Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Montana”

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.


Manatees at Blue Spring State Park


Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park


Mission in San Antonio Texas

Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.


Great Sand Dunes National Monument


Lost in Arizona

jeep road

The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

border stop

The US border in Organ Pipe.


Creek in the Superstition Mountains


Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA


Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.


In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

marina docks

Newport Marina Sunset


The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.


We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.


If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Somewhere in Montana?

I was all set to write up the couple of days we had in Livingston, Montana. To check where and when we were, I looked back at my budget in August. Yikes! I had completely forgotten the four days we spent between Virginia City and Livingston. No, I mean completely. Looking back at my budget, where I note the campgrounds we stay at, I saw Missouri Headwaters State Park. Ah, I remember that! But I thought it was much earlier in the trip. And two days in Bozeman. Where in Bozeman? After checking Facebook posts and photograph files and being unsuccesful, Mike suggested checking the DeLorme page. It was there – Sunrise Campground. Huh. It seems that Bozeman was completely unmemorable. Well, I do remember the pretty decent hamburger we had at that one place – but no clue which place it was. And now, thinking on it, I remember the campground was next to some train tracks. And there was some grass between tightly packed RVs. But, the rest of it is gone.  I’d like to think it was due to the lack of oxygen from two days at Missouri Headwaters State Park. At least, that is the story I’m telling.

Missouri Headwaters State Park is only about 70 miles from Virginia City. It is a wonderful drive between the two, particularly since you pass through Ennis, which I loved when we were there years ago. The campground isn’t the greatest, with most sites just being wide spots in the campground road, but we wanted to see where the Missouri River began, where Lewis and Clark camped, and I was starving again for water views. But, as we drove up the road toward the park, we saw smoke. We didn’t think much of it as we had spent the summer ducking smoke in Alaska. We got a site and settled in. There were no electric hook ups and no water for $23/night (without the MT state parks camping pass). The outside temp was in the 90s so we opened all our windows and turned on our fans. That lasted a good two hours before both the heat and the smoke overwhelmed us.

(It turns out that a fire started about an hour before we got there. Later named the Eustis Fire, it grew to 9500 acres while we were in Missouri Headwaters and was only four miles away on the other side of the river. We happened to be camped southeast of the fire; winds were coming from the northwest.)

For those who don’t know, even the best insulated RV is still a tin can in bright overhead sunlight. Whatever the temp is outside add 10-20 degrees due to the baking factor (have you seen what happens to food after sitting under a heat lamp for hours?). On hot days, it is always cooler to sit outside under the awning with the hope of a breeze blowing by. Only we couldn’t sit outside without doing some lung damage. Belle even refused to; she just stood at the door looking pitiful and then ran back to the couch.

We tried going for a drive to check out the town of Three Forks but there really wasn’t much to check out. The tour was over less than fifteen minutes later; we returned to the short bus and threw in the towel – we turned on the generator and the a/c. I have a problem with mechanical white noise. It drives me to distraction. I don’t know why, it’s just the way it is. But I was really thankful for that generator, noise or not. It was 98 degrees in the bus when we turned it on.


Early morning sunrise in Three Forks, MT. This was the view from our campsite. Though it couldn’t have been too early with the sun that high…

We suffered through one more day (at least according to my notes we did) and then gave up. After two nights, we headed east with hopes the smoke didn’t extend that far.

We made our way to Sunrise Campground, just outside Bozeman, MT. For $30/night, we got full hookups, a little patch of grass, and quite a bit less smoke. Honestly, I don’t remember this campground at all, or much about our stay there. I know we ate hamburgers at a restaurant, we went grocery shopping, and we bought Mike some jeans at a store. I think we were both still in a daze. Looking online at the campground pictures, it seems a perfectly nice place. It has good reviews and the owners are well thought of. It just must have been the heat and the smoke….

