Today I volunteered to go out with the US Forest Service to help do some things in the forest. It was great to get back in the woods with the Forest Service again. I saw some more new territory and some amazing scenery. What started out as a grey overcast day ended up being a beautiful, partly-cloudy day in the mountains. The area most of these pictures were taken just has the classic Montana feel to it. Look at them and you can see where the term “Big Sky Country” comes from.
My first trip to the state was in 1987-88 when I was on the road doing concert work. I remember looking out the window as we passed Little Big Horn Battlefield and I understood the Big Sky analogy that very moment. If you have ever been in that area you understand.
I thought I would share a few pictures and a video from the day. Turn down your sound as the audio is just wind noise; it was extremely windy up on top about 9500 feet above sea level. I believe the video was the area known as Ruby Valley, the view is west from where we were.
The dog pictured above is Otto – one of Meghan’s pack.
I have had several things going on lately so actually the timing is working out pretty good for my upcoming getaway. A few new things have come up and it is really beginning to look like the next few months will be busier than I thought so that will mean more travel in my future than I previously planned. I finally got an appointment set up with a hand surgeon in Washington and we will probably be scheduling the surgery at that appointment. I hope to get the other cataract surgery done around the same time, and I will fit in whatever else I need done in that timeframe as well. Busy indeed, but I want to get the stuff done that needs done – there is fun that needs to be had and I’m gonna have it but there are priorities.
Another “summer” draws to a close next week with the Labor Day holiday. This year has really gone by fast, but there really has been quite a lot happen in the first eight months of this year – at least in my life.
Unfortunately some places close down after this holiday, which is too bad since it is usually the best time to travel because school has started and the crowds have gone home. That was always frustrating in Colorado. The weather is still decent in many places, but places like many Forest Service, National Park, and State Park campgrounds will close. As I have said before, though, I usually don’t stay in many campgrounds.
That’s all in a normal year, and this is far beyond a normal year as we previously knew the definition of normal. I don’t really know what to expect in my upcoming travels, but the places I go are usually not where the crowds are anyway so I don’t anticipate much being different. The trips I have made so far since getting back from Europe I have not seen the huge crowds of people out as I would usually see, like my day trip through Yellowstone for instance. It was busy…just not Yellowstone busy.
I always try to avoid being out during long holiday weekends like this one because of the crowds and the stupidity that goes along with them. Too many people that cannot handle their booze and drugs means it’s Amateur Hour on the roadways and it’s just safer to stay home and avoid becoming a statistic. They are also obnoxious and destructive in the forest so they take away from the enjoyment of nature.
So, I felt this was a really good time to go someplace and I just returned from a few days in the woods.
My original thought was to go back to Earthquake Lake so that’s the way I headed. On the way down I was able to fill up the water tank on the trailer at Ennis RV Park in Ennis, MT. I told them I would come by and use their pay dumpstation when I was headed back to the house so they said okay. But, on the way out there was a tray of baked goods. Singing a siren’s song from a shelf by the door was a package of homemade carrot cake. I grabbed it and took it up to pay. I had to have that plus I wanted to make a purchase since they did me a favor. Luckily it was diet carrot cake – there were only two hunks in the plastic wrap so I did not feel so bad.
I took off after a quick stop for a propane refill, some Guinness and a couple of fresh ground burger patties. But, along the way, a Forest Service Road was just luring me in so I turned and found a great spot right next to a river, which I believe is the West Fork Madison because that is the road I took. Since I would rather do some boondocking for a few days it saved me $60 in camping fees plus I did not have to drive quite as far even though I was a bout eight miles in. I would not be using any of the campground facilities so it is pointless for me to stay in a campground anyway, other than there is safety in numbers. More about that later.
Unfortunately there are no trees blocking the road in the site I found, but I only saw two vehicles go by so it’s been fine. It’s bear country for sure so I took all the extra precautions since I had no bear spray. I did see a calling card left by a bear and the Forest Service posted a sign on a tree in the campsite right by the river and along the roads I took.
Stopping here saved me some time, too, so I was able to get in the woods a little faster to find a good spot. I know that weekends are the busiest time and kids are also back in school in some fashion. I have flexibility with when I can go so it’s during the week when I go out to find a spot, and I scored pretty good with this one!
It was pretty cold the first night and when I got up the next morning there was a pretty hard frost on the truck and grass. I adjusted the thermostat a little warmer after that night though since it was a little too cold inside. My trailer is not made for cold weather so I have to be careful. If I want to camp in winter it’s dry-camping only – no water onboard. That also means no showers so that changes my traveling options. But with the weather just getting cold at night and warming up during the day it will be fine. The furnace helps keep the plumbing inside warm, but the valves and graywater tank are outside and that’s where the problems can happen. I will still need to figure out something for winter.
