July 2021: Falling in Love with Montana

posted in: Montana, Van Life | 7

After exploring West Central Montana (as shown in the previous blog post, Idaho to Montana), Eric and I couldn’t muster up the strength to leave the glorious mountains, tropical-esque waters and friendly nature of this beautiful state. Perhaps Eric would also like to add another reason—delicious local beers. One thing we’ve learned from our travels is that we should probably read state motto’s more carefully. It took us 40+ years to discover Idaho, “The Gem State” (and a GEM it is) and now 43+ years to find Montana “The Treasure State”. I have to admit, while Idaho will always hold a special place in our hearts (well, especially MINE), Montana checks ALL of the boxes and we are absolutely head over heels in love!

Rejected

Initially, we left the Luberecht Experimental Forest with heavy hearts after unsuccessfully securing tickets to Glacier National Park (specifically Going to the Sun Road). Due to Covid-19, many National Parks are now requiring special passes. Apparently Glacier is so packed that I watched 1045 tickets sell out in less than 5 minutes while frantically refreshing my computer. All this JUST for an opportunity to “win” the pleasure of purchasing one of those highly coveted “golden” tickets. There wasn’t even a chocolate bar attached, just an annoying message that kept reappearing, “Sorry…” it said, despite my Doc-Holiday-Like reflexes.

Do you ever feel like things happen for a reason?

Honestly, I never really did, but the more L-I-F-E I have under my belt, the more of a believer I become! If we would have went to Glacier, we likely wouldn’t have discovered some of our most favorite places and people in all of our travels thus far. Montana has been a magnificent experience and I wouldn’t trade our newfound friendships for a million Glacier National Parks. Although, yes, hopefully someday we’ll get our chance to tour the park in a more intimate way with potentially less crowds.

South Condon

Heading northward, we made it to our first stop just south of Condon with one goal—FIND WATER. The first part of July was a scorcher and a panting, drool-dripping dog is even worse than a wet, waterlogged one. After striking out at a busy lakeside campground and wanting to avoid melting from the heat on the top of a mountain, we opted for the cooler river.

The only downside about this location (despite the woodsy appearance) is that it was close to a dusty, well-trafficked road. Sometimes, you take what you can get! Perfection comes in many forms, so we gave Mother Earth our thanks and then spent the afternoon alternating between roasting in the sun and swimming. Water is and will always be the best, most natural way to beat the heat. Well, in the west anyways!

The next morning, Grizz and I braved the mosquitoes and took a leisurely stroll through the forest to see what we could find.

I love my little explorer!
Sometimes, Grizz even makes me feel loved back!
Especially when I throw sticks.

Overall, this area was beautiful and we would love to come back when we can spend more time. With July 4th celebrations around the corner, Eric and I wanted to find something more remote to avoid ANY and ALL sounds including (but not limited to) fireworks, parties, loud music, ATVs/4-Wheelers, and pretty much any other annoyance we often find in cities and wilderness alike. At the time we were thinking, “What are the odds?” Well, you will soon find out!

Kalispell

The drive into Kalispell (and no, this is not photo-shopped or color enhanced). I have no idea what was growing here. My only guess is this is where they grow Mt. Dew. haha

Although the drive to Kalispell was mesmerizing, the town (well, more like a growing mecca with a main drag from hell), had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Well, I take that back, we did save about .03 cents/gallon on gas at Costco so that was nice. Thankfully, we did not have to stay in this area. We simply needed to make a few van repairs which required supplies that local hardware stores didn’t carry.

I’m sure it’s a fine town. It was clean, there was a lovely bike lane that stretched along for miles but it was WAY. TOO. BUSY. I suppose Flathead Lake is a huge draw as the water was quite inviting!

