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.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Family histories ...

Among the most common local history books are those that consist primarily of individual or family biographies, usually self-written.  Many of the recent ones are commemorative volumes produced by local museums and history committees, and they're often great resources; sometimes, they're the only substantive published histories ever prepared for an area.  Earlier volumes were typically "vanity histories," where individuals paid to have their biography included.  Some of the latter were published way back in the nineteenth century, when Montana was still considered part of the frontier.

Most of the biographies in those volumes are pretty dry, but every once in a while you come across a gem.  Here's an evocative entry I discovered yesterday ... it's from a book called History of Montana, published in 1885:
GEORGE E. RAMSAY, P. O. Sheridan, came to Montana in 1863, and bought a claim in Bannack in which he sank his last dollar. He then had to do something. His wife being equal to the trials of a frontier woman, went by coach alone to Virginia City. He followed with a sore backed cayuse, leading her most of the way. Mrs. Ramsay paid the fare, which was $10, and took the last ten they had. The stage driver left her in the street alone, and a Mr. Knox, one of the pioneers of 1862, escorted her to the Virginia Hotel, kept by Miles W. Brown (now of Radersburg). Only the walls of the building were up, and she slept on gravel in the rear of the establishment. The kitchen had a roof of canvas. Mrs. Ramsay went to work in the kitchen and Mr. Ramsay in the dining room. After awhile they went to Summit and here made something keeping boarders. In the fall our subject was offered a fine team and wagon and harness for his house, but refused to trade. Afterward sold a door for what the knob cost, and lost all the balance. From Summit Mr. Ramsay moved to Cold Spring ranch that had once been the home of road agents; from here they moved to Silver Spring and built a residence. This is one of the finest springs in the Territory, boiling out of the earth through pebbles. This spring furnishes the water power to run Silver Springs grist mill. Mr. and Mrs Ramsay have one child, a son—Frank A., born in Helena, March 27, 1871.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

German Gulch sunset ...

Even though it's cliché, I'm still hooked on taking random photos of Montana sunsets. I saw this one in the summer of 2011, in the German Gulch area southwest of Butte.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Howdy ...

Speaking of older motels, here's a photo I took a little over a year ago while on a trip to Miles City.  I stayed at a faded chain motel on the south side, probably built in the 1970s or so, and I noticed this welcoming message painted on the concrete footing of the building's porte cochere.  That little sign was easily the best part of the whole motel!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mid-century Billings ...

Here's an interesting postcard view of Billings, shot to advertise a downtown motel in the late 1960s or so. Both the motel and its adjoining restaurant are great examples of mid-twentieth century roadside architecture, and the classic advertising signs add to the period feel.

Lurking in the background, though, are two other major examples of mid-twentieth century design. The staid, tan-and-cream office tower is the Yellowstone County Courthouse, built in 1957 to replace a far smaller (and more imposing) building. The extraordinarily ugly building off to the right is the federal courthouse, which was completed in 1963.

Most of the buildings in this view still survive today, although a new federal courthouse was completed in Billings hast year. The motel and restaurant lost their classic looks in later remodeling projects ... and of course the Sambo's restaurant chain went bankrupt over 30 years ago, following a backlash against the perecived political incorrectness of the business's name.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Depot sunset ...

These days, I'm working on a project to locate and research all of Montana's extant railroad depots, part of an upcoming book for the Montana Historical Society. So you'll be seeing a lot of railroad-stration photos here ... which is appropriate, given their importance to the state's history, and their ephemeral, vanishing nature.

 This is an early-evening shot of the little Northern Pacific railway depot in East Helena. The building was moved there in 1930, after the older East Helena station was destroyed in a fire. The depot has been unused for quite a while, now, and last year the railroad announced plans to demolish it ... but happily, local preservationists are planning to move it to a safe spot about a half-mile away.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A great copperhead ...

While I was searching for info on "Lloyd's of Butte" for yesterday's post, I stumbled across a Montana quote that I hadn't seen before. This is from an apparently-forgotten 1963 novel called The Hallelujah Bum, by a British author named Andrew Sinclair. The dream sequence below conveys a compelling metaphor for southwestern Montana's copper industry:
We swing up into Montana with Anabel at the tiller and a strange dream rearing its hazy head inside my skull. I dream there's a great copperhead with its body in Anaconda and its head in a cauldron of sky and its tail tunnelling through the red rock of Montana. And men are crushed and streets cave in because of the murderous burrowing, and a great waning sounds over the dust. The copperhead's golden tongue flicks in and out of its mouth, large as the golden calf, a curly tongue in the shape of an S riveted through with a vertical gold nail. And a thousand bears are tethered to the copperhead by their ears. They have honey on their paws, and lines of men and women queue to stick silver dollars on the honey. But, all of a sudden, a wind rises in the west and the copperhead dives for cover behind a State Capitol, until it is all hidden except for its tail, which still burrows and burrows below the ground, bringing to rubble men and houses and hope. We eat in Lloyd's of Butte, not London, and stare at the sad mining city scratched temporary as a sunset on to its hills of ore.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not of London ...

If you get off the freeway in Butte looking for a place to eat, one of the first options you see might be an older, nondescript building on South Montana Street ... part restaurant, part casino, and not really recommended.  But a couple of generations ago, the place was something of a landmark, and one with a memorable name:  Lloyd's of Butte.

I don't know much about the history of the restaurant ... it was opened by a man named J. M. Lloyd in the 1940s or so,  and it was in business under that name into the 60s.  But it would have been a great place to visit just because of its advertising slogan:  "Lloyd's of Butte -- not of London."  Can't beat that!

This is an old postcard view of Lloyd's, probably from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Horse Called Music ...

For years now, I've kept an eye out for popular music lyrics that mention Montana. Some of the songs I've found really feel like true reflections of the state, while others (perhaps the majority) could be written about almost anyplace ... but choose to take advantage of the evocative "hook" provided by our state's name.

A song that probably fits the latter category is "A Horse Called Music," recorded by Willie Nelson back in 1989 and used as the title of one of his albums. (A couple of other folks, including Randy Travis, have covered the song, as well.) The song does a good job of capturing the wistful lonesomeness many people associate with the work Montana, but is otherwise straight out of Tennessee, and was written by the prolific Nashville songwriter Wayne Carson.
High on a mountain in western Montana
A silhouette moves 'cross a cinnamon sky
Riding alone on a horse he called Music
With a song on his lips, and a tear in his eye

. . . .

He rode the Music from Boston to Bozeman
For not too much money, but way too much ride
But those were the days when a horse he called Music
Could jump through the moon and sail across the sky

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Snowcrest sunrise ...

I know it's been a long time, but I think this blog should start up again ... at least for a while.

And a sunrise photo seems like a good way to do that. I took this shot last summer near Antone Peak, at the far southern end of the Snowcrest Mountains, just above the Centennial Valley. It's a wonderful area, that (thankfully) very few people manage to visit.