Helena, Montana

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.

Yellowstone Inn

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!

45th Parallel (North)

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……

A bison amongst the geysers

This guy was hanging out in one of the geyser basins.  He stayed right where he was the whole time I was there.


Both male and female bison have horns.  So how do you tell a male from a female?  (Really??  Do we need to have “the talk”….)

In addition to the obvious plumbing differences, male bison have a more pronounced hump on their back, have more hair on their heads and forelegs, and weigh about twice as much as a female.  There are also subtle differences in the shape of their head and the relationship between their shoulder width and hips.

If you see a bison raise its tail you have probably done something to piss him off and you should start paying closer attention to him than you already are.  This action means they are angry (or maybe they’re pooping).  If they aren’t pooping than be advised of this:

Q:  How fast can a bison run?

A:  Faster than you.

An average human can run about 10-15 mph.  Usain Bolt has been clocked at 28 mph.  A 2,000 pound adult male bison can get up to 35 mph.  So if you see that tail go up you’d better start heading for the exit.

Moose Day in Yellowstone

In addition to seeing many more bison I saw lots of moose today.  This was the only male, and was grazing right next to the road late in the afternoon.  I was hoping he’d raise his head a little more but then a ranger yelled at me for being too close (“but it’s for my blog peeps, ma’am….”) so I had to back away.

Earlier in the day a large female moose (called a cow, but it was definitely a moose) crossed the road right in front of me.  I had just come around a turn and there she was.  By the time I got my camera unlocked and ready, poof, she was gone.  There was a steep embankment next to the road and she had already gone down it.

Later I saw several females with some young’uns laying in tall grass near the road.  All I could see were their heads and their ears twitching.  When I got out of the car several of them stood up and moved a short distance before laying back down in the grass.

And as I was leaving the Park for the day I saw several more females both next to and in the road.  They were mainly showing me their backsides so the pictures aren’t very flattering.


I also saw a black bear today, although by the time I got up to where it was it had gotten  so far up the hill I could not get a good picture.  Funny thing when you are driving in the Park –  If a car is stopped by the road then 6 more will stop.  If a car is stopped and someone is pointing, 12 more will stop.  I talked to a guy who used to work in the Park and he said when tourists would pull up behind him and start tailgating, all he had to do was point off to the side of the road and they’d all pull over and stop.

I also saw two brown bears today (most likely grizzly’s in these parts).  They were both outside the park (I had to drive about 90 miles down from Bozeman to get to the closest entrance). I saw one this the morning on the way down and one in the evening on the way home.  Both times they were pretty far off the road but you could tell they were VERY big.


This post is dedicated to my brother Stephen who, despite spending many summers vacationing in Maine, has yet to see a moose in the wild.

And I did resolve an earlier question.  The naming rules for Cows (I’ll have to start calling them Moo Cows), Moose and Bison are all the same:  Bull/Cow/Calf/Herd.

Yellowstone Lake

After driving around the park for much of the day I decided to take a break by Yellowstone Lake.  It is in the southern park of the Park and is huge. I got my chair out of the car, grabbed my binoculars and found a nice spot in the shade.  There were no boats or jet-skis (they launch in the northernmost part of the lake) so it was very serene (well, except for the vehicles zipping by behind me).  There were short breaks when there was no traffic, though, and then it really was quite tranquil.

You are only seeing about 1/3 of a very small portion of the lake called the West Thumb.  Yellowstone Lake is at an elevation of 7,733 feet (I got that from the official map of the park.  I didn’t drive out there to verify it with my GPS!). It alone is 136 square miles in size.  For you folks back in North Cackalacky, that makes it seven times larger than Falls Lake.  For those of you not familiar with that reference, it is larger than Durham (City) and Chapel Hill combined.  Despite it’s size, the lake completely freezes over in the winter.

The area north and east of the lake suffered a big fire back in 1988 (really big) and all the trees are dead.  New growth is starting to show, though, and while it will take a while it should eventually regain its majesty.  The 1988 fire was so big that the entire Park closed for the only time in it’s history.  The fire ultimately affected 36% of the park in one way or another.

After about 30 minutes I hopped back in the car and resumed my adventure.  Lots more to see and do!

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble

This is one of the small, but entertaining, hot springs.  There is often a gurgling sound which, on the larger springs, sounded like a washing machine running with the lid open.  There was one spot where you could hear the water gurgling in a tunnel and the whooshing sound of the steam coming out made it seem like the snout of a fire breathing dragon (but without the flame).  I have video of that and hopefully you’ll be able to hear it as well.

Given that this is Mother Nature at work, geysers and hot springs are unpredictable.  They may appear dormant but then will suddenly break out in a flurry of activity.   I tried taking still pictures of one of the geysers which went through a whole range of eruption levels in the course of just a few minutes.  Again, the still pictures really don’t capture the fun of watching them in action.  After watching that geyser erupt for a few minutes I turned around (literally just shifted my body by about 75 degrees) to take this picture.  Of course then the geyser (now behind me) went nuts, shooting water so high it I could feel the mist from it on my back.  I turned around and started shooting video again and it sat and did nothing….

Sapphire Pool, Yellowstone

I replaced the picture I originally posted here with one that more accurately represents the true color.  It is crystal clear and simply gorgeous.
There is an area of the Park where there are several “basins” holding a variety of geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs and other interesting hydrothermal features.  There is a very strong sulphur (rotten egg) odor present when you are near these basins.

It is hard to capture the beauty and character of these various things with still pictures.  I did take short video clips of many of them and will share them when I get home.  I waited almost an hour and a half to watch Old Faithful erupt and have video of it.  It erupts every 35 to 120 minutes and evidently I got there shortly after it had just done so, so had to wait what turned out to be more towards the longer end of the range.



This really put me in my place

As I turned around to go back and take a picture of these abandoned buildings I was trying to think of something clever and witty to say about them.  When I read the nearby sign I learned that there is nothing funny about it.

This is where 74 coal miners died the morning of February 27, 1943.

You are looking at what remains of Smith Mine #3 which was operated by Montana Coal & Iron Company.  On that fateful morning 77 men were working within the mine, most of them 7,000 feet underground, when an explosion occurred.  The men died either from the concussion of the blast itself, or from the poisonous gas which resulted.  3 men were working closer to the surface and, knowing that something terrible had happened, were able to put out a call for help before themselves being overcome by the gas.  They were found in time by rescue workers and were the only survivors.

The company paid time-and-a-half for Saturday work and the men were eager to sign up for the extra pay during those hard economic times. About 930 that morning the blast, whose exact cause was never determined, occurred.  It is possible that it was caused by a buildup of methane gas in the adjoining, abandoned portions of the mine.  Of the 74 who were killed (ranging in age from 19 to 72), 58 left behind widows.  125 children lost their fathers that morning.

The mine is located a few miles east of Red Lodge, Montana.  The little towns of Washoe and Bearcreek are on either side of the mine and were almost exclusively inhabited by mining families.  Most moved away and many homes were torn down, abandoned or physically moved to Red Lodge, some 6 miles away.

This remains the worst underground mining accident in Montana history.  The mine never reopened.

The sign in the next post is located at the site.  It ends with a message written on the wall of the mine before the authors succumbed to the lethal gas.  If you are unable to read it let me know and I will transcribe it below the picture.  If you right-click on the picture on your computer you should be able to save it to your hard drive where you can then open it with an image browser and increase the size, making it easier to read.