Ashley Lake

After a long, day in the hustle and flow of the city, Eric, Grizz and I were ready for some R&R. It may seem silly, but when you go into town after weeks of seclusion, it’s sensory overload to the max! So it actually really does wear us out (more mentally than physically). A short drive from Kalispell is a lake and we decided to check out a smaller lake. Ha! These teal blue, tropical-esque waters are apparently quite the attractant because this entire lake (and YES, we drove the 32.2 miles to and around it) is packed to the brim with ranches, cabins, and mansions from start to finish. There are 2 small campgrounds but they were completely full as well. It was after 2PM, it was nearing a holiday—Let’s just say that we were starting to get nervous.

By 3pm, I was ready to call it a day. We passed several lakes with nearly empty campgrounds and some really pretty spots but nothing felt right. Also, we wanted to find some place to call home for a week or so to ride out the fourth and we didn’t want to pay $20+/night to do that AND share it with millions of other folks trying to beat the heat. I’m so glad we kept going. Thank you Eric for being the most patient man ever. I would miss out on so many great places if it wasn’t for you!

Fisher River

It was at the Fisher River where all three of us discovered what would become our private slice of heaven. We’d never been happier to have moved on from so many spectacular sites. Wow! It ended up being a perfect hideaway from not just the fireworks, but ALL noise. There was minimal traffic and all we heard for a blissful week and a half were the sounds of the river flowing, birds chirping, and mosquitoes buzzing. Despite the blood suckers, which thankfully only left their nesting place in search of our sweetness for a few short hours a day, we thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

Relaxing by the river between dips in the refreshingly cool waters.
Eventually we put up the hammock and Eric made shade to allow me to read in more comfort. I felt like the Queen of the Forest!

When I wasn’t reading, I was off taking pictures of interesting flowers and critters. Here are a few finds:

Giant Dandelion
A Mourning Cloak found slinking along the waterline.
Wood’s Rose Bud (I believe)

A Tiger Moth laying eggs which you can barely see in the photo to the left (just under her lower wings). Unfortunately she did this on our bed sheets while hanging to dry. Despite my best efforts, I’m not sure if I was able to transfer her batch safely or not, but I sure tried!

Grizz

Grizz the most complex thinking dog I’ve ever known.

dddd

It was also here, on the banks of the Fisher, that after much debate and uncertainty Eric and I vowed we would never question our ability to love and provide the best possible home for Grizz ever again. It has been an ongoing conversation for months due to Grizz’s fears, need for a playmate (he’s a dog’s dog to the core), and his erratic, complex nature that often makes us feel as if we’re failing him.

How we arrived at our decision was completely serendipitous! Our only visitors, a woman in a truck warning that her son and husband were floating down the river and may need to pull out on our banks stopped by. About 15 minutes later, there came the boys bouncing and crashing along rocks due to the shallow waters. Turns out, these Montanans HAVE and LOVE border collies and we chatted, laughed and told stories of our furry friends that finally put our hearts at ease. Although we often feel Grizz has too many special needs to count on both hands and feet, turns out, he’s pretty typical of the breed. It just goes to show that no matter how much research you do before selecting the right dog, you just never know without that first hand experience what you’re really getting yourself into.

ddddd

Eureka!

This definition could not be more fitting for the greater Eureka area. We thoroughly enjoyed the small grocer, lively locals, and perusing quaint storefronts with our eyes as we peered through bug splotched windows in Van. We would have given this area serious consideration as a potential home base, but looks like all the rich folks beat us to it.

Apparently you have to have pretty big dollars to live in Montana these days. A long-time resident we met at the park told us that out-of-staters (and in some instances out-of-country-ers) have been buying land like mad—Sight Unseen! Wow. I guess Idaho isn’t the only state being bought up by the 1 percent. Another local said that the craze was worsened significantly after Covid-19 hit. Lucky for us, the van life suits us quite nicely. We get to live among the elite, roaming freely, all while enjoying the beauty of nature for the price of a van and some gas. I’m being an ass, I know. But, hey, it kind of sucks for the general population, all whom are getting priced out of every single beautiful area known to man.

In all seriousness, it is a little concerning what the world is coming to in more ways than one. But, I’m not here to rant or remind you of life’s injustices or the tragic trajectory of the world. Social media and news networks do a fine job of that!