Scenes from Virginia City

We finally pulled out of Clark Canyon Reservoir. It wasn’t that we wanted it leave – it was beautiful, fairly quiet, and free! But, our waste tanks were full and we had places to go…

We made it all the way to Virginia City, a whooping 87 miles down the road. I wanted to see one last “ghost town” before we meandered on. We had been there years ago for about an hour but I wanted to spend more time exploring. We decided to stop at Virginia City RV Park, a full service park with Passport America rates. It was halfway up a giant hill just past the town and had a great view over the valley. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told all their “Passport” spots were taken! There were only two other RVs in the park at the time. I would have just kept going. Ennis has some sites on the lake or on the Madison River (Montana Fishing Access Sites) and a couple of RV Parks but Mike wanted to stay (we needed a good flush and some water). So we did, but I grumbled about false advertising and such. Some of the sites were tight, some were unlevel, but most had a decent view in one direction or another. There was some highway noise when trucks would try to make it up the hill but for the most part, it was a clean, well taken care of, campground. A little over priced but what can you do…

Virginia City itself is a National Historic Landmark. It came into being in 1863 when gold was discovered in a nearby creek. As with all gold rush towns, it grew very quickly. So quickly in fact, that it became the territorial capitol when Bannack dried up. After a while, the gold dried up here also, and much of the town was abandoned. The Boveys began buying the town and restoring it beginning in the 1940s. In the 1950s, the town began attracting tourists. And there are lots of things for tourists to do here: gold panning, a train ride, summer theatre, more restaurants than one could eat at in a month… The state of Montana now owns most of the buildings and operates it as an open air museum.

grocery store?

                                                              grocery store?








photography studio

                                                           photography studio


soda shop

                                                                   soda shop


wall painting

                                                                        wall painting


soon to be stuff shop?

                                                          soon to be stuff shop?


inside a penny arcade - palm reader

                                         inside a penny arcade – palm reader



                                           Interesting history – 185 rounds???


dry good shop

                                                        inside the dry good shop


barber shop

                                 barber shop dentist’s office complete with ‘models’


underwear store. We were surprised at how well kept these were.

                          underwear store. We were surprised at how well kept these were.


dress shop

                                                                       a dress shop


store front

                                                               dry goods store front



                                                                     a luxuries store


print shop

                                                               the print shop



                           a front porch. The house is straight, the floor is crooked…


stable office

                                                                 a stable office



                                                       Virginia City office

We spent a few hours just walking around, long enough to enjoy the place but short enough to get away from the crowds when they started arriving. And the town does get crowded. We got there at nine and left around noon; around 11AM, the streets started filling up and walking down the sidewalk became an obstacle course of people.

We did find time to stop and eat and the Star Bakery and Restaurant. The buildings and the ‘decor’ are wonderful – original period pieces with a great rustic feeling. But, I think there were two completely different people preparing the food. Anything that was pre-prepped, the salsa, the sauces, the salad dressing, was excellent. The cooking itself? Not so much. My fish tacos were so over cooked that, had it not been for the salsa, would have been inedible. The pork sliders had excellent sauce but the pork itself was so cooked as to be unrecognizable as pork. Mike had a salad and said that wilted lettuce was hidden under fresh lettuce. Otherwise, the salad was good. We may have just met the place on a bad day for the line cook. We will never know. We also stopped in the Bakery side and got a loaf of banana bread and some orange croissant/danish (I’m not sure which it was). The orange C/D was heavenly.  I mean, melt in your mouth fall off your chair good. I even went all the way back the next day to get more, as I had eaten all we had (they didn’t make them the next day). It had to be one of the best pastries I have ever had.  The banana bread was good – very heavy, moist, and nutty. Not very banana-y, but good none the less.

We had a good time wandering around Virginia City, learned quite a bit, ate some food, slept well, and got back on the road.


Bannack State Park

Bannack State Park isn’t too far from Clark Canyon Reservoir. It had some of my favorite stuff, old abandoned buildings, so we decided to take a look.


A back road to Bannack State Park

We took a back road to get there and managed to knock quite a bit of mud off our jeep that we had picked up the day before.  It was a very pleasant drive but the highway we returned on was much faster. We did manage to catch site of some antelope grazing in the area.


Antelope in Montana

Bannack State Park preserves the original capitol of Montana Territory. Gold was discovered in a local creek and the rush was on. The town got pretty big but the gold eventually ran out, and so did the town. Some stayed and continued trying to mine up into the 1950s when the rest of the town was abandoned. The state of Montana took it over and turned it onto a state park.

As far as ghost towns go, Bannack has an amazing array of buildings. There are over 60 in various states of repair. Some cannot be entered due to conditions, some are being used as storage sheds, some have been cleaned up and restored and can be walked through.  The one thing I noticed is that most of the spaces were empty; there was no evidence of daily life here in the buildings one could enter. All the furniture was hidden in locked houses.


