Memories

I recently was in the area where I spent my honeymoon over 30 years ago. While enjoying the exceptional fall foliage decorating the forests, I decided to explore up an old dirt forest road, which once took me to my summer home on a Forest Service Fire Tower, named Red Plume Lookout.

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Hungry Horse Reservoir with Red Plume Mountain one of those peaks in the background

Although the day was chilly, a bright blue sky reflected in the waters of the reservoir as the sun shone golden on the native grasses and gold-needled Western Larch trees.

As I drove I reflected on that summer so long ago, when as a young woman and newly wed bride, I felt I had life solidly in my hands. Returning home this week, I dug into my photo album from that time, and pulled my ‘childhood’ steamer trunk out to retrieve some of the journals I kept from my time on Red Plume Lookout.

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Photos from the 1970’s photo album.

We got married on a Saturday night in June, and headed north for a one-night stay on Flathead Lake, before reporting to work Monday morning at the USFS Spotted Bear Ranger Station, in the Flathead National Forest of NW Montana.

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After only a few days of orientation–how to properly file a smoke-report via the forest short-wave radio and how to use a fire finder to determine azimuth and distance of a visible smoke–we were flown by helicopter to our assigned fire tower. Red Plume Lookout sits atop the near 8000 foot high Red Plume mountain, about 30 air miles NE of Spotted Bear RS, over looking the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

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1966 Forest Service Map showing Red Plume Mountain

Our honeymoon and summer adventure was off to a good start! We had 90 days supply of groceries, 2 sleeping bags, hiking boots, and a lot of naivety dropped off with us, on top of the bare faced mountain, which sat on top of a sheer granite rock cliff. Glacier National Park and Canada were just a few miles north. The Scapegoat and Bob Marshall Wilderness’ were nearby to our West and South.  Our nearest neighbor was 7 air-miles away, at Schafer Meadows field station–a grueling 3200 foot drop down the mountain on a rugged, overgrown trail. Privacy was not an issue.

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Red Plume Lookout cabin, built in the 1920’s with the replacement tower behind it, built in 1955.

The helicopter pilot helped us unload our gear. Before he left we handed him our Minolta SLR camera with the request that he take our picture. (see snapshot in my album, above)

I don’t need to consult my journal to remember how utterly filthy the cabin was. Obviously the previous tenant (whom we later learned had spent 4 consecutive summers before us) had not bothered to clean. I felt overwhelmed.

Not only did we not have any running water, in order for us to have any water we had to chip blocks of snow off the snowbank near the edge of the cliff, haul up the stairs and melt in washpans on top of a smoldering, stubborn to burn, wood stove. The fact that there was no dry firewood didn’t help the situation! Determined, industrious, and eager-to-nest, we had our new home cleaned to my satisfaction within a few days. It was a rough to sleep in that kind of mess those first few nights though. I remember that vividly! Not what every bride dreams about …

I loved our address, one that I happily wrote on each Thank-You note envelope over the course of the next few weeks.  Red Plume Lookout, Spotted Bear Ranger Station, Flathead National Forest, Hungry Horse Montana. Talk about a colorful and descriptive address! No Main Street USA for me!

 

Although it’s cool to have this story of my past, it was not a fun summer what with unusually cold, wet weather, too many insects, and not enough fresh food. So I’ll leave my tale while it still resounds with adventure.

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