I had a three year plan for living in Butte, but was fortunate enough to find a new position at Boise State University in only two. If you’d like to read about those adventures check out BoiseBee. Thanks to all who were supportive in Butte; Mai Wah folks will be most missed. Maybe we’ll see you at the next Folk Festival. Cheers!

Big Hole Battlefield

ImageBig Hole Battlefield was the site of a battle, well, more like a massacre since it involved Nez Perce women and children as well as warriors against U.S. troops. The Nez Perce band, the Wallowas, were led by Chief Joseph (the younger) and was one of the groups who refused to sign a treaty ceding their land to white ownership. In their attempt at avoiding being corralled into a reservation the Wallowa Nez Perce went on a journey of over 1,000 miles, finding refuge for a short while with the Montana Crow Indians, and then trying, and failing, to get all the way to Canada to join up with the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull. A poignant surrender speech is attributed to Joseph ending with the infamous, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The Battlefield is now part of the Nez Perce Historical Park which encompasses 38 different sites spread over Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The Nex Perce flight is also commemorated by the Nez Perce Trail which runs from Wallowa Lake, Oregon to the Bear Paw National Battlefield in Montana. I rode along quite a bit of the trail, not only on this journey, but also on my trip out to Lewiston as the trail parallels Highway 12.

The stories accompanying the Battlefield displays are all told in the first person, bringing a sense of immediacy not always found in historical museums. On the day I visited three tribal members were showing a group of tourists the stick game, a traditional game of chance accompanied by drums and chanting. The memorial lies along the Big Hole River, a tributary of the Jefferson River, and a major draw for fly fishermen. It’s just outside the town of Wisdom, population 114, which, I was grateful to see, had a gas station. You have to watch that gas tank when you’re in the wide open spaces around here! The river flows through the Big Hole Valley, sometimes called the Valley of 10,000 Haystacks. It’s haying season in Montana, so all the fields were dotted with big rolls of fresh green and gold. The scenery also includes the Pioneer Mountains, and I tool the back roads home just to savor the beautiful vistas. A few pictures can be found on my Flickr site here.

I had started my day trip with a stop at the Bannack Cemetery. It was an interesting mix of crumbling memorials, windblown fences and decaying sites exemplifying the old “dust to dust” mixed with a few brand new markers indicating century-old grave sites and bright, plastic flower arrangements left by modern-day descendants of the pioneers buried there. As I kicked through the sage brush, noticing bits of wood here and there, I had to wonder if those bits were the last remnants of old grave markers which had disintegrated before anyone could replace them. Cattle lowing in the pastures north of the cemetery added to the lonely feeling of the place. If, like me, you’re fascinated by pioneer graveyards check out the pictures on Flickr.

From Bannack I stopped in Dillon to see the Beaverhead County Museum. Alas, it was not to be; although the website says they’re open on Saturdays in summer the doors were locked. I guess that’s to be expected from an organization that relies on volunteers. Who wants to stay in an old museum on a beautiful summer day? I snapped a few pictures of the boardwalk in front of the museum as well as the little park next door and a few of the old buildings in downtown Dillon before heading to lunch at La Fiesta Mexicana, the “taco bus”. It was on to the next summer adventure.

Happy Campers

ImageCamping always seemed an onerous proposition with a laundry list of stuff you had to pack and unpack to have anything less than a primitive experience. With my return to Montana I’ve been lucky enough to be invited on the Ramsey/Haggert Camping Adventures (RHCA), and, with the others involved doing pretty much all the packing, toting and setting up, it’s a delightful experience. Sister Corinne has the Barbie camper, big enough to sleep six and furnished with toilet, stove, oven, and sink plus much of the gear you could want, as well as a big pickup to haul ilt all. Friends Ken and Karen have a pickup style camper plus a trailer with all terrain vehicles, a canopy, tables and chairs, gas grill, ax, chainsaw, and the muscles and experience to use it all. They are very generous in sharing their equipment and expertise with the rest of us who fly in, perhaps prepare a meal, and do some light KP or wood carrying. I’m very grateful for their generosity because without it I would be much more apt to experience nature at a bit more of a distance, say in someone else’s pictures.

To add to the fun the RHCA have themes, and each person provides a meal and maybe a drink that matches the theme. Some of you may have seen some pictures from our last campout on Facebook where the theme was “cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.” I went southern style with crab cakes, pimento cheese and mint juleps. We also had a great array of other appetizers and adult beverages with my parents, brother and sister-in-law joining us briefly since we’re not far from town. This time around the theme was Italy since three of the campers had just returned from a biking tour of Tuscany. Sister Dianne made a delicious peasant soup from the region for Saturday dinner, acquacotta, which is a hearty vegetable soup poured over a grilled slice of bread and poached egg, a great change from the piles of junk food that everyone goes through during the day in between hikes, ATV rides, card games, and snoozing.