Bannack – the back side.


detail where repairs are not completed.


Church in Bannack


rooms in a house. They liked the extensive use of wall paper.


note the checked floor. It seems to be linoleum, which would place this firmly in the 20th century.

barber chair

The barbers chair in the saloon.


hotel. Used until the 1950s or so.


saloon bar


a room behind glass. the ‘fog’ is from the glass.


A kitchen. Used until the 1950s.


Building. The setting was beautiful and I would have considered living here…

house interior

house, shot through a window.


another interior, shot through the window.






the streets of Bannack

The school.

The school

Bannack State Park was a great day stop for a few hours of walking and peeping. We had a beautiful, warm day in which to wander around. The park also has a campground and a couple of the larger sites back up to Grasshopper Creek, where the gold was found creating the town. It would be a nice overnight stop.

A tip for photographing through windows: Often, one cannot get a good shot of what is inside due to reflections on the glass. If one puts their camera lens up against the glass, one can get a pretty decent shot of what is inside. Granted, one cannot aim their camera for a particular location inside, but there can be some pretty interesting stuff to see. Because the lens is so close to the glass, the camera will not focus on it but will focus on what is further away (this is the same principal of shooting through a fence – make sure you are closer to the fence than the object you want to photograph). Let your camera do the work. Because the lens is braced on glass, slower shutter speeds are less of a problem.

Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway

Not far from Clark Canyon Reservoir is the Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway, a gravel and dirt road that winds it way through BLM and private land for 50 miles. Any time I see scenic and back country in the same sentence, I am in. And so we went.

We stopped first in Dell, where the road starts, at Dell Mercantile, a small side of the road store that sells one of everything. And gas. We grabbed a giant cinnamon bun for a sugar rush later and headed west.

The Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway starts out following Big Sheep Creek back into a canyon.

Big SheepCreek Canyon

Start of the drive

The road here is pretty easy – wide gravel with only a few potholes and an occasional washboard area. The area is teeming with wildflowers, prickly pear cacti, and sagebrush.


western salsify – they looked like dandelions on steroids

A couple of miles down the road is Deadwood Gulch Campground. The campground is on the creek and, with only six sites, would be a great place to get away from the crowds. In this area of Montana though, there really aren’t many crowds. One note about the campground and Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway: there are many small bridges to cross and they all have weight limits. The one into the campground is seven tons (too low for the short bus). Others on the road are five tons. There is boondocking all over the place along the byway but it is best done with a small trailer or class B and we saw a few of both.

Deadwood Gulch Campground

Deadwood Gulch Campground

The road continues following the creek into a small canyon.

big sheep creek

Edge of the canyon

Further upstream, the creek is wide and slow – it might be an enjoyable area to kayak, provided the water level is high enough.

Big Sheep Creek

big sheep creek

The road then turns away from the creek and heads into a completely different landscape.


cliffs along the road

natural arch

a natural arch/bridge in the eroding cliffs

The changed once again and we were in rolling hills and grassland.

back country byway

back country byway

We came to a fork in the road, and we took it.


directional sign. Go right to stay on the byway

Actually, we first went left. There was a giant hill with a road running up it beside the left fork. We just had to look.


view at the top looking back

road up the hill

road up the hill at the top

We continued along the back country byway.


pothole along the road

We started to get hungry so we looked for a place to stop. Mike saw a road going up toward the right so he took it. From the bottom, it didn’t look too steep. By the time we got halfway up, we realized our mistake. The road was so steep that, when we stopped, I didn’t want to sit in the jeep for fear it would slide down the hill.

side road

the side road up the mountain we climbed


the jeep on the road


the drive back down in 4 wheel drive low

My camera cannot adequately capture the steepness of the hill – two dimensions just don’t convey it very well, especially using a wide angle lens. But, as usual, the jeep was more capable than we were and five minutes later, after picking our way back down through ruts and rocks, we were safely back on the ‘real’ road. (See that thin scratch of white just right of center? that is the road.) I will admit, the view is spectacular up there. And we ‘could’ have gone higher. But, without climbing it first on foot to see what was coming, I wasn’t ready to continue up. We hadn’t had enough sugar for that.

