Montana, Naturally.

The words “Montana” and “nature” kind of go hand in hand. Why? Well, Montana is the 4th largest state in the USA and contains the 44th largest population so, you see, there is a lot of room and not a lot of people. Lots of cattle, though. But maybe that’s beside the point.

I think my point is that Montana can be a wonderful place to explore, what with 44 state parks, 7 state forests, 1 state memorial, 1 national park, 17 national forests, 2 national historic sites, 1 national historic park, 24 national wildlife refuges, and 2 national recreation areas, there is bound to be something to do for everyone in your posse.

When I went to Montana a couple of weeks ago for a music festival in Missoula, (see my post Travelers’ Rest Fest for more details on this glorious and wondrous time), we made time to visit two of Montana’s state parks: Travelers’ Rest State Park, in Lolo (a small town 10 miles south of Missoula), and Lost Creek State Park, in Anaconda (a small town 20 miles northwest of Butte). We would’ve liked to have popped up to Glacier National Park for a day or so, but alas our schedules did not allow for this. We made due with visiting the location at which Lewis and Clark made camp during their expedition west, which is now a state park, as well as a super off-the-wall state park that was rather hidden back in the mountain-y hills.

Nothing too thrilling happened at either state park, we just spent our time wandering around, collecting rocks, and taking photos of the beautiful nature surrounding us.

First up, photos from Travelers’ Rest State Park:

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A couple of lovely little sunflowers to brighten up the day.

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S1uch a busy little spider, weaving such an intricate little web.

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I just love the splash of purple from these little flowers.
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Suzi was collecting wild mint from the riverbank!
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Nicole, sporting her new Missoula hat that she had purchased in Missoula the day before.
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Suzi, finding all of the Fool’s Gold. 🙂
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Yes, that is actually smoke obscuring the distant mountains. There were some pretty severe forest fires in the area when we were visiting. Thankfully, it rained a bit this day which helped to clear the air.

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A picturesque barn, with some rather photogenic grass.
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Oh look, Sara found a feather.
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Doesn’t it remind you of fall time? It does me!
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Another shot of the smoke. One could potentially pass it off as fog, if we were in the Pacific Northwest.
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One last flower photo from Travelers’ Rest State Park!

We spent a good hour or two at Travelers’ Rest before heading back to Missoula and to the second day of Travelers’ Rest Fest, the music festival put on by The Decemberists. Which was amazing. But I’ve already mentioned how utterly stupendous the festival was in this post, plus I have a whole separate post dedicated to its awesomeness. Check it out, if you’re keen.

On Monday, after we packed our things and headed out of Missoula, we drove through the curves for about 80 miles before exiting I-90 and heading southwest, toward a little state park called Lost Creek State Park. Sara and I speculated that the name came about because some person found the creek, and then was unable to find it for some time, and maybe even had his/her children or grandchildren out searching for it (much like what happens in the movie Holes, when Sigourney Weaver’s grandpa makes her search for the treasure which is why she has the juvenile delinquents digging holes all the time.) before they finally found the “lost creek” and then they thought that would be a good area for a state park so the gave the land to the state. One theory among many, I’m sure.

Anyway. Lost Creek State Park was a lovely little place that had no other people in it while we were there. A good place for a potential quadruple homicide, if one had been in the mind for it. We parked the car and walked around a bit. We decided not to venture off of the main road, for fear of there potentially being an individual lurking in the woods who had quadruple homicide on the brain. It just seemed like the logical thing to do.

The hills here were not obscured by smoke, which was nice, and the flowers were oh-so-pretty. The following photos are those that I took at Lost Creek State Park:

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I rather fancied this flower, it was just begging to be photographed!

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I’m not entirely sure what this red color is on these leaves, if it is meant to be there or not. Either way, it looks nice.
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We were surrounded by these tall, rocky hill/cliffs, overlooking the “lost creek” that ran through the park.

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And there it is! We found the lost creek!

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For some reason, I like how dead flowers look almost as much (but probably not more) than the not-dead flowers. They just have so much more texture. It’s nice.

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Hello, tiny pine tree on top of the rocky mountain/hill!
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Okay, so I am about 96% sure that these are raspberries (I mean, what else could they be?), so I was like, “Hey Suzi, look. Wild raspberries!” And so she and I proceeded to pick a few and eat them. And then I go up to Sara, all excited-like, and say, “Hey Sara, Suzi and I just found some wild raspberries and we ate them.” Sara goes, “Oh God. If you guys get the shits later, we’ll know why!” Haha. If you were wondering, we did not get the shits. We were fine. 🙂

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These were the cutest little purple flowers I had ever seen, so lovely with their color popping out against the dull brown background.
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The road we followed to stay safe from those with homicidal intentions.
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The rushing creek. And some flowers, of course.
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Left to right: Nicole, Sara, and Suzi.
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Another shot of the rocky hill/mountain.
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This one features a nice forest of tall, thin pine trees.
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I nearly fell in the water getting this shot. That would have sucked.

