Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Finally made to Montana........Sort of.

                                                     photo courtesy Vladimir I. Steblina, Forest Service.

usbackroads destination--Billings, Montana

Well, we were planning on heading to Montana over the 4th of July weekend.  So we started fixing and getting the 5th wheel ready when I got a fire assignment in Billings, Montana.  So I made it to eastern Montana and got to spend 14 days in Billings.  Above is the picture out the office window.  The view did change as the air tankers came in and out.

                                                  photo courtesy Vladimir I. Steblina, Forest Service.

Billings is a large city with a population of just over 100,000.  So a different type of fire assignment.  I had nothing to do with the tankers they were just part of the view.  I suspect I would have had more fun sleeping on the ground in fire camp.  Oh well, you never know how these assignments will turn out when you take them.  That said it is going to be a long fire season on the east slope of the Rockies.  Even if it ends now, it has been a hell of a fire season as the folks in Montana and Colorado can attest.

I had two days to drive home.  Montana is a very large state.   This was the view as I headed north out of Billings.  Notice the clear skies.

Just a little bit farther north you can see the trees making an appearance off in the distance.  Throughout eastern Montana they were always somewhere off in the distance.  Farther than you think.

Just as I crossed into Petroleum County I discovered that the county was aptly named.

Farther north the wheat fields started to make an appearance.  There is lots of wheat country east of the divide.  There is something about a road through wheat country that just makes it seem lonely.

Then again, is this what they mean by Montana power?  Seems those power poles look just a slight bit bow-legged.

Now Montana is known as Big Sky country and one would suspect that billboards would also be supersized.  However, it seems that many billboards are rather small.  These were found on a fence post next to a public road accessing a popular hunting area.

As I headed in western Montana the clouds made their appearance and it started raining softly.  The same week that eastern Montana was under severe fire and drought conditions western Montana was under a flood watch!!  I drove past the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Area, which was fire camp for the Jocko Fire in 2007.  No fire camp this time, but the area was crowded with campers and fishermen enjoying the Montana summer.

I quickly crossed the panhandle of Idaho.  I did get off Interstate-90 at Wallace, Idaho.  The town was busy with a Blues Festival so I continued down the road.  Just west of Cataldo, Idaho there is a marsh on the north side of the highway.  This is really the start of the marshes of the Lower Coeur d'Alene River Valley.  Well, all those years of living in North Idaho I have always thought this marsh was the perfect spot for a moose.  Never saw one there until this trip.  I glanced at the marsh and he was standing there in the marsh, just on the edge of the fill slope for the road.  I suspect most folks missed him as they whizzed by at 75 mph, and he knew it.  He did not seem too worried about someone stopping.

The weather turned into thundershowers with the possibility of flash flooding so said the National Weather Service.  Well, going to Spokane on I-90 the traffic suddenly came to a stop.  It turns out a thundercell dropped a foot of rain in the middle of I-90 and suddenly the speed was down to 2-3 mph.  The flooded stretch was fairly short, but when all that traffic slows and bottlenecks to 2 mph it does take a bit to get through that stretch.

Sun and thundercells for the remainder of the trip to Wentachee.  Here is what one particular cell looked like.  I would have loved to stayed a bit longer for a better picture, but after 14 days I was ready to be home.

Out west, the western slopes of the mountain ranges have the big trees.  The east sides tend to have sage, small trees and big sky.   I have always been partial to "east of the divides".

As always click on the picture for a larger view.