We continued on the Byway through a huge unpopulated valley. The only traffic we saw was six bicyclists, going the other way.


valley – with a bicyclist on the road

And then the terrain, and the road changed again.  I had read somewhere that, after rain, some of the road may be impassible due to deep mud. It had rained yesterday, and rain was threatening today, but so far, the main road had been easy.


dirt road

dirt road of the byway

The gathering clouds gave us pause but, like most times, we didn’t want to go back the way we came. The dirt got softer and softer until the ruts were too deep to fight against. It was obvious that a truck had recently passed, when the ground was REALLY wet, and the truck had a wider wheelbase than we did. We popped the jeep into four wheel drive and went for it. I would have pictures of the road but it was too bumpy to capture anything usable (try snapping while hitting your head on the roof) and if we stopped, we weren’t going to move for a very long time – it was starting to rain which would only make the road worse.

mountain view

chocolate mountains

The clay mud mire only lasted a couple of miles and we were free, though we picked up a few more pounds of mud to add to our collection under the jeep (chunks of it would fall off over the next few days) and the road changed again. We were in a ranching area – mot of it owned by one family. It was huge and went on for miles. We dodged cows now instead of rocks and potholes.


Montana ranch house view

At the end of the road, we took a right, and headed a few miles back to Clark Canyon Reservoir. All things considered, it was a beautiful drive. We got to see more of the Montana back country with its huge variety of terrain. We spent a few wonderful hours off the beaten path testing ourselves and testing the jeep.

When we travel these roads, which we do often, we are fully prepared. We go with food, water, a full gas tank, paper maps, a car GPS, a handheld GPS, and a DeLorme Inreach. If we can’t see the road ahead, or we question its condition, we scout ahead on foot (we can get miles of hiking in just by scouting roads). While we have run into problems (high centering the jeep in a creek and being trapped in a pasture with an angry bull are two of the most memorable), we have gotten pretty good at avoiding them or being prepared when we don’t. This particular road is pretty benign and can *usually* be traveled by a two wheel drive passenger car; we try to make the most of it and add side roads for a little fun.



Free Camping – Clark Canyon Reservoir

After spending a couple of days in a private park, we were looking to ‘get away.’ So we headed south looking for a place to boondock. We made it all the way down to Clark Canyon Reservoir, a Bureau of Reclamation area with many campgrounds around the lake. We checked out a few of the campgrounds and returned to the first one: it was closer to the highway but it provided beautiful views, sheltered picnic tables, a water pump, and a large lakeside site. On the other side, if needed there is a full hookup campground for RVs ($30/night).

campground view

view from the campground

In the afternoons, clouds would roll in providing a wonderful respite from the heat. The winds would pick up, the sky would drizzle for about half an hour, and then it would all go away.


Clouds rolling in

While there, we got to see lots of birds, including bald and golden eagles and strangely, pelicans. I had always thought Pelicans were a more tropical bird. See, I learn something every day.


pelicans at Clark Canyon

We spent afternoons watching the shadows move across the mountains.


The view from our campsite – shadows moving all afternoon

Clark Canyon Reservoir was a very peaceful, enjoyable location to take in the sun, relax and just zone out. I even got out my hammock and hung it up in the shelter to rock in the breeze. We would have stayed longer than we did but we ran out of water. We will one day be back, though.

Bars and Cars in Deer Lodge, MT

We broke camp at Salmon Lake State Park and headed to Deer Lodge, MT. We needed water and a laundry so decided to park at Indian Creek Campground a private park at the edge of town.  The sites were well spaced, the electric and water good, the laundry room priced reasonably and clean.


A farm outside Deer Lodge, MT

Our reasons for heading here, other than clean clothes, were the museums. Considering the size of the town, there are a lot of museums here! There is also a National Historic Site, Grant-Kohrs Ranch, but we ran out of time. It was unfortunate, as I really want to know what those giant catapult looking things are out in the fields…

After parking and eating lunch, we head to the old Montana State Prison. I don’t know why, but I love visiting old abandoned prisons and have found them all over the country. This particular prison was built in the 1870s, so I thought it might hold some really interesting sites. To be perfectly honest, Eastern State Penitentiary blows this place away. It doesn’t hurt that Al Capone was kept there. None-the less, the Montana State Prison is pretty interesting and worth a stop if in the area.


the main and administrative building

exercise yard

exercise yard


a cell – turned into a double cell when prison crowding became an issue. These are really tiny boxes…


a sink in the women’s prison area that was turned into a max security area.

cell block

cell row. These were stacked four high. Artwork on left is part of a current installation of local artists – the works related to prison life


Mike on the wrong side of the law…


A theatre built much later – used as a reward for excellent behavior. Currently in really bad shape and closed.

