Winter months have come and gone, the weather has begun to warm our faces, and my husband was ready to go fly fishing. Of course, not close by, but in frickin Montana (1930 miles one way)! The SUV packed to the hilt with fly fishing gear on one side and photographic equipment on the other and clothes stuffed everywhere and anywhere.
Weather reports out of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado were not so good, downright freezing. And, as we were soon to find out, it doesn't get warm until June up North. Our target was Blue Damsel Lodge near Missoula, MT fly fishing the three rivers.
Leaving Amarillo, TX, we encountered gale force winds, and that wind followed us through Wyoming to Montana, with temperatures hovering at 40 degrees or so.
Here Fell Custer
We stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument which was one of the last armed efforts of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their ancestral way of life. Even though they won the battle, they lost the war. The war to live in peace and harmony in their beloved Blackhills. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, commander of the 7th Cavalry, and a Civil War hero, was part of a major effort by the US Government to rein in the Indians under the leadership of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other war chiefs from the Lakota-Cheyenne tribes. On that fateful day, June 25, 1876, a major battle was fought here between 7,000 tribes of Indians and the 7th Cavalry, numbering 600 men. This is what I would call a lose-lose situation . . . Custer and 260 soldiers died that day, and it was the beginning of the end to the nomadic way of life of the Northern Plains Indians.
The white markers show where the soldiers fell on Last Stand Hill.
The remains of some officers were transferred to Eastern cemeteries. Custer's remains are re-interred at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. (Go NAVY, BEAT Army). The rest of the command are buried in a mass grave around the base of the memorial, which bears their names.
The white marker in the center with a black emblem is where Custer fell.
Jim and I drove the Battlefield Road following the route that Custer took his men. Questions were flowing through my mind . . . why did Custer manage to put 210 men on an indefensible hill in harm's way? Especially since he was considered to be one of the reasons that the South was defeated at Gettysburg in that famous "War of Northern Aggression." (1861-1865).
And, no one knows, why Custer chose to split up his men already outnumbered. I was saddened to learn that they had shot their horses to provide them with cover as the charging indians advanced up the hill.
Gallatin River Lodge
We stopped for a few days at the Gallatin River Lodge, near Bozeman, Montana for relaxing, and you guess it, "FISHING." I must say, if you wanted to be pampered for a few days, this is the place. It's hyped as a romantic getaway, but, in the winter, its a stopover to winter activities in the nearby mountains of the Big Sky Country. But, we came for its world class fly fishing.
The early morning hours were the best since the wind seemed to be nonexistent. We hiked down to the river. I was constantly on the lookout for wildlife, birds, mountain lions, etc., but none were to be found. And, I heard from a great fly fisherman that the fish weren't biting either. Since my husband decided to ventured out into the river with his back to me, I aimed my camera at the other fisherman fishing upstream.
Along a narrow, rocky road, sort of paved / unpaved, through a deep canyon, we finally make it to the Blue Damsel Lodge. The mercury was falling fast. Unfortunately, being the first to arrive for opening season, came with it a score of issues most serious being NO HEAT in the Lodge for the first night. Fully clothed with tons of blankets, I definitely felt like "mom in her kerchup and me in my hat had just settled down for a long winter's nap." Jim loved it but I was freezing my a__ off.
Jim spent three days fly fishing on Montana's famous rivers . . . Blackfoot, Bitteroot and the Clark. And, I hired a professional photographer to guide me around all his secret spots. I contacted Andrew Kandel. I am no critic but his photography is probably one of the best I have ever seen next to our famous Texas photographer, Larry Ditto. He has an eye for the creative side showing the viewer "where the wild things are." If you are in Missoula, MT, and in need of a great photographic guide, please contact Andrew. Tell him "hi from a fellow Texan." You see, Andrew originates from Dallas, Texas.
Andrew and I spent the day photographing on the National Bison Range, with a backdrop of the Mission Mountains. I found it amazing at the proximity of wildlife.
The bison, or as a native Oklahoman, I call them, buffalo, were sparse.
However, a herd of pronghorns were happy to oblige our photographic needs. On the Bison range, you are not allowed off the road. We had no complaints to follow the rules . . . the pronghorns just remained eating along side us. Their protected on the range.
In Texas, you just can not get that close to pronghorns.
I was lucky because Andrew knew where the Short-eared Owls roamed on the Nine Pipe Wildlife Refuge. Just before sunset, these owls were hunting. They have an unusual wing pattern. The wings come straight up over the head and then straight down again similar to a bat. Oh but you have to be quiet when approaching these wise masters of the hunt.
I did see a herd of elk. We setup along the roadside anticipating that they would come up the hill and cross the road in front of us, which they did on their way to higher ground. But this herd had had a rough winter. Not really worth posting any photos.
The Famous Shot
Andrew took me to another scenic spot to shoot wide angle, HDR, and/or panorama. We traversed through the grasslands looking for the "perfect" photographic moment. Did we find one? "You betcha."
I loved Andrew's shot of an abandoned farmhouse on the open prairie lands. I hoped to get a similar shot, maybe, not as good but still acceptable! I played with HDR photography to produce this shot.
And, we did shoot the most coveted shot in the Missoula area, maybe in all of Montana. I was able to get a nice pano of it.
A lady stopped to chat for awhile. In the course of our conversation, she gave us a little history on the old barn with the Mission Mountains as a backdrop. It has graced the covers of many magazines.
Jim caught tons of fish, which I was surprised given the freezing temperatures of the rivers, and yours truly, got some nice photos thanks to Andrew.
Montana is known as "Big Sky" country, but its more than just sky, its a state of mind, a sense of ruggedness, a wildness untamed. I love the big, open spaces of both Wyoming and Montana. I hope to return some day, albeit, when the weather is much warmer.
Next stop . . . Arches National Park!