Montana – parade, rodeo and hot springs

After our extended stay in Big Sky, Montana it was time to venture further east to find other hidden treasures in the state often labeled the ‘treasure state.’ Once a hot bed for mining of gold, silver and sapphires back in the mid-1800’s, this state’s other ‘treasures’ lay in the natural beauty of the landscape – from the towering Rocky Mountain ranges to the low-lying running waters of cool rivers to hot springs and all points in between. Montana is a true destination no matter what direction you travel in this massive state.

We headed northeast out of Big Sky to Bozeman, home of the Montana State University Bobcats. Population is around 40,000, but it has the feeling of a small town that never lost touch with its old west roots. The main street is filled with boutique shops, restaurants, galleries and a great one-off ice cream spot selling our favorite huckleberry ice cream out of the back of an old airstream rv.

Main Street in Bozeman gives this city of 40,000 a quaint small town feel with a western vibe.

Bozeman is also home to another great ski area, Bridger Bowl, where I first skied ‘out west’ back in 1970 – during some of the worst winter weather I have ever encountered (and that’s saying a lot having grown up in Minnesota). This was so long ago I still had wooden skis. On our first day out skiing I was coming down a run my brothers built a ski jump on. The snow was swirling so much I couldn’t see the jump until I was right on top of it. I miscued, tumbled off the side of the jump and came down cockeyed breaking my skis. My Dad marched me right into the ski shop at the base of the hill and bought me my first set of fiberglass skis. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

Once again I digress – back to the summer road trip through Montana. We continued our trek into the eastern prairies of lower Montana to the largest city of Billings (pop. 110,000), where my niece and her family live. This was 4th of July weekend, and two of the biggest traditions in this part of Montana this are the Red Lodge 4th of July Parade, followed by the Home of the Champions Rodeo.

We all got duded up in our cowboy hats and cowboy boots and headed to the little one-horse town of Red Lodge. Nothing cuter than watching a parade through the eyes of little ones. My great-niece was 2 and in her glory watching all the floats, beautiful horses, marching bands and of course running after the hordes of candy thrown to the streets. Red Lodge is also the site where Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch botched a bank robbery back in 1897. Reminiscent of the botched bank robbery of Jesse James and the James Gang in 1876 in Northfield, Minnesota – the town where I grew up, and where they hold an annual 4-day Defeat of Jesse James Days to commemorate this foiled robbery attempt.

Getting all duded up in our cowboy hats and boots for the Red Lodge 4th of July parade.

Watching the Red Lodge 4th of July Parade through the eyes of little ones.

Foiled again – Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch failed miserably in trying to rob a bank in Red Lodge, Montana back in 1897.

The rodeo was the real highlight of the day. After making our way up into the wooden stands that circled the rodeo arena we settled into watch the amazing acrobatics of man and beast: bull riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, and most entertaining was ‘mutton’ bustin’ where the youngsters try to ride a sheep. And of course and appearance by the infamous cowboy monkey ‘Whiplash‘ who rides his trusty steed Boogie, a Border Collie, and shows how to properly round-up a herd of sheep around the arena.

Bronco buck riding at the Home of Champions Rodeo over 4th of July weekend in Red Lodge, MT.

Bull riding at the Home of the Champions Rodeo during 4th of July weekend in Red Lodge, MT.

Whiplash, the Cowboy Monkey makes as appearance at the Red Lodge Rodeo.

The next day we ventured out for some much-needed R&R after a day spent in the hot, windy, dusty conditions of summertime in the west, to search out a couple of the highly acclaimed healing hot springs – of which there are apparently 61 in total throughout the state. On our way to the hot springs we consistently saw herds of upwards of 50 head of elk and/or antelope in several different spots. It had been a rainy spring and the prairies were lush green, which enticed these herds to come down out of the higher country to frolic and graze in these farmers crop lands and pastures.

One of multiple herds of Elk we came across on our drive from Billings to Red Lodge.

