Small and Mighty Town

Nestled in a broad valley between two ranges in the Montana Rockies resides a town, built by miners and ranchers, and hit as hard or harder than many in this country by recent economic trends. Phillipsburg, Montana doesn’t look much different from any other small collection of buildings. On closer examination the visitor will find obvious differences.

After turning from the state road onto the main street, the visitor sees a sign that screams a blatant sense of humor. Not far away is the punch line to the joke. Of course, the visitor will probably never get a local resident to admit to it being a joke. It isn’t.

Several examples of fun and whimsical architecture enliven the main street, with color and design.

Meticulous sculptures peek out from positions among the buildings. Historical markers give lessons to those who stroll along on a mild afternoon.

Mysterious doors lead to unknown realms, taunting and flirting with passersby, silently daring a closer examination.

The Quilt Guild takes possession of one of the Halls for a month, delighting visitor and local alike. A second-hand store does a brisk business a few doors down, stuffed with treasures gleaned from who-knows-where.

It’s the people, though, that make this town a special place. They are the friends you didn’t know you’d missed until you met them, the ones that smile and ask you how long you can stay, ones who laugh when you ask if an item really costs so little.

These people do something about a problem when it’s brought to their attention and do it together. Recently a news story was filmed about this little town that wouldn’t give up its right to be happy. Take a moment and watch and discover who lives in Phillipsburg, Montana and decide for yourself if seeing such a place is worth the effort.

During one short afternoon you can go to a hometown that you didn’t know you had, learn the name and lineage of a resident’s dingo, and wonder why more places aren’t like this anymore.

For more information on Phillipsburg and the surrounding area, go to:  or   or

Smelling the Flowers

Whenever we travel, we particularly enjoy the varied wildflowers that dot the landscape. It might be daisies waving their little white heads at us from the roadside, or it might be an unknown astilbe-like white blossom that adds a brilliant spot deep in the forest greenery.

Every area has its wildflowers; some large, some small, ones common and others not in the books. Many are simply for show. Medicines have come from wildflowers everywhere.

Regardless of their background, wildflowers can be scene stealers wherever we go. In Montana we’ve found many. Here are but a few.

Daisies warm the heart throughout the mid to late summer. They grow on roadsides and meadows, waiting for little girls to take them home as crowns and jewelry.

Blue native clematis winds its way along the forest floor and up convenient trees, always bringing a bit of sky color to the shade below. Golden Rod adds its own sunshine to green corners in July and August with its bright yellow conical heads.

The common Cow Parsnip takes on new dimension when seen in deep shadow, set alight by a beam of sunlight, creating lime green fans of its broad leaves. The umbrella shaped white floral crown takes its supreme position and waits to be touched. This humble plant has fed animals and humans alike for countless centuries and still stands above men’s heads to see the world and its wonders.

And if we’re lucky, on rare occasions, we get to see a jewel that we’ve not as yet found in any of the references. This tiny ruby example of the world’s wonders sat next to a rushing stream in the gravel. A bare inch or two, it reached upward to touch its sky. Its strawflower-like blossoms had not yet opened, but promised to delight a viewer in a day or so.

Such gems and an appreciation of them can keep any traveler occupied during the long drives or hikes around any average destination. Like many examples of wildlife, wildflowers are diverse survivors who flaunt their uniqueness and beauty for all to see.

Take advantage of your opportunities. Snap some photos. Start a continuing list of those wildflowers you’ve found. Discover their secrets. There are many references available in print and on-line. You might find yourself with a new hobby that will give you pleasure wherever you go. Don’t forget, one man’s weeds are another’s wildflowers.

For additional infomration on Montana wildflowers, go to:

Darby: Where You Find Your Inner Cowboy

If you drive south from Kalispell and past Missoula on Hwy. 93 toward the Idaho border, you’ll come into a town living its western heritage and not afraid to flaunt it. Darby, MT is one of the most fun friendly little towns you’d ever want to be seen in.

Darby exalts in its western feel. From its Welcome Banner to its long covered walkways, the town screams old west. Unlike many would-be western communities, this one lives through its art, ranches, farms and people.

Even the library blends into the overall mountain past. Marvelous sculptures dot the town’s streets. More examples of local offerings can be found in a gift shop that could have doubled as the mercantile back in the day of early ranches and fur trappers.

Did you know that small communities in the west continue to have marshals as their law enforcers? Darby does. The town makes sure that none forget it, either.

Whether you stop, as we did, to take a shot of an old barn against the backdrop of blue sky and mountain meadow, you will not be disappointed in your stay in this small, but proud Montana town.

Stop by in July for the annual rodeo and cheer the riders and ropers until you’re hoarse. Bull riding is a specialty around this part of the state as can be testified to by their signage. When you’ve exhausted your people skills for the moment, take a short jaunt south of town to see the valley’s natural attractions.