Attached to the Prison is a car museum. We really had no expectations but wandered into the room anyway. Turns out, this is one of the most extensive car collections we have ever seen!  There are at least 100 cars, starting with the first car ever built. We saw cars we didn’t know existed, cars where there may be one still in existence, cars that were so pristine they looked as if they never set wheel on a US road, especially one in Montana.

dl9dl10dl11I loved the amazing details on the older cars. The amount of detail work required to build them must have been phenomenal. It is surprising, considering the technological advances, that today’s cars are not nearly as detailed as past cars. In fact, our cars today are much more utilitarian and much more lacking in personality. But, I guess our cookie cutter cars look good next to our cookie cutter houses.


Check out how shiny the chrome is on this baby. Even the paint is polished.


The first pop up camper!

The first pop up camper!

fins! This is a station wagon. Note the curved glass details...

fins! This is a station wagon. Note the curved glass details…

and eyebrows! Cars need eyebrows. Then you know what they are thinking.

and eyebrows! Cars need eyebrows. Then you know what they are thinking.


yes, a pristine VW bus.

yes, a pristine VW bus.


the first (and only?) amphibicar! a 1967 Amphicar made in Germany. It went 70 MPH on land and 7 MPH on water. The previous owner, the Butte City Sheriff, used to drive it in Echo Lake on weekends.  Next to it was the very first mas produced electric car – around 1971.

A custom VW dune buggy. It was a 1973 beetle, modified in Australia for the movie, "The Road Warrior." Pretty cool looking car!

A custom VW dune buggy. It was a 1973 beetle, modified in Australia for the movie, “The Road Warrior.” Pretty cool looking car!

While I only have a few posted here, there were dozens and dozens more. Photographing here was difficult, as the cars are squished together and lighting is horrible. But there is a huge assortment of trucks, muscle cars, model ts, you name it, they probably have it. Even the last model Studebaker (it was a beautiful car) and my personal favorite, the 1955 Thunderbird convertible. If you love cars and are in Montana, this is a must stop. The only problem is it could take hours to tour. Every time you think you are done, there is another building and showroom around the corner.


Garnet, MT and DeLorme Maps

One of the reasons for our stay at Salmon Lake State Park was to go to Garnet, MT, a ghost town restored by the BLM. We headed out on a beautiful and cool day, taking the easy gravel route suggested by the BLM.

mountain view

Beautiful views on the way to Garnet, obscured by smoke haze from drifting Washington and Oregon wildfire smoke.

Garnet is an old mining town in the mountains of Montana, not far from Missoula. It grew quickly, faded quickly, burned down, was revived, and then abandoned again before the BLM took it over and started restoring it. While it doesn’t have as many buildings as other ‘famous’ ghost towns, much of the restoration is very well done and includes furniture and the like from the period.

Garnet, MT

Garnet from the path down the hill from the parking lot

staff office

the staff office


A tavern


Inside a store in Garnet


Building (hotel) in Garnet


In the Kitchen

hotel room

Hotel Room

Sewing room

Sewing room

wash basin

wash basin

bedroom chair

a sitting area in a bedroom


another bedroom

Because many of the rooms are so small, the were shot with a fish-eye lens. I corrected some distortion, but some (such as The Bedroom) couldn’t be helped without completely altering the scale.  Many of these were also shot at 1600 ISO so I could get a larger depth of field (6.3-9). I greatly prefer natural lighting so no flash was used.

We greatly enjoyed wandering around the town site. The staff and volunteers were very friendly and mostly very knowledgeable. The site is very dog friendly and we ran into quite a few leashed and well behaved dogs.