Here is my one single photo of Eureka. I just couldn’t resist a little something! There were so many fabulous murals in town, but the Public Library’s was my absolute favorite.

Paradise

Dandelion wishes do come true!

Well, not all dandelion wishes come true. Embarrassing fact: I’m pretty sure I wished I was a boy until I was at least…ok, sometimes I still wish I was a boy. I mean, who wants to wear bras, give birth, and have “womanly’s”? Not me!

I digress….

So, yes, Eric and I stumbled upon paradise in an undisclosed Montana area that we shall never speak the name of. Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure only 6 people actually read this blog, I’m keeping it a secret just in case.

Spot 1

When we first found this road we were in hog heaven. Well, as per usual, Grizz and I got excited and went into Adventure Mode while Eric chilled out and soaked it all in.

Even Grizz had to pause to enjoy.
Short hike from the van

It was here we met Scott from Milwaukee, WI who was traveling solo via a fully loaded, BMW dual sport adventure bike—A sweet ride for sure! Initially he pulled up and with disappointment in his eyes asked how long we might be staying. Apparently, he had spent hours scouring Google Maps trying to track down this specific spot that he had seen while watching a YouTube video the previous year. He asked how we found this hidden gem and Eric said, “Uh, we looked at a map”. It was classic!

Eric and I could tell the moto-biker was thoroughly disappointed that this location was not vacant so we told him we’d be leaving the next morning. We had been indecisive about how long we’d be staying and this guy was so excited and only had 2 days left in his month long vacation. Needless to say, when we told him we’d save the spot he became much more cheery and ended up coming over (after setting up camp down the road) and visiting for a few hours that evening.

Once his premium $100 tequila cocktail which filled his fancy 20 oz Yeti tumbler kicked in, we learned all sorts of things about Scott who was quite the character. It’s funny to me when people want to talk about everything they have like money and things. I sort of feel bad for those types. But he was a likable fellow with some interesting stories no doubt!

Unsure of what was next, Grizz and I took one more dip that morning before heading off into the great unknown.

Spot 2

This location was even more beautiful than the first (if that was even possible) and much more remote. Unfortunately, it wasn’t remote enough! Someone (or several someones perhaps?) had left a mess of at least one hundred cans, a bag of trash, dog food and several other undesirable items strewn throughout. It was so disappointing. Humans can be the worst! It’s not something you should ever do, but it’s ESPECIALLY unsafe in bear (GRIZZLY BEAR MIND YOU) territory. If we would have known the area better at the time, I would have picked it all up and tossed it, however, we were far from town and had absolutely nowhere to store that amount of trash.

Needless to say, we absolutely did NOT stay.

That water was gorgeous!

Spot 3

Eric and I also refer to this location as, “The Island” or “Home Sweet Home”. We loved this area so much we ended up staying the full 2 weeks! We rarely ever do that, especially when we have no access to internet for communication, weather, important news, etc. But, I have to say, by the time we left, it felt like leaving home.

What made it so amazing you ask?

  1. Wildlife
  2. Locals
  3. Water

Wildlife

Life was booming both on and off the island. Grizz was often entertained by the neighborhood chipmunks while Eric and I watched loons wail, deer prance, osprey swoop, ducks float, hummingbirds buzz, fish nibble, a snake peek, baldies (eagles) soar, stretch and stalk AND we even witnessed an eaglet’s first flight!

The eagles were a daily ritual as they nested in nearby trees. In fact, the fledgling was in direct sight of the van so we often saw mama (Shelly as named by the locals) check-in multiple times a day. Shelly even flew over Grizz and I while paddleboarding one morning! Her pose was similar to the photo I borrowed to the right, but her claws hunched a bit more aggressively. It was so cool, she was only 15-20 feet away as she swirled overhead with claws hung in the “I’m gonna get you” position. I thought she was hunting fish but come to think of it, could an eagle take out a dog? Yikes!

