For those of you who’ve come to this blog post expecting to read about Horace Greeley and westward expansion – harshly depicted in the photo below – you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
I don’t even know who Horace Greeley was, and I don’t remember
anything much from Mrs. Nygard’s 6th-grade social studies class regarding westward expansion, other than the saying, “Go West, young man”. But even this I got wrong.
According to a reliable source, the real quote is, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” from Hints toward Reforms (1850) by Horace Greeley. There. You learned something new today. So did I!
Actually, I’ve been sorting through dozens of folders from an old Mac computer and finding hundreds of photos that had been downloaded, tucked into folders and sadly, forgotten.
I’m having a wonderful time digging them out and transferring them to my desktop computer; reminiscing about yesteryear and completely awestruck by the natural beauty of the West. Some of the photos are just too beautiful to view alone, so I’ll be sharing them with you here. Photos like this:
In an earlier post, I spoke of our van’s propensity to always travel West. Well, these photos are living proof that we’ve been there many times and have fallen completely in love with the mountains and streams of western Montana.
One day soon, my husband and I are going to celebrate his retirement by pulling our little pop-up camper to the edge of the Madison river and set up camp for a month or so. And the only noises we’ll hear, will be the gurgling of the mountain streams, the hoot of the great horned owl and howling of coyotes each evening. Oh yeah…and the chattering of our teeth as we wake up in our unheated camper each frosty September morning!
After 35 years of teaching, my husband will consider it pure bliss! I will too, as long as the grizzly bears keep their distance…miles and miles away from us!
This travelogue is a compilation of several trips we’ve taken in the past 8 years, so don’t be surprised when you see how our kids (and big D. & I) have aged! Sit back and enjoy…
Our trips out to Montana always start the same. The plan is to be packed the night before; exiting our home at the crack of dawn. In truth, we’re lucky if we’re on the road by mid-morning!
As we’re driving through Floodwood, Walker and then Detroit Lakes – it doesn’t yet feel like we’re on another road trip. But once we’ve reached the North Dakota border, everything changes. The pine and hardwood forests disappear, the plains open up before us and the world becomes this huge open expanse where we can see for miles and miles in all directions. It’s quite an awesome sight!
Like death and taxes, our first stop in North Dakota is always at the Wal-mart in Jamestown, where we pick up our supplies for the road – sketch pads, colored pencils, bottled water, Kraft “squirt” cheese and crackers! I’m not kidding! No vacation is complete without these road-trip survival items…especially the Easy Cheese!
When we were young and foolish, we’d drive like fiends and try to make it to Miles City, MT on the first day. Now that we’re older and wiser, we stop in Mandan and camp at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.
Located right on the banks of the Missouri River, the park has dedicated itself to the reconstruction, development and interpretation of the historical sites of old Fort Abraham Lincoln and the On-a-Slant Indian Village. There’s lots of history here and it’s a great educational experience for the kids. Who ever said that learning can’t be fun too?
In the summer months, there are also historical reenactments for the history buff and horseback riding for the adventurous.
The girls and I took the horseback riding trip one hot summer day. We plodded slowly along a well-worn path and about 40 minutes later, had reached the top of the butte and the site of the original fort. The views of the surrounding countryside were spectacular!
For those of you who thought that North Dakota was a boring state…I hope I’ve correct your erroneous thinking! The beauty of the West starts before you’ve even reached the Montana border!
After Mandan , our next stop is the wayside rest near Medora, in western North Dakota. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve pulled into this rest area and seen the same sights…the natural beauty of the area still takes my breath away!
The views of the painted canyons are breathtaking!
One of us always poses for a picture at the scenic overview;
and the picnic tables are a perfect place for us to take a break and grab a bite to eat!
One year, as we were returning home from our annual Montana pilgrimage, we were fortunate enough to see these here for the first time ever.
Truthfully, they were a bit too close for my liking AND they disobeyed the traffic signs!
After we’ve refreshed ourselves and walked the dog, we’re back in our vehicle and headed towards the Montana border.
Upon crossing the border, we’re about to embark on the most difficult part of our journey – the drive through eastern Montana. For the next 5 hours, we’ll be following the path of the Yellowstone River which we can see from the interstate, as it meanders for hundreds of miles.
Scrub and semi-arid to desert conditions cover large areas of eastern Montana. It’s pretty desolate here and all you’ll be seeing is sage, rabbitbrush, shrubby cinquefoil, snakeweed and prickly pear cactus. We’ve now entered rattlesnake county and are especially diligent to watch for them when we stop along the way.