There are two roads that get to Garnet – one from the north and one from the south. Both are gravel roads and look pretty innocuous. But, there are lots (and I mean lots) of roads back in that area and they all look the same. As we were leaving on the south route, we ran into a passenger car with an older man at the wheel. He looked shell shocked. He wondered if there was any other way out of Garnet other than the way he came. We told him the northern road, Garnet Range Road, was a really easy gravel road down to Route 200 and from there he could head into Missoula. It was the longer way back, but easier. What we didn’t know is the driver had made a mistake, the same one that we made: take Cave Gulch into Garnet, not Bear Gulch. However, in both our defenses, the roads aren’t marked, either from the intersection where he didn’t make the turn nor in Garnet, where we didn’t even know the other road existed. I still giggle at memory of the look of relief on his face when he found out he didn’t have to drive that road back. For us, in the Wrangler, it was a simple and fun back country road; for him, in a large four-door passenger car with no clearance and a wife who obviously had had enough for one day, it was probably the stuff nightmares are made of. Bear Gulch Road is a single lane, cliff hugging, unmaintained, dirt road for its last few miles into Garnet. It starts out down at Route 90 pretty tame but, at about mile 8, it changes personality.

Bear Gulch Road

The view from Bear Gulch. Those other roads over there?  Not Bear Gulch, most likely Clam Gulch.

Bear Gulch

Bear Gulch road for most of the way – cliff side and skinny. The drop off on the right is about 200 feet though it is an angled drop.Please forgive the dirty windshield.

Bear Gulch road

Bear Gulch Road – a wide spot in the road to pass. Note the side road going off to the left before we drop into the switchbacks.

We got down to Beartown – it is really nothing more than a wide spot in the road with a house on the corner, now. We pulled out our Delorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer and looked it over. “Okay, we can go around this really long way or we can cut off most of that by just taking this shortcut…” Rule number one: If I say shortcut, remember that means distance, not time. Rule number two: If Delorme puts a road on a map once, it stays on the map forever.

So we took a right onto Ten Mile Creek Road. Ten Mile Creek Road would run into Union Peak Road which would take us back into Garnet Gulch Road. Simple. And it was, for a while. There were bumps and washouts and ruts but the road kept on.  There were a few houses on the road and someone trying to sell lots in a housing division. It was a very pretty area.


10 mile creek road


A very large sluice on Ten Mile Creek.

Until the road went away. Or it didn’t. At first, we missed the turn off for the ‘official’ road as we were driving through what appeared to be a field. We followed a power line road right to the edge of a mountain. So we turned around. We found the road again wandering off the edge of the field and right into a ditch that was crossed by some logs. Some very old logs. Luckily, the jeep doesn’t weigh much. We continued on and the road came back, long enough to take us into a cow pasture.


cows on Ten Mile Creek

Ten Mil Creek Road turned into Union Peak Road and we were home free! Union Peak Road is a BLM road so we thought all was good. Until we got to a road block. “DANGER!” “DO NOT GO!” “TURN BACK!” And there was a huge ditch cut into the road for no other purpose than to stop people from going forward. I started getting worried about Montana Militia and such as we contemplated our next move. Driving all the way back wasn’t happening. We were on a public road on public land and there was a drive around for the ditch. We aren’t sure who put in the ditch, or why, but we went around it anyway.

And nothing happened. We drove down the road.

Union Peak Road

Union Peak Road

There was about a mile of road where it was obvious that someone spent days if not weeks clearing storm damage and blow down. Maybe this is what the warning was about?  We will never know. We made it back onto gravel and then back onto asphalt pretty quickly. We got to see some back roads areas of Montana we would have missed otherwise. Montana is a beautiful state and there is a lot to see, much of it away from the highway.

Boondocking, repairs, and crowds, oh my

I woke up, pulled on some sweats, and shuffled to the kitchen to check our battery charge. 75%. More than enough for a pot of coffee. I flipped on the inverter, then the coffee pot, grabbed my kindle and flopped on the couch. I raised the blackout shade to take in the view and let in some much needed light.



Boondocking? (note, this is taken with a really wide angle lens. Objects are much closer than they appear.)

Some time after midnight, a fifth wheel had pulled in, so close he would hit the short bus with his awning if he extended it. Yikes. I pulled the shade closed. In the world of boondocking etiquette, this is a no-no. The parking area we were in would hold ten rigs easily and none of them within spitting distance of each other. There was a second parking lot one had to pass through to get to the parking lot we were in, and it was empty. Why was he here? On top of us?

