My Love Affair With Montana, Continues

DSC_6564“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“I’m in love with Montana.” C.D.D. 

My Subaru is loaded with the essentials … tripod, cameras, lens, notebook, map, and GPS. Oh, and a backpack with a few clothes and other essentials. So off I go, heading east over the Continental Divide to my road trip hub for a few days and nights–the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks.

The Sac was built in 1910 to service tourists traveling through on the railroad. Now on the Register of Historic Hotels, this white clapboard beauty is pure bliss. So when I got a call to come stay and review it, naturally I said “yes!”.

The lovely covered front porch is lined with white rocking chairs, scattered wool throws for guest use, and season appropriate floral arrangements. Greeted with a smile and a glass of chilled champagne, I am escorted to my room on the third floor. Up the original wooden stairway, past hall windows and the rustic wood doors of other guest rooms.

 

 

Barely taking the time to drop my things off, I hustle out to capture the late afternoon golden hour for some photos.

 

My first stop is Willow Creek. I’ve been wanting to stop by the Willow Creek Cafe and Saloon. One of my favorite reads is BLIND YOUR PONIES by a wonderful Montana author, Stanley Gordon, who features the town of Willow Creek in this courageous story.

Although the cafe is not yet open for business, I love driving the main street with passages from the book playing out in my imagination. But I don’t have time to dawdle for I’ve stopped dozens of times to enjoy the scenery along the Old Yellowstone Trail and am due back for dinner reservations at The Sac’s famous Pompey Grill.

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I can’t wait to return another time to splurge on Chef Matt’s famous 3-course dinners!

I finally get to snuggle into my beds luxurious crisp linens, after the sun has disappeared past the Tobacco Root Mountains to the West, deeply satisfied by wanderlust.

I slept my normal 4 hours, awake for 2, sleep for 4 more, odd schedule. Impressed by the absolute lack of noise by guests or street, I opened my window to enjoy some brisk autumn air as I stood gazing out over the sleeping town of Three Forks before returning to bed and meditating on sleep in the middle of the night.

One of the highlights of my stay at the Sacajawea Hotel is the complimentary breakfast-in-bed option. Especially for a lone-traveler, its just so relaxing to eat in suite, as I putz around preparing for my day.

Today I’m off to Pony, Montana! Settled in 1916, Pony was a prosperous gold-mining town. Today there are a number of historic buildings remaining in this town located on the edge of the Tobacco Root Mountains. Since leaving my beautiful Bitterroot Valley, I’ve been suffering with October fever in needing some rich fall foliage to satisfy. And satisfy it does!

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Off the beaten path, the highway to Pony diminishes down to a dirt road once you’re through the town.

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I spent several hours wandering each street of this charming little town, photographing and listening to some of its historic tales. Faint wood smoke from a nearby chimney, the crowing of a rooster and the clucking of hens all added to the ambiance of my visit.

 

I took over 200 photos here–so I’m being very selective about the ones I’ve chosen to show you! Many more shots are found on my Instagram feed–Montana Carole / Divineview Photography.

It’s hard for me to backtrack–leaving the way I arrived–so I found the most-used dirt road and started following it south. Before long I was able to wave down a passing farm truck–a local who surely could give me some good directional advice!

Local ranchers, the Brownson’s, were friendly and helpful as they explained a route to me, taking me up and over the mountains on a dirt road, eventually coming out on the South Boulder Creek highway just 11 miles to the west. (He quizzed me about my all-wheel drive as he carefully checked out the condition of my tires). “It’s a steep road” he said. “I’m a Montana girl and am used to it” I assured him. “It looks like snow” he said. “Yes, and I’m cautious about not wanting to get into any trouble.” “Well. We’ll be heading back this way a bit later. I’ll take a run up there just to make sure you aren’t in any trouble.” Like a protective grandpa, he wished me luck as we drove apart.

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VbarR Ranch

Yes, the weather did spit some snow, but not too much.  I passed cattle, sagebrush, aspen groves, rocky crags, stunning vista’s, rutted mud, a few old homesteads, a surprising University of Indiana research station and lots of mule deer during my wonderful cross-country trek.

