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Sunday, April 24, 2011

GREAT ROAD TRIPS IN MONTANA!

Hi Everybody:

I went for a drive Saturday, just to get some air.  I had heard about a small town named Cut Bank near the Canadian border.  It is known as the "coldest spot in the nation."  This, I had to see (feel).  I drove more than a hundred miles before turning off I-15 at the Shelby exit.  There, the G.P.S. would tell me to take U.S. 2 for another 25 miles to Cut Bank. 

Shelby, Montana is a quaint town of about 3,000 people.  The high school's teams are the Coyotes--pronounced KI- oats.  As I parked on the main drag (the only drag), a motorcycle gang roared past and then stopped at a bar and grill on the other side.  It was like a scene out of Easy Rider.  I went into the town's only clothing store and found a couple of shirts and a hoodie--souvenirs for my kids. 

The lady behind the counter recognized me, of course.  Huh?  Why would a woman I'd never seen--in a place I'd never been--recognize me?

"You were at the Montana State football fundraiser last week in Great Falls, right?"
"Yes.  I was."
"I thought so.  I saw you there.  My son plays tight end for the Bobcats."
"Oh.  No kidding!  Small world."  Go figure.

Montana is a large state, but it has such a small population that it seems like everybody knows everybody-- or at least everybody knows somebody who knows almost everybody.  I left Shelby and continued north and west toward Cut Bank.  The terrain is flat and grassy.  Thousands and thousands of cows graze on both sides of the highway.  In the distance, the snow-covered Rockies are breathtaking. 

When you arrive in Cut Bank, you're greeted by a huge wooden (I think) penguin standing in front of a motel that appears to be closed (at least for the season).  The penguin's base boasts that Cut Bank is the "coldest spot in the nation."  It was 49 degrees and sunny with a mild wind-- probably the nicest weather in Montana in the past two weeks.  I glanced toward the snowy Rockies.  "I'll guess it's a bit colder up there," I thought.

I purchased some trinkets handmade by local Blackfeet, then realized that Glacier National Park was less than 50 miles away.  Of course, I kept going.  The scenery is impossible to describe.  That's why they invented cameras.  I was only able to drive a few miles into the park because the roads into it were still covered by about five feet of snow.  The park doesn't open fully until sometime in June.

I saw some wild horses near the highway.  I saw a couple of mule deer.  I saw a skunk that hadn't been hit by a car.  I saw some beautiful pheasants standing on the shoulder.  I did not see any of the following that are living somewhere in the park: Grizzly bear, Canadian lynx, wolverine, mountain goat (the official park symbol), bighorn sheep, moose, elk, white-tailed deer, coyote, mountain lion, wolf, badger, river otter, porcupine, mink, marten, fisher, six species of bats and numerous other smaller mammals.

I shot some photos and some video and turned the car around.  I'd been there and seen as much of it as I was allowed.  That was plenty--no sense pushing it.  That's how flat tires or worse happen.  I drove back to Great Falls.  I took the very curvy scenic route-- lots more open range with cows.  I passed through a few very small towns, towns too small even for a yellow flasher.  When you see a little town like that in Montana, there's a good chance it's part of an Indian reservation.  I can't claim to know a lot about the lifestyle of Native Americans in Montana, but it doesn't look good.
One of the larger small towns --not on a reservation-- is Choteau.  In the center of town is a picnic area with large sculptures of dinosaurs.  It seems completely out of place in Montana-- until you do the research:  Choteau is one of the oldest active towns in Montana. It was named after Pierre Chouteau, President of the American Fur Company, who brought the first steamboat up the Missouri River.  Although Choteau is a small town of 1740 people, it is known to paleontologists as one of the richest places on earth to discover secrets of the past. Egg Mountain is 12 miles to the west of Choteau and is the site that has yielded more information about dinosaur biology during the Cretaceous period than any other paleontology dig in the world. Dinosaur digs, egg shell fragments, nests, and babies were discovered there for the first time in North America. In addition to what can be gleaned from past dinosaur discoveries in various museums, one can dig for fossils, as well as find opportunities to camp, swim, shop, golf, hike, ski, see wildlife, fish, and hunt.

All of Montana is pretty much a "starter market" for TV news.  That means unless your first job was in Great Falls or Billings or Butte, you might never see Montana.  That's a shame.  It is awesome.

In case you missed my one-man-band "duck release" story, I've put a link to it below.  Also, there's a link to a 2:07 music/natsound piece that one of our young MMJ's put together at my suggestion for a kicker.  I thought it was a nice touch for Good Friday.