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Hello again, adorable little purple flowers!

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Because I take too many photos, I am always and forever falling behind my companions. Sara says, “my favorite part about going back the way we came is that Anna has already seen everything and doesn’t need to stop every five seconds to take a picture.” What Sara doesn’t understand is that when we head back, I am seeing everything from a new angle so yes, I do need to stop every five seconds to take a picture.
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I like how cheerful this flower looks even after it is dead.

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And finally, a parting birch tree.

We spent a decent hour or so exploring this little state park. It was a nice break to get out and stretch our legs after driving for two hours and with only ten more to go… Seriously, what a jaunt! Attending the music festival was worth it, though. Totally worth it. And the state parks and flower photos were a nice added bonus. 🙂

Travelers’ Rest Fest

During the second weekend in August, I had the opportunity to drive to Missoula, Montana and spend two days listening to some of the most amazing indie folk bands around. It was an outstanding, life-changing experience, one that I can hardly put into words. Tears would make more sense, but those have already been shed over the sheer wonderment that was this weekend, so I shall attempt to sum up what I experienced with a few words instead, even though they will hardly do it justice, as I have mentioned.

Our journey from Jamestown, North Dakota to Missoula, Montana took us in much of the same route as the classic pair Lewis and Clark, on their exploratory trip across the upper western part of the USA. Before it was the USA, obviously. But this is not a history lesson. Well, actually it kind of is, because the name of the music festival, Travelers’ Rest, is named after the location of a camp Lewis and Clark and Company spent some time at. This location is now a State Park, one that my fellow travelers and I had the opportunity to visit. Photos and anecdotes from this visit can be found under the blog post “Montana, Naturally.”

Getting back to the task at hand: describing the magical weekend that was this music festival. I went with my sister Sara, and two of our friends from UND, Suzi and Nicole. We took Suzi’s car Gary (who appropriately has a sticker of Gary from Spongebob located upon its interior), a feisty little green Toyota Prius, which handled very beautifully around the curves between Billings and Missoula. I think I had too much fun driving her car.

We left Jamestown around 8:30 on Friday the 11th, and after a nice detour into Theodore Roosevelt National Park (see my post A Visit to the Desert of North Dakota) we continued on our merry way into Montana. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever driven across Montana, but it sucks. There’s no other way around it. Not to say that North Dakota is any better, but at least it is half the size of Montana so you don’t have to spend nine hours driving across it. Blech. We made it to our hotel around 11:30 pm that night, and we immediately got ourselves situated in our beds and fell asleep.

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A lovely yellow flower with the lovely North Dakota Badlands looming in the distance.
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A herd of bison roaming the roads of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
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This fella was so close to the road, I didn’t even have to zoom in on him!

SATURDAY.

I’d like to say we awoke to the smell of chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs and waffles with fruit and whipped cream and blueberry muffins and all of the good things that are breakfast, but instead we were treated to the shitty Motel 8 breakfast. At least it was free. And they did have waffles. No fresh fruit, though. Or whipped cream. After filling our bellies with sub-par nourishment, we decided to explore Missoula a bit. We made our way downtown and found a lovely Farmer’s Market and some fun shops to spend time in. Soon, however, it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for DAY ONE OF TRAVELERS’ REST FEST. We took an Uber there the first time, which ended up being 10 dollars so Sara and I resolved to walk the two miles from the festival to the hotel and vice versa. We made the trek three times over the course of the weekend.

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The main stage, with artwork by Carson Ellis. (Read on to learn more about Carson Ellis!)

So. We got in the gates, got these fancy little pamphlets that had a nice map of the Big Sky Brewing Company setup, with the stages and the drink/food stands and the merch tent and such.  The pamphlet also had the lineup of bands for both days, and a description of each band. Needless to say, I got more and more excited as I looked through this pamphlet. It just made it all so much more real!

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We sat for some time in the sweltering 95-degree weather. It would have been so much worse, though, had there not been clouds of smoke from nearby forest fires obscuring the sun. Although it did give the area a bit of a greenhouse effect and did a really good job of preventing us from seeing the lovely mountains surrounding Missoula, which was just too bad. Anyway, we sat on the lawn in front of the main stage, and Sara and I wandered off to purchase two t-shirts and a poster (I bought the shirts – one was for Travelers’ Rest and the other was for The Head and the Heart, and Sara purchased a nice poster for The Decemberists’ summer tour with a tree on it).

After some more time passed and the bands had started banding, we noticed that a lot of people had these fancy paper fans on a wooden stick, and we were jealous. Because, along with the 95-degree weather and smokey greenhouse-effecting sunlight, there was no wind. So, Sara and I went in search of these fans so that we too could feel the artificial breeze produced by these fans.