Many roads lead away from the highway. You don’t have to go far to see more vastness than you thought possible. Take a few photos along the way. Stop at the historical markers and learn about the area as you go. Trapper’s Peak is a must for camera buffs, but there are wildlife opportunities like deer, range cattle to watch, the occasional sheep, and sunsets to keep the finger on the camera button.

Good food is served up at various cafes and restaurants in town for those who’re in need of sustenance. Take the time, too, to acquaint yourself with the locals. They love talking about their part of the world and suggesting places of interest to you. If you like to fish, take rods and reels so that you can sample the local rivers. There’s trout and a few other native fish swimming in those streams waiting for a nice meal, too.

When you leave Darby, you’ll probably feel as we did the first time we visited the town and its immediate area. You’ll know that returning will be on your agenda in the future. It’s much like Jackson Hole in that regard but with fewer tourists and less flash.

I hope you take an opportunity to come up to the top of the world and join us in our adventures to common places with the not-so-common touch.

There’s Room at the Inn

After getting a few things done this past Monday morning, BJ and I decided to take a little jaunt for relaxation and exploration. We do that as frequently as possible as a kind of recharging of the creative batteries. One of the things we also do is drive along a road that we’ve not explored.

We knew that we wanted to go up to Goat Lick, which is a spot just outside the southern boundary of Glacier Park where Rocky Mountain Goats congregate on a regular basis. We also knew that the little town of Essex came before Goat Lick. Our tentative plan fell into place.

Gas, food, sunshine, and a road to lead us. What more could a person want?

Tourists are moving out. The steady stream of outgoing adventurers makes way for those who come from closer locations, as well as those who wish to see parks like Yellowstone and Glacier in the autumn. Meeting visitors is inevitable and the only requirement for successfully dealing with the situation is to take the time to proudly bestow one’s local knowledge to those looking for it. It saves nerves and patience supplies.

The Essex entrance on the south side of Hwy. 2 tends to sneak up on a driver. We were looking for it and had no trouble, though. The winding, forested road took us past mountain homes of all descriptions, some very elaborate. At the end of the main road we entered the parking lots of Izaak Walton Hotel and Resort (formally Izaak Walton Inn) and came to an abrupt halt.

The Tudor style Hotel on our right commanded our attention and admiration. Until that moment we’d not known that such a place existed. Color us delighted.

Delight expanded our horizons when we looked to the left and saw train cars ready for perusal. A caboose, freshly painted red with the Great Northern Railroad logo on the side sat at the edge of the parking lot, tempting the visitor to come see.

Straight ahead stood a pavilion to shade and welcome those who simply wanted to rest and socialize outdoors. To its left loomed an engine, painted blue and white with entrance deck platforms at either end.

They were, in short, a railroad enthusiast’s playground.

Never let it be said that we don’t take advantage of an opportunity when we find it. BJ pulled in, parked, and grabbed camera before we’d seen half of it from the street. She’d guessed what I had. Those rail cars and engines were guest accommodations. What a treat for a visitor staying for a few days.

The active rail lines pass behind the hotel. The town’s history boasts of being a railhead with accommodation for travelers and Glacier park visitors moving from coast to coast along the nation’s highline. If original Inn gave half the amenities as the current one, those were blissfully fortunate travelers.

Dotted among the trees across the tracks to the south and up the mountainside are cabins for families and larger groups. The log cabins come with everything needed for a stay but the human component. They certainly looked comfy.

We finished exploring the small town and moved on to Goat Lick. No goats were visible. The afternoon had turned too warm for them to be anywhere but in the shade. We did meet a couple from Washington State, though, who’d just come from Yellowstone. They were driving on to East Glacier and the Many Lakes area for that night. BJ was the one who recommended Many Glacier as a destination for their desired uses of camping and hiking, as well as photography.

As we turned back toward home, photos in the camera, excitement about new knowledge and a new haunt, we had to congratulate ourselves again for choosing to travel a road we’d not explored before. We’d learned, enjoyed, and come away refreshed.

For anyone who’d like to stay near the park in luxury with lots of amenities, check out Izaak Walton (Hotel) Inn and Resort. You can find all the necessary information at:


Deciding on a Destination

The following will give you a taste of our options on any given day. 

Whether sitting on the sidelines of a summer’s skydiving competition or admiring classic cars/boats at shows, Kalispell, Montana has a bit of everything for visitors. The well-appointed downtown area expands to include museums, public library, eateries, and other businesses.

Early morning can arrive in splendor, surprising resident and visitor alike. A hot-air balloon can sail past your window just after sunrise with only an occasional distinctive burner burst to catch your attention. Any day can be a day of unknowns and adventure for those who look for them.

