Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coldest spot ...

We've had some real mid-winter weather in Montana this month, so it seems like a good time to mention Cut Bank's giant penguin. The penguin was reportedly constructed decades ago to advertise one of Cut Bank's hostelries, and and it still sits in front of a dated motel building near the east end of town. A classic piece of folk art, and almost certainly Cut Bank's best-known attraction.

There's some debate. though, about the penguin's claim that Cut Bank is the "Coldest Spot in the Nation." The author of the phrase presumably decided that Alaska didn't count in the rankings ... or Rogers Pass, Montana, for that matter, which was the site of the coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48. Still, there's no denying that Cut Bank is down there in the rankings ... somewhere.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Prickly Pear Canyon ...

Back in the days before the Interstate Highway system, old US 91 was unquestionably one of the great drives in Montana. Between Butte and Great Falls, the route crossed the Continental Divide and wandered through a series of lovely mountain canyons, evocative of the best of Montana.

One of the narrowest and most spectacular stretches of road was along Prickly Pear Creek, north of Helena. Prickly Pear Canyon was narrow and steep-walled and scenic, with barely enough room for the creek, the road, and the tracks of the Great Northern Railway.

Today's photo is an old postcard view of the canyon, probably shot in the 1920s or early 1930s. (The road through the canyon was paved in 1931.) The photo has been retouched a bit and heavily hand-colored, but it's a great view of a scenic spot and a vanished age of travel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Memorial Falls ...

My favorite north-south road in Montana is probably US 89 ... not only for the amazing drive along the Rocky Mountain front north of Choteau, but also for the great trip over King's Hill in the Little Belt Mountains. One of my favorite stopping points on the King's Hill drive is Memorial Falls, just a little south of Neihart. It's a short walk up a lovely little canyon, a fine respite in the middle of a long drive.

Monday, January 14, 2013

View of the Bitterroot ...

I spent a winter in Missoula a number of years ago, and was fortunate enough to sit in on K. Ross Toole's legendary Montana and the West history class. Those class sessions were filled with memorable moments, and one of the things I recall was how Toole lamented the slow destruction of the Bitterroot Valley ... the ongoing replacement of its farms and meadows with a sea of faceless subdivisions.

Of course that was nothing compared to what's happened in the Bitterroot in the years since ... and every time I go down that way I remember Toole's lecture and regret the ever-more-depressing view.

Here's a stanza from Greg Pape's poem, "View of the Bitterroot." Pape is a Missoulian who has taught in the University of Montana's creative writing program for many years.
The new owners of the wheat field
plan to develop the land, cut
the acres, where the sandhill cranes
return each year, down into small lots,
five hundred houses packed in tight
like gold bars in rows
over the shallow aquifer
at the edge of the marsh.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Joshua Spotted Dog ...

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Montana's Native American peoples received a surprising amount of attention from artists and photographers ... people who were presumably enchanted by the romance of the vanishing Indian lifestyle, and who hoped to document it in their own way before it was too late.

An intriguing but lesser-known person in this category was a woman named Olga Ross Hannon, an Midwestern transplant who taught art at the college in Bozeman from 1921 until her death in 1947. Hannon's paintings and other work explored a variety of Montana themes, including explorations of Native Native American art and culture. (Hannon Hall on the MSU campus is named for her.)

The evocative image below is credited to Hannon ... it's a portrait of a man named Joshua Spotted Dog, taken at Poplar on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hyalite Lake ...

I mentioned the Hyalite Mountains in yesterday's post, and here's a picture of its crown jewel: Hyalite Lake. The lake is about 8,800 feet high, in a gorgeous basin in the shadow of its namesake peak, and is at the end of a five-mile trail that is arguably one of the most beautiful in the Rockies.

I took this photo in late July, the year before last. The last mile or so of the trail was still mostly under several feet of snow.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Bridger range ...

There's no doubt at all that Montana has some of the finest mountain ranges anywhere. The mountains up in Glacier are of course my favorites, but honorable mentions go to the ranges that surround Bozeman: the Hyalites, the Spanish Peaks, and especially the Bridgers. The Bridger range defines the eastern edge of the Gallatin Valley for a good two dozen miles, remarkably straight and tall. The views from the ridgeline are uniformly amazing, especially looking down into the Gallatin Valley, some 4,000 feet below.

Sacajawea Peak is near the center of the Bridger range, and at 9,665 feet is its highest point. The trail from Fairy Lake up to the summit is a classic, and the view from the top is stellar. Today's photo is from the summit of Sacajawea, looking south along the range. The handsome dog admiring the view is Charlie, my Australian Shepherd; a couple minutes earlier, he'd just been introduced to his first mountain goat.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fifty Mountain Camp ...

This is an historic photo of a spot called "Fifty Mountain" ... easily one of Montana's most evocative place names. Fifty Mountain is high in the backcountry of Glacier Park, a dozen miles from the nearest road, and it's a spectacular location. That's Mount Kipp in the background.

This image, reportedly by the noted park photographer T.J. Hileman, dates from the 1920s or 1930s. Back then, the fashionable way to see Glacier was on a guided, multi-day horseback trip, and Fifty Mountain was an overnight stop for horse parties doing a popular route called the North Circle. For a few weeks every summer, the horse concessionaire operated "Fifty Mountain Camp," a collection of heavy canvas wall tents that provided hot meals and beds to the travelers. You can see the camp nestled in the trees near the bottom of the photo.

It's been over 70 years since Fifty Mountain Camp closed for the last time, but the park still maintains a small backcountry campground in the area. I recall camping there on the night of August 1 a number of years ago, and waking up to find the campground buried in new snow.