As we journeyed to the tent that held these breeze-makers, I saw a someone and I thought it was the person that I thought it was and I was right even though Sara tried to tell me it wasn’t the person that I thought it was. She was wrong, obviously, because I was right. It was Carson Ellis, esteemed artist and illustrator for many children’s books, including those written by her husband, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. After we procured the fans, I spotted Carson again and I told Sara I was going to go talk to her and Sara tried her best to dissuade me but I was not to be dissuaded! I went up to her and said hello and that her artwork was amazing and unique and that I really enjoyed it. We chatted for a bit, although Sara said it was more like I word-vomited at her, which seems likely. I was very excited. So excited, in fact, that after we bid our adieus to Carson and sat down by Suzi and Nicole again, that I announced I was going to find Carson again and have her sign my Travelers’ Rest pamphlet. Sara refused to come with but gladly gave me her pamphlet for Carson to sign. So, I set out on my search, and she wasn’t hard to spot because she was wearing an all-white jump suit and she has nice red hair with bangs. So. I found her and asked her for her autograph, and so on mine she wrote “Hi Anna!” and on Sara’s she wrote “For Sara!” and it was a lovely experience. She is such a nice lady. I am not ashamed to say that I hardcore creep on her through Instagram.

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Isn’t it lovely? 🙂

After the excitement of seeing Carson was over, we realized that we were all pretty thirsty. Suzi volunteered to stand in line for water, while the rest of us listened to Offa Rex, a band created between the pairing of The Decemberists and English singer Olivia Chaney. They have an album out, called The Queen of Hearts, that focuses on British Folk tunes of the 60s and 70s. They had a lovely sound, and I enjoyed their music. After their set finished I went to find Suzi, and she was in an extremely slow-moving line for the water fountains. Like, extremely extremely. As in she waited for an hour and a half to fill up two cups for water. When we finally made it to the fountain, we each filled up a cup, drank it, and then filled it up again for Sara and Nicole. The people behind us were like, you waited in line to fill up two cups?! and we were like yeah well needs must. And so we finally got to go sit down again, but only for a bit as it was nearly time for Shakey Graves to come on stage. At about 6:00 we all got up and moseyed our way into the standing crowd in front of the stage. We got a good spot just to the right (or left, if you are a band member facing the crowd) of center stage. Shakey Graves came on at 6:30 and played until 7:15 pm. Damn, was he talented! He has such a voice and uses his musical talents very well. His concert was much enjoyed by all, I’m sure.

After Shakey Graves, there was some waiting as the last band on the smaller stage performed, and then The Head and the Heart came on. Oh my god, every song they sang gave me goosebumps. I just could not handle the sheer musical beauty that was this band. If you haven’t heard of them, I would suggest you stop whatever you are doing, including reading this blog, and look them up. Ugh. SO. GOOD. ‘Let’s Be Still’, ‘Rhythm and Blues’, ‘Hallelujah’, and  ‘All We Ever Knew’ are some of my favorites. You won’t be disappointed.

20170812_204135_1_120170812_202308_1_1UGH IT MADE ME SO HAPPY TO SEE THEM LIVE I JUST WANT TO GO TO ALL OF THEIR CONCERTS AND SING SUPER LOUDLY TO ALL OF THEIR SONGS WHICH I ALREADY DID BUT I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.

After the brilliant performance by The Head and the Heart, we all waited patiently for the main event: The Decemberists, who proceeded to put on a stunning two-hour long show. They like to do this thing where they leave the stage about half an hour before the scheduled ending time for the concert like they are actually done and make the crowd chant and cheer before coming back out onto the stage. Of course, this concert was no exception. They had a wonderful lineup of songs, and Sara and I belted out nearly every tune. We were standing one person behind the gate, so we were directly in front of Chris Funk, the guitarist. I’m not entirely sure how we managed to end up so close to the front, I guess we’re just really good at sneaking in through the crowd.

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For the encore, Colin Meloy came out with another man, one whom he introduced as Gibson Hartwell, a member from Colin’s first band, Tariko. This band formed in the late 90s, while Colin was going to school in Missoula, and broke up in 1999 after Colin moved to Portland, and then The Decemberisits were formed, and the rest is history.

I try not to be so creepy but sometimes I can’t help it..

Anyway. Colin and Gibson sang a song from their band Tariko, which was super amazing to hear due to the fact that they’re not technically a band anymore and one would have never imagined to hear them live again. Sara and I have an album by them, so we were one of the few people in the crowd who could sing along to this particular song. Very neat.

The concert ended around 11 pm, so Sara and I meandered our way back to where Suzi had been lounging in a hammock (Nicole had taken an Uber back to the hotel a few hours prior), and we made the two mile trek back. It was a good opportunity to rehash what we had just witnessed and also to move our legs after standing in (basically) one spot for five hours.

We made it back to the hotel and Sara and I were feeling quite dehydrated so we opted to take Suzi’s car and drive to Walmart so we could buy a jar of pickles each. We ate the pickles and drank the juice in the hotel parking lot and it was the most refreshing thing I have had in a long time. Apparently pickle juice after standing out in the hot, 90 degree weather for eight hours (and also not eating food during this time) really hits the spot. After our pickle juice refreshments were finished, we headed inside for bed.

