Backroads of Montana

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Logan State Park
LOCATION: Northwest Montana, about 30 miles west of Kalispell
WEATHER: Beautiful again. Cool AM and evening; warm and sunny during the day. High 74

Our friend Sarah had researched her maps and came up with a nice, 3-hour drive in the country. Most of the trip was on gravel, forrestry-service roads. We were looking for wildlife, but only saw one deer. The scenery was beautiful. Lots and lots of pines. We drove through wooded areas and plains, thinking “This would be a perfect place for a bear to be grazing”, but no such luck.

When we returned to civilization, we stopped at a picturesque lodge, right on one of the lakes. We relaxed with drinks and wifi.

Dixie, their dog, was able to join us on the deck.

DINNER: My turn tonight. I made shrimp cocktail for appetizers. Main course was shrimp tacos with a side of beans and rice. Sarah brought delicious avocados that we sliced up. Dessert was fresh nectarines. We made a fire again, and enjoyed the evening together.

Beautiful Montana lakes and trees

CAMPGROUND: Logan State Park. Woodsy, on lake. Site is nice – gravel and level. Electricity only. $34/night. $3 for showers! 😦 4 stars out of 5

LOCATION: 30 miles west of Kalispell, in northwest part of Montana

WEATHER: Beautiful. Cool in AM and evening/night. Warm/hot during day. High 76

We drove about 3 hours north and west, passing by miles and miles of shoreline of beautiful Flathead Lake, the largest natural lake in the West.

We stopped for lunch at a brewpub along the lake. The food and beer were great, but the service was poor – They told us that they just can’t find enough help in the busy, tourist season.

We found our campground and got set up. We are on McGregor Lake. Our friends from Texas, Richard and Sarah, are here with us.

The lake is crystal clear. I want to try the swimming beach, but the water is 67 degrees.

DINNER: Sarah did all the cooking and cleaning up tonight. With her beloved Insta-Pot, she made a dinner that reminded me of Sunday dinners of long ago, except the meat was bison, not beef It was a roast with the meat, potatoes, and carrots. Dessert was Flathead cherries.

After dinner, the wind died down and the mosquitoes came out. We made a campfire to keep them away. A very pleasant evening!

In search of bison

CAMPGROUND: 3rd night at Jocko Hollow
LOCATION: Outside of Missoula, Montana in west central part of state
WEATHER: Very nice. Cool in the AM (George turned on the heater); Sunny and 75 in PM

Today’s destination was the National Bison Refuge, just a few miles from our campground. Our friends Richard and Sarah offered to drive. First we checked out the Visitors’ Center to get oriented.

We drove the 20-mile, 3-hour loop around the refuge. The drive takes you through different types of habitat – high plains, forest, mountain, and prairie. The views were amazing.

We could see wildfires in the distance. After driving for about 2.5 hours, we were a bit disappointed as we had only seen one of the 350 bison in the refuge. We did see some beautiful pronghorn.

Then, we turned at a curve, and there they were!

We were able to get up close to a few

As we were finishing up the drive, we spotted an elk (too hidden to photograph) and a deer getting a drink along a river.

It was a wonderful morning. Our friends’ dog Dixie is really sweet. She rode in the back with George and me. She was at the alert, but didn’t get excited about the bison.

We found a local bar and grill for lunch. Local guys on motorcycles filled the restaurant. It had a cowboy feel.

Back at the RV park, we rested and I did laundry.

DINNER: Since we had eaten a late, and large, lunch, we didn’t want much. I made a Greek orzo dish with orzo, bits of pork, hamburger, tomato, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Also a big lettuce salad.

Cool Missoula

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Jocko Hollow RV Park
LOCATION: Just outside Missoula, in west central part of Montana
WEATHER: A bit hot – high 90. Sunny

Today was city day. First we took the pick-up into the Dodge dealership for service – oil change, etc. While they were working on the truck, we enjoyed their free coffee and strong internet.

What a coincidence – Big Sky Brewery is right next door!

We checked it out. We were here 2 years ago and camped (free) through Harvest Hosts in their parking lot. Unfortunately, their tasting room was under renovation then so we couldn’t enter. Today, however, it was open and hopping. We filled our growler for $8. (Often a growler fill-up is as much as $20).

The bartender was serving a new beer – a stout with a roasted marshmallow on top.

