The MontanaDwellersMegavacation

As I mentioned, Matt and I went on our first--and much overdue--Megavacation together this month.  The last one had been to Arizona in May 2019

Red Rock Lakes NWR

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, my goodness!  We had such a grand time.  So many birds and friends and flowers, loads of music, sunshine, and good food, plus crystals and trees and hot springs, too.  It was basically ten days of perfection.

We spent the majority of our time in that circled area (i.e. the chin of Montana)

We kicked the whole thing off with a big bang.  We rented a perfectly tiny 100-year old cabin with our friends Josh and Joelle for Memorial Day weekend.  The cabin was just a hop, skip, and a jump from this sweet little outdoor music venue called Pine Creek Lodge.  Oddly enough, Matt and I had camped there with a group of friends a number of years back, but this was our first concert there.  We caught a three-night run put on by local favorites the Kitchen Dwellers.  Each night of music was better than the last!  It was a marvelous, intimate venue.

Our little cabin for the Memorial Day weekend.

Friday night I just about burst with joy dancing with such a happy mob.  This is something I had missed during the pandemic more than words can say.  Matt and I have attended two live concerts previous to this one, but they were socially distanced and masked entry sorta gigs.  This was the first wide open dance floor I'd been on since February 2020.  It felt SO great.  

Dusk on the dancefloor at Pine Creek Lodge.

(Let's take a necessary side bar here to say I am over the moon grateful to be fully vaccinated and able to do these things again!!  Holy smokes!!!  Thank heavens!!!  Hurrah for science!!!)  

The kind of bluegrass the Dwellers play is often called "galaxy grass."  It is pretty jammed out, spacey, or out-there compared to more traditional bluegrass.

Saturday we took a daytrip to Yellowstone Hot Springs for a soak in the afternoon before the show.  For a developed hot spring, that place has a heck of a mountain view.  It has fast become my favorite commercial hot spring in the paradise valley.  Later, Matt was so eager to get to the show that he forgot his jacket.  That was keen during the first set, but it still got a bit brisk as the sun went down.  We opted to dance and enjoy the music from near the community firepit that night.  It was warm and cozy and there isn't a bad "seat" in the whole venue so it was lovely.

Parrot Talk hits the stage.

On Sunday the Dwellers came on stage as a sort of pseudocoverband called Parrot Talk, performing Jimmy Buffet songs.  Their banter was a hoot.  They played an opening set like that and then came back out in different attire and played two more typical sets as themselves.  It was pretty dang hilarious.   I'm glad we got there on time for the first set.  They did a Son of Son of Sailor reprise during their closing number and it was a fantastic tie-in/inside joke.  Oh, how I laughed!  And danced!  We had a fire with Josh and Joelle back at the cabin and stayed up admiring the stars.  And counting our blessings!

Magical color changing flames (i.e. fire, metals, and chemistry).  We brought some packs for the community fire at Pine Creek and for our private fire back at the cabin afterwards.

Monday we parted company with Josh and Joelle and looped through the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.  We stopped for lunch at the Caldera Rim picnic area, but mostly it was just a convenient route along the way west to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge where we passed a few days birding.  We positively identified 46 species of birds there and spent two relaxing nights by the upper lake.  The stars out there were spectacular.

Red Rocks Lakes is down at the end of 25 mile gravel road, but it was worth the drive for birdnerds especially.

Red Rock Lakes NWR was set developed in the late '30s when Trumpeter Swans were almost extinct.  The lake provides breeding and nesting grounds for these majestic and rather massive birds.  And they're making a comeback!  The lake was dotted with them.  We watched one female carefully cover her eggs with mud and plant material so she could take a little break and go swim with her mate for a while.  The males don't ever incubate the eggs.  They're strictly on a patrol and nest defense mission.  When the swans trumpet it sounds like an old-fashioned car horn.  Aruuuugah!  Aruuuuuugah!  It was hysterical.  And loud!  The Sandhill Cranes were their only competition for awesomely loud call.  The cranes' creaky-gate dinosaur screech was literally echoing off the mountains.  Talk about grand!  I cackled with glee.

Mountain backdrop to a lake foreground.  It was quite scenic there.  Refuge for birds and humans alike.

We did some supremely mild hiking at the refuge--O'Dell Creek and the Sparrow Ponds.  This would prove to be the only hiking we did on the whole megavacation.  This is fairly irregular for our camping expeditions, but Matt was really trying to not be objective-oriented in planning this trip.  He wanted to try a more spontaneous, organic approach.  See what happens, how we like it, how it feels.  It was fantastic, though I've never objected to a robust itinerary either.

Our first night at RRLNWR had a rather glorious sunset.  Both did, actually, but that first one...

From Red Rock Lakes we drove to Ennis where we had a scrumptious cocktail at Willie's Distillery.  Then onward to Virginia City, home of the largest in-place (i.e. not brought in from some other ghost town) collection of buildings from the 1860's in the west.  Or so I was told.  We rode a tiny narrow-gauge train the couple miles over to Nevada City.  It was touristy, but fun.  That's largely true of the whole Virginia City experience.  Touristy, but fun.  I ogled vintage dresses and we checked out all the little museum exhibits scattered through downtown.  We hit up the candy store.

This is a panoramic photo of a general store exhibit in Virginia City.  I loved every single thing about it, but the ceiling most of all.  

