I’m used to seeing deer on the security cameras at 3am, but I rarely see them when there’s still enough light to take a photo. These two hung around just long enough to grab a few shots, then they headed back to the fields north of me.
This is the 4th year for Arts Fest in Great Falls. Street artists from around the country converge on downtown to paint amazing murals on the sides of buildings. I was sick and stuck at home for most of this year’s event, but managed to make it out Wednesday for the Artist Reception. There were some familiar faces, and a few new ones, but it was a great event. The pieces that the artists paint during the reception are auctioned off at the end. I had my eye on one, but my wallet couldn’t keep up with the bidding.
I’m hoping to run around to all of this year’s murals later this week, and will update the album when I do.
More info on ArtsFest can be found on the official website.
My buddy Steve needed a Christmas tree, so we headed up towards Teton Pass to find one. Of course we brought the cameras.
I think I’ve mentioned this before on this site, but when I was a kid I never really ventured north of Great Falls. I missed out on all this beauty for years. Now that I’m back, I really want to explore it more. The entire Rocky Mountain Front is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
This is my favorite time to photograph trees from the air. There’s snow on the ground but the trees aren’t entirely covered, so there’s awesome contrast and patterns that create an interesting visual.
I haven’t put the drone up much this year, but I’m glad I brought it along for Christmas tree hunting. Ground level shots don’t really tell the full story of this area.
If you want more amazing Rocky Mountain Front aerial photos, check out Steve’s galleries.
And yeah, Steve found an epic tree.
Could’ve sworn I’d posted this already, but apparently not.
When I was a kid, I rarely explored west of Great Falls. I stayed mostly to the east–from the Highwoods to the Monarch area. We’d camp at Holter, but never explored much between Great Falls and Holter.
After a little bout with Covid last December, I needed to get out of the house. So on the morning of January 1st, I loaded up the dog and we took a drive. Mornings are always best for random rural road trips, in my opinion, and this one didnt’ disappoint.
We wandered past the buffalo jump to Square Butte, then over to Cascade, and wound our way back home. The full moon was still visible when I drove through Cascade, but I couldn’t quite get the vantage point I wanted without going on private property.
It ended up being a great way to start the year.
Last Friday marked what would’ve been one of my best friends’ 46th birthday. Jer spent most of his life outdoors, exploring Montana, so every time I go camping I wonder if he’d like the camping spot. He was a mountain guy, so I’m not sure Willow Creek would be his favorite. But the Rocky Mountain Front is right there, so it’s close to the mountains. Not sure if that counts. I like to think he’d be happy just being outside, regardless of whether or not it was in the mountains, or the prairie.
When I moved back, I started exploring–first with Google Maps, then with my truck. I had no idea there were so many reservoirs in Central Montana. Over the past few years, I think I’ve decided that Willow Creek is my favorite. The shoreline is all public, dotted with dispersed camping sites. It’s best to get there mid-week before holiday weekends, because the spots fill up and nobody’s fond of the folks who try to squeeze in between two dispersed sites. Gotta leave some room to stretch out. Our basic rule of thumb is that if we have to tie the dogs up, the neighbors are too close.
Water levels were drawn down earlier this year to allow for dam repairs, then stocked with big trout when the reservoir filled back up. We haven’t been able to catch a small trout this year–all of them have been in the 16 to 20 inch range. We’ve been fishing from a little raft with an electric trolling motor, using copper spoons, and haven’t been skunked yet.
It’s Central Montana, so wind is almost always a factor. Be strategic with your camper placement–the wind ususally comes from the SW, so park accordingly. The proximity to the mountain front also means potential grizzlies–though we’ve yet to see one while camping. Never hurts to keep the bear spray handy, just in case.
The area is perfect for star gazing, and if you find the right spot, you can use the mountain front to frame the bottom of your shot. If you’re a wildlife photographer, you’ll find the usual assortment of birds, and the pelicans make great models. You’ll also find cows–they roam free around the reservoir.
On the south side of the lake there’s a boat ramp with a few standard camping spots and outhouses. Wind blocks are build around the picnic tables.
If you forget anything, or run out of beer, Augusta is only a 10-15 minute drive from the lake. And if you’re working remotely right now, AT&T has a decent enough signal in certain spots to push through a few emails. I wouldn’t trust it for any video conferencing, though. Verizon coverage seems to be about the same as AT&T. I got a better AT&T signal from the west side of the lake, but it depended entirely on where I was standing.
I’m still not sure if Jer would be a huge fan of prairie camping, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. He’d be right there by the camp fire, PBR in hand, happy to be out of town for a weekend.