SUNDAY.

Sunday was, in short, a really really really good day. To start the day, we got up and made our way to Travelers; Rest State Park, about an eleven mile drive from Missoula. We walked around this little area, took a lot of photos, found a creek and snatched some rocks, and chatted with the park rangers. It was a nice time (if you would like to see more on our adventures in Travelers’ Rest State Park, please see my post “Montana, Naturally”), and after we were finished we made our back to Missoula for lunch and to get ready for TRAVELERS’ REST FEST ROUND II. Sara and I walked to the festival, so we arrived there a little after 4:00 pm. Because priorities, we sought out the ice cream booth and each got a small cup of Montana-made ice cream. So good. We then stood at a table and mainly people-watched, until Suzi and Nicole found us. Then we looked at the tents they had set up; there was a tent dedicated to people test-running the new board game The Decemberists developed, called the Illimat, and there was an artist who could do portraits on this material called Tintype, and there was a tent selling vinyl records and CDs of the majority of the bands in attendance.

The main reason why Sunday was such a really really really good day was because we actually got to meet The Decemberists, like face-to-face, and chat with them, and get their autographs. It was purely and utterly magical. Alas, there was a sign up that said they would only be signing vinyls and CDs, so Sara and I were like okay fine, and we each bought one. I got ‘The King Is Dead,’ one of my favorite albums by them. It was also the first album I had heard by them, the one that made me fall in love with Colin’s voice and Jenny’s accordion.

20170813_181927_1_1At 6:20 pm we went to go stand in line (after resuming our stance at the table, this time with beer and peanuts – see above photo), and the line was a decent length but we weren’t too far back. We stood there and tried to eat peanut with one hand while holding a beer in the other, all the while holding onto the vinyl records (which are rather large), and it was just an all-around struggle. Eventually, at 6:40 pm or so, the line began moving. People went into the building relatively normal and came out with tears or hyperventilation.

The anticipation grew.

To make the anticipation matters worse, some lady came around and stopped three people in front of Sara and myself and was like, “Okay so The Decemberists have to leave at 7:20 to get ready for the show so there may only be time for 50 people which puts the line right here.” And then this lady goes past Sara and I and the guy behind us and was like, “Anyone past this point, you can stay or leave but I just don’t want you to be too disappointed.” So then I said to the couple in front of us, “Wait, so where does that put us? Do we get to see them or do we have to be bitterly disappointed?” We were in the definition of a gray area, and it sucked. Obviously, we did manage to make it into the building with the illustrious members of the beloved band were lurking, but until that point I was in distress. And then it was basically just heart-pounding word vomit that occurred once I actually came face-to-face with Chris Funk. He asked how I was and I told him about my mini heart-attack when the lady told us that we might not get to see them. And he was like, oh shit I’m sorry and I was like it’s all good, since I did make it in. And then I saw Jenny and didn’t really answer Chris’s question about how the line was, and instead I told her about how much I love her accordion bit (although I was so flustered I first called it a harmonica!) in the song ‘Rox in the Box.’ Here’s a link so you can listen to the song and understand why (her solo starts at 2:00 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Waz7PMZHeg

Jenny told me it was an old Irish (or perhaps Celtic) jig that she had adapted her solo from. Either way, it is amazing and I told her so. I am sorry to say that I was so busy gushing over Jenny’s amazing-ness to Jenny herself that I skipped right over Nate Query, the bassist. I did smile and thank him, though, for his autograph.

And then came Colin. He looked up and me and was like, “Hi.” And I just kind of stared into his eyes and was like, “Hi. It is so amazing to meet you.” He kind of laughed and said that it was nice to meet me too. Honestly, I can’t remember if I said anything else to him. Or if he said anything to me. I was just so awestruck to be in his presence, staring into his fact, with approximately two feet of space between us. And then all of a sudden I was facing John Moen, the drummer, and he was like, “So how’s the festival?” And I said that it was amazing and that we drove 15 hours from Minnesota to come to it (a little white lie, true for Nicole but Jamestown is close enough to MN to count!) and he was like, oh cool I was born in Brained, MN. How neat is that? Anyway, I told him that it was neat, and then I exited the building. Sara was waiting for me and we both began doing this weird hyperventilating/crying run (yeah, we got both) to where Suzi and Nicole were sitting. Oh my god were we ever excited. I could barely contain my sheer joy. And then I was like, wow I should have said so many better things to these people. Not for them, as they would likely not remember a single word I said to them, but for myself, because when I thought back to what I had said it was a bit foolish. Oh well, perhaps next time (if there is a next time), I will say something super profound and wise. Sara told Colin that she loved him, and he was like no, you don’t but Sara was very insistent and told him that yes, she does. I’d say that is rather profound.

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Currently my most prized possession. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Autographs, counterclockwise from the top left: John Moen, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and Colin Meloy.