The second and third nights were not as cold outside and the second day was nice, but the third day was pretty warm but a breeze helped. They were all nice days for a short walk to check out other spots along the river.
I did put a few grill marks on those burgers and enjoyed every last bite of one piece of that carrot cake. The Guinness went down smooth like it always does. SPAM (no…don’t you EVEN give me any grief about SPAM; it’s tasty, easy to store, there are many varieties and you can do so much with it), scrambled eggs (with gouda aged 1000 days) and southwestern-style hashbrowns for breakfast was delicious. I thought about cooking my burgers over a campfire but I honestly don’t build many fires anymore since it is just me (not counting the dog).
The main point, however, was to get away & decompress and I was able to do that pretty well. Since the dog is not with me this trip I am able to sleep in and even lie around after I woke up. Sitting out in my lounge chair recliner drinking a few beers by the river and not thinking about anything for a few days was just what I needed to do for me.
I opened up my road atlas for ideas for future trips. I was looking at the Colorado pages since it’s close and I have not been road-tripping there in quite a while. One thing stuck out as I looked at the map: I have been on every major highway in the state between all my trips around Colorado. I was quite shocked to discover that. The last trip through northern CO a few months ago filled in the last blanks on places I have been in CO and those highways at the same time. Of course, along with that, are the countless miles of four-wheeling in the back country and smaller roads I have been on. Pretty surprising. Looking at Washington’s map afterwards it is the same – I have been on most major highways, only lacking a couple.
Before I took this trip I was looking at places to go to get some ideas, but the pandemic has shut many things down. In Theodore Roosevelt NP, which I was hoping to drive over to and stay in for a few days, the campgrounds are shut down for building construction on new toilets. That is actually great planning since the visitation is down all over and it inconveniences fewer people to do it now before visitations ramp back up next year (maybe). Construction projects have to be done in summer in many places due to weather and seasonal staffing available, especially in the northern half of the country.
So be aware that some (but not all) state parks, federal lands, and even city parks are closed down for now or have limited resources and hours so you will have to check where you want to go for restrictions before you go anywhere. Even roads and highways going into some tribal lands are closed for outsiders. This is complicating travel for RV people and car campers, but many private campgrounds are open. There is still the option of boondocking on federal lands (pay attention to the regulations for stay limits, fire regulations, etc.). One city park I checked into was closed for the pandemic.
Road warriors talk about staying in Walmart parking lots and it is popular. Some allow that for one night only, and some don’t allow it at all so you have to ask as you make a purchase (don’t be a cheapskate – they are helping YOU out). There have been a lot of issues with some people “camping” in the parking lots (violence, noise, theft, vandalism, police, etc.) so many Walmarts have put a stop to it. I did it once; I didn’t have any problems, but after reading about it and seeing videos posted I won’t stay in them anymore. I am seeing more and more people living in Walmart lots and my understanding is they get territorial. I don’t need that in my life so I avoid it.
Ironic that I should mention those issues before I wrap this post up. Things were pretty good the first few days of my exile, but that all went straight to hell on Wednesday afternoon. I was getting ready to cook a burger and had an issue with one of the entitled local assholes. Without going into the long story about it the sheriff is now involved and charges will be filed against him. I am okay – no physical violence but it was close.
After this I have decided that I won’t be going into the forest in Montana anymore. With everyone here having a gun and an attitude, the hell with it. I don’t need this BS and will spend my time and money elsewhere where people are treated with respect. I have spent countless days and nights in the National Forests in various places across the country over the decades and never ever had any problems in the forest until now. I honestly felt safer stumbling around the streets of Seattle at night than I now do in the forests in Montana.
I went back to Ennis and stayed at the Ennis RV Village to drink a few beers and calm down. I must say that this was a really nice RV campground – probably the nicest one I have ever stayed in. Even though they had “residents”, there were not dog pens or storage bins everywhere and the place was very clean. The staff was very friendly, welcoming, and helpful. It is in town so it is close in case you need supplies. I am very picky about these places with the experiences I had a few months ago, but after staying the night in this park I would definitely recommend this park.
That’s it for now. Still trying to get over what happened so it’s time for a cocktail.
Today I had to go to my storage unit to drop off a few things. While I was out I thought I’m gonna head south and go explore a road I have never been on before. I had thought about it for a few days and finally decided today was the day.
It was a gorgeous drive along a river once I got out of the city. I discovered many forest roads and campgrounds so I now know some good spots to get away to for a few days. I usually don’t stay in many campgrounds – not even in the primitive ones like in the National Forest – but it is a nice change every now and then especially with the abundance of bears in the forests around here. Safety in numbers. Having a hard-sided trailer eliminates many bear problems…but not all of them. You should really carry bear spray if you venture very far from your vehicle and it is not advisable to hike alone. It is the one thing I really don’t care for in the forests here – otherwise it is beautiful.