Then, we went downtown to find lunch and to explore. Missoula has a really cool vibe. Lots of young people on bikes. Dilapidated school buses converted to rafting transportation drive through the city. Funky shops and interesting restaurants, most with outdoor seating, line the streets. It must be even more interesting when the Univ of Montana students return in the fall.

We found another brewpub for lunch. Unlike most brewpubs with standard burgers and fries on the menu, this one offered Southern food and interesting apps. We shared a dish of charred brussels sprouts with feta, and a big bowl of curry-spiced hot boiled peanuts. Fun!

After downtown, we drove to mall to do a bit of shopping. The flowers in front were magnificent.

With all of our “to-dos” checked off, we returned to the Airstream. Our friends Sarah and Richard from Retama Village (where our tiny house is) are also spending the summer traveling in Montana. We had arranged to meet up for a few days. They arrived in the RV park and got settled in.

DINNER: We had a communal dinner with our friends – each contributing something – porkchops, 2 different kinds of sauerkraut, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and scalloped potatoes. Nice!

BOOK: I finished Kristin Hannah’s “Nightengale”. The last book I read of hers took place in brutally cold and rugged Alaska. This one, in France during WWII. The author does an excellent job of making you feel like you are right there. 10 stars.

Moving up to Missoula

CAMPGROUND: Jocko Hollow RV Park. Very small with about 15 sites. Some sites (like ours) right on the Jocko River. Ours is a gravel, level site with picnic table and firepit. Electricity only. Run by a feisty 80-year-old lady who likes to chat. She has fresh flowers growing around the park and on the picnic tables. $30/night. 4 stars
LOCATION: 15 miles north of Missoula, Montana – in west central part of state
WEATHER: Very nice. Chilly in the AM. Sunny. High 73

It was a beautiful morning at the Harvest Host winery. It is called Trapper Peak Winery, named after these mountains glistening in the morning sun.

A man in a cowboy hat walked down our lane and waved to us as we were packing up. Maybe neighbor Kevin Costner????

We swapped out our Idaho beer guide for its Montana cousin….

We were driving through Missoula around noon, so selected one of 10 breweries in town for lunch.

As its name implies, the brewery makes German-style beers and serves German food. We sat out on the deck and enjoyed a nice lunch.

Missoula itself has only a KOA and Jellystone RV park, neither of which we like (expensive, full of children, crowded, no firepits), so we are staying 15 miles out of town. It is a cute little place.

Our site backs onto another bubbling river. George tried his luck again with fly fishing and caught someting……a tree!

DINNER: Not too exciting. I needed to use up a frozen leftover salmon burger. To add volume, I added sauteed onions, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms. It needed some type of oomph, but was ok. Sides were salad and rice.

Kevin Costner’s Neighbors

CAMPGROUND: Trapper Peak Winery, through Harvest Hosts. A Montana paradise with the snow-topped mountains in the distance on a pristine farm. 5 stars!
LOCATION: Darby, Montana – about 60 miles south of Missoula
WEATHER: Very pleasant. High 75

We left Hell’s Canyon mid-morning when it was still nice and cool. We climbed 8 miles up and up to 5000 feet elevation, seemingly almost straight up.

The land is very rugged and barren out here.

Then, we descended quite a bit to a forest and followed the Northwest Passage Scenic Highway. When we came to a town, we saw a temporary sign saying “Traffic Emergency Ahead”. It looked like a log had fallen off a logging truck and somehow motorcyclists were involved.

After about 30 miles of hairpin curves, we hit the also scenic Lewis and Clark Trail. It followed the gurgling Clearwater River up to Lola Pass at 5000 feet. The sign said “Caution: Winding Road next 99 miles”. Guess who was driving!

From there, another 60 miles to our destination. We had stayed here before, and wanted to return as it has been our favorite Harvest Host site.

The winemaker owner has a vineyard in Napa Valley. He brings the grapes over here and makes some really good wine. He is also a farmer and has horses, cows and lots of hayfields. He was busy haying when we arrived. A friend of his was visiting and told us to set up and make ourselves at home.

We learned that his vineyard was destroyed last year with wildfires, so he didn’t have any wine for us to taste or buy.

There is a famous dude ranch/resort next to the winery. It is listed in my book “1000 Places to Go Before You Die”…if you want to spend at least $1000/night. Last year, while they were filming the series “Yellowstone” here, the famous actors stayed at the resort, including Kevin Costner. He liked it so much that he bought it! We didn’t see him strolling around or riding a horse around his property. 😦

We are camped (free) in a section of the winemaker’s land, next to a pretty pond.

