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.
I first saw him on the travel shows hosted by my favorite travel host Anthony Bourdain. Chef Andrés is so passionate about food – good, simple food – that he makes you want to try it all. WCK helps out so not just people in disaster areas can eat, but he outsources much of the cooking to local restaurants to help keep their doors open and keep their staff employed. It is a pretty impressive organization.
In the last paragraph of the article the interviewer asks “Talk to me about the power of travel to open hearts and minds.”
Chef Andrés: “It is important for us to travel, to meet people who seem different from us. You realize that they aren’t that different. We are all together on this planet, and we need to be working together more. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we have an amazing opportunity to get to know who we are and where we live. To look at things through another lens and appreciate the beauty of the planet we have.”
This takes what I have previously said about travel and elevates it to a whole other level…an important level. A level we need to think about more.
Be sure to read the whole article I linked to and check out the link to WCK as well; it is a short article and will only take a few minutes. There are opportunities all over; one opportunity is they are looking for volunteers to help feed firefighters battling the wildfires in California. Of course you can donate money as well as time.
I really didn’t go to a lot of concerts in the days before the T-virus (last one was Riverside in Seattle in June 2019) but I know how important it is for bands to tour to make money and that is not happening right now. The music I listen to is not very commercially popular as opposed to mainstream radio-play music so these bands live hand-to-mouth constantly, and some even have regular jobs to supplement their incomes to just be able to play and create their music. This means that all but the biggest acts are struggling along with the venues they play in – from Irish pubs to your local bar and theater.
I have been trying to support some of my favorite bands by buying CDs and DVDs directly from them (and not through Apple Music, Amazon, etc.). I want the bands I enjoy listening to to get as much of the money as possible from my purchases. I have received CDs and DVDs from bands in England (IQ, Marillion) and Norway (Green Carnation) so far and plan to do more to support them and other acts I enjoy listening to. And, since I cannot see them live (which I do buy tickets to these tours when possible) having a concert DVD gives me a chance to see them “live”. Many of the bands I listen to never even make it here to the US so it’s either a DVD or I schedule my next Europe trip to see them…we almost did on our first trip over!
Another way to support your favorite acts is on the Bandcamp website. The website was giving up their revenue share portion on Fridays so it would go straight to the artists (not sure if they are still doing that or not). That’s a fantastic gesture to help support indie artists and I have taken advantage of that to help even more. Stop by and check it out and you might discover some new music by some new artists. I have seen free music, music for set prices, and even name your own price on some artist pages as well as some great deals buying collections (Porcupine Tree, Silent Island, Black Hill, Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster). Just support them directly however you can! And yes…I know you may not have heard of any of these bands or probably think they have weird names.
I have seen articles where many of the museums around the world are in trouble and many may close or never reopen. That is so sad to hear as our history is so important for future generations to see where we have been. I purchased an annual museum pass to help out museums in Ireland. I will be going back soon (hopefully) so I can use it to get in to places, plus it supports my ancestral castle as well.
My Interagency Pass – some mistakenly call it the National Parks Pass – is a great deal and it supports all Federal Lands. If you want to support a particular National Wildlife Refuge, National Park or National Forest then purchase one at that particular place they get to keep 80% of the money on that Refuge, Park or Forest! Pick your favorite place and buy it there and not at an outdoor retailer (not to mention any names); that money all goes into a general fund.
Free admission to all Federal lands for a year…not a bad deal at all. And a Senior Pass is $80 for a lifetime card with 50% discounts for campgrounds on top of free entry with the card if you are over 62. A little hint – buy it early in the month and it expires at the end of the same month the following year; it’s basically a free month! Just remember the pass has to stay with the owner – you loan it you can lose it.
There are so many small things we can do that help. You don’t have to be a philanthropist to donate (I’m certainly not wealthy) but even just a few dollars here and there to support something near and dear to you makes a difference!
Earlier I mentioned wildfires but some relief is here!