After we had calmed down a bit, we left our vinyls with Suzi and a promise from her to defend them with her life. I think she did a pretty good job taking care of them, as she texted me later to tell me that she had already stabbed two people and punched one to guard them. 🙂 Sara and I made our way down to the standing crowd in front of the main stage in time for Belle and Sebastian. They are a super iconic Indie group out of Scotland, and were pretty big in the 90s and early 2000s. I knew a couple songs by them, and it was very cool to see them live, but I wasn’t really all that invested in them, not like the lady behind Sara and myself who asked us to switch spots because she was unable to see and has been waiting 13 years to see them in concert. She told us this and we were like, oh damn, do you want to come in front of us because we don’t mind, and she said she was fine but we should have insisted. And also taken her to the front when Sebastian was telling people to come up on stage with them and dance. She should have danced. Sara and I should have used our crowd-sneaking skills to sneak this lady through the crowd to go dance with the band she has been waiting 13 years to see. Ah well. My one regret.

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Here is Belle and Sebastian (he is the guy in the middle with the white pants!) and their dancing crew.
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Another photo of Belle and Sebastian, sans dancing crew.

After Belle and Sebastian, it was once again time to wait for The Decemberists. Sara and I used our sneaking prowess to get to the front as the crowd was readjusting from people leaving the previous concert. We ended up one person behind the gate again, and this time we were directly in front of dear Colin Meloy. Oh, were we excited.

Colin came on stage wearing the Montana state flag and looking majestic as all hell. It was a sight to behold.

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Here’s a shot of The Decemberists from the back; they were posing for a cameraman with the crowd behind them. Colin is visible, wearing the blue Montana state flag.

This concert began in much the same fashion as the night before. Sara and I stood there and sang the words to nearly all of the songs again, so much so that I very nearly lost my voice. I was cheering and screaming and whooping so much, I just couldn’t help it. There were several times where I would whoop at Colin because he was doing something worth whooping for, and a number of people would take up my cry and echo it. That made me feel important. There was also a couple times where I would cheer when it was pretty quite and I think Colin looked at me, probably because the cheering was annoying and he was trying to do something spectacular. But honestly, he doesn’t even really need to try to do spectacular things because typically whatever he does is spectacular. 🙂

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Look at how close this beautiful man is to us! All dressed up in his state flag. 🙂

Sunday night’s concert was somehow better than Saturday night’s concert. Unsure how. Everyone was so into it. And The Decemberists really put on a show! At one point, all of the band members were lying on the ground and Colin was standing there shushing us and telling us to crouch down so, of course, we crouch down as well as a group of people packed together like sardines can.

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Yes, Colin. Whatever you say, Colin. Your wish is our command.

They sang so many good songs, and I had so much fun. During one song, a group of us in the beginning started singing where the song normally starts on the CD and Colin looked at us like, who do you guys think you are? But he let us go for a few words before stepping in and starting the song for real. It was amusing.

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A few more photos featuring The lovely Decemberists.

The last song that The Decemberists sang, as their encore finale, was The Mariner’s Revenge Song. It is an odd song about a Mariner who is seeking revenge on the man who wronged his mother, and they end up in the belly of a whale together. So, of course, much as we are members of the crowd we are participants in this curious musical number. We are asked by Colin to scream like we are being eaten by a whale when Chris Funk gives us the appropriate signal. This was where I completely lost my voice, when it cracked as if I were a 13 year-old-boy going through puberty. It was embarrassing but I did not care, as I needed to scream as if I were being swallowed by a whale. It was imperative.

They began the song and we all sang the words, and then they brought out the giant whale made of metal and fabric, and one by one, it “ate” the “crew” members.

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Look at the sheer look of terror upon Colin’s face. 🙂

Once the crew had been chewed alive, the song continued from inside the stomach of the whale, where its ribs were ceiling beams and its guts were carpeting. At this point, Colin was laying on the ground and so he needed a microphone brought to him by one of the stagehands, as you can see depicted in the photo below.

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If you ever get the chance to see The Decemberists live, I would highly suggest that you do so. Their music is excellent on CD, but there is just such a different vibe to their concerts, especially the ones where you can stand right up in the front and practically touch them.

In short, this two-day musical festival, Travelers’ Rest, in Missoula, Montana, was probably the two best music-related days of my life. Yes, even better than the day I played the bari sax for the first time, or the day I joined marching band at UND. Hard to top those, I know, but it happened.

Thank you to The Decemberists for putting on such an amazing, Indie music-filled festival and for introducing some new band loves into my life. 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

Day three of the “Let’s Go West!” trip ft. Avalanche Lake.

Day Three. Monday. Memorial Day.

We woke up later this morning, due to the fact that we had just climbed 10 miles up a mountain the previous day. We packed the car in record time before heading out to the Glacier National Park visitor center. We caught the free shuttle to the Avalanche Lake trail head to do some more hiking before moving on with our journey west. We spent a fair amount of time hiking to Avalanche Lake, as we were doing our best to waste as much time as possible. I was allowed (Thanks, guys!) to take photos with my camera, and so I took full advantage of that. 🙂

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Just Jen doing Parkour things.

