Since we first visited Missoula in April, 2011, we’ve claimed that Montana is our favorite state and Missoula is our favorite city in the U.S. There’s an asterisk on that: Not between October 15 and April 15.
We went there this year to rest and enjoy waking up with a view of the Bitterroots. We went there because friends live 50 miles away, both north and south. And we went there to commune with our favorite animals at the National Bison Range.
But the relaxation was tempered. Several weeks earlier, I received an order for a large number of Nantucket baskets. There was no way I could wait until we reached Florida to produce them, so I set up a workstation and spent most of our 17 day stay weaving away. It really didn’t matter; being in the ambiance was the most important part.
There was another reason for sitting tight. A forest fire was raging in the Bitterroot Valley, as close as 25 miles from us. Ash and thick haze blocked our view for most of the time, turning day into . . . well, see picture! I drove down to the Travelers Rest State Park in Lolo — the last Lewis & Clark bivouac before crossing the Rockies in 1805 and a key stop on their way back — to replace my tattered tee shirt. I was blocked for an hour by fire-fighting helicopters hauling giant water buckets aloft to dump them. As our visit went on, the fire became more contained, and Dot was able to head south past the fringe of it to visit our dear friend, Susan Buchard, in Hamilton.
The Bison Range is within Lake Missoula. It existed during the Ice Age, and when the glacial dam that held the Lake broke with cataclysmic flooding, the cascading water traveled all the way to the West Coast, carving out the Columbia River Gorge — and many other of today’s geologic features both east and west of it. The 22 mile white knuckle drive through the park gives you an opportunity to stare into its depths.
One other event brought a mixture of joy and tears. We chose August 22 to hold a birthday party for all four of our Schips. It was that date two years earlier that we lost Teddy, my heart dog, in nearby Bozeman. It was truly a celebration for our four travelers and our five angels.