Only a few of these things made it to my camera because we were too busy enjoying the sights and well, I don’t have a fancy camera anymore!

A 10 point buck walked right up to our camp (roughly 30 yards away)
Love the Loons!
The BEST dog sitter in the world—Louie

Tribute to the Locals

Matt and Kaydenn

Montana has to have the most lovely locals of all the 50 states. Either that or Eric and I stumbled on a beautiful piece of luck because we’ve met some amazing people while occupying our self-proclaimed island. The first evening we were there we met Matt and his son Kaydenn (17) from Polson. It was a special meeting that I never forget and I was gifted a leather bracelet from the sweet, passionate, and oh so sincere young man. I hope all of his dreams of owning his own van come true some day.

Kate & Dusty

The very next day we met Kate and Dusty. I could write at least 3 books about these two women and all of the amazing things they have done in their lives. They have each embraced what it truly means to LIVE life to it’s fullest! From world travel, to downhill mountain biking, to back-country skiing to multiple solo adventures (in Grizzly country no less), climbing mountains in ICE, living off-grid, climbing Mt. Everest and, well, I told you I could write countless books!

These had to be the most passionate, lovely, interesting, wonderful, life-loving 65+ women I’ve ever met! Dusty with so much depth and mystery with her adventurous but questioning spirit. Kate the adrenaline junkie with her beautiful bright blue eyes that sparkle when she thinks about danger, adventure, and pushing to the limits! If you ever thought you couldn’t do something because you were a “girl”, “woman”, “female” HA! You should meet these two women because there isn’t a doubt in my mind that either of them could do (and have done) ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

“Dunk”

Then there is The Dunk or Joe or…well, call him what you will. Let’s just say that this guy was so cool that even Eric liked him! Like Dusty, he was a man of intellect, mystery, humor, talent and so much more! An unforgettable man indeed.

Seriously, Montanans rock! Well, at least these Montanans do. It was so refreshing to meet so many interesting people in this one single spot and it was even crazier that we all seemed to be kindred spirits in some way, shape or form.

John

Lastly, we met John also from Polson. Let me just tell you that there absolutely are genuine, sincere people in the world. This man walked down from his camp which was at least 150 yards away just to make sure we couldn’t hear his generator! WOW. That’s probably the most considerate thing anyone has ever done while in a dispersed camping area with absolutely no rules.

Now you can see I wasn’t kidding. Montana, we love you and your peoples.

ddd

*All images in this section were free clipart as found on Google

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Water

Living right off the water on a quiet lake is the epitome of bliss and we took full advantage of our time here spending hours paddling, swimming, playing and feeling a bit like children again. I could hear the words of my elders, “Did you wait 30 minutes before getting into the water?” after every meal. Our parents and grandparents believed in all sorts of myths BEFORE Google existed! Although I often despise what the internet has done to our minds, our cultures, our ways of interacting—I am grateful for the endless bits of information!

Here are some photos from our time here:

Chillin’
Meet the King of Davis Island.
The “Other” King. Having two rulers can be a little tough in such a small space but I’m learning to make it work! Haha
Grizz is definitely getting better at cheesing it up for the camera.
<3
A bit of a sunset
Grizz returns from chasing chipmunks.
Still some light after 10:30 pm in the north!
Playin’
Probably the prettiest place we’ve ever paddled. Say that 3 times as quick as you can!
Always ready for an adventure!
Dog Overboard!!!!
Grizz says, “Not cool Dad, NOT cool.”

In reality, Grizz actually is pretty good at hanging on and he didn’t really fall off. If he slips (which only happens on occasion) he LOVES the water! Funny enough, he also loves being chauffeured around on the board and is quite chill out there. That RARELY happens. It must be the equivalent to taking your tired, cranky toddler out on a joyride to lull them to sleep.

My buddy and me.
Fearin’

The secondary reason for leaving Davis Island was due to increased water levels. When we first arrived, the island was actually a peninsula. The water levels rose significantly over the course of a week and a half making us somewhat leery of being stranded. By the time we left, the water levels were roughly 1.5-2 feet. Add waves on a windy day and we may have had some difficulties crossing. While this would be a fantastic place to be stuck for a while, it was pretty remote and resupplying would have been a bit of an Odyssey.