It didn’t much matter anyway. We needed to run back into Kalispell to fix our water problem. At our last campground, we were pretty sure we blew our water inlet pressure valve as every time we turned on our water pump, water gushed out the city water connection. We bought a replacement and did the repair at our boondocking spot, but water still spewed. There was a connector attached to the check valve, and the water seemed to come from there. We tried to replace the connector with another one we had but the hose clamp was a permanent clamp, not the typical unscrewable type. I have no idea why these are used as hoses can and often do ‘pop,’ but these permanent hose clamps must be cut off and even then, leave what they are connected to with a piece of hose hanging off of it that is impossible to remove without a chance of serious finger injury (we know, we tried – if you know of tool that can remove them, please let me know!). So that we would have water for the night, we McGyvered it. For the record, a Sharpie fits quite well into the hoses used on a Bounder. We duct taped the Sharpie in place and we had water again!

So we went back to the RV parts store we had found outside Kalispell and picked up the new part we needed, and a bunch more of similar parts and some hose. Just in case. It took all of three minutes to make the repair, after over an hour the day before of trying unsuccessfully to get that stupid hose clamp off the hose.

We wanted to test our system and stay close to Kalispell so we found a private RV Park (Crooked Tree Motel and RV Park – $35) not too far away and hid out there for a day. It was the weekend so were weren’t going to have any luck finding a public campground – everything is packed this close to Glacier. We grabbed burgers, t-shirts, and huckleberry stuff right next door at the Huckleberry Patch  and, for the prices, the burger and fries were pretty good. The burgers are extremely customizable, so we both got what we wanted.

Sunday, we headed out to Salmon Lake State Park for four days of relaxation.


Crossing into Alberta, I fell in love. Beautiful, open fields of grain (not amber waves, though), farms nestled amid rolling hills, gentle rises and falls in the road – pastoral in the grandest sense.

Alberta View

The start of Alberta

Farm field

Farm fields in Alberta

We passed through Grand Prairie,  a huge and growing city with modern architecture butting up against mid century and older buildings – a beautiful and eclectic mix. While we would have loved to stop and explore, we were itching to get to the border.

We passed through Grande Cache, a smaller, sleepy town  not much more than a couple of blinks on the highway.

We stopped in Hinton in a large mall parking lot where overnighter’s were welcome and which happened to have both a Safeway and a Walmart (dozens of other RVs and trucks also enjoyed the space.

We tried and tried, but could not find any legal camping spots that would hold the short bus in the National Parks of Canada to our south. We were able though, to make the decision that Alberta was definitely worth coming back to, though next time we would plan a little in advance or come early in the season so we could actually camp here.

So we headed south, through Jasper National Park, past Lake Louise, almost into Banff National Park, before taking a right onto Route 93 into Kootenay National Park. The entire drives was oohs and aahs, and we stopped quite frequently, though we avoided the REALLY CROWDED parts around Lake Louise and the Icefields. We were spit out at the end of our tour at Radium Hot Springs, back in British Columbia.

road through Jasper

heading south through Jasper NP


lake in Jasper NP

the Icefield

The Icefield

Lake Louise

Road to Lake Louise

Lake Louise

More Lake Louise

We looked around but didn’t have much luck with boondocking spots until we finally gave up at Jaffray, BC, where we overnighted next to a Shell gas station. That night, it got dark – really dark! We were thrilled. I was so happy to see stars again I actually danced a jig. I guess, when I can see them every day, I kind of take them for granted. Now, it was like meeting up with old friends as I looked for my favorite constellations. This far north and west they are in different places in the night sky, but they are still comforting as ever.

In the morning, we crossed back into the US at Roosville. The border patrol agent, about 70, was so completely no nonsense that, if we didn’t answer a question with the answer he wanted to hear, would repeat the question. Again and again. And he didn’t ask specific questions, he asked very vague and general questions that could have a thousand different correct answers. So, it took a while but eventually we were allowed back in the country.



We had no idea where we were going. We needed gas, we needed internet, and we needed food. We should have stopped in Eureka, which appeared to be a lovely little town, but we had become so used to going and going, I’m pretty sure we forgot how to stop. We made a detour about 15 miles down a gravel road looking for a campground and never found it. We gave up and settled in Columbia Falls for a night at a full hookup private campground that charged $46/night. Ack!

It really isn’t the money. We would gladly pay $46 a night (and have) for a site in a beautiful location with all the amenities and space – just a little bit of space. For us, this spot wasn’t worth the money.

So we pulled out the next morning and headed east on Montana 2. We found a lovely little boondock spot right on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. We stopped.

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