Last update had us exiting Yellowstone National Park at the north entrance / exit at Mammoth Springs. This spot takes you over the border into Montana. Mammoth Springs is the National Park Head Quarters so a lot of older NP buildings around, and large elk roaming around munching the front lawns of some of the places. From Mammoth it’s a short 6-mile drive ‘out of the park’ to Gardiner – this is the spot where entrants to the park first came back in the day. There’s a unique arch that you would have ridden in under – called the Roosevelt Arch it was constructed in 1903. As we explored the arch, there were Pronghorn Antelope wandering around freely on the outskirts of Gardiner. From Gardiner it’s a 50-mile trip into Livingstone to intercept Interstate 90. We would struggle along the interstate for a good 200 miles this afternoon as we trekked across Montana. I say struggle as we were plugging away at a fairly consistent 55 miles an hour whereas the speed limit in Montana is 80 miles an hour – cars, trucks, campers were all whizzing by us as we pushed on.
As we pushed onto towards Butte we stuck our first rain this trip. Made a change having to have the windows up and the wipers on and wasn’t the best for driving but we carried on. We had a little back and forth going on with one big rig – it passed us and then we passed it (believe or not) as we climbed up a hill, only for it to whiz by on the other side. We finally got the better of it on the last big climb into Butte and didn’t see it again for the best part of 40 mins. As you head west out of Butte (which you don’t enter staying on the Interstate) you are greeting by the odd sight of a huge chimney on the skyline. We discovered later the chimney had some history – the chimney at the base of the hills near Anaconda was constructed in 1918 and is the tallest free-standing masonry structure in the world at 555 feet high. The stack has an inner diameter of 60 feet at it’s top – all made from bricks – pretty impressive.
We pushed on some more to an area called Deer Lodge where we pulled into an RV park for the night. Deer Lodge got it’s name from being situated on a key gold rush trial and developed into an important ranching and retail area in the 1860’s. Settled into the RV park – taking advantage of hot showers and chance to have a good shave, we then headed over to the diner for some dinner (this would be only our second meal out whilst travelling – the budget is tight). We sat down and enjoyed a nice meal and waddled back to the RV. I may have had some rationale for stopping in Deer Lodge – turns out there is a good private car collection open to view – who would have known. Friday morning consisted of having a good look through the collection which is based in the old Deer Lodge State Prison complex which dates back to the early 1870’s. The prison ceased to operate as such in the late 1970’s and now is open for viewing, and also for housing the car museum. Sherm Anderson had / has a love for cars especially mid 50’s Chevy Belair’s and there is a bit of everything in the collection up to the mid 1970’s. Deer Lodge offers a package of museums to view – the Prison, car collection, a rail display, and then a history and toy museum – all very interesting and a real gem to find.
Leaving Deer Lodge we had approx. 100 miles of interstate to get to Missoula and then a further 20 miles or so west to link up with our friend Dale who lives in the area. The interstate experience was made all the more pleasurable by the fleet of Corvettes that appeared to be heading for a run in the east somewhere – I reckon we would have spotted 150 if not more Corvettes of all makes, models and colours. Heading west we linked up with Dale who lives in a nice wooden environment near one of the state parks. Dale lives a simply live living in a caravan out in a friend’s paddock – rustic and simple with nature on your doorstep. Dale took us for a tiki tour of the surrounding area before we settled down to some barbeque and more catch up. Saturday was spent tinkering with the camper – be fair to say it wasn’t running 100% so Dale had a poke around it for us and picked up on a couple of things we would need to attend to. From there he took us back into Missoula (to the auto parts shop) and then we headed north. First stop was to sample some Huckleberry pie – a local favourite (the huckleberry is plentiful in the area He took us up to a nice area if you can get them before the bears do – the berry is a cross between a blackcurrant and a blueberry). We were now in local Indian Reservation land and stopped at a place called Arlee to view the St Ignasus Mission Chapel which has a wonderfully decorated / painted interior / ceiling – much like the Sistine Chapel but smaller.