Another issue in the entire area is fire concerns. The smoke has on and off again been floating somewhere between bad, worse, and extreme as winds constantly fluctuate in direction and speed. Here is a photo from one of the worst days (below).

Orange skies as far as the eye could see (which was not all that far that day!)

Spot 4

Up the hill a ways we enjoyed the view of Davis Island from our new spot. The same place we met Kate, Dusty, Matt, Kayden and The Dunk. It’s a special spot reserved for awesome people but we stayed anyways because we felt a little bit part of the club and our hearts our definitely Montanan!

We only stayed 2 nights here before moving on for a resupply and to visit our new friends at their off-grid home in the hills!

Spot 5

We had a lovely time visiting with Kate and her husband. They have a beautiful home which felt so incredibly comfortable like we were home too! We shared wonderful stories and delicious, healthy foods on their patio with a million dollar view. Kate and “Joe” if you’re reading this, thank you again for hosting us! We love you!!!

And Grizz loves your yard!

Spot 6

It doesn’t get any more local that this spot! Thanks to our new friends for this lovely find! We enjoyed two days of high speed internet and a vacant beach in one of the most stunning sections of the lake. Grizz was SOOOO happy.

This has been his look for the last 32 hours.

On the Road Again…

Tomorrow we head out. Next stop…

Whitefish? Libby? Fisher? Wherever we go, all I know is that it will definitely be somewhere in Montana!


Thanks for reading friends. I hope everyone is doing well, staying happy and healthy and living your best life!

Until next time…

7 Responses

  1. Debbie

    Oh my gosh! I keep thinking, how are they going to ever top this? Then your next spot and pictures are even more spectacular!! I absolutely love your blogs and traveling with the three of you! I’m also thrilled that Grizz has a permanent home with you. I can’t imagine anyone could love him more!

    • Jenni

      Haha! Oh Debbie! We feel the same way. Funny thing…we’re not even trying to top anything it just keeps happening! You would love Montana but then again, you live in a glorious state as it is! I’m glad our questioning if Grizz was the “right” choice for us is over for good. We have now accepted our decision to get him in the first place. He’s a bit much at times…but aren’t we all!!! 🙂 We do love him very much and maybe someday we’ll get another dog for our dog! Thanks for reading and I’m so happy to hear you love the blog. I pour a lot of love, effort, and time into writing it! Hopefully that always comes through to the reader. Sending lots of love your way! Talk to you soon friend.

  2. Gail

    Reading your blog feels like going back in time to a simpler life. I felt that when we just recently visited the Missouri gems. The quiet is so refreshing. Your adventurous spirit is so infectious. Thank you for taking us on your journey. You are a gifted writer and photographer.
    Hugs to both of you.

    • Jenni

      Gail!!! <3
      You got it spot on...the quiet is extremely refreshing! Disconnecting is something everyone should be able to experience before retirement age! It seems we live in a culture of work, work, work, buy, buy, buy, money, money, money! Having this time to go back to the basics is something I'm grateful for every single day! Thanks for reading the blog and for your comment! I'm glad you had a great time exploring the Missouri Gems. Did you have a favorite? Missouri is often overlooked, but it really is a beautiful state! Believe it or not, in all of our travels, we've seen the BEST stars in Middletown, MO! Sending lots of love your way...J&E

  3. Barbara McNeil

    As always, your blog story and photographs are spectacular! I love traveling with you!
    Dear Grizz, aren’t we all with our quirks!? I am so glad he will always be with you. ❤️
    Keep exploring and stay safe!

    • Jenni

      I love that you love traveling with us! Grizz is loved, quirks and all (well…most of his quirks anyways…hehe). I hope we can have explorer spirits until the end! You stay safe as well and I’m glad your news turned out to be simple and positive! *hugs*

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