(Editors note: When Gaynor Henry told us she was heading to Glacier National Park in Montana this month, we were so excited. We LOVED her outdoor photos from her trip to Yellowstone Park this winter. But this time, Gaynor and her husband found so many places to visit outside Glacier that her story became about Montana: the state called Big Sky Country or The Last Best Place. Take it away, Gaynor!)
Perhaps what Montana is known for is Big Sky Country: endless mountains, rolling hills, old growth forests and stunningly blue lakes.
It’s impossible to count the peaks in the Rockies. We tried but there are just so many, and apart from the Rockies, there are groups within and around them.
There are the Judith Mountains, which were allegedly misnamed for a young woman named Julia that Meriwether Lewis had his eye on and whom he promised he would name a peak after (That may be a not-so-urban myth, but it’s a great story).
Big Sky Country Peaks
The Mission Mountains, which border the Flathead Reservation, are where some elders can still trace the old buffalo hunting routes. The wonderful peaks viewed across Lake McDonald include McPartland Mountain, Rogers Peak, Gunsight Mountain and Little Matterhorn!
Glacier National Park is home not only to Lake McDonald, but to a large population of grizzlies. They were still hibernating when we were there, which is one of those fortunate/unfortunate situations.
One of the most spectacular features of Glacier National Park is Going-to-the-Sun Road. But due to weather it’s not scheduled to open until June. Here’s the forest around Lake McDonald…
Hungry Horse Dam
We also visited Hungry Horse Dam and the Hungry Horse Reservoir which is a Morning Glory Gateway built in 1953 (started in 1948). Although it’s a man-made “lake,” its location is so stunning that the man-made aspect doesn’t diminish its beauty.
This spot is near Hungry Horse Dam…
Here’s Flathead Lake, southwest and downstream from Hungry Horse Dam…
Montana is also horse country. Around every corner there are horses – young and old – in groups or alone.
Horses are animals that have the capacity to reduce me to tears; they are just magnificent creatures and it’s a thrill to see them running free with the Rocky Mountains behind them.
It lets me forget we are in the 21st century and takes me back to the days when the West was won.
Some horses are clearly owned, others are not, and they are all equally beautiful.
On our way to the Bison Refuge where (we didn’t see a single bison), we were fortunate enough to see an osprey on its nest.
Nothing says spring to me more than lambs in a field and we found a flock with lambs gamboling about.
The comical Pronghorns…
Old Churches and Ghost Towns
It seems there are surprises everywhere in Montana, as I am sure is true in other states. There was the stunning church on the site of St.Ignatius Mission, where the original mid-1800’s cabin still stands. In traditional fashion the church was not locked or attended. It also had some exquisite frescos and paintings that rivaled those of Europe.
Montana also has a number of ghost towns, many of which are difficult to access except in the summer months. We tried to get to Garnet and Gilt Edge without success, but were able to visit Old Kendall. At its zenith in the early 1900’s, Kendall was a thriving community. There were department stores, bars, banks and more, and it was all based on gold mining.
By 1912 many homesteaders had moved on, and slowly the buildings fell into disrepair. The ruins of the mercantile, hardware store and bank are still standing.
More Historic Montana
These abandoned farm buildings are symptomatic of the demise of the old family farm and the rise of the large ranch. They are everywhere in Montana (and the Dakotas), standing like sentinels at the side of the road.
We often wonder how long they’ve been empty, who lived there and where they went. Apart from the buildings with their contents – old cupboards, car parts and furniture – there are abandoned pieces of machinery and even appliances.
The Sacred Heart Cemetery was established in 1924 by Jesuits and dedicated to all veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf Wars – RIP. Since the plaque was erected in 1991 the church has been boarded up and appears to be party central, but the cemetery is in use primarily by members of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes on the Fort Belknap reservation.
The names are wonderful- Ragged Robe, Eagle Chief Woman, Thunder Pipe and grandson. What touched us the most were the mementoes on the graves – a Lakers hoodie, runners, dream-catchers, mugs with pictures of horses and dogs. It was sadly beautiful or beautifully sad.
Big Sky Country Indeed!
No trip to Montana would be complete without experiencing some of the stunning Montana sunsets…
Everything is burnished and bronzed, even the humble thistle takes on a radiance not found in daylight…
And one last sunset, with a reflection, to enjoy…
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