Saturday, July 16, 2016

Big Sky, Big Rain, Big Views, Big Wind - Big Timber, MT

Saturday, July 9 - Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Big Timber, MT

Approximately 37 miles north of Cody, Wyoming, we cross into our ninth state - Montana!

For awhile it looks like Wyoming, but before we reach I-90 just north of the Yellowstone River the sky is truly bigger. I vaguely remember that being the case during a brief visit I made in 1979, but figured I must have just "gone along" with the hype.  But no, it's still bigger. Can't say if it's taller, or wider. Just big. And beautiful.

Often when I'm planning our route I want to go where others have gone. They've seen things I want to see, and done things I want to do. As long as there's a place to fish, Bill's in. But sometimes I'll pick a route for the opposite reason. Because others haven't stopped there (or they did but it didn't make my list), and I want to see and do something different. 

Occasionally it's just on the way to somewhere else, and we're open to there being nothing at all - this has yet to happen as there's always something we find interesting wherever we are.

With the exception of Janna and Mike, who are blessed with a beautiful home in this area, I don't recall reading about Big Timber, MT, or folks camping here. We pull into Spring Creek RV Park on the Boulder River around noon, and I'm immediately smitten. Two miles south of the tiny town, it feels like we are forever from civilization. All sites are grass or gravel, with great spacing. We have electric and water as we're very close to the river, but there are FHUs in the back of the park (these are much closer together). Site 26 is an "island" spot with lots of grass and a couple trees, surrounded by the park roads and no one close to us. The river is 20 yards from our front door, the sound of it rushing over the rocks a pleasant background to the birds above and around us.

The park includes a couple trout ponds. You don't need a license, they supply everything (if you need it) from rods to bait. No catch and release, they'll even clean them for you free of charge.  Bill isn't interested, and during our stay I only see one adult fishing. But the kids are having a ball - limit two per person per day - with how easy they are to catch. 

Instead we take the Jeep further south on Hwy 298 to a river access point Bill finds on his map. The fish are liking what he's dropping, but after a few catches other people start showing up to the very small area, and he leaves the spot to them.  

Since leaving New Mexico we've had rain several times a week. Even an occasional thunder storm. Always for just a couple hours though. Sunday it rains all day. All. Day.

The temperature drops 20 degrees, it smells heavenly. We spend the day reading and watching television. And watching the rain.

I remember to get a pic of our site in between showers
Boulder River is the other side of the picnic table, past the small lake
With cooler temps and the sound of rain on the roof, we sleep like babies. Until just past 7 AM when the sound changes, and the rig rocks a bit.

The rain is gone, the clouds are intermittent, and the wind is blowing like mad! The tall trees are swaying wildly, there are ripples on the rain puddles, and white caps on the ponds. Monday the 35+ mph wind blows all day. All. Day.

Fortunately the direction of the wind doesn't make the slide toppers go crazy. We're able to leave them open without it sounding like a Blackhawk landing on the roof (I really hate that sound).

We venture out for an early dinner at The Thirsty Turtle which has the best selection we've seen in weeks. The food is tasty, the service fast and friendly, and although we just have tea and water, the selection of brews is large and local.

After seeing the hood of this car (roof and trunk look the same) parked next to us in town, we're glad we've just had rain and wind - ouch!
We are loving the cooler weather, but are glad to hear neither rain nor wind when we wake on Tuesday morning. Let's go see stuff!

Hwy 298 follows the Boulder River to Natural Bridge State Park, our destination. But when we get to the parking lot we note on the large map that the highway winds through Custer Gallatin National Forest, with several points of interest along the way.

A few of our neighbors
are out 
enjoying the improved weather
We decide to see the falls on the way back and continue on. First stop is the Historic Main Boulder Ranger Station. Although the building itself is only open Friday - Sunday, the grounds are open daily. A work camper is mowing the lawn and stops to share interesting facts about the area. He has only been here since Memorial Day, but clearly loves it. Always fun to hear about a place from someone living there.