Most of the RHCA take place in the Monarch Canyon area of the Lewis and Clark Forest, about an hour from my hometown of Great Falls. It was in this area that my great grandfather George Spehn owned a mine, where my father met my mother while working for the Forest Service, and where countless family hiking and picnicking expeditions have taken place since I was a child. This time around we camped next to Jumping Creek, which was still so cold from snow melt that my legs were bright pink after a brief dip. However, the fish seemed to like it; I even have a photo of a trout that hung around in the pool next to our camp site. Unlike much of the country, this area has received plenty of moisture this year, evidenced by the wildflowers and berries in full bloom everywhere you looked. The moisture has probably added to the biting fly population as well, since they were out in full force, sometimes getting at us even through the chemical protection of Raid and Skin So Soft The flies were chased away by a brief thunder boomer Saturday evening, but we humans simply moved our card game into the trailer until it blew over. Then we all gathered around the campfire which danced with green, blue and purple from the addition of Ken’s “fairy dust.” Check out the pictures on my Flickr account. Thanks again to Corinne, Karen and Ken for doing all the hard work of camping, and being willing to share it with me. Hope you all get out for your own back country adventures in this too-short summer.

Summery Summary

I’m trying to make the most of the ethereal Montana summer, but, in the process have lost track of The Bare Butte. Today I thought I’d catch you up on all that’s been happening in July, starting with my birthday celebration on the first of the month. On the way up to the folks’ I stopped at the Gates of the Mountains for my first ever boat ride up the Missouri through the towering rock formations first documented by Lewis & Clark. The trip started on Holter Lake, formed with the creation of Holter Dam in the early twentieth century. Holter is a popular recreation area, and it’s walleye season, so boat after boat was taking off from the marina as we waited to embark. The tour guide deftly maneuvered around them as he led us through a gamut of biological, geological and anthropological highlights of the river including Native American pictographs, bald eagle and osprey nests, rock formations, and historical sites. One of the more sobering sites was the  Mann Gulch, where 13 firefighters lost their lives in 1949. Pictures from the tour are on my Flickr account.

The following week I was off on a quick trip to Boise; I liked what I saw even though the temperatures were in the triple digits every day. They call Boise “Tree City” with good reason, and the greenbelt created along the Boise river adds more natural shade and cool. After a couple nights in Boise I was home in time for the Montana Folk Festival; I volunteered as a ticket seller again, which is a great gig when you’re situated at the Original Mine Yard, the site of all of the major acts’ performances. Saturday afternoon I enjoyed the Eastern European music of Harmonia, the Appalachian Deep River Rising and the Congolese Samba Ngo. My parents and brother Bill had come down for the festival, and Mom was ready for some shade and a gin and tonic by 3:00, so when my shift was over we headed home for cocktails and dinner. We decided to go back for the evening shows, but found the crowds and parking so overflowing that we opted for a ride through the countryside in back of Butte. As we rounded for home on the freeway the clouds that had been gathering all day finally let loose with a thunder and lightening explosion and torrential rains. Fortunately for the festival organizers there are several covered areas, so lots of the crowd simply moved there, or, to the delight of local business owners, the local bars and restaurants. We returned to the festival on Sunday for a couple of more acts and some festival food, and I think my father enjoyed the scene so much he may be back next year as a volunteer. Dates for next year are July 12-14; make your reservations early as this is a superb musical event, drawing folks from all over the nation, and, unbelievably, it’s FREE.

I attended another recent musical event in Butte this past week, a burlesque show put on by Big Sky Repertory in the old dance hall above Headframe Distillery. The talent was variable, but the enthusiasm was infectious and audience supportive. Tech English professor Henry Gonshak wrote a kind review in the Montana Standard. I enjoyed more of the local arts scene this past weekend with  Anaconda’s Art in the Park. It was set up just like last year’s, from the African lady selling straw hats that were all too small for yours truly’s big noggin, to a plethora of jewelry and yard art. The background music of  a horseshoe tournament was the same, too, and I paused to watch the surprisingly serious contenders, some with special horseshoe throwing gloves and curved steel sticks to retrieve the horseshoes without having to bend down. It was such a beautiful day that I decided to stop at the World Mining Museum on the way home. The museum is a recreated wild west town on the grounds of the Orphan Girl Mine Yard, just west of Montana Tech, and includes an underground tour to give you a sense of what the miners went through. I opted to stay up top; pictures of the museum and a few of the Folk Fest are collected in my Summer 2012 set on Flickr. I found one of the most intriguing exhibits at the museum to be the doll and dollhouse collection donated from a local resident, an incredible array of minute homes and businesses, and dolls from every era including action figures and, I think, every figure from every version of the Star Trek TV show ever made, a quirky surprise in a museum that is obviously a work of love from Butte, America.