The re-mastered western town of Gardiner is where we gained access to one of the hot springs, but it is also the northern and only year round entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Our first stop was at Bear Creek Springs – an area left in its untouched natural state where the hot springs bubble up from underground and run into the parallel waters of the cold running Yellowstone River. The key is to find where these diverse waters intertwine creating the perfect bath water temp. If you veer too far right the waters will chill you to the bone and turn you blue. If you veer too far left you will get scalded by hotter than hot tub waters and turn red. They are called ‘hot springs’ for a reason. It was interesting to watch how many people had to test just how hot is hot. A lot of burned fingers and toes went home that day – but luckily none in our group.

The gateway to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana.

Gardiner, Montana – a remastered old west town right down to the dirt roadway. Try and ignore the line-up of vehicles and imagine instead a line-up of horses.

Navigating the slippery river rocks that separate the cold running Yellowstone River from the hot springs bubbling from the underground.

A little further back up the road, working our way back towards Billings, there is a place that has harnessed the natural hot springs into an easily accessible pool setting – Chico Hot Springs. A great little resort and spa with a large pool that is easy for any age or ability to navigate. After a nice long soak in the healing waters of the natural hot springs we stayed on at the Chico Resort to eat at their highly acclaimed fine dining restaurant. Known for using local produce, we wined and dined on bison and trout and huckleberries and garden ingredients grown on the property.

The pool at Chico Hot Springs Spa and Resort filled with the hot waters that run from the nearby underwater springs.

For a state that is better known for its mountainous regions like Big Sky and Whitefish, and it’s stunning National Parks like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, there are plenty of hidden gems to search and add to your bucket list.

Check out more photos in the Montana – parade, rodeo & hot springs photo gallery in the Global Gallery link.

Montana – Big Sky

Montana, known as “Big Sky” country is aptly named. Even with all of the Rocky Mountains ranges that dot the skyline of this expansive state, the ‘sky’ itself invokes a majesty all its own. The experiences in Montana are as vast as the sky, so I will break up our 10-day road trip to Montana into multiple postings to properly capture the highlights of the trip. Our trip began in Arizona, and we made our way up through Utah, Nevada, Idaho and into Montana. Any one of these states can and will garner a need for their own post – but for now my focus is on Montana.

When you arrive into Montana, it’s like a calm settles over you – your heart rate drops and you breathe easier. People who visit and live here, choose this destination to inhale and enjoy what nature created over the centuries. Montana by land mass ranks as the 4th largest state, but ranks 44th in population. Montana’s largest city, Billings, comes in at 110,000 people – leaving an awful lot of land preserved in its natural state, allowing for wildlife to populate in numbers not seen in many places and lots of room for people and that wildlife to co-habitate together peacefully.

We entered Montana in the southwest corner of the state, driving by the very western edge of  Yellowstone  National Park. This stretch of Hwy 191 is beyond gorgeous. The two lane road winds through lush green forests of pine and birch, and low-lying meadows dotted with ponds and running streams – a perfect setting for some big Montana moose, but sadly we never spotted one. The air was as fresh as the setting was serene. Smiles settled in on our faces, as life’s stresses melted away the deeper we made our way into this beautiful state.

Our first stop in Montana was in Big Sky – a ski resort town, about a 30-minute drive south of Bozeman, that we had visited many times in the 7 years we lived in Montana back in the late 80’s and late 90’s. We were initially drawn to the area for the skiing because it has remained un-commercialized and un-congested unlike its Colorado counterparts i.e. Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen. But the area shows its raw beauty even more in the summer months with no shortage of things to do: hiking, golfing, biking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, tram and chairlift rides, zip lines, rock climbing, and the list goes on and on.

The pathway leading up into the hiking trails along the ski runs at Big Sky.

The zip line comes out into the open below the chair lifts on the backside of the Summit Lodge.

River rafting down the Gallatin along highway 191 between Big Sky and Bozeman.

The entrance of Big Sky intersects the famed Gallatin River (think ‘A River Runs Through It‘) known for its great fly-fishing and white water rafting. Or in our case the place, some 20 years ago, where our chocolate lab puppy decided to test out her water dog skills. My husband was out fly fishing on the Gallatin and our new puppy so wanted to be near him, she jumped into the water, but the water was too strong for this little 8-week-old 12-pound puppy and she went swirling down the river. I never saw my husband move so fast through a fast running river, up onto the bank and down the river bank until he got ahead of where the puppy was in the water and reached down and yanked her out of the water like a fish on the end of a fly fishing pole!