The homeowner has placed a firepit and firewood next to the footbridge for the Harvest Host campers to use.

George made a fire and we enjoyed the beautiful evening – a perfect temperature for a fire.

DINNER: We did everything on the gas grill outside to keep the Airstream cool inside. I made up a dish: fettucine with tuna, sauteed onion and garlic, capers, in a cream cheese sauce. I topped it with smoked trout bits. Yummy! Side was salad.

Hell is not so bad!

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night, Riverside RV Park

LOCATION: Hell’s Canyon – Riggins, Idaho

WEATHER: Hazy. Hot, of course – 100

We went to bed with the A/C on as it was still hot. In the middle of the night, it had cooled down so we opened up all the windows. How delightful! Cool breezes and the sound of rushing water just under our bedroom window.

This is the view from our kitchen doorway. We had breakfast on the river. I don’t usually talk about breakfasts. We often have fruit and cereal. Sometimes an egg. Usually grits on Sundays (George’s custom). Today was special. We had scrambled eggs with mushrooms. George had bacon. We spread some of our friend Jack’s smoked Walla Walla sweet onion jam on top. Wow! There is a little jam left which we will put on a baked potato one evening.

The landscaping in this RV park is remarkable. The owner came by to chat and to water the grass. He told us that his 93-year-old father lives in a house on the property, and told us to check out his super garden….

As we walked into town, we quickly saw why he has such a tall fence around the garden….there are deer everywhere roaming in people’s yards.

The town of Riggins is mostly a strip of restaurants and motels along the highway. Surprisingly, this town of 400 has two brew pubs. We went to the first one called Heaven’s Gate (of course)

I bet in the winter time that locals flock here for get-togethers. The huge dining room has a disco ball and there is a cozy wood-burning fireplace. The owners told us not to go to the 2nd brewery, saying that they are “pedophiles, rapists, and stage midget fights”. We checked it out anyway. Very strange. We walked in, stood around for about 15 minutes, called out, but no one ever showed up. Maybe midget fighting in the back?!

Back at the campsite, we rested inside while the day was at its hottest, then walked down to the river. George tried his luck at fly-fishing…

No luck with the fishing, but I enjoyed a dip in the river.

DINNER: Chili and a salad. It wasn’t too smart on my part to serve such a cold-weather dish, but I had planned this a while ago, when the weather was cooler. It was pretty tasty.

BOOK: I quickly read and finished a thriller by Karin Slaughter – “Pieces of Her”. A real page-turner. 9 stars out of 10

Heavenly Hell

CAMPGROUND: Riverside RV Park. Private, small (20 sites) park right on the Salmon River. Nice, level gravel sites, half on the river side (like ours!) Full hook-ups. Wifi and cable. Beautiful landscaping. No bathrooms! $30/night. No credit cards – we reserved our site by sending a personal check. 4 stars out of 5. (would be 5 if there was at least a pit toilet)

LOCATION: Riggins, Idaho – in west central part of state – on border of Oregon.

WEATHER: Hot! After all, this is Hell’s Canyon. High 103

We had a nice, slow start to our last day at Winchester Lake State Park. We hiked around the campground to different areas of the lake. We said a fond farewell to this nice campground.

We had a short drive today, but boy, was it impactful! First we drove through miles of farmland. The seed company had kindly placed signs in front of the fields identifying the crops…..lots of different kinds of wheat and oats, plus barley, lentils and garbanzo beans.

Then, the landscape changed and we descended into a huge canyon. We drove 8 miles almost straight down. The signs kept saying “Grade steepens”. There were lots of runaway truck paths. It was quite scary.

As we neared Riggins, we started seeing lots of people rafting on the Salmon River.

Riggins is a small town of about 400 but explodes with tourists during the summer – fishermen and river rafters. We will explore it tomorrow.

We found our campground, right by the river, and our site – right ON the river. We really hit the jackpot!

It was hot in the afternoon (103) but there was a nice breeze along the river. Our site even has its own steps down to the river. We climbed down and stuck our toes in the river to cool off.

The breeze died down and the heat really set in, so we moved indoors. I just love our air conditioners!!!!

DINNER: Leftover fish from our picnic lunch yesterday. George used the gas grill to heat up the fish and we poured Jack’s cilantro/mango sauce over it. I think it was even better today since the flavors had been melding all day. Side was a veg stir-fry. Yum!