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This is my, “Oh hey nature, you’re pretty neat” face.

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“I like that boulder. That’s a nice boulder.”

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We finally made the 2.5 mile walk (5.5 miles round-trip) to Avalanche Lake, and boy was that a sight to behold. Crystal clear water surrounded by trees, mountains, and more trees. I could have stood there all day.

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Ahh, Avalanche Lake, you are gorgeous. Keep on keeping on.
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I think Jennifer was excited to see Avalanche Lake. It’s hard to tell, she’s such a closed book. 😉
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Avalanche Lake is beautiful, almost as beautiful as their friendship.
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Please enjoy my awkward mountain selfie 🙂
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Just sitting in the majesty of the mountains.

 

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Jen + her water bottle.
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Channeling my inner Nixon.

Alas, we eventually had to move on, and get back on the road. We stopped in Whitefish to have a picnic in a park and eat some delicious ice cream. My flavor was Montana Huckleberry. It seemed fitting.

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This ice cream was #yum. I realized after I ate about half of the it that I wanted to take a photo of my ice cream with downtown Whitefish and the distant mountains in the background. So I did it anyway, with a half-eaten ice cream cone.

I was the driver for the four hour trip to Spokane, Washington. We drove along Highway 93, and that was seriously the curviest road I have ever driven on, I felt like a NASCAR driver. With a Jeep. In the mountains. Montana really is something, landscape-wise. We merged onto Highway 200, which turned out to be a neat little drive through the Montana countryside. It brought us right into Idaho (the panhandle, to be specific), a state I had never been to until this trip. It seemed oddly like western Montana to me. How curious.

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Don’t worry, I was keeping an eye out for approaching vehicles.

The sunset we were chasing was absolutely gorgeous. I had been begging to stop at almost every scenic turnout, but I was turned down by my passengers, and was told to “take a mental picture.” Even though I was driving. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that the sunset, silhouetted by the mountains and reflecting off the water, was lovely. Everything about this trip has been lovely so far. I was (grudgingly) allowed to take a photo of the sunset, and so here it is, in all of its sunset-y glory.

IMG_3718_1_1The three of us made it to Spokane (a rather surprising feat, for there were some foreboding signs on Highway 200 in Montana about big horned sheep and 433 killed and 55 mph. We’re still not entirely sure what they mean; 433 big horned sheep killed? Or have the big horned sheep caused the death of 433 humans? Also, this was over the course of a 19-mile stretch, and so that seems like a very specific area to have had so many deaths. The deaths per square foot must be incredible. Additionally, what is the time frame that we’re looking at; for the last year? 10 years? 50 years? So many questions, so many theories and speculations, so little knowledge about big horned sheep and their death rates.) around 10:45 p.m. Pacific time and stopped at Walmart for a couple of camping necessities. We also stopped for gas and coffee, found I-90, and headed west into the night.

It was just Sara, me and the semis awake on the road. We drove for two hours before needing a brief nap. We stopped at a rest area, saw that there was a homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom in a sleeping bag and decided to drive 40 miles to the next rest area, where there was no homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom. We managed to sleep in the car for a solid hour and a half. After shutting my eyes for what seemed like a second, it was 4:30 a.m. and I figured we should probably keep going. So, we kept going.

Westward, ho!

The Story of Mount Brown

ACT 1 SCENE 2

SCENE: Mount Brown, Glacier National Park. Sunday, May 28, 2017. 10:30 a.m.

CHARACTERS:

  • Sara – our fearless line leader and choir conductor.
  • Jen – our amusing conversationalist and in-house animal expert/eye candy.
  • Anna – the laggard bringing up the rear and company photographer.
  • Those two guys who made us feel bad about ourselves because they were sprinting up the mountain – they also showed us mountain goats.
  • Pink Shirt Guy – at first, he was amused by our quirky antics but soon got really annoyed and quickly passed us by.
  • The Elderly Snientist – an optimistic gentleman who showered us with words of encouragement, which we ignorantly believed, and also made us laugh with his tales of lost chainsaws. We also think he may have been a snow scientist, but this fact was neither confirmed nor denied.
  • The Pesky Mountain Goats – so cute! But so annoying, as we are humans in their territory and are advised not to approach. Hard to do when they are standing on the trail and won’t leave.
  • Special Guest Star: The Snow that Wouldn’t Quit – first made it its appearance as a small patch along the trail and we were like, aw look at that snow and then it became 6 feet deep and were like what in the actual heck, snow. Why.

Narrator: (Dramatic voice) On this day, three girls accidentally climbed a mountain. You may be wondering, just how dumb do you need to “accidentally” climb a mountain. Well, all you need is a bit of blind ambition and a lot of blissful ignorance. Mount Brown is home to a rather formidable trail, one of the most difficult in Glacier National Park. It ascends over 4200 feet in 5 miles, so you can imagine that the trail is steep. What you may not imagine is the fact that there is also snow on top of a mountain. Or maybe you can imagine that. If that is the case, then you would have been better prepared than these three girls. Good for you.