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As I pulled out onto the South Boulder Creek road, a snow-squall hit with a furry, blowing the golden Cottonwood leaves off the trees and across my path. Again I stopped so many times to simply enjoy the grand October nature minutes. To enjoy the wild beauty of this wonderful state of mine. To bask in the sweet satisfaction of my hearts love cup, now filled-to-the-brim with October and Montana.

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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Good Eats!

DSC_3234Earlier this year,  I had opportunity and joy in joining a Dallas girlfriend for a springtime road trip through some wildflower strewn Texas hill country. We meandered down back roads, stopping at every food truck we could find. Easter dinner was a flavorful Crawfish Boil along the highway! IMG_8808

We enjoyed some amazing foods but the best of the best, was the watermelon slushy I bought from a food truck at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ MAGNOLIA MARKET in Waco.

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Me with my Waco Watermelon Slushy

Crisp flavor, refreshing coolness, and good old-fashioned watermelon flavored goodness through a straw! Mine was served in a mini-seedless watermelon. It was so delicious, I couldn’t wait to get home and make my own! I hope you’ll give it a try too! It’s on my menu for a colorful Red, White, and Blue 4th of July backyard BBQ.

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Because my guest list is large, I decided to try using a regular big sized watermelon, well chilled, rather than individual mini sized melons. I stood my watermelon on the flattest, most stable end—ensuring that it was balanced with no risk of tipping over. Then I took a long, sharp bladed knife and cut the top off. I wanted a hole large enough to easily insert my vintage ironstone serving ladle, to dish out the slushy into paper cups.

Then I removed an inch or so of the fruit from the inside of the melon, allowing me room to work and for the addition of more ingredients later. Plus, I didn’t want my slushy to be spilling over the edge once I inserted my immersion blender into the melon cavity.

With the immersion blender on high, I began to slowly and gently pulverize the melon’s fruity inside. Being careful not to cut into the rind or puncture it, I used the blender to scrape down the rounded sides, easily turning the firm flesh into mushy slush. This took about 15 minutes until my watermelon rind bowl was filled with beautiful slushy juices.

I then added ½ c of honey into 1 c of boiling water and stirred until it was dissolved. I let this cool, then added the sweetened water to the melon. I also squeezed in a few tablespoons of lime juice, to really make the watermelon flavor pop!

I kept the melon on a tray in the refrigerator until serving. I provided several additional flavor options for my guests to add to their individual glasses, like ginger ale, and Rose’ wine, if they wanted more of a wine cooler idea. (This watermelon slushy is a great base for fancy cocktails too, if that’s your party style) I found some fun, wide style, paper straws for us to use in slurping our slushies.

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My watermelon punch bowl was a big hit with my party guests. I hope you and yours will find it equally delightful!

Joshua Tree National Park

Only slightly more than 1000 miles away from my home here in Montana, lies a small National Park in the heart of the Mohave desert of southeastern California. Franklin Roosevelt designated this area (without needing Congressional approval) a National Monument back in 1936. Congress changed its status in 1994 to that of a National Park.

The Joshua Tree is a unique and unusual plant and although this park is named after it, do not expect to see an abundance of Joshua Trees here, especially in the eastern half of the park. I carefully researched, then charted out my brief 16 hour stay on this, my maiden voyage to Joshua Tree, and was rewarded for my efforts.

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I entered the park from the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, NW entrance. This is a very small, understaffed facility with limited parking lot and long lines of eager tourists like me, wanting to question a ranger, or to buy a souvenir. Not worth the time so just proceed into the park, stopping at the West Entrance Station to pay, retrieve your map, and ask a question or two.

Immediately you’ll find wonderful rock piles of huge boulders of every size and shape. Picturesque vistas abound! I was there in February so the park had not yet greened up but the day was a perfect blue-bird sky with just under 80 degrees temperatures, wonderful for hiking.

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One of the major attractions I was looking forward to was the walking tour of the Keys Ranch homestead. Nothing I read warned me to make a reservation in advance, so I was very disappointed to arrive at the gate finding it locked with signs warning me to stay away. It is rare to find cell phone service anywhere in the park, so I reluctantly turned around.