Big Sky is separated into distinct topographies – the lower village (6,800’ elevation) or ‘meadows’ where some great golfing, shopping, galleries and lodging exists. And the upper village (7,500′ elevation) or ‘mountain’ where some of the best skiing in the US exists and most of the main resorts. The highest point of Big Sky is atop Lone Mountain Peak, boasting a tram that takes you across a wide bowl to its highest point at an elevation of 11,166 feet. Not for the faint of heart – this area above the tree line is double-black diamonds to get down the peak to were the bulk of the ski hill lies.

Lone Mountain Peak looms above Lake Levinsky and the blue Lake Condos at the entrance of Big Sky Mountain Village.

The runs at Big Sky show bright and green in the summer sun.

In the winter we went as far as taking the high-speed chairlift to the base of the tram. From there we pointed our skis downward into the single black diamond bowl before you ascend into the tree-lined slopes. Our last trip to Big Sky was to ski. Our son, 8, was a fearless snowboarder, taking black diamonds, through the trees, over jumps. Our, 10, daughter stuck with skiing and on one of our last runs she took off in front of us down into the bowl. In an instant she was tumbling ass over tea-kettle. Our hearts in our throats as we raced to where she had come to a stop – skis going in every direction, body in an upside down pretzel position. Instinctively my husband grabbed her around the waist to gently lift her up out of the contortion of body parts fearful to find our dainty daughter unconscious. Instead, a howl of laughter broke from her lips. She said that was the most fun she’d had all week and can we do it again! Suffice to say our mind was on a bottle of wine to calm our jangled nerves after that escapade! Kids!

But I digress – this trip (and post) is about our summertime fun at Big Sky – some 14 years later. We stayed at the rustic Summit Lodge – replete with log furniture, deer antler chandeliers, and bear skin rugs. With the lodge at the base of ski hill, we had easy access to trek up the mountain to access the hiking trails that meander up and through all the ski runs, over mountain creeks usually hidden by several feet of snow, and along logging trails that double as catwalks in the winter . Reaching some of the higher ridges, it was once again evident as to how the state and this specific ski resort acquired it’s title of ‘Big Sky’. The vistas are breathtaking and sky has no end in sight.

The Summit Lodge at the base of the runs at Big Sky Mountain Village.

A large deer antler chandelier in the Summit Lodge.

About halfway down the mountain, between the upper and lower villages, is a rustic but high-end resort, Lone Mountain Resort, where you can rent log cabins of multiple configurations and sizes. The restaurant is one of the best in Big Sky and is worth a stop for anything from a great brunch to a fine dining experience. As well as horse back riding in the summer, or sleigh rides in the winter.

The entrance to Lone Mountain Ranch midway between upper and lower villages at Big Sky.

Log cabin accommodations at Lone Mountain Ranch.

A little closer to the lower village is another great area for hiking, called Ousel Falls Trail. It doesn’t have the breathtaking expansive views as the hikes up on the ski hill, but the lush beauty of trekking your way along the fast running South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River and take a breather for a picnic with the Ousel Falls for a backdrop is equally enticing.

Ousel Falls Trail head just above the lower village in Big Sky.

A great picnic spot along the Ousel Falls of the South Fork River.

Down in the meadows of the lower village is an Arnold Palmer designed golf course. As well as multiple galleries showcasing many local artists, our favorite being Harry Koyama. My husband so fell in love with one of his paintings that served as the back drop to the reservation desk at the Summit Lodge, that I commissioned Harry to replicate the same picture (in a much smaller size) for a surprise birthday present for my husband and serves as the backdrop of his home office.

Original painting by Harry Koyama, behind the reception desk at the Summit Lodge in Big Sky, called ‘Bruins of Lone Mountain.’

Interspersed between galleries and gift shops are a multitude of great restaurants. Most taking local flavors – such as elk or bison meat, huckleberries (my personal favorite), or fresh trout from the Gallatin River – and putting their own spin on recipes to satisfy even the pickiest palates.

Enjoy more beautiful pics of the very scenic Big Sky area in the Global Gallery under Montana.

 

I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!

Enjoy!