Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cowgirls in the House!

This may be my last post for several days, as the trip gets crazy busy from here on out. So, I thought I'd write tonight before hitting the sack.

This morning, Kate Kahn and I climbed into the PT Cruiser and headed north of Helena up Hwy 15, to Wolf Creek, where we pulled into the long drive of the Rocking Z Ranch ready for some horseback riding. There we met Anna Wirth, our 19 year-old guide, who grew up on the ranch with her brother, sisters, parents, horses, cattle, and assorted pets... including one adorable black goat. Anna led us to the corral, where we put halters on our horses (two mares: mine's name was Rue) and led them back to the stable to tack up. We loaded our lunch, water bottles, cameras and sunglasses--the day was perfectly blue and up to 70 degrees--into the saddlebags, and hit the trail.

We passed through gorgeous Rocking Z land, including a grove of aspens, across and into the river that winds its way through the property, getting used to our horses. I'd tied my long-sleeved shirt around my waist after only ten minutes, comfortable in short sleeves--a first in my month in Montana. For Kate and me, eastern girls through and through, the bulky western saddle and rough gate of the quarterhorses was a real challenge, but still fun. Anna let us loose to do quite a bit of cantering and galloping in the long valleys, which I loved (even when it hurt).

The land was incredible, infinite, breath-taking, and I won't bother to describe it, because there really aren't words. We rode for 14 miles across massive sagebrush country, alongside shining creeks, flushed several single white-tailed deer and watched a big herd race across a golden mountainside, chased by the Ranch dog. It all was certainly an adventure, one I'll not forget. And though I'm in definite pain (an old soccer injury to my knee is still throbbing), it was the ride of a lifetime.

Tomorrow, I pick up Ashley McMahan from the Bozeman airport at 12:30 p.m., and it's a good three hour round trip, so I need to get some sleep. We'll spend one night in my tiny Basin apartment before heading south to Yellowstone Friday morning. (We'll spend two nights in West Yellowstone before I take her back to the airport on Sunday, hopefully viewing tons of wildlife and geo-thermal madness.)

Enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Road Trip & Hike Along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway

Today, the trail kicked my butt. It threw me against the ropes and then clothes-lined me, and I ended up in a puddle.

Okay, so it wasn't that dramatic, but I really did pooh out on the hike today, which was up in the Pioneer Mountains on a straight-up forever trail called Bobcat Lake. After climbing steadily through lodgepole pine forest and slippery snow-covered rocks for over an hour, Kate and I turned back. (She could've kept going, but I was pooped.) So, we only ended up being out for a little over two hours, our shortest hike yet. And we saw elk tracks, but no elk. However, the sky was cloudless and azure, and we did get to drive out along the Big Hole River again, which is gorgeous, and then up the long. lovely Wise River valley to the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. We even saw some juvenile golden eagles feasting on roadkill along the way... pretty darn cool. (And, we caught a glimpse of a herd of antelope in the hills along Hwy 15, south of Butte.)

Did have an interesting time on a spur of the moment trip to Helena yesterday. In a Murdoch's store (ranch goods and wear) I heard a father and his young son arguing over a belt the boy wanted. (Keep in mind the kid was 7 years old at most.) The kid wanted what the father considered to be a "girly" belt, and refused to buy it for him. So the boy moped for a bit, and I paid them little attention. Then, as they were leaving the store, the father turned to the boy and said, "Now remember what I told you, son: cowboys lead, cowgirls follow." And as I turned in their direction, mouth agape, the boy repeated his father's words like a mantra all the way out the door.

As much as I understand a dad not wanting his son to wear sparkly belts, that pretty much stunk. All I could think was, way to teach your son about gender roles, big man. And even though I really love Montana, I've seen quite a few things that speak to the complicated, full-on traditional roles of the sexes out here. Men are men, and women are cooks and mothers. And you better not go beyond your father's saying (think Robert Frost). As for me, I have yet to see a Miss Kitty running her own dance hall, but I know she must be out there.

Tomorrow will be better: Kate and I have managed to find a ranch who will let us ride their horses. We're headed up to Wolf Creek, which is northwest of Helena, to a ranch called the Rocking Z. Should be fun.

Enjoy the photos from the day, and sleep well.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hiking in the Tobacco Root Mountains

Well, I'm sitting at my computer at almost 9 p.m. on Sunday night, and though I'm so tired I could crawl into bed right now, I'm going to post about my hike today. It's either that or wash the dishes that have piled up in the sink... and I abhor washing dishes, as my husband well knows. (I've actually been re-using spoons, a bowl, and my travel coffee mug for several days now. I know: ewww.)

Kate and I headed out from Basin--where it was freezing and had snowed--this morning around 8:30 a.m., and took off towards Boulder, where we got onto Hwy 69 and headed south towards the Tobacco Root Mountains. The sky was brilliant blue and the day beautiful despite the biting cold, and we were having such a good time talking while traveling through the golden hills surrounding Hwy 359 that we missed a very large forest service sign with the road name we were looking for on it, and ended up all the way at Jct 283. Laughing, we turned back, enjoyed the views from the other direction, and found our turn-off: South Boulder Rd/ Forest Service Rd 107. We took the unlined paved road--which eventually turned dirt and rutted, and then snowy--through the tiny town of Mammoth with its adorably tiny cedar-planked and aluminum-roofed houses and up into the Tobacco Root Mountains. The road became increasingly deep in snow, and along the way we passed several trucks with orange-hatted and vested hunters inside, and one man unloading his horse. It's a non-motorized vehicle area, which means that most hunters either hike or use pack horses. I was glad I wore my bright yellow vest, no matter how much like a cracked out oompa-loompa it makes me look.

After eating our lunch in Kate's rental Subaru Forrester (which performed admirably in the snow and ice), we headed up the trail. It was bone-chillingly cold: about 25 or so degrees at almost 10,000 feet. We hiked along a half-frozen resevoir, then took the Lake Louise Trail (where the 3 mile standard was scratched and 4 added), crossed a bridge over the snowy Boulder Creek and headed up into the mountains.

The trail became increasingly thick, but gorgeous: snowy Douglass fir-filled woods that made me feel as if I were walking through a C.S. Lewis novel. Pretty soon we were trudging through snow
more than 10 inches deep, but the views out onto the jagged, white-capped Tobacco Roots, blue sky blazing above, was well worth it. We didn't quite make it to Lake Louise--it looked like a snowstorm was blowing up, and it was getting colder--but the hike was incredible, chest-expanding and unforgettable.

We ate delicious pizza in Butte, wet shoes, red faces and all, and headed back to Basin. Along the way we realized, sadly, that we'll only have a few more days left of hiking together. I will sorely miss my newest hiking buddy! But we're going to try to get in a couple more good hikes before the week is out... and hopefully a horseback ride.

Up next: back to the Hot Springs to soak aching muscles tomorrow night, horseback riding, more hikes with Kate, and then my friend Ashley arrives on Thursday for a weekend in Yellowstone. Ain't life a kick?!