I got down to the turnoff for Big Sky, which is a resort town that wqas made popular by Montana native Chet Huntley (those of you who are of “a certain age”, shall we say, might remember that name from the famous news team of Huntley/Brinkley on the NBC Evening News in the 1960s). I opted to continue on straight south on US 191 toward the junction of US 287, just north of West Yellowstone.
Just past the intersection is The Soldier’s Chapel. I had to stop for a look and it is a small chapel with an incredibe backdrop.
I was actually surprised the amount of people who just drove right by as I was pulling out of the drive. It is a few hundred yards off the highway so it is somewhat hidden.
Driving on south the landscape started to open up…
and then a big surprise…
I have now been to Yellowstone seven times (including this trip) and I did not realize I would be within the park boundary. I drove into this sliver of the park on the Montana side and saw a truck stop and then back up – probably a chipmunk, I thought since that is what it usually is. I drove past, not planning to stop, and there it was. It has taken me seven trips to this park and finally I got to see a grizzly bear. And it was a pretty big one, standing out in the meadow eating something. I went ahead and thought I should turn around and have a look since this is the only one I have ever seen. I swung around and it walked into the woods just as I got there so I have no picture. Oh well, I got to see one!
I turned around and resumed my adventure, turning onto US 287 to head back north. I stopped and got a picture of my furry travel companion at a roadside historical marker near Hebgen Lake:
The historical marker was telling the story about a lake up ahead that was created by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. The lake was named Earthquake Lake. Ironically there were two USGS men who were there in that area and they just happened to witness the slide. I definitely want to go back to learn more about this site and area.
I continued on, pulling in to check out some of the campgrounds, historical sites and trailheads I came across along the way. Past the lake the surroundings opened up into that infamous “Big Sky”:
Heading north toward Ennis it was much different scenery than what I had driven through the past several hours as you can tell by the above picture. I have been to Ennis before and even posted about it, along with Virginia City, in an earlier post, but I came in from the north on that trip so this is all still uncharted territory for me. There is Forest access as well as fishing access on world-class waters along the highway, in the Forest, and on BLM land. An abundance of fantastic recreation!
As I went north I saw a few of those Forest access roads and decided to take one. I took a right turn at a place called Cameron, MT and went back into the woods toward Bear Creek Campground. The road was clearly marked, which was good as I have not gotten a Forest map yet.
When I turned I saw a sign about an old schoolhouse ahead seven miles on the right so that was a bonus! The road was in decent shape, and at the seven mile mark there was the school, still on its original site from 1909:
I went on back to the campground and discovered it was a horse campground for pack trips and hunting – the latter definitely not my thing. I turned around and went back the way I came in. I took a couple of other turns on other roads and found some spectacular scenery and got in a bit of off-roading to boot.
I got back down to the highway and finished up my adventure some eight hours and many new places later. It felt good to get out on an all-day drive and see some new things. I am ready to go again!
It’s finally starting to feel more like a retirement now!
Yeah, I have been quiet for a while but there really has not been too much to blog about recently. It has been a great summer so far!
It has been an interesting last few months. I have been really busy at work up here in the San Juans. We have really busted our asses trying to get a lot of maintenance projects done and we have really accomplished a lot of things. I think our team is really good together.
I really want to take a massive road trip at some point – probably in the next 3 to 5 years. I know some people who went on a year-long trip and had a blast. I know others who leave for many months and enjoy it. I think it would be fun to do Washington to the Atlantic Provinces through the upper US one way and take a lower Canada route the other way.
Just like my friends in Sequim and Port Angeles, I will definitely miss the new friends that I have come to know and hang out with up here over the last couple of seasons. Staying in touch is so much easier these days and I will still be within a few hours of where I am currently so it will not be far to visit.
I am ready to get back to the mainland; more things to do, cheaper groceries and gas, and not dealing with the ferry constantly. Will I miss it? Sure, I will miss aspects of it. Running a boat every day in the Sand Juan Islands, working on different islands…these things definitely do not suck. Seeing beautiful boats, talking to nice people, beautiful scenery…these things, too, don’t suck. But, I have lived on an island before and had NO conveniences except once a week when I went back across. I got spoiled in the short time I was in Port Angeles by having not only the convenience, but also the public transportation. I am also really excited to be able to hang out with my youngest daughter and spend more time in Seattle.
Knowing tese are the last few days I will be working here is a bit of a downer, but it is the nature of this path I have chosen and can lead to exciting and bigger things in my future.