From Billings to Gilt Edge and Back Again

So we were in Lewistown last weekend for the Montana Chokecherry Festival.  It was the first time we'd every gone.  It was really quite the party.  The street was blocked off for blocks and blocks, lined with vendors of all sorts.  I think it was probably the largest festival we've ever participated in.  Business went pretty well, but more importantly we had a fantastic time. 

The king and queen of the 2010 chokecherry seed spitting contest coming to defend their titles.
Isn't this an incredible vest?  Someday I will make one....but first I am going to need a lot more practice.
Since we didn't want to get up before dawn and take the risky drive through deer country to get to the festival we went up to Lewistown the night before and camped.   We camped out again Saturday evening after the festival.  We stayed at a free little Kiwanis campground near town.  It was a little too close to the highway for my preference, but the price was right and it meant we didn't have very far to drive in the morning.  Also, the campgrounds we looked at further away (and more scenically located) were all inaccessible because of flood damaged roads.

Matt's camp stove "oven."
One giant samosa for dinner.
As a special treat for me Matt had packed a secret bottle of organic Martinelli's sparkling juice.  It seriously made my night to come home from a long day of vending and have such a delightful treat.  Also, there was a lovely full moon which is just barely captured in the upper left.
And of course cake and sparkling cider are just the perfect way to celebrate such a successful and enjoyable day.
My largest highlight of Chokecherry was seeing a couple of Amish families with my own two eyes.  (Here I must mention, in case I haven't, that I have a deep appreciation, admiration, and fascination for Plain People of all sorts.)  Montana is not Amish country by any stretch (though we have 5 Amish communities I am told) so it was a super neat surprise.  The sight of the crisp black bonnets and simple country dresses made my heart start pounding as if I was having a celebrity encounter.   (Yes, I would be more excited about meeting the Amish then say, oh, George Clooney or Angelina Jolie)  Continuing on with my Plain People excitement I also was able to briefly talk with a few women from a branch of the Hutterite faith that do not live in Yellowstone county.  In fact, if I understand the differences in dress well enough, I believe all three branches of Hutterite were represented at the Chokecherry Festival.  There was also a family of plain dressing Mennonites.  It seems silly to say it, but I was just beside myself with happiness at all the Plain People everywhichway.  I hope this doesn't come across as my viewing them as a novelty or curiosity.  That isn't how I feel at all.  I have a strong respect for the life they are leading.  When I have the chance I just want to absorb everything about them that I can because I think, in general, they are really, really on to something.  That is not to say we all need to "go Amish" join a Hutterite colony or anything.  Most of us, myself included, probably wouldn't hack it.  But, there is still so much we can learn and borrow from their lifestyle without completely abandoning the one we were raised in ourselves. 

I bought some chokecherry syrup and some crocheted dish scrubbies from two different colonies, spreading around my chance to visit with them.  We haven't tried the syrup yet because we are still working through a jar made by my step-mother, but the scrubbies are already well used.  They are fantastic for the burned on corners of roasting pans.  Kathy, who made them, also told me they were great in the shower for heels and elbows as well.  After a quick scrub with one of them I do feel all soft and exfoliated.  I am glad she mentioned it.
Back on the road, we found a park with a lovely labyrinth garden we were heading out of town Sunday morning.  Matt had read about it in the Lewistown visitor's guide.  He knows I like labyrinths and this one was especially swell what with all the lovely flowers and all.
These blood red snap dragons were pretty stunning.

As were these snap dragons as well!

This is the sort of bench that just makes you want to sit a while, isn't it?
Another touristy type activity Matt had read about was to visit Gilt Edge, an old mining town, now abandoned to ruin.  Since we didn't make it to any ghost towns on our last meandering roadtrip we decided Gilt Edge was definitely something we wanted to check out.   There are not too many building standing anymore, but you can clearly see the foundations of many buildings in what was obviously once a fairly busy place.
This is the first building you come to as you approach Gilt Edge.  We were going to get out and look, but noticed a deer  had taken up residence.  Apparently it was a great place to catch some shade.  Can you see him in there?
He has only one antler.
The church was probably the neatest of the buildings.

I only learned of the tractor brand Twin City because of the threshing bee we went to not too long ago.  Matt said " Take a picture for my dad!" 

Because we had so recently been the threshing bee I think we appreciated this little artifact all the more.  Here you can see where a large belt could be attached.  At the threshing bee we saw tractors and belts running everything from a saw mill to an ice cream maker.

The metal wheels had wooden spokes.  How neat is that?!

An old Majestic stove.

On our way back out of "town" we stopped at the deer's house again.  He was still there, but all it took as us getting out of the car for him to take off quickly.  So, we took a look around.  We did not go inside as the whole thing seemed pretty precarious at this point.  Don't you love that wood trim across the front of the porch?   New houses seem to lack that attention to detail these days.

Curtains, torn, still hang in the windows.

There was an old well out back.  Matt tossed a rock in and it went a ways before splashing into the water.  Matt's guess was 15 feet.  It looked just like a well from a cartoon.  I made sure to give it a wide clearance as to not end up like all the cartoon characters!

The last stop on our journey was to (surprise, surprise) another old cemetery.  It seems Matt has realized how much I enjoy the history (and breaks from driving) found while strolling through the field of headstones.  He stopped at this one without my asking.  I found this cemetery to be quite unique compared to most I've been to.  It seemed the majority were in clearly defined, and often fenced off, family plots.  Also, the majority of graves were covered with stone or cement slabs.  It seems like the sort of thing I've seen in photos from cemeteries in the eastern US.  I'd never seen so many personally.  The cemetery was also actually two cemeteries separated by the highway.   There were only a handful of new graves, the newest being from the early 1990's.  Most of the graves were rather old.  It was a very interesting place.  I was glad Matt spotted it with time to stop.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful festival. I must say the amish have always fascinated me - I think I read a story about them when I was a little girl and the 'old-fashionedness' of their life appealed.

    That said, I am sure it has pretty significant dibs on it. My grandfather grew up as a 'friend' - 'we have no name, we are the truth and the way' (exclusive brethren - do you have them in the us? - is probably the closest well known sect). And, that sort of lifestyle is very limiting. They weren't allowed to read anything but the bible, or listen to the radio etc. The women wear their hair long and long dresses - some of the family are still members and they are distinctive when they come to funerals:).

  2. Great post! I love your pictures, the delight you take in the mundane, and Matt's being so attentive. I have only seen one cemetery with the fences and detail. I certainly hope someone is taking care of the cemetery--recording the details from the headstones for posterity. Some of the details are being lost to the elements. It's nice that you had such a successful trip on so many levels.

  3. Fantastic photos. I loved the mosaic too. My daughter inherited broken plates and tiles from a friend who moved, so we're going to try our hand at making some mosaics. I can't wait! Have a great day..........Denise


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