I can and will blame it on the heat, but, in our little trio, dogs outnumber humans 2 to 1, so, it’s only fitting that I have adapted more canine behaviors than they have adapted mine. We get up and out early before the heat settles in for the day, prowl around, sniffing for hints of what may have transpired the night before, make our rounds through our turf and then retire back to the hotel room den until the sun is setting and the temps have dropped. Then repeat.
On travel days, we are up early and into the car migrating with the weather. Right now, we are looking for cooler, more tolerable weather. Something in the low to mid 90s, you know, normal summer weather, not this frying pan 100 degree craziness. That being said, this pack is going north to Montana.
Many years ago, I saw photographs of Montana and have had an illusive affair… well, not really, but, at the very least, I have fantasized often about staring up into the big Montana sky from a rolling grassy field.
The Ramada in Bozeman offered us a discount as a sponsorship for the Faces of God project and that is the sole reason I chose Bozeman. I’m so glad, because I think Bozeman is pretty awesome.
So, we galloped away from the Old West toward the New West before the sun had peaked over the horizon. The glow of dawn was growing brighter, but, headlights were still required. Driving in the cool morning air is good for all of us: the ’95 Honda Civic, Miles, Toad and me.
The drive is about five hours and with our need to stop, stretch and pee on things, a five hour drive can quickly turn into six or more. Needless to say, we would skip any off-road adventures or scenic routes for this long drive; we acquiesced to the monotonous interstate.
Holy rolling golden plains and mountains majesty! I was wrong. This interstate is definitely not boring. First, I-90 shoots north around the Big Horn Mountains as the back-up singers and smaller mountains or hills alternating lead vocals to the west; and to the east, more hills and epic vistas of rolling plains.
The road tapers due west near Hardin, MT around the north side of the Big Horns. Just after Billings, the road hugs closer to the Yellowstone River and the corridor narrows for some really dramatic windshield eye candy. Just before Livingston, the landscape folds, twists and turns creating an exhausting, but thrilling finale. I wanted to stop there.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before I reached the breathtaking landscape near Livingston, one of the first things I noticed about Montana was the dead trees. Hillside after dreary hillside was a wasteland of stumps and fallen trees. Emotionally this was hard to digest. Although I don’t dress like one, I am, after all, a self-proclaimed card-carrying tree hugger. I have talked to trees, listened to trees and have recently taken my relations with trees to the next level. Yes, I have kissed three trees. Not with the same Molly Shannon “Superstar” passionate tree-kissing gusto, but with a much more subdued, respectful, familial tone — a sweet peck.
Regardless, you don’t have to be a tree hugger to be affected by such a devastating site. Even the most practical among us know that this is a wild fire’s favorite fare and it is terribly difficult on wildlife. Some blame the National Forestry Service, some blame the environmentalists and some blame global warming. We are scratching our heads and pointing fingers, meanwhile Dr. Seuss’s Once-ler (the Pine Beetle) is killing millions of acres every year. In Montana alone, in 2008, 1.2 million acres were killed; and in 2009, 2.7 million acres were killed. (I couldn’t find more recent statistics.) All tolled, since 2000, nearly 70,000 square miles have been beetle juiced.
I know that I’m a fairly simple person and I may be speaking out of school, but, if we can land a rover on Mars and take it for a Sunday drive, it would seem likely that we could win this war with the Pine Beetle.
During the last leg of the drive from Livingston to Bozeman, the corridor tightens even more and then opens to the expansive Gallatin Valley where Bozeman is seated. From here, you can see four prominent Montana mountain ranges: the Bridger Range (east), Gallatin Range (south), Spanish Peaks (southwest), and the Big Belt Mountains (north).
Finally, with visions of fresh, clean, crisp sheets and a sweet, hot shower dangling in my head, I pulled into the parking lot of The Ramada in Bozeman. I tugged the earphones from my ears in preparation for my visit with the front desk, and began adjusting my ears to the absence of the dance beat. Rolling toward the hotel breezeway, I suddenly discovered a new sound coming into auditory focus.
Jingle bells? Is there a jingle-bell noise coming from my car?