A great get-together with traveling friends

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Winchester Lake State Park
LOCATION: Winchester, Idaho – in west central part of state
WEATHER: Very nice. Chilly in the AM; (George even turned on the heater!!) Sunny and warm – 80 in PM

George wanted to watch the end of the British Open Golf Tournament, so we walked to the town of Winchester, only about 1/2 mile away, to a bar & grill that has TVs. I used their internet a bit, and George watched the game. The tournament is taking place at a rugged course in northern Ireland. We are trying to remember when/why we went there once.

Winchester seems like a cowboy town. This gun hangs above its main street….

Our highlight today was a visit from a couple we met through housesitting – Darcy and Jack. They live in Walla Walla, Washington. They drove over here, about 2 hours, with their beautiful dog Genji. We think Genji remembers us a bit!

Jack is a gourmet cook and brought all the fixings for a great fish dish. While the rockfish was marinating in a tandoori rub, we sipped on chilled gazpacho, and caught up on each other’s adventures. They do housesitting all over the world like we do. They have the additional challenge of finding a housesitter for their home and for Genji when they do an assignment. They will be going to Portugal and England soon for their next ones. I am hoping that we can get one in South Africa or South America this winter. I keep looking in the daily email that I receive from with the latest assignments.

Jack topped his fish with a mix of cilantro, red onions, and mango slices. It was beautiful and delicious.

The afternoon whizzed by with a lot of conversation and cooking – Jack doing the prep and George cooking the fish on our new gas grill.

They left us with leftover fish and a gift of Walla Walla sweet onion jam — can’t wait to try it out!

DINNER: We didn’t want a lot to eat as lunch had been so big and good. I had marinated some chicken pieces in yogurt with herbs and George grilled it. Since it was rotisserie chicken, it was already cooked, so the grilling was just to heat it up and to add flavors. I don’t think we will ever do raw chicken on the grill again — too hard to get it cooked thoroughly without burning the outside. Side dish was potato salad.

The campground has emptied out, since it is Sunday. It was a quiet evening with a campfire.

BOOK: I finished “Gallows View” by Peter Robinson. It is part of a British detective series. I like it because it takes place in a town near where we had a housesitting assignment – in the Yorkshire Dales. 9 out of 10 stars.

Idaho Beauty

CAMPGROUND: Winchester Lake State Park Campground. Sites not on lake, but close by. Woodsy, private sites. Level and gravel. Firepit and picnic table. Electricity and water. Super clean pit toilet next to our site, with good shower room not far away. $38/night. 4 stars.
LOCATION: Not far from Lewiston and Cottonwood – in west central Idaho
WEATHER: Beautiful. Heating up as we drove, but our campground is at 3000+ feet, so nice and cool. High 80

We got all cleaned up, dumped our grey and black water, and did all the laundry, taking advantage of the Coeur d’ Alene’s RV park amenities. We won’t be back in civilization for awhile.

We chose to go on one of the many Idaho scenic byways rather than the faster route. The GPS lady did NOT like that. She kept telling us to make a u-turn. Ignoring her, we enjoyed magnificent views. Along the White Mountain Scenic Byway, we stopped for lunch among the pines.

When we are traveling during the day, we generally picnic. I try not to just make sandwiches all of the time – 1) we don’t need all that bread, 2) cold cuts are not good for us, and 3) we need variety. So, today was kind of interesting. I spread crackers with cream cheese, sprinkled on a few capers, and topped the crackers with some smoked salmon.

Our internal GPS system (in our heads) alerted us to a brewpub in one of the towns we passed through. (not! – it was in the beer guide book). Nestled in a valley, the town of 300 people is on the historic registry. The brewpub is gorgeous inside – the owners have put a lot of money in restoring the old hardware store.

There were signs in all of the storefronts about a historic walking tour one could take.

We pulled into the campground at about 3:00, noting the “Campground Full” sign. Thankfully, we had reservations. I hate having to plan ahead and reserve sites, but in the summer season, it is almost a necessity.

Our site is beautiful. We are right next to the woods.

As we stood in front of the fire, gazing at the sunbeams streaming through the trees, George said: “The only thing that would make this more perfect is if a deer came by”. Wouldn’t you know it…..2 seconds later when we looked again, a deer was posing among the pines. Wow!

DINNER: A real camping dinner…..George grilled porkchops on the fire. I boiled some corn-on-the-cob, and he finished them up on the grill for grill marks. He pan-fried some potato wedges on the grill (afterall we are in Idaho!)