From there Dale took us to the Bison Reserve, confident that Carol would see some of the wildlife she was yearning to spot. It wasn’t too long into the slow trek around the park (track is something like 19 miles up and around the hills) that Carol managed to spot a black bear happily feeding on local berries. You needed the binoculars to see the bear so Dale set us up with the spot and we studied the bear before winding up to the top of the hill to see if we could look down on the bear. Not sure if it was the same bear or another, but I spotted on and we studied that again for a time. We were told one of the trails was closed as a bear was in the area feeding on carron and we were told to stay clear. Winding around we spotted the odd bison, some different types of deer, a solo antelope and then as we neared the exit of the park, we spotted several large elk with fine antlers displayed. It was getting on for dusk so a good time – the elk were happy just feeding and we were maybe only 6 feet away from one of the big ones. Coming out of the park it was dark so we heading to a truck stop dinner and had some late dinner before heading back to Dale’s.
Sunday was a quiet day tinkering on the camper and then heading into Missoula to do some shopping. The local Walmart was huge – I managed to get separated from Carol and Dale for a time and had contemplated putting out an SOS call. Laden with groceries and supplies we headed back to Dale’s and enjoyed a nice barbe – eating earlier than we had the past couple of nights. Monday was all about getting the camper into a local mechanic to get the water-pump replaced. Had hoped to have the camper back that night but that was optimistic of us – it wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow. Dale showed us around some downtown areas – there’s an old carousel which is very much a focal point and very popular with young and old. Each of the horses on the carousel has a name and a story – was nicely done. We then went and checked out the Mountain Flying Museum which has a strong connection to the smoke jumpers centre which is based in Missoula. The museum had aircraft and memorabilia from the area with the centre piece being and old DC-3 that was used for many years carrying the smoke jumpers to fires. The DC-3 had been built at the end of WW2 but didn’t see any active service but was overhauled to get it airworthy so it could take part in Normandy celebrations this year. Miss Montana as she was named flew with 22 other US DC-3 / C-47’s to take part in the commemorations and to drop parachuter’s over Normandy.
After the museum we took a tour of the Smoke Jumpers base and learnt all about their training, what they carry into a fire, how they battle the blaze etc. This summer locally has been a vey quiet fire season for the jumpers but many of them have been sent north to help fight fires in Alaska. You get a good appreciation of what some people will do – the jumpers don’t exactly get paid that well – well not as well as we had expected, but Dale told us that then they are ‘out on a fire’ is when they start to make a few dollars. So a really interesting day looking around a couple of very good local facilities. We stopped at a quiet dinner on the way back out of Missoula and had an early dinner, before Dale took us up into the hills behind his place to look for some wildlife (which didn’t want to be found). Luckily Carol did spot a beaver in the river at the back of Dale’s place so that was a bonus.
Tuesday we headed back into Missoula and had a good look around the Elk Refuse Centre – some nice work being done there – and many ‘trophies’ were displayed on the walls – I felt that contradicted things a bit for me but I guess there are reasons for it. After a coffee stop (to get wifi at Starbucks as Dale’s place had no service) we collected the camper and headed back to Dale’s. Vibration we had was still there so Dale climbed under the camper and found the drive shift bottom joint was loose – another repair would be required – tomorrow. That evening though we spent with Dale’s neighbours Jimmy and Jenny and Jimmy shared photos and stories of his mountain lion hunting experiences and then played some guitar for us. Jimmy was one of those guys (he’s 68) whose crammed a fair bit of living into his life. Plus he liked cars so plenty to talk about. Keen to get on the road again, we arranged through Dale to get the camper looked at by one of his friends so the next morning we were up and away early to get over to Dave’s with the parts needed and within the hour Dave had us up and running again. We said our goodbyes (for now) to Dale and headed back up to Missoula and then worked our way down to Lolo and then across to the south west on the I12 – we were heading for Idaho.