Monday, October 1, 2012

Last Weekend in Montana

For my last weekend I went back to Yellowstone. I drove down to Old Faithful and spent the night at a nice campground that was right by a river. I saw a buffalo walking by the water and fly fishermen out there having a grand time. The water flowing and the wind blowing through the trees made it a perfect place to sit and chill for a while.

I watched the sun set in a really beautiful spot on a bridge with the fish jumping all around me catching flies.

I decided I was going to wake up really early in the morning and get out to see the animals as the sun rose. When I woke up it was 26 degrees out. Boy, was I thankful for heat in the car. Once I was thawed, I drove as quietly as I could out of the campground and toward the pull offs where I had seen animals before. It was really cool driving in the dark with all the steam rising from the thermal features. I had never thought about what it would look like at night. The steam doesn't stop just because the sun goes down. It was just strange to think about. Later, as the sun was rising, I watched an elk meander through the fields, heard wolves cry back and forth to each other from over two different hills, and saw a coyote. (Of course there were a ton of buffalo too, but they are a dime a dozen out there.)

I took the Bear tooth pass again on the way home. A fitting end to my Montana travels since I took it when I first got there too. This time, however, there were no snow drifts as tall as my car. In fact, there was no snow at all. It looked totally different. It was pretty neat to see it in two completely opposite states like that.

The rest of my last week was spent packing, working, and planning my trip home. I had a good bye lunch on Thursday with people from work who have all been so wonderful. I said my farewells to the apartment I lived in. Then, after work on Friday, I went to Lame Deer to say good bye to Lu, Molly and the kids. That was the hardest one. It is so bitter sweet to leave. I am excited to be headed home, but sad to leave all at the same time... Happy to be on the open road again, but wanting to stay with the people I love. Too many emotions running through me. I do have to say, though, that at times like these I think I must be the most blessed person in the whole world. What problems to have... Too many people to love, too many places to desire to be, too many new experiences to have and new things to learn. All I can do is thank God!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Arthun Ranch

 When I first got to Montana I had two goals: I wanted to visit a real ranch and go to a Pow Wow. Now, thanks to Courtney, I have accomplished both. Courtney was kind enough to invite me to her families ranch for the weekend and I had a blast!!
Friday evening, after meeting her parents for dinner, Courtney and I went down to the little bar in Wilsall called the Bank Bar. Courtney knew most of the people in there, of course. I was loving it because it was the classic little small town bar just like hundreds that I have passed on the road, but never went into because I was alone and a stranger to the place.
We started out on Saturday morning feeding the "bum calves." These calves had lost their mothers and have to be bottle fed. I thought it was so cute when we went out there calling their names, and they just came-a-runnin' out of the tall grass. They knew exactly what was coming.

Then, it was off to move cattle. Courtney, her brothers, and I went out to move one of the herds of cattle from one pasture to the next. This is necessary so they don't eat all the grass in one area and kill it. Allowing the cattle to stay too long in one area would mean they could not graze there in the future. Ranchers know the tricks to preserving the land and not exploiting it.
Most people think of herding in the cattle on horses, but this is the 21st century guys. We did it with 4 wheelers. :) I was a newbie to 4-wheeling, and was totally freaked out most of the time on the hilly terrain, but eventually, I got more comfortable.

At one point during the move the cows got all caught up in the trees. There were downed trees and brush all over. We had to go on foot to herd them through and they were having to jump tree branches while keeping an eye on us to make sure we didn't get too close. It was quite a sight. I don't think I have ever been that close to any cow before, much less a whole herd of about 250. Finally, we got them all through the gate. I was amazed that it was even possible and that we had done it in, what I thought was, pretty good time.

The next step was to place the SmartLic out. This is a protein source for the cows. They have to have a balanced diet too. :) I learned that you have to place it away from the water source in order to attract them away from the water so they will graze the whole pasture instead of being lazy and only staying in one place. Now, I was told by Courtney's brother that in order to be a real rancher I had to try some of the SmartLic... hmmm... I was not so sure about this. I agreed, but only after he tried it first. Look at this stuff. It looks disgusting.
However, it is actually very sweet and gets that brown color because it is mostly molasses. It tastes like a granola bar.

The whole weekend I was full of questions. I am sure they all got sick of it, but I wanted to learn as much as I could.
I learned why all those little shacks that are falling down on peoples land never get taken down: because they are the homesteads of the first people who got here. They are little tributes to the people who first came here. I also learned that, sometimes, all those stacks and stacks of hay are used to feed the cattle during the long winter and are not necessarly going to be sold.
On Sunday, I got to meet Courtney's grandma who was super sweet. Even though she called me weird for not drinking my coffee black. :) Also, I saw more of their land while getting a little tour from Courtney's dad.  It is some of the most beautiful country I have seen. Unfortunately, there was still a lot of smoke in the air due to the fires so I could not see the total expanse of beauty.

Later that evening I got to hear Courtney's dad sing in his band made up of other ranchers. Its called the Ringling 5. They are really good and funny too! I got such a kick out of their songs, and before I left I was gifted with a Ringling 5 DVD, baseball cap and 2 CDs. I have been listening to the CDs ever since. 