Chinese Remembering

ImageIn 1877 nearly three dozen Chinese miners were massacred near their mining claim in Hells Canyon. Although three of the six accused murderers were brought to trial, the jury let them go free. Former Oregonian reporter Gregory Nokes wrote a book about the incident, Massacred for Gold, and spearheaded a fundraising effort to create a memorial to the slain miners. The memorial was dedicated in June in coordination with the conference, Chinese Remembering, which takes place annually at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID. The conference on the history of Chinese pioneers in the American Northwest intrigued me, and, since the Mai Wah society had donated to the memorial, I decided to go learn more about the project as well as network with like-minded individuals.

The drive over took six hours, mostly because more than half of it takes place on old Highway 12, a two-laner with a 50 mile an hour speed limit much of the way. Frequent signs warning “watch for stock”, “watch for rocks”, “game crossing” and “winding road next 99 miles” reinforce the need to stay focused even while the bubbling creeks and rivers that parallel the road draw your eye. At least you don’t have to contend with many of the behemoth RV/car/trailer combos that consistently lumber down the Montana interstates this time of year.

I split my drive each way with a stop at the Lochsa Lodge, a delightful compound near the Lolo Pass on the Lochsa River that includes a gas station, rental cabins and a gift shop/cafe that had good Reubens for lunch and huckleberry pancakes for breakfast. My lunch stop was well timed as I placed my order just as the bus from the senior center in Missoula arrived. I eavesdropped on the seniors while I ate; the group near me included a couple of sisters and one brother (the lone man on the tour), and wondered if that would be me and my siblings some day.

The morning before the conference I took an historical trolley ride around Lewiston which highlighted some of the beautiful homes along Prospect Avenue, and included a stop at Prospect Park on the bluffs overlooking the Snake River. The park was an early Chinese cemetery, and, according to recent soundings, the folks buried there still remain in residence. No evidence remains of the cemetery, so the people organizing the conference and the memorial are also involved in yet another admirable project to post an updated sign educating visitors as to the park’s former use. The tour concluded with a stop by the more contemporary Lewiston cemetery which included quite a large Chinese section with markers. This is quite a contrast with the Butte cemetery which has few indications of the many Chinese who were interred there, at least for a while.

Before the conference began I stopped by the Campus Corner Cafe for some of their super soup and a wee dessert shot of chocolate mousse, then enjoyed a stroll through the beautifully green LCSC campus. The conference involved an afternoon of speakers and then a reception at the Lewiston Center for Arts & History with a scrumptious buffet of Chinese food from the Mandarin Pine. The reception also afforded an opportunity to look at the furnishings from the Beuk Aie Temple, a Daoist temple that served Lewiston’s Chinese community for decades, and a chance to talk with the many Chinese-Americans attending the event from California, Seattle, and Portland including the Daoist Master Eman and his acolytes, who were there to bless the memorial site.

Next day was the jet boat trip up the Snake River to the memorial dedication, a glorious all day trip up Hells Canyon with a stop at the Garden Creek Ranch, a place sometimes referred to as Chinese Garden Creek because of the former residents and their production of fruits and vegetables for the surrounding population. It was an idyllic spot with an orchard through which a wild turkey family and deer meandered while we ate our box lunches. Our tour guide was great, pointing out historical and geological features of the canyon, including several spots with Indian petroglyphs. The memorial dedication went well, with a Nez Perce elder starting the ceremony, then handing off to the Daoists who invoked the spirits, made offerings, and cleared the air of residual pain and sadness. What a wonderful tribute to the slain miners. What a wonderful trip all around. My drive home went smoothly with only brief stops to have breakfast and to scold a deer standing in the middle of highway 12 – really! She stood and looked at me as I pulled up, and only bounded off when I hollered at her to stay off the road, silly thing. Pictures from the trip are on my Flickr account. Here’s to more summer adventures!

Salt Lake City


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I spent last week in Salt Lake City at a technical seminar and conference, mostly waaay too technical for this here librarian, but it was a great networking opportunity and a chance to see a place I’d only been to as a connecting point for flights. The downtown was still quite spiffy from hosting the Winter Olympics a dacade ago, but here and there you saw empty storefronts as evidence that the recession has hit here, too.