Rain!!! We are finally getting some rain as I type this post. It has been months since we had any real rain here and this will do wonders to clear the air up some and help put out some of the fires in the area. Before the rains we had some hellacious winds – probably 50+ mph – and I am sure those did not help firefighter efforts, but there is rain falling and that will. I had to park my truck next to my trailer to keep the trailer from getting blown over and the wind ripped the top of the chicken coop off. Then Auntie Em flew by…
I’m thinking that, along with helping get some of the fires under control, this rain might help open up some other possibilities for my upcoming adventure. I guess I need to look at some fire info to see what is open and closed before I decide to go someplace and even see if I can get anywhere. I have been checking the pandemic outbreak maps and some places I wanted to go I will certainly be avoiding.
I started working on a new song for my ongoing opus called The Neverending Suite (which is currently just shy of 19 minutes long). I got the lyrics completed a few days ago (well, for now as far as I know). I have had a lot on my mind and it came flying out through my fingertips; most of it in about 30 minutes, and I decided to add another verse two days later when it wandered into my thoughts. Next step is to take a few music ideas I have and put the two together. It’s never an easy task as I tend to want to add a lot of layers for texturing, but I am getting a little more disciplined about doing that. It’s been a while since I have put a song together but when it’s time to write it just happens, not to mention there has been a lot of time to think about a lot of things.
Earlier this year I started reworking the last section I recorded last year but got sidetracked with life, Europe, a pandemic, and moving. It’s not like I have not had the time; I just have not been in the songwriting frame of mind lately. The reworking ended up being a bit more complicated than I thought it would be but I will probably be getting back on it soon so I can get this new part of the song to tie in after it. It’s good therapy too.
It’s been some time since I have heard the song so I think I will have a listen to it and close out this post.
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!
I left Washington nearly two weeks ago. It was a beautiful drive over and I did it in two days for a leisurely trip through northeastern Washington to see a few areas that I had not been to before.
As I drove through some of the areas I saw a few places I had, indeed, been to after all in all the miles and years of past travel. It was still a beautiful drive; slower but much more scenic than I-90.
I had hoped to find a Forest Service road to camp along since I had the trailer with me but I found no roads to do so (it is called “dispersed camping” and is free; be sure to check local regulations, as each forest – even within a state – is different). That meant I would be driving further than I wanted to so I could find a spot. It also cut back on my sightseeing since I was forced to go on. Ironically, that spot ended up being the same KOA in Spokane I just happened to stay at on my way to Washington.
I got up the next day and went on to my destination in Montana to get settled in. With restrictions and closures in place that I was unsure of it was really the best thing to do. I was only a half-day drive away anyhoo and I will get plenty of chances to explore soon. I have been around Montana in the past but am anxious to explore more of the mountains and forests while I am here. Having the trailer I can keep to myself and avoid crowds. The big tourist areas I have already been to and don’t need really to do much more than drive through them.
Traveling with the ‘rona has its challenges, but luckily I have my trailer to travel with and all the comforts of home are with me. Traveling here…that was the easy part. Gas pumps and gloves and stops to rest on the on-ramps to the highway. Montana has had one of the lowest infection rates reported, and from my trips to get supplies it looks like nothing has ever changed here. Crowded stores with people walking the wrong way down one-way aisles, and very few wearing masks. I cannot get the hell out of the stores fast enough and a few I will not go in again because of the lack of concern selfish people have for others and safety. I’ll be going to either the local market or food co-op to shop from now on.
Honestly, it has been very difficult for me to adjust after not only dodging the ‘rona on our Europe trip, but also while living in Washington where infections were high and I was quarantined for the best part of the last three months and cooked all my meals at home – no dining out since I got back to Washington. With all of that happening I have had an extremely hard time letting go of my newly-acquired covid-inflicted OCD. I am in a high-risk group so I take this very seriously, but at the same time I am trying to do better and temper some of that behavior now that I am in an area with lower risk.
I did get out for a much-needed mental health drive through the forest a few days ago and it did wonders for helping to clear my head. I saw some places I had not been before and drove about 40 miles on Forest Service roads. It was a pretty healing day I must say, and it was so good to be in the forest again.
I’ll be getting out more soon. I have to get new tires on the truck this week before I do any further exploring and I will definitely be getting the trailer out quite a bit this year. It has been an exciting year in many ways so far but I am really looking forward to more excitement and travels. I am really ready to start to finally enjoy this retirement thing.