Friday, May 27, 2011

Helena, Montana

My friends Lori and Suzann were participating in the Race for the Cure at the Montana State Capital Building in Helena and invited me along for a girls' weekend! We left after work on Friday. Our first item of business was to get a tasty dinner in Bozeman. Needing plenty of carbs for the race (I didn't race but I didn't want to wake up hungry ;) ) we decided on Old Chicago! We arrived in Helena just after 10 p.m., checked into the hotel, and crashed for the night.

Suzann and Lori woke up early and headed out to the Capital. I slept late, had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, enjoyed watching some TV, and then headed outside around 10:20 to catch a glimpse of Suzann and she raced by! Lori soon followed. They looked great and inspired me to attempt a 5k sometime in the near future! Here is a pic of some racers going by the Red Lion Hotel:
After the race, all three of us headed out to explore Helena. Our first stop was the Montana History Museum:

My favorite was the exhibit of artist C.M. Russell. Russell was born is St. Louis and dreamed of being a cowboy in the West. He moved to Montana when he was 16 and never left. In his lifetime, he completed over 4,000 pieces of work. Here are some of my favorite from the museum:

There were a lot of items from Glacier National Park in the museum. The most interesting to me was the bear trap:

2 women were killed by grizzly bears one night in 1967 at two different locations in Glacier N.P. This started an agressive back country bear management program in the park. Closing of garbage dumps in the park and strictly enforcing food storage and garbage disposal were some of the first measures taken. Problem bears around tourists in the "frontcountry" were trapped in the above culvert-pipe trap and relocated to the backcountry.

There were also some Plains Indian exhibits. Suzann and I tested out the seating in a teepee:

Some Plains Indians would hunt bison by herding them off the edge of cliffs as seen in this awesome art work:
Bison were also used to decorate the homes of the white man. The arm rest of this chair is made up of bison horns:

After the museum, we headed over to the Montana State Capital Building:

Who's that on top of the Capital you ask? I have no idea and neither does the State of Montana! Apparently, this statue arrived on the train in Helena during the construction of the Capital. Although no one knew who was depicted in the statue, they thought is was a good idea to stick it on the dome of the Capital.

We were lucky to stumble into a guided tour of the Capital. Below is a statue of Montanan Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in the US Congress. She was first elected in 1916, just before WWI, and again in 1940, just before WWII. She voted AGAINST the entry of the US into both wars and was the only Congress member to vote against WWII. With emotions and patriotism high after Pearl Harbor, this didn't make her a very popular person. She was never re-elected.

"I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war. I vote no" - Jeannette Rankin

The interior of the Capital is quite impressive. The dome and interior is full of beautiful murals and stained-glass.

There are many paintings of famous people throughout the Capital. In the rotunda, one of my favorites is a painting of Mountain Man and tall-tale-teller, Jim Bridger. An expert explorer, he was one of the first white men to see the Great Salt Lake and the area that would become Yellowstone National Park. He found Bridger's Pass which shortened the Oregon Trail by 61 miles and would later become the route for the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 80.

Jim Bridger mural in Capital rotunda

Lori and our tour guide

These paintings above and below are of President Ulysses S. Grant driving the final golden spike of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Central Montana... We were lucky to join the tour. Our guide had access to areas that would have otherwise been off limits to us. For example, the Senate Chamber... ...and the Old Supreme Court Chamber:

The Supreme Court now has a new home in a new judicial building so this room now holds special session meetings. The Old Supreme Court Chamber had a beautiful stained-glass ceiling and murals all around. The middle painting below is Lewis & Clark seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time. The other two pertain to Montana becoming a territory and the other earning statehood.

More paintings from the Old Supreme Court Chamber:

Old Supreme Court Chamber ceiling:


Back in the rotunda...

Our tour guide also let us into the House of Representatives. This was a historical room as the huge painting behind the podium is by artist C.M. Russell who is mentioned above. To preserve the art work, we couldn't use flash photography. We also couldn't sit in the wooden Representative's chairs.

How do I look as Speaker of the House?