Since all of our travels involve our children, I try and make sure to have something for them to do while in the car. If I forget to bring something to keep them occupied, they will eventually stare at me like this, thinking “Why does my mother keep sticking that camera in my face?”
But I don’t despair…our first glimpse of the mountains is only 334 miles away! By the time we’ve reached Big Timber, the snow-capped Rockies are looming straight ahead.
Another hour on the road and we’ve arrived in Bozeman. This is a fun and somewhat cosmopolitan city and there’s a lot to see and do. Often times we’ll take a walk down Main Street and window-shop or stop for lunch at a local eating establishment. Our favorite is Burger Bob’s with their perfectly cooked burgers and waffle fries. Mmmmm!
Occasionally, we’ll make a full day of it, heading on over to the Montana State University campus and the Museum of the Rockies.
There’s something for everyone here – Dinosaurs under the Big Sky; the Taylor Planetarium; a living history farm; the Northern Rocky Mountain History exhibit and several traveling exhibits. There’s also incredible photo archives of the native Americans and pioneers that settled the West. We loved it!
After leaving Bozeman, our route now takes us in a southward curve, towards Yellowstone National Park.
There’s a couple of highways that’ll take us there…we prefer Highway 287 through Four Corners and Ennis. The roads here are wide open and the views are spectacular. We’ve also gone due south out of Bozeman, on highway 191 towards Big Sky. The drive is lovely, but most of the road winds through tight canyons and the two lanes are very narrow and have no shoulders…not my cup of tea!
Whichever way we decide to go, we almost always end up at the West Fork Cabin Camp, located on highway 287 North, about 35 miles south of Ennis, MT. We know we’ve reached the right place when we find this bridge to cross…
For those of you reading this blog…if majestic mountains; clear blue sky; sparkling , pure rocky mountain rivers; and (oh yes) large, beautiful trout excite you, then the West Fork Cabin Camp on the Madison River is the place for you!
We found this campground by accident and it really is a hidden gem! The camp offers 20 tent sites, 24 RV sites and 11 cabins. Within 30 minutes of your cabin you can fish 13 of Montana’s finest streams and 13 lakes. We’ve stayed here on a couple of separate occasions, and as you view the following pictures, I’m sure you’ll see why this is such a great place to visit.
A cold, misty morning on the Madison river. On this particular day, we woke up to 30 degree temps and frost in the camper…in August. Come prepared!
The kids are fly-fishing for the first time and seriously ready to catch some trout!
Yes…ones that look like this!
Making sure the boots don’t fall down!
He’ll figure this out yet…
The smallest catch I’ve ever seen! “Mom…is it a keeper?”
Livvy…first time out and looking good! My advice: bring boots…the water is freezing!
Caught in the middle of a caddis fly hatch!
Second trip to the river and working the riffles…
A tired fisherwoman taking a rest.
Joining the group….our own Montana Mary!
She’s got the knack…this one IS a keeper!
Great day on the river!
Sunset over the Madison
If it’s too windy for fishing, we’ll often take a ride over to West Yellowstone for an ice cream treat or take a ride through the Park. It’s a quick 37 miles jaunt. On our way there, we pass the famous Quake Lake. There’s a sad story here but if you want to learn more about the origin of this unusual lake, you’ll have to stop at the Visitor Center and discover it for yourself!
Upon entering the Park, we usually find an out of the way road to drive and if we’re lucky, we may even see some wildlife…
This elk was so close to the truck that I almost hit it!
I don’t know where this coyote was heading, but he wasn’t disturbed by our presence.
New tree growth after the last fire…
We take these warning signs very seriously! Our life or health may depend on it! If we’re lucky enough to see some buffalo, we always view them from the relative safety of our car.
Take a look at the size of these creatures…
After we’ve seen enough wildlife and have tired of fighting the summer traffic jams in the Park, we’ll head back to West Yellowstone and join the hoards of folks that are buying their fill of official Yellowstone souvenirs…all made in China. Not our family…we prefer the green foam buffalo horns that are made in Taiwan!
All joking aside…it really is a fun if not kitschy town with an old-fashioned candy store on every block, hundreds of overpriced hotel rooms, and enough Yellowstone National Park t-shirts to clothe all the folks West of the Mississippi!
If this travelogue has encouraged you to plan a trip out West and you find yourself near Yellowstone National Park, make sure to plan a visit to the town of West Yellowstone. No trip out West is complete until you do!
You just never know what you’ll find there…