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Road to Keyes Ranch

Hidden Valley was a great stop with an easy 1 mile loop trail of walking among the rock formations and desert flora and fauna. More than anything, I hoped to spot a desert tortoise but did not. A lovely picnic area too.

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The color and shape of this boulder coincidently lined up giving the illusion of my sporting a third arm!

Transitioning from our below sea level elevation, we headed up to Keys View, at over 5000 feet, to overlook the valley, mountains, and desert below us. We could clearly see both the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea. Cooler temperature, somewhat windy, and with lots of people jockeying for the viewpoint, we did not stay long but headed back down to the desert floor and wide-open spaces!

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The roadway is curbed, with limited pull-outs. And the signs for various landmarks are typically only at the turnoff, giving no warning. (And no place to turn around and go back) My advice is to go slow and have a navigator with the map giving ample warning for upcoming attractions you’re wanting to see. I cannot imagine the chaos of being in this park on a crowded day. Seems like more than radiators would be boiling over.

I noticed a larger than normal Joshua Tree with a pull off across the roadway. It was only later, when viewing the photos, that the enormity of this tree was realized. There are no signs alerting passerby’s to this remarkable tree that is hundreds of years old. You see a Joshua Tree grows about 3″ per year for the first 10 years. The growth rate slows to half that for the remainder of its life, upwards of 1000 years. I think this tree was my most favorite thing to see in all of JTNP. And I hope you’re able to spot it too. I’d give you specific directions, but I don’t have any.

My second most favorite place in the park, was the Cholla Cactus Garden. Now, I did not have this on my “my do” list for the park, and only stopped here because it’d been a rather dull drive for 20 minutes or so, with nothing notable to see. (I mentioned to my companion that I pitied the people who entered from Cottonwood or Twentynine Palms visitors centers, going only on the north-south road. The most interesting and diverse sights in the park are on the road to the west of that north-south roadway. And if I had only driven that portion of the park, I would have been left wondering why anyone saw the importance of making this a park!

That being said, we arrived at the Cholla Cactus Gardens as the sun was slipping behind the western mountains. Although there were a lot of people out among the cacti, it was still a stunning sight to see. Erase from your thoughts any typical definition of “garden”. Mother Nature alone has planted and tended to this area, a wild-field of Cholla’s just barely starting the spring bloom. I think you’ll agree it was beautiful!

 

Once more, our road trip scenery became rather dull and monotonous as we continued south at the end of a perfect day of wandering. We stopped at the park exit, to see my first sight ever of a desert oasis. This area was closed off with an industrial strength chain-link fence (unable to find any angle for photographs that didn’t have the fence in it) to keep visitors out of the oasis. This wasn’t worth the stop. There are several other oasis in the area, like Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, well worth a side-trip.

Overall, I truly loved Joshua Tree National Park and was so happy for our decision to include it in our travel plans. I can’t wait to go back again for a more extended stay, and will definitely make reservations to tour the Keyes ranch–a good reason to go back! I hope to camp in the park next time, to witness sunrise and sunset over the giant rock formations, and to take some of the longer hikes.

And next time, I’ll try to make my trip in March, even though the temperatures will be hotter, the blooms should be on the desert plants, adding frosting to the cake of this delightful place.

 

Oh! Let the Sunshine In!

I love being a Montanan like a flower loves the sun! But like a flower, if I don’t get sunshine for weeks or months on end, I start to wither and fade away. Vitamin D is as essential to those of us living in these northern, low-sunlight, always so covered and bundled up against the cold, states almost as much as we need oxygen to breathe. But even with all the supplements and strategies for winter survival, sometimes a girls’ just gotta do what a girls’ gotta do. For me, shortly after ringing in the new year, this meant going on a road trip to sunshine California for a few months!

Yes, this is not unusual. Montana breeds a whole lot of snowbirds who fly the coop every winter in their RV’s, heading to warmer climates. But this was the first year that I got to participate in this migration south.

 

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