachute into wildfires

Planes they jump from. Thru the smoke there are mountains in the distance.

Fort Missoula Heritage Park

National Bison Range


Rocky Mountain Elk













































Montana may have more ghost towns than any other state.  The ups and downs of mining are mostly responsible and the state has turned misfortune into a something of a tourism asset.  Garnet is near Missoula and a well preserved state park.


Classic Western town

Graham at the bar




















Wallace Idaho is the nearest town to the Hiawatha Trail, a top ten Rails to Trails site beginning at the MT/ID stateline and continuing 15 miles downgrade along the former Milwaukee Road railroad line.  Along the way we passed thru 7 trestles and 10 tunnels including the 1.66 mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel.  It was a great ride for us all.

St. Paul Pass Tunnel


Dianne on 1 of 16 high trestles

















Deer Lodge is home to the first Territorial Prison in Montana.  It opened in 1876 and closed in 1979.  The prison was plagued with overcrowding, underfunding and antiquated facilities.  Problems led to a famous riot in 1959.  We were reminded of Alcatraz.

Deer Lodge Prison

Cell blocks like Alcatraz













Whitefish MT was a nice surprise.  It is a very nice tourist town with a beautiful Tudor Revival train station.  Rail traffic is heavy along this BNSF line as well as Amtrak’s Empire Builder’s busiest station.  The Stumptown Historical Society operates a museum in the station.  Stumptown was the nickname for the town for in the early days trees were cut down so fast the place was littered with stumps.  Great Northern was the original railroad in town and commisioned the Bruck to ferry freight and passengers from nearby Kalispell when the short rail line was no longer profitable.  The smoke was too bad to stay long but we will go back someday.

Whitefish Station

Unique Great Northern Bruck, a bus truck built to GN specs

Local sculpture celebrates railroad history






















Our last stop in Montana was the National Forest Service campground at Yaak River near the Kalispell River and the BNSF mainline.  Again smoke kept us moving.

Kalispell River in smoke






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Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is a huge reservoir in northeast Utah and southern Wyoming.  The lake is 97 miles miles long and over 400 feet deep.  It was created by a dam on the Green River.  The steep sided canyon was named by John Wesley Powell during his expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869.  The river was known to be deadly dangerous before the dam inundated the rapids.   With dificulty we found a great campsite in the Mustang Ridge Campground.  We’re glad we did because we met Trish and Chris, fellow travelers from Florida and avid kayakers.  We had a couple excellent days kayaking together in the beautiful reservoir.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

View from Red Canyon Overlook

Chris and Trish paddle the reservoir


Dianne and Randy paddling

View from campsite

Beautiful Utah

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Curecanti, Gunnison and Crested Butte

On our journey from Durango to Montana we wanted to visit parts of Colorado we had never seen before.   Curecanti National Recreation Area is located near Gunnison Colorado.  It is home to several reservoirs and is also near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  We visited that area several years ago to see the Black Canyon and take a boat trip on Morrow Reservoir.

This time we stayed near Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Colorado.  We had a beautiful hike to the Dillon Pinnacles.   Gunnison was nearby and we visited the local Farmer’s Market and went to a local theater production called “I Hate Hamlet”.  It was great fun in a very small theater in a historic building.  From Gunnison we also drove to Crested Butte, a famous ski town with another  great market.

Dillon Pinnacles Trail

The Pinacles

Beautiful views


Local Theater
“I Hate Hamlet”

Crested Butte Farmers Market

Ski Museum –
Historic lift car

Crested Butte City Hall

Crested Butte ski area

Famous 2 story outhouse


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Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument is located near Grand Junction CO.  It was established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1911 making it one of the oldest parks.  It features huge sandstone cliffs and steep canyons as well as towering pinnacles.  Its one of those second or third level parks that many of us have driven right by.  The name itself doesn’t tell you much of what you will see.  We were amazed at the views, the hiking, the wildlife.

Grand Junction from CONM

Pinnacles at the monument

Serpent’s Tail trail follows 1920s road

Big Horn Sheep

Elusive Collared Lizard




































On the other side of the valley of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers is the Grand Mesa. Grand Mesa is the largest flat top mountain in the world.  While the temperature was 93 in Grand Junction on a Sunday afternoon in July, it was 61 on top of Grand Mesa.  There are hundreds of natural lakes on the mesa and lots of beautiful hiking trails.  We thoroughly enjoyed our day on the mesa.

Grand view on the Grand Mesa

Hundreds of lakes

Lovely meadow

Wildflowrs on the trail

Alpine lake on the trail



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Sweetwater County and Pinedale Wyoming

On our way out of Colorado we headed north on US 191 into Wyoming to meet our good friends Mark and Lyn.  Fellow full-timers, they were traveling from Tacoma WA to Colorado while we were traveling from Durango CO to Montana and eventually Washington.  Wyoming was a natural meeting point.  We met in Pinedale, just west of the Wind River Mountains, south of Jackson Hole.  Our first evening in Pinedale we all saw a giant moose cow with 2 calves in the local city park.