My buddy Chad and I have been camping off and on since I moved back to Montana. He lives in Western Montana, I live in Central Montana. He likes camping in the mountains, I like camping in the high desert/prairie. So we trade off. Copper Creek, (the one by Georgetown Lake, not Lincoln,) is one of his favorite spots, so one day last August I loaded up the camper and headed West to camp with Chad and his family.
Let’s go back to 2018 first. I didn’t have a camper, but the dog and I were content to sleep in the back of the truck (under the topper.)
We met Chad at East Fork Reservoir and set up the truck. It was pouring rain, but I set the tarp up off the back of the truck and borrowed Chad’s Mr. Buddy heater. Long story short, it was cold and wet, and the dog and I ended up spending the second night in Chad’s camper. Which is actually one of the main reasons I ended up buying a camper. I guess I’m admitting that I’m too damn old to sleep in the back of my truck.
At any rate, we took a drive up to Copper Creek so he could show me where he usually camps. His spot was already taken, (which was why we were camping at East Fork,) but I quickly realized why it was his favorite place to camp. Awesome open areas bordering a small creek, dispersed camping so no nearby neighbors, great scenery. Burn scars from a relatively recent forest fire swept through parts of the landscape. It was fascinating to me that one tree could be burnt to a crisp, but another tree ten feet away was just fine.
The rain poured all weekend, but I promised I’d come back to camp the following summer.
Back to 2019
A few days before I was scheduled to leave for Copper Creek, an old high school girlfriend called to say that she was taking her kids on a road trip in her RV. Based on her route, it looked like our paths would cross right around Deer Lodge, so we planned to grab lunch. Plans didn’t quite work out perfectly, so we ended up meeting in Drummond, instead.
After lunch at the Rough Stock Saloon, (great place, by the way,) her kids asked if they could do some camping, so the whole crew caravanned to the Copper Creek camping spot with me. We met up with Chad and his family–not at the spot he had shown me the year before because it was occupied–but at an equally awesome spot just down stream.
That night was full of campfires, s’mores, stories and a wickedly awesome full moon.
The next morning, our camp guests left, so Chad and I decided to do some exploring. We ran into Philipsburg to grab some dinner and check out the brewery. Dinner was at Bricks Pizzeria and Pub, and we weren’t overly impressed. Everyone was friendly and the food was good, but it was slow. So slow, in fact, that after watching his drink sit on the bar for 10 minutes, Chad finally walked over from our table to grab it himself. The brewery was awesome. I grabbed a growler of something or other, and we headed back to camp. We toyed with the idea of coming back for some kind of festival that was going on that night, but decided we’d just end up getting ourselves in trouble.
Back even further
Way back when–I’d say back when I was in my 20s–my best friend’s parents owned a gallery in Philipsburg. I only visited once or twice, but I’ve heard stories. So many stories of shenanigans that went on in that little town. If I remember correctly, there were two bars, and I’m pretty sure my buddy managed to get temporarily kicked out of both of them. Good times. It’s an awesome little town.
Back to 2019, again
The small creek by our campsite was full of tiny brook trout, so we spent a little time fly fishing it. We must’ve caught and released 20 or more fish in one morning. Hoping to catch something more substantial, we drove over to Moose Lake to see what we could catch on worms. The short answer? Nothing. And it didn’t matter. Just getting out of town to sit by a lake for a bit was rewarding enough. (That’s something people tell themselves when they don’t catch fish.)
The rest of the weekend was spent exploring, fishing, and target shooting. The dogs wore each other out on a daily basis, and the camp cooking was delicious.
And the wrap up
Copper Creek, (again, the one by Georgetown Lake, not Lincoln,) is an awesome place to spend some time. Plenty of dispersed camp sites, and an actual campground if that’s more your style. Moose Lake would be great to paddle around on in a canoe, but it’s surrounded by private residences, so it’s not the idyllic beauty I’d prefer to see in the mountains. Philipsburg is the closest town, so you can pick up groceries, fill a growler with local beer, or grab some gas. Get there early, as there are no reserved camping spots. Keep your fires in the fire pits, and make damn sure they’re out before you leave.
Places and things mentioned in this post
I left Montana for Portland back in 1996. It took a year or so, but eventually Portland started to feel like home. As time went on, I started looking forward to getting back home to Portland after visits to Montana.
Now that I’ve been back in Montana for a couple of years, it’s starting to feel like home again. I just got back from 5 weeks in Portland, and though I miss the people who live there, it is good to be home again. I missed these highways and skies.
I have one of those dogs that is terrified of fireworks. Every year, I drug the poor guy and hope for the best.
This year, we decided to go somewhere without fireworks.
Lake Alva is just a bit north of Seeley Lake. There’s a great fireworks display in Seeley, but Alva is far enough away to escape the sound. I met a few friends there, and proceeded to relax.