That night we camped overlooking Ruby Reservoir.  Aside from the fact we were quite far from the outhouse this was a swell camping spot, quiet and tranquil for having so many other campers about.  After chilling in the shade created by the JamJar (the only shade available) we watched the sunset over the lake.  We dove over to the dam and checked out the spillway and interpretive info.  There weren't many birds, which surprised me, but it was a beautiful lake.  I tried out my new kite, an impulse purchase from the Livingston Kite Company.  

Singing and relaxing at Ruby Reservoir.

The next morning we spent on the pebbly beach below camp, sifting teeny-tiny garnets from the gravel.  The lake was mis-named Ruby Reservoir because of all the garnets to be found there.  This was spectacularly fun and I had a hard time calling it quits, even after Matt went up to camp to cook lunch.  "I'll stop when I find just one more.  One more really good one...  Okay...just one more..."

Matt with a little palmful of wee garnets.

The garnet digging just whet our appetite for more rockhounding so we decided to go back to Crystal Park since it wasn't far.  We went there with Josh several year ago.  We even camped at the same Forest Service campground called Mono Creek.  We remembered it having great hammock trees and were ready for a "lazy day" at camp.  Plus, Crystal Park and Elkhorn Hot Springs are both just a few miles down the highway.  

We thoroughly enjoyed our "lazy day" at the Mono Creek Campground.  I was reading Ursula Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore.  Matt was reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for the first time.  It was really fun to get to have booktalks with him as he progressed through the story.  It is one I've read a half-dozen times or more, most recently in October 2019.

We stayed two nights and went crystal digging and soaking both days.  We found some small quartz crystals of stunning clarity, but nothing substantial.  One of our camp neighbors was a single woman camping with her cat.  The cat free-ranged around her RV and, I must say, looked so completely natural as it stalked through the shrubs and grasses.  I told her that having an adventure kitty was one of my dreams.  She sagely told me, "Well, don't wait too long!" She was full of smiles and made an excellent neighbor.  

It was hot.  Oddly hot for the mountains in early June.  So we dug crystals in the shade.

We headed north toward Missoula for our final night away--with a pit stop at Lost Trail Hot Springs. This was a new-to-us hot spring and we had such a blast there.  Josh and Joelle had cautioned us that is was more of a "warm" spring than a hot spring.  They weren't wrong, but on a 80 degree summer day it was just perfect.  It felt like a regular day at the pool rather than a hot springs soak.  I did a series of cannon balls and jack-knives.  I could see the pool not being hot enough in the winter, but it was spectacular on a bright, blue-skied sorta day.

Lost Trail Hot Springs

In Missoula we connected with Chantz, whom I've been friends with since high school.  He'd moved back to Montana just a month before our trip.  Perfect timing!  We've quite missed being able to hang with him in person.  He's so darn funny.  The three of us met up downtown and had a couple beers as well as some yummy Thai food at Sa-Wa-Dee (since my beloved Masala was closed for a private event).

There are "nice" versions of this photo, too, but this one where we look maniacal with laughter is really my favorite.

We spent the night at one of the most unexpected and charming campgrounds I've ever encountered.  The Square Dance Center & Campground in Lolo.  Unfortunately we showed up right as the dances were ending for the night so we didn't get to watch, but I certainly enjoyed all the full skirts regardless.  It was so old-fashioned feeling from the moment Matt checked in at the office.  The host hopped on a bicycle and led us across the campground to our site.  We asked about firewood and he said they sold bundles from the office, but he feared they might close before Matt and I got over there.  He offered to just leave one outside the front door for us....we could pay them in the morning if we ended up using it.  They also had free wiffleball golf, frisbee golf, horseshoes, and cornhole.  No check out.  No fees.  Just borrow the equipment and put it back when you're done.  It was fabulous, like we'd gone back in time to a place where people still trusted each other.  I want to go back just so I can try wiffleball golf.  I've never even heard of such a thing and it seems like a hoot.  They had the tiniest little picnic tables, as if they were designed for children...or perhaps adults from the 1920s.  I wish I'd taken a picture...  It was just perfect for our last night though. 

Matt is a fab camp cook.  Here he made fried seitan sausage and pancakes with jam and honey.

We had a fire and reveled in how great it is to have each other--and the good times we share.  We also raved about how awesome the JamJar was as a mini-RV.  Certainly superior to our tent--and we're still just getting the routine hammered out.  At six nights in a row, this was its longest field test yet.  Many more to come!

Three maple twists with crushed Biscoff Cookie crumbs on top, one apple fritter, one French toast house favorite, one raspberry compote-filled classic, one chocolate and salted caramel with pretzels on top, one tahini pistachio, one lemon glazed with berries and mint on top, one chocolate and peanut butter with gobs of cookie dough, one cold coffee and maple topped with ground espresso.

The next morning, after we broke camp for the final time, we drove back into Missoula to hit up vegan doughnut heaven, also known as Veera Doughnuts.  We ate doughnuts all day.  We quite literally didn't eat anything else until dinner.  Breakfast--doughnut.  Lunch--doughnut.  Snack--doughnut.  It was an outstanding day!  ...though we were quite ravenous when we finally got home where we promptly made a proper meal. 

Everyone was pretty happy to be out in the garden together again.  

My oh, my, were those cats glad to see us!  And vice versa!  As always, it felt good to be home again.  That is the cherry on top of a wonderful vacation.  Home.


  1. Replies
    1. Mmmmmmmmm..... DROOL! They're SOOOOOOO good. It's a five hour drive for us to Veera...and probably a good thing for my budget and my pancreas that it isn't any closer! ha!


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