People had been staring. I noticed. But, I thought it was my ’95 Honda Civic’s sparkling clean sex appeal… or maybe the cute dogs in the back seat… or maybe the overwhelming amount of stuff packed in the car… with a duck-face smack of the lips and saucy headroll, I muttered, “Shoooo. That’s right! We are baaaaad arses.”
No. We were not bad asses in any way. People were looking at us because they thought Santa Claus was coming to town. And, I began to get a little nervous because I did not bring little Timmy’s rocket skateboard.
I got on my hands and knees and peered under the car. The exhaust pipe had broken off just beneath the driver’s seat and was dangling just so that every little bump made it bounce on and off the pavement. Jingle. Jingle.
If this pipe were to bounce down and catch on something immovable (like a manhole cover) that could rip my entire exhaust pipe off and possibly my muffler. Maybe even stand the car up on it’s nose in the process. Crap.
I drove s-l-o-w-l-y to the nearest mechanic, Mr. T’s. (Thank you iPhone!) Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes past 5 p.m. They were so dear and sweet and worked me in first thing in the morning. All they could do was secure the pipe so that it wouldn’t drag and referred me to Tom’s Alignment where they would actually weld the pipe back into place. After putting my car on the lift and working for at least 20 minutes, they called me in the garage and showed me exactly what needed to be done. They found another spot that would need to be welded too, even though it hadn’t presented a problem as of yet. With smiles on their faces, they didn’t charge me one dime.
They were my heroes of the day and now little Timmy could stare at me all he wants and I wouldn’t feel one tinge of guilt about that skateboard.
Bozeman is a cute college town with lots of boutique shops and restaurants boasting a population of 37,280 as of 2010.Everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and talkative. And bikes! Bikes are everywhere. Bike lanes are everywhere. No matter where you look, you’ll see bike racks all along the city with piles of bikes attached. People looked healthy and generally happy mostly with a dog at their side. This is a very dog-friendly city. Dogs are running alongside their owners on bikes or skateboards and the few that were off-leash were well-trained, impressive, happy dogs.
My first few days in town, I contacted every photographer that I could find online. I was looking for anyone that might be interested in giving me a tour or just someone to go out and shoot with. I was also beginning to feel a bit like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Miles and Toad have a few more communication skills than a soccer ball, but, when I chirp on and on about something, Miles usually responds with a sneeze and Toad licks his privates. So, when talented, sweet and bold Naomi Zatorowski wrote me back (www.naomizatorowski.com) and we went out for a hike,I could not shut up. I didn’t take any photos. It was full-on machine gun, rapid fire of every little thought that crossed my brain. I barely breathed, which is tricky on a steep uphill. My tongue was flapping and my shutter was shut. She managed to get me to simmer down long enough to take this great photo of me and Miles.
A few days later, when I went for my car appointment at Tom’s Alignment, I didn’t know what to do while it was being fixed. I walked around town for a few minutes and then remembered that Toad’s latest vet had told me to go to the Pioneer Museum because some volunteers there might be in their 80s or know someone who could help with the project. So, I walked over there and spoke with the director who led me to speak with Harriet DeWitt whose mother is 102. (Toad had an allergic reaction to something in the hotel room and was having trouble breathing and was tearing his nose up with his paws. Poor Toad!)
When I returned for my car, the mechanics at Tom’s Alignment only charged me $26. I still can’t believe that.
HIKES AND OUTINGSHyalite Canyon
The 34,000-acre Hyalite Canyon – part of Gallatin National Forest – is a stunning mountain valley recreation area between Gallatin Canyon and Paradise Valley, south of Bozeman, Montana.
We scoped the area, driving through late one Sunday evening. There are lots of hiking trails, a couple of water falls, campgrounds and the Hyalite Reservoir. The road is well-maintained and gets lots of use.
Here you’ll find vistas of Lodgepole pine, Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir trees and more people than you’ll find at Walmart on a sale day.
