Tag Archives: Western Montana

For what it’s worth: A guide to western Montana

My friends Shirley and Brennan are preparing to move from Maui to a western state, Montana, Colorado or Wyoming. They are tired of Hawaii and want to live near mountains. I’ve known Shirley since the mid-70s. We were housemates in Eugene, Oregon, and lived in a big, sprawling house near the U. District. Since then, Shirley has moved between Hawaii and the Mainland of North America several times. Different things have driven her away from the island. Rock Fever…feeling bound by a small island. Mistreatment of animals…dogs staked on short tethers, mistreated and, sometimes, eaten. When she’s on the Mainland, she likes to live in the West and has lived in Seattle and Bellingham, too. Shirley and Brennan are world travelers. They work for several years, earning enough money for a major trip, then travel for several months to a half a year. They recently returned from New Zealand and Fiji. I think it will do them a heck of a lot of good to breathe some mountain air and I’ve prepared this guide for them. I thought of simply sending it to them in e-mail form, but decided that others might benefit from the information, too. Below are photos of boxes of Cream of the West, Montana cereal. No matter where we lived, my grandma always sent it to us, so I ate it while I was growing up. Back then, the only type available was the one on the far right. It is farina, but the hull hasn’t been removed, so it’s a whole wheat product. Delicious! Below that are the lyrics to “My Home’s in Montana,” a song I learned as a child, one I still sing because I like it so much. My mother’s from Missoula and she learned it as a child in school there. Happy trails!

My Home’s In Montana

My Home’s In Montana
I wear a bandana
My spurs are silver, my pony is gray
When riding the ranges
My luck never changes
With foot in the stirrup I’ll gallop away

When far from the ranches
I cut the pine branches
To lay out a campfire
When daylight draws near
When I have partaken
Of beans and the bacon
I whistle a merry old song of the trail

Geography: These towns and cities are west of the Continental Divide. They, therefore, receive more precipitation in the form of rain and snow than the areas east of the divide. Within this western section are areas with diverse climates and microclimates, flora and fauna and extremes. For instance, the area around Hamilton is Montana’s Banana Belt, a warmer climate, while Whitefish, a ski resort is colder, and Plains and Hot Springs are much drier.

Economy: Montana is a poor state, but it has a full range of government and state jobs that pay well and have good pensions. Helena is the capital and many government jobs are based there. Montana has a good university and school system and these jobs are fairly well-protected (as compared to Idaho, which abolished its Education Department!) Montana and Kalispell are the health care hubs for their areas and they have each have a full complement of specialty clinics, hospitals, and services. Other towns have small medical centres, but I’d advise anyone wanting a job in health care to look to Missoula or Kalispell.

Politics & Religion: Montana is a conservative state that usually supports the GOP. However it leaned toward Blue in the not too distant past. At present, except for Missoula, I’d say it is solidly Red. Still, the Democratic Party is very active and it affects politics at a local and state level, too. Below are maps that show how the state voted in the last elections. The area around Flathead Lake is the Bible Belt. While it is not as repressively religious as the towns on the east end of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, where I once lived, it still is very prevalent. In addition, as in B.C., these Christians are also right-wing, politically. Kalispell and Bigfork are beautiful little towns that are, unfortunately, marred by the blight of fanatical religious types.

"Average margins of victory in the four presidential elections between 1992 and 2008" Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Culture: Montana is a very white state. Unfortunately, many people who are trying to escape living near people of color move to Montana. They bring their baggage with them. This is not to say native Montanans aren’t prejudiced. Many are biased against First Nations/Native Americans and these are the people of color in this region. There are many Indian reservations in Montana. The U.S. Government made

"Summary of results of the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential election" Source: Wikimedia Commons

all first peoples in North America live on the worst land, when they forced them to live on reservations, so none are located in the Montana’s hot spots. The Native Americans here weren’t affected by the residential school blight, as in Canada, but they have lived hard lives here, historically, and are impoverished.

The Arts: Despite a tendency toward conservatism, Montana has a thriving writers and artist community. Historically, it has been a haven for creative types. Annick Smith lives up the Blackfoot, at Potomac. Richard Hugo lived in Missoula, as does Bill Kittredge. You can find most notable authors in The Last Best Place, an anthology of Montana writers. To this list add James Lee Burke and Melanie Rae Thon, and Rick Bass. Click here to see more. Many ceramists live here, study here, or teach here and plenty are quite notable. Rudy Autio lived in Missoula and on Flathead Lake, Peter Voulkos studied at Montana State University, John Takehara taught there. There are many more, too, but since I’ve lived in Canada for 20 years now, I am not up on who they are. There are plenty of ‘famous artists,’ including Charlie Russell, Monte Dolack, Stan Lynde. Click here for more. For photographers, click here.

Towns: I’ll give a quick overview of western Montana towns I know about, firsthand or from reliable sources or my own research.

I-90: Clinton (tiny town along the freeway), Missoula (largest western Montana city, classic university town, interesting mix of left-wingers, loggers and saw mill workers), Saltese (tiny town near the Idaho/Montana border), St. Regis (tiny town, a turn-off to Paradise and points north), Alberton (town along the freeway; has an excellent book store).