Diego got carsick for the first 3 years of his life. He eventually learned to relax in the car and seems to actually enjoy going for rides now. I wasn’t sure how he’d do in a boat. He doesn’t swim. If I throw a stick too far into the lake, he’ll just stare at me and wait for me to fetch it myself.
But he did great in the boat. Didn’t even seem to phase him.
I’ve reached that age where it takes too long to recover from sleeping in a tent. I picked up a camper last winter, and am not ashamed to admit I enjoy having some of the comforts of home. It actually is like sleeping at home, but I get to wake up with a better view.
My step-brother has a little country store/gas station in Swan Lake, so I took a drive up there to see him on the 4th. If you’re ever up that way, swing by O’Connell’s Qwik Stop. Tell ‘em Daniel sent you. And get a pizza. Seriously—that shit was delicious. The crust and sauce is home made. It was better than Howard’s.
On the 5th, I decided to put the drone up to see what I could see. Of course, everything I saw was amazing. It really is surreal knowing I live in a state this incredible.
It was a great weekend with old friends, and some new ones. Diego did great on the boat, and with the kids.
The only glitch in the get-away-from-loud-noises-for-the-4th plan was that we got home just in time for a huge thunderstorm and a late celebration by the neighbors. So Diego ended up getting drugged anyway.
For whatever reason, I’ve always been terrified of spiders. There are exceptions, (I’ll let a tarantula crawl all over my arm,) but for the most part, I avoid them like the plague.
I recently drove my mom and I to a little mini family reunion, and was reminded of the fact that when I was in college and living at home, she would have to remove the occasional arachnid from the shower before I would even set foot in the bathroom. I’m not proud. But the bathtub spiders were HUGE.
When I lived in Portland, I was constantly dodging giant house spiders. Seriously, they were everywhere. I even found a particularly giant one on my bed one afternoon. Almost had to burn the entire house down. So I had a dilemma: to kill or not to kill. I love animals, so I generally won’t kill them without a good reason (like they’re a tasty animal and I plan on eating them.) I came up with a rule for spiders. If they were either outside, or in a generally unused part of the house, I’d let them be. But if they were in my bed, or in my kitchen, or any other inside area I frequented, they had to die.
A couple of weeks ago I was working in the garage and noticed a creepy looking critter trying to hang out just inside. I recognized it from the old fake images from Iraq I saw years ago. It was a relatively small camel spider, which isn’t even a spider. They aren’t venomous, but they have crab-claw-looking pincers on their faces. It was even kind of cute in a nightmare-inducing kind of way. Apparently they like the shade, and this one was hanging out just inside the shade line in the garage. It wasn’t bothering anybody, so I let it be.
Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve seen a single spider in the house since I moved back to Montana. Actually, I had more wildlife in and around my house in Portland than I have here. It’s odd. At any rate, I’m getting used to seeing spiders in the garage.
At the end of last summer, when I brought the boat in for the winter, I inadvertently brought a hornet’s nest in with it. There was a large crab spider type thing in the garage window then, and it massacred every hornet that headed for the window in an attempt to escape the garage. I liked that spider.
This summer, there’s a new resident in the garage window. I glanced over at the window last week and saw her, just hanging out. I thought she looked familiar, so I got closer. Sure enough, there was a red hourglass on the underside of her belly. I’d seen a black widow a decade or two before, but this is the first one that didn’t run and hide immediately.
Since the first sighting, I’ve been keeping an eye on her. She’s a busy girl. She murders every single bug that gets caught up in her web. There are no hornets left in the garage, but plenty of other pesky things, so I like her too.
I’m really just hoping she doesn’t have babies in the window. How do you ask a black widow to go outside to procreate?
When my dad suggested driving out to American Bar for Father’s Day this year, I was all for it. I’m always down to check out a new bar. What I didn’t realize is that American Bar he was referring to isn’t a bar at all. It’s a sub-development on the eastern shore of Upper Holter Lake.
By boat, it’s a leisurely cruise up the Missouri from Holter Lake. By car, it’s a 2-hour jaunt over some less-than-ideal dirt roads. We stopped at the York Bar for lunch–if you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it. The burgers were good, and the atmosphere is great.
We got there a little before they opened, but the local birds were entertaining enough to watch while we waited.
The sub-development itself is great. My only issue with it is access. Rain would turn the road into a shit-show, and snow would make it incredibly difficult to get there. Just across Upper Holter Lake is the Gates of the Mountains Marina, but the docks are private. I’m not sure if they’d let you lease a spot to make it easier to get to your property.
Even with the questionable roads, the drive was relaxing, and a great way to spend Father’s Day with my dad.