“All The Civilization You Need”

Museum of the Mountain Men

Family hiking with llamas

Hail in August

Bolete mushroom

Pounds of flavorfull Boletes

Pilot Butte

View from Pilot Butte

Wild horses near Pilot Butte


Reliance Tipple

Exploring Petroglyphs north of Rock Springs

Ancient petroglyphs


Pinedale is home of the Museum of the Mountain Man.  It was the mountain men of this area who trapped the beaver until fashions changed (just before they were completely extinct).  These same men then led pioneers in the westward expansion of the United States – they needed work and knew the way.  The great book and movie “The Revenant” is based on this time and place.






Pinedale is also a gateway into the Wind River Mountains.  Unfortunately smoke from many fires obscured some of the best views but it was still beautiful.  The area has many natural lakes including Fremont Lake which is 11 miles long and over 600 feet deep. While there we hiked into the mountains and met families hiking with llama pack animals and many groups of mostly women hiking into the wild on multi day trips.  Pinedale is a base from which hikers ascend Gannet Peak, the highest point in Wyoming.  On our hike we had to wait out a storm of pea-size hail.  Looking around we found many king bolete mushrooms.  We collected several pounds of these delicious gems.















Mark and Lyn invited us to join them in exploring nearby Sweetwater County in their 4X4 Trail Rated Jeep.  Sweetwater County is in far Southwestern Wyoming and involves miles and miles of gravel roads and some serious rutted 4WD roads.  This area is famous for wild horses and after going around Pilot Butte and back on the loop road again we saw about 8 big wild horses up close.  Beautiful animals,  healthy, well nourished.  We then visited the Reliance Tipple – a coal delivery structure of the Union Pacific Coal Company supplying the railroad with coal along its original transcontinental route through Rock Springs.  Working our way back north again we saw Native American Petroglyphs and the Boar’s Tusk geologic site.  Mark was a master driver getting us into these places we couldn’t have gone in our CRV.  Along the way we saw lots of pronghorn antelope and some sage grouse.

The Boar’s Tusk

Mark, Lyn, Dianne, Randy







































We had never been to Pinedale before but we discovered so much to see and do we can certainly see a return.


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Total Solar Eclipse

For those lucky enough to see it, the total solar eclipse today was amazing.  We viewed it in Challis Idaho.  The RV park we stayed in was buzzing with excitement all morning.  For us the moon started taking a bit out of the sun at 10:13 AM and  we looked up through our approved solar glasses every few minutes as the lunar disc crawled across the sun.  As it neared totality the temperature dipped noticably.  Then at 11:30 it got dark, the temps dropped some more and we could see the corona of the sun around the moon with no eye protection.  Then came the diamond ring glistening at the upper left corner of the disc.  Then suddenly the blaze of the sun peeked over the upper right and it was bright again.  The moon then continued to reveal more and more sun and the temps climbed again.  Darkness was quickly gone.  Glasses back on to watch the second half of the show.  The period of total coverage by the moon was very very fast.  Where we are in Idaho it was said to last 1 minute and 4 seconds.  It was the fastest minute of our lives.  All around us there were gasps, applause, cheers and for us stunned, happy silence.  What a cool thing to witness.  And aren’t we so lucky to be able to be at the right place at the right time.

RV park buzzing with excitment

Mesmerizing show

We came all this way for what?

Ready, action

Darkness falls, streetlights on


Sun’s corona

The Diamond Ring effect

Last of the ring

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Butte MT – An Ri Ra Irish Fest

A major goal in planning our travels this Summer was the An Ri Ra Irish Festival in Butte Montana.  We attended the fest in 2010 while workamping in Livingston MT after learning that our favorite Irish Rock band, The Prodigals, would be there.  We are fascinated by the rich ethnic and mining history of the area.  Butte’s Berkeley Pit is one of the largest Superfund sites in the EPA’s efforts to protect the community from mining’s toxic waste.   Butte has learned to celebrate its mining heritage and its World Museum of Mining sheds light on this often neglected realm of history.  Even today Butte has the highest percentage claiming Irish heritage of any city in the US.

In 2017 our friends the Prodigals were coming back to Butte and we could fit it into our travels.  Are we glad we did!  Butte has created a performance stage out of a historic mining headframe.  A beautiful lawn and an incredible view welcomes visitors.  Organizers and volunteers do a flawless job putting on a friendly classy event.  This year the festival was free with attendees urged to donate generously.  The crowd was so large we thought Butte’s entire population of 33,000 were all there.  Families from infants to 90 year olds showed up to see their daughters, sons and grandchildren perform Irish Dance.  All ages enjoyed musical acts from Butte, Ireland and New York City (The Prodigals).

Headframe transformed into festival stage

AN RI RA Irish Festival


Gregory Grene – Accordian/vocals

Andrew Harkin – Bass

Dave Fahy – Guitar/Vocal

Teada from Ireland

Mad 4 Trad from Ireland

Dance is huge in Butte

Kids love it!

Victorian Butte


Butte’s World Museum of Mining

Dianne, Randy and Andrew
at the Mining Museum

We love Butte and its history.  Its people are among the friendliest we’ve ever met.  We are sure to return again.


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