It’s not as if these girls did not have the means to be prepared to climb the mountain. In fact, they had a magazine (which they evidently did not read very closely before attempting to climb said mountain) that stated Mount Brown was indeed a difficult hike; in fact, it was labeled as “strenuous” in the magazine. Now, these are relatively smart girls, two with college degrees and the other beginning her junior year in college this fall, but apparently they decided to interpret the word “strenuous” as “oh, this will be a super nice hike with awesome views of the mountains and stuff” rather than “yeah you’re about to hike up a mountain.” It’s all about the context, I guess.

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Ah, the lovely pine trees. Thanks for being so photogenic.

This is their story, the story of Mount Brown and how they potentially possibly could have maybe died but didn’t.

Oh sorry, spoiler alert.


We started our day with a hearty continental breakfast from the hotel. We made our way to the Glacier National Park visitor center, located on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, where they told us that parking at Avalanche Lake would be extremely limited. We were feeling optimistic, however, and decided to try parking there. Apparently everyone else wanted to park there too, so we were forced to come back and park at Lake McDonald. This worked out just fine, and we decided to hike up Mount Brown. You would think, with a name like Mount Brown (emphasis on the “Mount”) we would have realized that it would not be a simple hike up a hill. We were literally in the mountains of Montana, for God’s sake!

Anyway.

IMG_3230_1_1We began our hike at the Sperry trail head, which started right across the road from Lake McDonald, and went up a fairly gradual incline for a solid mile and a half. We found the Mount Brown trail head and thus we began our ascent. Within 10 minutes we had to stop again, our butts and thighs were dying. But this was just the beginning. We hiked for a long time, back and forth up the switchbacks (thanks, expert hiking [aka mountain-sprinter] guys who helped us figure out the mountain lingo) and stopped periodically for water and air. We made it to a lovely little overlook, and we figured we should be fairly close to the top. Boy, were we wrong. We hadn’t even encountered the snow, yet!

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This is a lovely photo of me taking a photo of the mountains at the overlook which we foolishly mistook as being close to the top. Ha.

The snow started out as a small patch in the woods by the trail, and we thought it was just the cutest little patch of snow we’d ever seen. And then said snow patch multiplied in number and size, and soon everything was covered in a six-foot snowdrift. We learned later that this snow does not disappear until mid-July. Lucky us. It was during this snowy trail era that we ran across (whom we believe to be) the snow scientist. He was sitting in the snow using a little saw to cut into the snow drifts. So, he was either a snow scientist or an elderly guy who liked to sit on the side of a mountain and investigate the snow. Rather curious. He told us we were doing a great job, climbing the mountain. He also gave us directions to get around a particularly giant snow drift which was coming up in our path. This snow drift was probably close to 10 feet tall. We had to skirt around it, so thank goodness there had been people going on the trail before us so we had footprints to follow in.

We trekked through the snow, slipping and sliding as we went along. Luckily we had started our journey early enough in the morning so the snow was still pretty solid during our ascent. No one had any major spills down the mountainside, but Sara and I did fall much more often than Jennifer (and I fell more often than Sara). Jennifer does parkour (hard-core parkour!) as a hobby and thus has fairly decent balance and footwork, which I am sure contributed to her lack of falling. She’s so fancy.

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That’s Jen, with her water bottle and her backpack. Thanks for being our designated H2O supplier, Jennifer! You da best.

We were so full of optimism and blind ambition. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started our journey up Mount Brown. However, I think it was this total unpreparedness that allowed us to get as far as we did. If we had 100% knew we would be climbing up a mountain, we honestly probably would have given up. It was the lack of us knowing just how steep and arduous this hike would be that allowed us to almost reach the top. I say “almost” because we did not actually make it to the top. We were probably about half a mile from the top, where it apparently became pretty flat and there was a nice building in which to sit. However, to get to said “top,” we would have had to hike crawl up the mountain side, by holding onto the snowy footholds made by previous (and more courageous) hikers. We stopped because we honestly feared for our lives. In fact, Sara was sitting in the snow for some time, contemplating her life and was about 83% sure she might die. However, the odds were in her favor and she survived. We all survived, in fact, and we are stronger for it. I also got a few super sweet photos, so that was a bonus!

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IMG_3259_1_1Sara and Jennifer refused to go any further, but I decided to try, and climbed about 200 feet up the mountain before calling down to my companions that yes, they were right, it was absolutely terrifying and if they could be so kind as to not rub it in my face that would be great. So I channeled my inner mountain goat and crawled back down. It was a bit of a struggle, to be completely honest, but I made it without dying! Now it was just the rest of the mountain we had to descend.

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This was what our trail looked like; there wasn’t a whole lot of anything to the right of us to catch us if we were to slide down the mountain!

Going down the mountain was much easier that going up. It helped that we were fueled by adrenaline and had just been staring our almost-death in the face. We traipsed our way through the snow drifts, and finally (finally!) got back to the no-snow-trail. At this point we started full-out running down the mountain path, which was actually a lot of fun and probably pretty dangerous, but none of us died or twisted an ankle or anything so that was good.