 Overall, it was an awesome time and I hope to learn a lot more in the future.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hanging with my family and hanging with my Montana family.

Back on August 17th I flew to Florida. For a week I watched the Eller boys while Heather and Dana were in Ireland. We spent time at Gumbo Limbo and went to the beach just before Issac hit. I was actually delayed in returning to MT due to the hurricane. It was nice to have a little "home" time before completing my last month in Montana.


 When I was finally able to get back to MT after Issac passed I started right back to work for a few days. Over the weekend I went... you guessed it... back to Lame Deer to hang with my Montana family. :) I only have a short period of time to see them so I have to take advantage. I thought for sure they would be sick of me by now, but they keep welcoming me with open arms.
Last weekend we went to Sheridan, Wyoming and spent the day looking around the historic downtown area. It was filled with little cafes and shops where I could browse all day.
 Then, on Sunday, Molly taught me how to make a braided Challah Bread from scratch. It was so fun. I have never made bread before, and of course, I start with this one. :) Far be it from me to shy away from a challenge.
I also got to fulfill another dream of mine while I was there. I played the violin. Molly's older son, who has been visiting family in FL for most of the summer was back last weekend, and he is learning to play. He taught me the basics. I have never even held a violin before, but have always been interested in it. I played "Amazing Grace" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." I was so proud! I love the instrument even more now.

This weekend I had to work, but I have Wednesday off. We'll see what I do for the day. I was thinking of going to Red Lodge and maybe doing a hike. Just a couple more weeks here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crown Jewel of the Continent

This weekend I had the time of my life at Glacier National Park. I loved every minute! Even the drive out there was beautiful!
I drove up to the park along the west side passing by Flathead Lake along the way. I am pretty sure that this lake is as close to paradise as you can get on this earth. The sun was shimmering off the lake, there were people reading and relaxing on their sailboats, and cherry orchards around where you could pick your own fresh berries. It was wonderful to take my time and check out the little towns.

Eventually, I made it to the west entrance of Glacier NP, and set out for my ride along the Going-to-the-Sun road. The ride was beautiful, but slightly dangerous when going passed jagged rocky cliffs on one side and on-coming traffic on the other. I thought for sure my mirrors were going to get taken out at some point. There were a lot of other people visiting and the look-out stops were jam packed full of cars. This is the only problem with going during the "season." As a result most of my pictures were taken from inside the car. However, even with all the annoying tourists, I was still in awe as the expansive vistas that kept coming into view around every corner.


At one of the visitors centers I asked about guided hikes, and one of the rangers, a young girl about my age, told me about an all day hike that she was leading the next day. It sounded amazing so the next day I met up with her, and about 5 other people to begin our 10 mile hike. It was a loop trail that gained 2,400 feet in elevation and then descended 3,400 feet back down to the river and out to St. Marys Lake. We began the hike with picturesque fields of wild flowers. Then, once we climbed above the tree line I was able to see past the edge of the rocky mountain range all the way to the plains beyond. On our way down we hiked over countless streams of snow melt that formed waterfalls, and ran into the river. The view was breathtaking. The group of people that I hiked with could not have been better, too. One had a degree in geology so he showed us the difference between a valley formed by a glacier vs. by a river. Another, studied plants and she knew a lot of the wild flowers and their uses. The ranger, Megan, also knew most of the wild flowers and those that she didn't know we looked up in her book. It was interesting.
Some of the flowers are edible. One of the flowers I got to try was the Glacier Lily. It tasted like a snap pea. The other was a chive. Which tasted...surprisingly... just like a chive. :)

By the time we were done hiking I was beat. I went to a little cafe just outside the park where I got dinner and a Moose Moss Milkshake as a reward. Moose moss is Moose tracks and mint chocolate ice cream mixed together. It was amazing!
The next day I went to the northern portion of the park called Many Glacier. This is where there is a lot of bear activity, or so I was told. I was doubtful since the park is so huge, and I hadn't seen the faintest hint of a bear the whole time I was in Glacier up to that point. However, my skepticism was soon erased as I drove into the park and in less then a mile I saw a bunch of cars pulled over. I stopped and I saw my first Grizzly. It was far away on a hillside, but it was there! Then, later I decided I would stop in a pullout, and wait like those people with the big scopes. I would just be patient and a bear would show up, right?  Well, I wasn't seeing anything so I got out of the car to take a picture of the scenery before moving on, and out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I thought it was just a leaf blowing in the wind, but when I looked through my binoculars into the bush I could see a big black bear head hiding in there! I had found this one all on my own. No big bear jam to clue me in... no ranger pointing him out... just me happening to being in the perfect place at the perfect time. I couldn't believe it! Just when I saw it, it meandered out of the bush and back into the woods. I was the only one who saw that bear! I was so thrilled! At this point, I couldn't believe my luck and I was perfectly content with my bear sightings, and decided to head for home. Then, just to add a little more joy to my already full plate there was a young grizzly bear just hanging out right outside the park exit.

So cute isn't he?
Loved Glacier and all the wildlife! Can't wait to go back someday when I have more time to explore even more!