You are looking at the home of the Missoula Smokejumpers. It is part of the US Forest Service (which is very different from the US Park Service). This is where people train to be dropped into areas where forest fires are burning which are too remote to be accessed by conventional means.
There are 7 smokejumper bases run by the Forest Service in the western United States, two in Montana (here and in West Yellowstone), two in Idaho, and one each in Washington, Oregon and California. The Bureau of Land Management also operates two smokejumper bases, one in Idaho and one in Alaska.
Obviously this type of work is physically and mentally demanding and requires a substantial amount of training. Jumpers must be in excellent condition and be able to carry a 110 lb. pack on mountainous terrain.
There is a small visitor center here. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stick around for a tour of the facility.
I visited Yellowstone on Thursday and Friday and thought I’d leave it to the tourists over the weekend. Saturday I decided I’d like to see more of Montana so I took a long drive north and west of Bozeman, where I am staying. I drove north to Helena (the state capital), then west to Missoula, then south to the Idaho state line, then east and back to Bozeman.
You are looking at the rotunda inside the Montana state capitol. I was told this building recently underwent a major renovation and believe me, it shows. It is absolutely gorgeous. The main lobby is breathtaking and even the tilework on the floors (I was on three different levels) was amazing. I was hoping to take a photo looking straight up into the dome but there was a tour group congregated in the lobby so I couldn’t get there. I do have a picture looking straight up in the rotunda of the Texas state capitol but that will have to wait until we get to that part of our program.
While in Helena I also visited the Cathedral of St. Helena which is a huge church not far from the capitol. It is a very impressive building (inside and out) and I was told by someone there that it might not even exist but for a $1 million donation by a wealthy miner.
Next I drove over to Missoula to see a carousel featuring hand-carved animals made by a local cabinetmaker (it may warrant it’s own blogpost), the Elk Country Visitor Center, and Smokejumpers Base (shown in the post above). I then drove south on a very nice scenic road until I got to the Idaho state line where I turned east. More nice scenic back roads until I got back to an interstate, which I took to Butte (stopping to take pictures of the homes of a wealthy copper-baron and his son) then back to Bozeman.
When I left the dreaded interstate and started driving north towards Helena I saw what appeared to be about 20 horses grazing on a small hill left of the road. As I was getting ready to go past them I looked again and discovered, much to my amusement, that they were fake! Kind of like cardboard cutouts (but undoubtedly made of wood or metal) these were life-size, or many even a little bigger, images of horses. It really cracked me up.
This is the majestic Yellowstone Inn, located a short walk from the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. It is sometimes referred to as the Old Faithful Inn. It was completed in 1904 and is one of the largest log structures in the world. It has over 300 rooms. The lobby is huge and is open to see all the way up to the roof!
I originally took this picture to send to friends of mine whose last name is Gardiner. This little town (pop. 875) is located just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Coincidentally, the Gardiners visited Yellowstone just a few weeks ago with their kids and came out to have lunch here. But there is another reason why I’m telling you all this….
Gardiner is located near the 45th Parallel, the point halfway between the equator and the North Pole (the sign marking the exact point is just inside the Park entrance). I first saw a sign denoting this distinction when I passed through Stewartstown, NH (VERY close to the Canadian border) two years ago while touring New England. Other US towns located near the 45th are Minneapolis, MN and Wausau, WI. This gives you some idea how far north I am right now.
In a few days I’ll be heading up to Kalispell, MT, just outside Glacier National Park. Kalispell is a little north of the 48th Parallel (or 48 degrees north of the equator). For those of you in the east, this will put me the equivalent of being north of Quebec City (or at the very tippy-top of Maine).
If you lived in Provo, Utah (approx. 40 degrees north) and Kevin Bacon lives in Los Angeles (34 degrees north) then you could say there is six degrees of separation between you and Kevin Bacon! Thank you, and goodnight…. I’ll be here all week. Remember to tip your waitresses……