Up the Blackfoot: Bonner and Milltown (tiny towns), Potomac (don’t blink or you’ll miss it! My Uncle Bill is selling a beautiful cabin on a mountain top near here…let me know if you’re interested…), Seeley Lake (sweet town, recreation area), Swan Lake…beautiful puddles without towns: Lindbergh Lake (recreation home of the Maclean’s; Norman wrote A River Runs Through It, Holland Lake (beautiful waterfall).

Up the Bitteroot: Lolo (one of our favorite rec areas…Lolo Hot Springs), Florence (a sweet little town; where my cousin Kelley lives), Stevensville (sweet town where my grandma once had a hotel, motel, restaurant and cocktail lounge), Hamilton and Darby (the Banana Belt).

The Mission Mountains: Arlee, Ravalli, Ronan, St. Ignatius, Pablo (First Nations towns) Polson (biggest town on Flathead), Lakeside (growing by leaps and bounds), Woods Bay, Somers, Bigfork (on Flathead Lake)

Toward Glacier Park: Kalispell (second biggest western Montana town), Hungry Horse (cool name, small town), West Glacier (caters to the park),

Nearby Snow Skiing: Whitefish (big-time resort town, yuppified), Columbia Falls (Whitefish and Kalispell’s poorer cousin)

Highway 2: Thompson Falls (beautiful little town), Noxon and Heron (white supremacist links),

Hot and Dry: Plains (now going by Wild Horse Plains), Hot Springs (First Nations town, geothermal heating, irrigation)

NW Corner: Libby (high incidence of environmental illness from aluminum and asbestos work), Troy (northwest corner)

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Pottery Travelogue: The Prichard Formation

One of my favorite places in the whole world is along the Clark Fork River in Paradise, Montana. When we drove to Bigfork the other day, we had the good fortune to see the Prichard Formation
on a perfect day. Turquoise water in the foreground and deep red-rust hues in the background. The Prichard Formation is 1.5 billion years old and the outcrop in the photo is called an overthrust belt. Jutting up from the earth at an angle, it is among the oldest exposed rock in Montana. Why do I like it? My grandfather, who lived in Central Oregon, taught me to be a rock hound at an early age. It was at his behest that I started collecting minerals. He gave me some fine specimens. He also lived very close to the John Day Fossil Beds and the painted hills. There was a mountainous rock across from his compound on the Ochoco Reservoir. My brothers and I could scramble, hunt for rocks, and see bats hanging upside down. So, when I see the big lump of rock on the other side of the Clark Fork, I feel at home. The Prichard Formation extends over a wide area…the part you see here is only a fraction. The bottom of it is so deep, it’s never been found. “The Prichard formed as layer upon layer of sand, silt and clay was deposited from a river delta into a sea covering parts of what is now Montana, Idaho, Washington and Canada,” according to the Lolo National Forest historical marker “Over millions of years, heat and pressure turned the sediments into a hard, metamorphic rock, argillite.” If you are interested in scientific information about this geological wonder, click here to read Dinochick Blogs (billed as “Random Posting on Geology and Paleontology with a bit of spunk and sass thrown in.”) Below, the National Park Service information graphic shows that the Prichard and Altyn Formations are underneath all other masses in Glacier National Park.

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Pottery Travelogue: Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, by Ansel Adams. Source: Wikimedia Commons

“The mountains of Glacier National Park began forming 170 million years ago when ancient rocks were forced eastward up and over much younger rock strata. Known as the Lewis Overthrust, these sedimentary rocks are considered to have some of the finest fossilized examples of extremely early life found anywhere on Earth.” — Wikipedia

This year, the Glacier National Park opened the latest it ever had, on June 13th. The area experienced unseasonable precipitation like everywhere else  in the Northwest, except here it was in the form of snow. Each year, the park closes because of snowfall. The detour is only a minor annoyance to Canadians or Americans who drive Going-to-the-Sun Highway, headed for points south or north, for a good part of the year. I remember one time I hadn’t realized the park was closed. I must have missed the sign because I was looking at scenery as I drove from Lethbridge, Alberta to Missoula, Montana. There was snow on the road, but I thought nothing of it. I learned it was closed when I drove out of the park at the other end. It was lovely having the park to myself! So, a late opening means one heck of a snowpack; therefore, it is going to be absolutely gorgeous tomorrow. Raging creeks, thundering waterfalls. The Weeping Wall will be bawling her eyes out! For a point-by-point chronology of the season’s occurrences, take a look at Digging in the Clay‘s post. Tomorrow, we’ll head out at 9 a.m., driving north, then northeast, past Kalispell, the turn-off to Whitefish, then Columbia Falls and East Glacier. There are many national parks in the U.S., amazing ones…Yosemite, Yellowstone…but Glacier Park is my favorite. It’s in my blood. There are many doomsday reports about global warming melting the glaciers and this is so sad, I cannot contemplate it. So I won’t. For now. There are many hiking trails and chalets, lakes, and lodges in the park. You can see grizzly, mountain goats, black bears… Several years ago, I was hiking the Garden Wall with my husband and brother-in-law. You feel as if you’re traversing the edge of the world when your on this trail. You walk along the side of the Continental Divide, cross a snow field and are surrounded by a panorama that is nearly unimaginable. It’s always fun to come across baby mountain goats on the trail. If you can’t make the hike, though, you can always seen them on Logan Pass, the divide, separating lush western Montana from the beginning of the dry part of the state. If you are interested in traveling to Glacier Park, here’s the Travel Wiki. Happy trails…

Glacier Park Mountain Goats, by Chelsi Peters. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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