The view of Helena and surrounding area from inside the Capital:

After the tour, we headed downtown for a tasty lunch at the Mediterranean Grill. We walked off lunch in Reeder's Alley.

Gold was discovered in Last Chance Gulch in 1864. Gold miners soon swept in to stake their claims. One of them built the Pioneer Cabin, Helena's oldest documented dwelling, seen below:

Business and other dwellings soon followed...

Downtown area of Helena. All of Montana's "cities" are small towns...

We visited the Cathedral of St. Helena. I didn't get very good pictures of the outside and none of the inside because a ceremony was scheduled for that evening. It is a very impressive building. We did get to peek inside and it is the prettiest cathedral I've ever seen. To view pictures of the awesome stained-glass from inside, visit their website.

St. Paul, Father Damien, St. Joan of Arc

We saw an ad for a Roller Derby being held at the fairgrounds. We headed over to the fairgrounds:

Who knew Roller Derby was such a poplular event? We waited in the ticket line for 15 minutes or so only to have the Sold Out sign pop up right before we got to the window. We headed to the movies instead and watched a chic-flick, Something Borrowed. After the movie, we had dessert.

Sunday morning, we all slept in before having a late breakfast at Perkins. The drive back was gorgeous along Hwy 287. After a dreary, gloomy Saturday, we had sunshine and big white puffy clouds. Do you see the bunny rabbit? Suzann and Lori said it was playing leap from with a cloud-frog, but I don't see the frog! lol

Everytime I see a train, I think of Granny and how she would snap a picture of every train we saw when we visited the West for the first time on a family vacation! I get my love of picture taking from Granny!

A country church...
Neither farming or ranching is possible out here without irrigation pipes.

Dirt roads...

Do you see the swan?
Wheat bins...

Over 12,000 acres of wheat is farmed in the Three Forks, MT area for Wheat Montana, a local bakery and deli. We stopped and ordered sandwiches and cinnamon rolls to go! Oh my, they were delicious!

I heart Montana! Good times!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Big Creek camping in the Gallatin National Forest

Between Yankee Jim Canyon and the Dailey School (pictured above) on Hwy 89, Big Creek Rd turns off into the Gallatin National Forest.

We parked at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch and continued walking along Big Creek Rd. to the cabin. Big Creek is pictured above.

We would be camping in a cabin that was originally built in 1924 for National Forest Rangers and their families. The cabin in the background is the original headquarters which was built in 1907.

Cellar across the road from the cabin.

The cabin has no electricity or running water. There was a vault toilet nearby the cabin.

The original headquarters building built in 1907.

The cabin we stayed in was the guard station...

There were 5 rooms and two porches. Here's the front:

The main room had a table where we ate and played games. There was also a woodstove and 2 beds. Three other rooms also had bunks. The cabin would sleep up to 11.

An example of the decor...

The kitchen had a wood-burning cookstove and plenty of pots and pans. There was also lots of kindling stacked in the corner with chopped wood on the back porch. We didn't use the stove (who are we kidding - none of us knew where to begin to start using it) because we packed in enough junk food to last a week!

The back porch looked out at the creek and the campfire area.

Big Creek

The Absaroka Mountains

An evening walk in the Gallatin Forest...

Suzann chopping wood for our outdoor campfire...

Yum!! Smores! Me, Suzann, Dana, and Mary (Carol snapped the pic)

We sat outside by the fire eating smores until dusk. Then, we built a fire in the woodstove in the cabin and played board games by lantern/candle light.

The warm fire let us fall asleep warm and cozy. As the temps stayed just above freezing all night and we were sleeping in bunkbeds, we slept warmly all night. We woke early the next morning and ate a light breakfast of fruit in the cabin. We walked back to the car and stopped at the Old Saloon in Emigrant for a REAL breakfast!

It was a great weekend!

Later Sunday afternoon, we drove in the park and saw this grizzly at Norris in front of the Ranger Museum:

Here's what Lake Hotel looked like on May 15th, one week before opening:

The Lake still covered in ice...

Lake Lodge