Main Boulder Station - built in 1905
Ranger Harry Kaufman, then with his wife and then two children, lived at this station house for four decades. In 1991 the Forest Service restored the structure and opened a visitor center. Approximately ten years ago, Kaufman's daughter became ill and returned much of the original furniture and other artifacts to the park, so the interior is much as it was when the family moved out in 1945. I learn this last tidbit from the worker. 

At the base of Grouse Mountain
aka Lion Head and Mouse
What an incredible place to call home
Several primitive campgrounds, and three church camps, provide numerous locations for people to enjoy the area. The dirt road is rutted and rocky in several locations, but we see a few large 5ers parked under the trees beyond that. Can't imagine anything still being in a cupboard when they parked! 

A beautiful, occasionally rugged, drive through the forest
Wildflowers cover the hillsides
Lots of horses here, sometimes you just need to photograph one of them

The trees are dense on both sides of the river
and in the middle of huge rocks (nature is so bad-ass)
Marmot Security on duty 

Take it slow on those blind turns!
So cute, even through a smeared windshield
Look at those spots!!
The road follows the river
with lovely places to stop and enjoy its beauty.
Double cliffs north of the state park
We've now gone three times our planned distance, and the fuel gauge says we have to turn around. By the time we return to the state park we're so low on gas that I just want to make it back to town.

Dramatic changes in scenery
At 0 miles left to empty on our dash, we pull in to the Exxon station - livin' on the edge!

To celebrate our full tank, we return to the Turtle where I enjoy a shaved ham, smoked gouda, and fresh pear sandwich with raspberry sauce. Yes, it's fabulous. I don't even remember what Bill has :-)

We enjoyed our big introduction to Montana, and I'm glad we have a couple weeks to see more of it. Wednesday morning we head west to Three Forks.


  1. You certainly have found some really beautiful spots. Glad you missed the hail too. We were not so lucky in Oklahoma one year Ruby got a beating in the grocery parking lot but Winnona was thankfully back at the campground where it didn't hail. Really nice that they restored the ranger station and the furniture was donated back. Will you return to tour it?

    1. I couldn't believe the amount of damage on that car!! Yes, we're actually staying at that campground again next weekend and I want to go back and see the station :-)

  2. Good thing I just had lunch or I'd be trying to eat your sandwich through my computer. I'm already wishing I had those ingredients on hand.

    1. It was on a really soft roll - for the full effect :-))) I think they sliced and grilled the pears too!!

  3. Wow...that car really took a beating, Jodee! Ours both were hit in Michigan last week, and our slide toppers are full of holes too. No fun. Glad you avoided that!

    1. Oh no Jim!! Those toppers are hefty too. Hope it's a quick, insurance, fix.

  4. We love Montana...a great place to spend a few weeks!

    What a treat to see the fawn!

    1. We're loving it a lot. We were so happy they stopped for a bit so we could oooh and ahhh at them :-)

  5. I agree that the sky is so huge! So beautiful:) The scenery is amazing. No wonder you drove much further than planned. Kind of tough to stop sometimes...just one more turn:) Seeing so many deer and pronghorn is always a treat. John was wondering why you are heading west when you're eventually are heading east? Haha!

    1. Right?! We didn't make the decision to go east this year until after the Wyoming and Montana plans were in place. I cancelled the more northwest stops and turned us around in Helena (next stop). At the time just getting out of the heat in the south was the main goal :-))))

  6. Lunch sounds fabulous! I enjoy a cozy indoors day (once in a while) but never, ever do I want to be in a hailstorm. That poor car. :-(( Your first photo essays of Montana are sure beautiful!

    1. Yeah, we love the rain but high winds and hail are no bueno! I'm still amazed at how beautiful this state is.

  7. A couple down days in a beautiful location like this is warranted. Glad you didn't have hail. Then to have more days to explore. No wonder you kept going.

    1. So much beauty up there - glad we didn't miss it!

  8. Love those forest views with all the rocks! The deer are adorable. You got some great wildlife shots. Very pretty flowers too. Glad you didn't have to push the jeep back! Gotta love some rainy lazy days. I dread the day we get hail damage. I've been told it'll happen if you full time. It's just a matter of when. So far, we've been lucky too!

    1. Wish we could put rubber air bags on the top!! The deer really were sweet.