Need to get out of doors to see the countryside but don’t want to brave the peaks in Glacier National Park or the tourists?  Consider any destination within a one hundred mile radius of Kalispell to tickle your fantasies.

For instance, travel to Libby in early to mid-September for the annual NordicFest. Scandinavian pioneers founded logging town. The three day event tantalizes the soul with varied activities for children and adults alike. From quilting to crafting, logging exhibitions to equestrian shows, and good food, Libby can supply your needs during the Fest.

North of Libby sits Eureka, a small northwestern town on the Canadian border. The Roosville customs station will allow you to travel into that country provided you have the proper identification. A passport will always get you across the border.

 From there you can go into Canada (with proper papers) or drive east-southeast along Hwy 93 to Whitefish. Big Mountain Ski Resort is open for both summer and winter. Activities vary by season but always entertain with thrilling daring-dos. If you like snow sport, fly in for a week of snowballs and ski runs. If luge is more your “speed”, you can find that, too. Hiking and other summer activities keep visitors pumped in warmer weather.

Those who would rather spend an afternoon window shopping, gallery haunting, or taking a snack at a quaint Bistro, Big Fork on the east side of Flathead Lake on Hwy. 35, is the ticket.  The town is built at the confluence of the Swan River and Flathead Lake.

Its Repertory Theatre Company sparkles on stage with its productions, dramatic or musical. Like Whitefish, Big Fork is heavily weighted toward the Arts and has many renowned representatives to prove it. The offerings in this modern, yet quaint, lakeside town change constantly but never lessen in value.

Whether you choose to travel far from Kalispell’s hub, or just down the road to Smith Lake for some quiet time at dawn or dusk, surprises abound and satisfactions are many.

 Any visitor can ask a local about places to go and things to do, regardless of the desired outcome. That’s one things we’ve learned in the past several years. Locals love to take about their home areas. And if you just want to relax, ask the guy down on the dock where you can get needed items for join him for a while.You, too, could catch a freshwater salmon.


A Giant Offering

Sometimes a person looks at a map, sees something odd or curious, and metaphorically sticks a pin in it and says, “There’s someplace I’ve never seen!”

BJ and I have done that many times and one of those trips centered on a place called “Giant Cedars” in the Ross Creek Scenic Area on the western border of Montana and Idaho.

From Kalispell we drove to Libby on Hwy. 2. We paused briefly, only to sail on with an eye toward exploring Troy, MT., which broadens the highway a few miles west of Libby. After all, we were in the neighborhood.

Troy is a slumbering mountain town with a certain charm to it. The one thing we discovered that few towns could boast was a bridge over the Kootenai River that sported an eagle’s nest on top of it. We’re used to seeing osprey and eagle’s nests perched on top of phone poles or specially built nesting poles, but this was the first on a bridge.

The tenant must have been off fishing in the river because we never saw our nation’s feathered mascot.

Taking our cue from the absent eagle, we turned around and drove back to catch Hwy. 56 south. We made a leisurely drive of it since we had no agenda other than to see the Giant Cedars.

We passed small communities, scattered willy-nilly around equally small lakes. Deep blue waters lapped shorelines while pines scented the air strongly enough to imitate a car freshener. We were content to talk of common sights on the roadsides, like the occasional deer or a hawk riding the thermals.

We knew we were getting close. The Cabinet Mountains rose on the east side of the road. Heavy timber darkened the western roadside, growing thicker than it had a few miles north.

We made the turn-off to Ross Creek Scenic Area almost as an afterthought. Within a few hundred yards a lumber mill loomed on the left, in a valley away from the road. Further on the road split; the right fork led to a campground, the left fork led to our intended destination. It ended in a parking lot nestled in a shaded bowl within the forest.

Silence bombarded our ears as we got out of the car. A sense of peace had descended, allowing us to see western cedars that could rival those in Glacier Park without having to dodge hundreds of tourists. Down a short trail from the car an arched bridge spanned Ross Creek.

Sunlight streaked through the canopy throwing spotlights on the undergrowth. Regardless of the few other visitors, everything was still, undisturbed. It felt as if we had the whole forest to ourselves, where we could explore the tiny rivulets, mossy stones, and towering giants.

It is a humbling place, this corner of the Kootenai National Forest. It is a place where poetry is written and paintings created in the stillness of the mind. Music from one’s heart can find expression here within the birdsong and rippling waters. And the sighing of the breezes will deliver messages from these Giants that have prospered here for so long.

We took a chance on an unknown road and destination. We came away with something unique and purely our own. If you get a chance, pull out a map. You don’t have to go far to explore the unknown (to you) and discover marvels.