I don’t like a lot of people around when I’m hiking and … I don’t like pines. There, I came right out and said it. My sourpuss, curmudgeon is out of the bag.I wouldn’t wish them any harm, but, when looking out over a vista of nothing but pinus varietus,(yep, I made that word up) I hate to say it, but, I find it quite boring. Tree hugger or not. Maybe they need to accessorize more. They can rock out white, fluffy snow like no other tree and they certainly wear the diva crown as Christmas trees. Bob Ross called them “Happy Little Trees” and maybe they are, but, even after looking at several websites, I still wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference in a Rocky Mountain Juniper, Engelmann Spruce and a Douglas Fir. I usually just call all of them cedars. I’m not a total hater; I love the sweet smell of cedar and the pungent aroma of lightnin’ wood (as my grandfather called it) and I can appreciate the areas in the forests canopied by cedars. Usually dark and magical, these areas are where I like to imagine elves and fairies live.
But, I’ve been spoiled. After my recent trip to the Rio Chama Canyon and Crazy Woman Canyon, Hyalite Canyon, with all the people and all the pines, didn’t offer up one jaw-dropping moment for me. Still, I planned to return early one day mid-week, give it another chance and hike one of the waterfall trails. Of course, time got away from me and we didn’t make it back. After my visit to the nursing home, (see the Marie Cole interview) I was catatonic and many plans changed.
Flying D Ranch
With my camera and keen Elmer Fudd sensibilities, I went out to shoot a buffalo. I headed to the Flying D Ranch owned by Ted Turner and supposedly the home of a little less than 4,000 bison. I had asked around Bozeman and no one seemed to know much about the ranch or about the buffalo herds. So, I was left with what little information I could find on the internet.
What I was told while in Taos was that this tract of land is owned by Ted Turner who purchased land from Canada all the way down deep into New Mexico so that his bison herd could achieve their natural migrating habits. I’m not sure if that’s exactly true because I can’t find anything to support this statement on the web. All I can find is that he is the second largest individual landholder in North America (the largest in America) and manages 55,000 head of bison on his various ranches. So, depending on whether the buffalo migrate or not, they could be in Canada for all I knew. But, I was going to drive and see.
Spanish Creek Road is an unpaved public road that runs through the 113,000 acre Flying D property with plenty of signs along the way asking people to stay on the road. The road winds through beautiful landscapes (pines or no pines). My jaw dropped many, many times. The Gallatin River hugs the road for a while and at some spots, it’s increasingly difficult to stay on the road and not go sit for a spell at the water’s edge.
I inched along the little dirt road mostly undisturbed for hours often stepping out of the car to take photos or just breathe and stare. I didn’t see any buffalo, but, that Montana sky put on a spectacular show for me. This was another one of those places where I opened my arms wide and gave thanks. Night fell and I kept snapping my shutter until there simply wasn’t enough light to capture anything.
Cottonwood Creek Trail
Ohh Cottonwoods. I love them. And I love creeks. So, I definitely had to try this out. The trail begins with a quick uphill and several switchbacks and then smooths out for a nice long walk. After a while the trail crosses the creek with a foot bridge that consists of a beam with a hand rail. The creek is only knee deep in it’s deepest spots and mostly just a few inches deep, but, the dogs decided they wanted to follow me along the beam. Miles crossed gracefully without a problem, but, Toad stood at the end of the beam letting out some pitiful puppy howls because he was too nervous. After some convincing, he realized that he could just walk through the stream and all ended well. I took some pictures of the stream and let the dogs be dogs. They were off smelling things and I was enthralled with moss.
Finally, as the sun was starting to set, I called them so we could head back to the car. They didn’t come.
I walked along the trail thinking any minute they will show up. Still no Miles. Still no Toad. I got all the way back to the car and thought that they would pick up my scent and surely be here soon.
I sat for 20 minutes in the car, took some pictures, and finally decided that I needed to go after them. I definitely didn’t want to be in the woods when night fell. I was almost at the creek when a hiker came into view with Toad on leash. She said that the black dog wouldn’t come. No doubt. If she had leashed Miles, Toad would have definitely followed. But, this strategy doesn’t work the other way around. So, Toad and I continued walking toward the creek and I yelled for Miles a few times. He came barreling around the bend and then saw me, slowed down and hung his head low. “I’m sorry.”