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We also made some friends on the way down the mountain; the two guys who sprinted up the mountain also sprinted down (how, we still don’t know) who introduced us to the pesky mountain goats who just would not get off the path, and the guy in the pink shirt, who we later developed an undeserved (yet extremely personal) vendetta against. Unsure why this vendetta became so strong, but it provided a solid source of entertainment for the rest of the week.

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The trail, ft. the pesky mountain goats + the snow.
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I have no idea what this flower is, but the Sperry trail was quite populated with them. I took my time heading back down the mountain, taking in the sights and discovering things I had not seen on our ridiculous hike up Mount Brown.

We finally made it down the mountain, feeling more than a little sore, tired, and hungry. We reconvened at the Jeep, determined that we had hiked (or bear-crawled) approximately 10 miles in 5 hours, and grabbed some water and food to replenish our bodies and souls. We meandered down to Lake McDonald to rest our feet in the cool mountain water.

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Along the way, we paused to appreciate Mount Brown from a distance. It was really high. We were like, wait we just hiked up that?

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I apologize for the terrible quality of this photo, as I took it with Snapchat. But that is indeed Mount Brown in the center of the photo; you know, the giant-mountain-looking-hill that we somehow managed to climb up and down without anyone dying or breaking something.

We fell, we laughed, we wanted to sit down and cry, we almost made it to the top of the mountain and we have no regrets. Having never climbed a mountain before, I think we did a bang-up job of doing it.

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My companions let me stop along the Going-To-The-Sun Road on our way back to civilization and take a few photos of the fabulous mountains, with Lake McDonald in the foreground.

 

 

Let’s Go West! Part One.

Girls [3]. US Highway [2]. Outlandish plan to head out west [1].

My younger sister Sara and I, along with out lovely friend Jen, made a plan to drive out west on US Highway 2, over Memorial Day Weekend. Well, it’s Memorial Day Weekend and we have actually followed through with said plan. Technically it is still being followed through with, as we are currently in Montana. We have a lot more “west” to cover before completion of the trip. The fact that we are even on the first leg of this trip is in and of itself an amazing feat, as we are fairly notorious for making elaborate and exciting plans and only following through with a fraction of them. It’s a real issue.

Like I said, we are currently in Montana. Columbia Falls, a tiny town just outside of Glacier National Park, to be exact. We started out from Grand Forks, North Dakota on Friday evening at approximately 11:45 p.m. after a necessary food stop at Walmart. Sara had driven to The Cities that day to pick up aforementioned lovely friend Jen, as Jen was a necessary component to this trip and did not have a vehicle with which to transport herself the five-hour drive from Minneapolis to Grand Forks. It really is a shame that aparation is not a real thing. That would make life so much more convenient. However, I digress. It is not the time to delve into the Wizarding World, no matter how fun that may be. This is the time to discuss the first leg of our “Let’s Go West!” camping trip. Like I said, we left Grand Forks around 11:45 on Friday night. I was the lucky one who got to drive through the whole great state of North Dakota. It really wasn’t bad, as I had taken a solid two hour nap on Friday around 7 p.m. in preparation for the all-night driving session, but I will admit it got a little rough around 4:30 a.m. My passengers had fallen asleep, so I just had Third Eye Blind to keep me awake. However, we managed to make it to Montana in time for the sunrise.

IMG_3160_1_1We stopped for breakfast, and kept right on going. I was provided a two-hour reprieve, during which time I had a nice little nap. I decided I wanted to drive again, because it was my vehicle we were taking (a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, white) and I just like to drive. And drive we did. Montana is a huge state, nearly twice the length of North Dakota. It took 5 hours through ND, which meant that we had about 9 hours to go through MT. However, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day for a drive. The three of us grew up in southern Minnesota, and so we were not used to such terrain. The hills of Montana were exciting, but when we saw the mountains we (meaning I) became ecstatic. There were squeals of excitement all around. Mainly from me. Of course, we had to stop once we were close enough to take some photos of the impending mountains.

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Look at those mountains! Also the cattle. And the fence. Lovely.

 

So we kept on driving and eventually made it to the mountains, and man was that a sight to behold. I’ve never really been in the mountains, much less driven in them, so that was an adventure.  IMG_3171_1_1After our lovely drive through the mountains, we made it to the west side of Glacier National Park, and we found our hotel in Columbia Falls around 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The beds were very inviting, and I ended up taking an hour-long nap, which increased the number of hours I had slept in the last 18 to a whopping total of three. Later that evening, Sara and I decided to do a bit of exploring. We found a nice little lake to sit by whilst watching the sunset. It was a gorgeous evening, albeit a bit buggy, but that is to be expected. It was around 65 degrees, no wind, and it smelled like forest. Wonderful.IMG_3199_1_1After our nice little sit by the lake, we returned to the hotel for a much-needed repose.