On the drive home, there was a small field with a lot of deer. Several doe and small ones and then over in the left corner, standing alone was the largest buck I’ve ever seen. Actually, this was the first fully matured buck I had seen in real life. His rack was enormous. What a beautiful creature. I pulled the car off the road and got my camera gear all ready. Quietly opened the car door, snuck up and placed the camera on the fence post, (it’s too dark to shoot free-hand) and just as I was focusing, the dogs started barking! All I got was a blur of a white tail.
This is why I say that hunting is easier than photography because I could have taken a shot with a gun and gotten him, but, in order to get a great photo of a buck, all of the planets have to be aligned.
I checked “good food” off my list once I discovered the Community Co-op. It is a fairly large store and the arrangement of the store was a little confusing, so, I had trouble finding my way out. I also frequently get stuck in parking lots and can’t get back to the road, so, take anything I say about directions with a grain of salt and never, ever put me in a maze and expect intelligent results.
Their produce was fresh — the tomatoes were perfectly ripe, the meats and fish were fresh, the store was super clean and inviting. I didn’t care for their hot-bar food items. (They had very few Gluten-free, dairy-free options and no fish that day, so, I had to choose chicken and rice.) The chicken was so dry that it made that annoying clean-window squeaky noise against my teeth. Breakfast was another complete let-down. They need to admit that they are not set up to serve breakfast, instead, they try a makeshift absurd arrangement where the eggs are kept upstairs in the coffee/juice bar. They are cold and rubbery. I sat with my juice and my rubbery eggs entertaining sweet memories of Earth Fare’s breakfast bar.
They have a sister store downtown that primarily is a huge hot bar and salad bar with a few grocery items. This hot bar is a winner, hands down. I was there on an Indian theme day and couldn’t have been more pleased. I ate outside on the sidewalk while Miles and Toad snoozed at my feet.
Snowfill Recreation Area
I had looked to find a lake where Toad could swim nearby and saw one on Google Maps within a mile. We drove over and it was a small pond with huge signs: “No Dogs Allowed.” Poor Toad. So, we drove blindly up the road just looking to see what we could see and I stumbled upon the best dog park in Bozeman.
Dinosaur Dog Park
On the western edge of town a new park promises plenty of fun for any pup that likes water. There are several ponds and biking/walking trails around and a kids dinosaur playground. Toad had a really good time swimming for sticks and all the people and dogs were super friendly. There are no fences and this area is bordered by a large, busy road, so, if your dog doesn’t listen, like say, Miles, then it’s best to keep them on leash.
Toad met a real Vizsla and followed him around in awe. “Hey, you look just like me. That’s cool, huh? Yeah, that’s cool. We could be brothers… or cousins… or something. Yeah. Really cool. I’ve been told I have a lot of Vizsla in me, and some German Shepherd. I don’t know. But, wow, you look like me but bigger. Awesome. Wanna be friends?”
Meanwhile the Vizsla was only thinking, “Water. Water is awesome. I love water. Why is this dog following me? Water. Water is awesome.”
Canine Beach Dog Park
We also ventured to the Canine Beach Dog Park because the description sounded nice. It is fenced on three sides and bordered on the fourth by the pond. We were only here for a few minutes. This place is tiny. So, we left to check out Dinosaur Dog Park.
The Ramada Bozeman hotel is situated just off I-90, tucked behind several other hotels and a cemetery, this block backs up to a dead-end road — perfect for a quick outing with the dogs. It is surrounded with plenty of sidewalks and a couple of restaurants. When I was in the throws of writing, we could always get up and get out for a quick walk with no problem. And, this has really been a problem in quite a few hotels.
Our room was very large and clean and smartly designed with a door to the inside hallway and a door to the parking lot. My wi-fi worked great.
The staff was so friendly. Everyone. From the manager to the housekeepers, were always extremely helpful and friendly. No hotel chain snobbery here.
I was really lucky to have gotten this room. I couldn’t have been more happy with it’s location to the Snowfill Recreation Area and the rest of Bozeman and I couldn’t have asked for a better staff. Thank you Ramada!