The event was hosted in part by Mormon institutions and there were a number of presentations by folks from BYU and the LDS church history library. These guys are truly tech savvy, but share their knowledge in a pleasant and accessible manner; their presentations were among my favorites and inspired some new ideas for gaining a clean, usable look for our library web pages. Plus it was lovely to have off-the-cuff conversations with these clean-cut, affable young men who seemed to actually care. No, I’m not converting, but the kindness, work ethic and family orientation of the Mormon people are a nice break from what is usually encountered in a big American city. And we encountered a bit of the usual, too, like homeless folks and the drug/alcohol addled in our traipses around town, so it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. I especially appreciated the “art car” that drove by with a large pirate flag flying from the aerial and back end cut out to fit in a large ratty couch complete with teddy bear.

Our hotel was just down the street from the Mormon “campus” or Temple Square where flowers were in full bloom, and some variety of tree lent a fresh perfume to the air. Fountains and pools dot the grounds and there were always a number of bridal parties in full regalia getting their pictures taken with the idyllic background. We were able to go inside the building for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an impressive site, and were just in time to hear demonstrations of the fabulous acoustics from an Austrian LDS sister who was leading a tour.

The company which put on the seminar and produces the products which the conference was centered around is headquartered in Israel, so there was quite a contingent from there, as well as all over the world. It was great to hear Hebrew, Australian and Irish accents, not to mention those of the New York contingent I got to know at one of the receptions. The week was a double-edged sword for me, making me feel more positive about the possibilities in library and information management, but adding to my impatience to be out in a bigger place where those possibilities can be made real. All things in time, right?

Pickin’ & Grinnin’

We had dueling lodge events this past Sunday in Butte, a polka fest at the Elks or fiddling jam at the Eagles. With an $8 entry fee you got dinner at the Elks, but I went for the free fiddling, stopping first at the Headframe tasting room to try out some of their latest adult beverage creations. I think the basil lemonade will probably be a top seller for them this summer, although the mint julep is also a mighty tasty, herby warm weather cooler. From the Headframe I simply toddled up the hill a couple of doors to the Eagles to see how the Montana State Old-Time Fiddlers Association was “keeping the fiddle spirit alive.”

The Eagles must have done their place up some time in the 70’s and it still retains that faux wood paneling rec room feeling. Families of  the musicians sat at folding tables in the main room; there weren’t exactly welcoming smiles on anyone’s faces, so I headed to the bar for one of the super cheap drinks you’ll almost always find at lodge bars, and hopefully, more congenial company. I was foiled there when a gal on the second day of her bender latched onto me. Unfortunately she was a close talker, and even more unfortunately, she wasn’t wearing her lower plate, so there was some spit involved. Oh well, I shook (or wiped) it off, and tried to enjoy the music. Most of the folks who started out the jam session were well into their sixties, but as the day progressed we got to see some youngsters, too, as the old-timers wandered in and out of sets in various combos. I especially liked the guitar player who was all duded out in black, from his cowboy boots, to his cowboy shirt piped in white, to his hat. His guitar even matched his outfit, black with mother of pearl insets. He wandered by and I could see the diamond glinting in one ear and get a whiff of, was that Brut or Old Spice?

In addition to fiddling I’ve been investigating some of Butte’s local answers to the national fast food chains. Here’s a Yelp review that neatly summarizes what I found at Royse’s, a burger place on Harrison, “Formerly an Arctic Circle franchise (and still serving some of the regional chain’s same kind of food), Royse’s sells a different take on your typical fast food hamburger. Many sandwiches are named after Montana cities (I recommend the Butte burger). Royse’s is also unique in that it serves a special fry sauce, and it dispenses Mountain Dew alongside Coke products. Shakes are made with real ice cream. Tangy juice drinks are also available. Royse’s is a decent alternative to the national chains, and has been owned by the same family for decades.” The only thing I’m not a fan of is their ass-backward “drive-in” on the passenger side of the car. I would have to climb over the center console to get my food, so usually just park and wander in.

The other burger joint I have to be sure and mention is the Bonanza Freeze, which seems to be Butte’s answer to Dairy Queen. In addition to all the ice cream treats they have burgers, hot dogs, and anything that you can deep fat fry. I like their creativity in naming menu items; I think the Cyclone must be their version of the Blizzard, while the Lolly Ring might be the equivalent of a Dilly Bar. I still haven’t tried the Winamucka Burger, Bosco Stix, Sour Cream Fry or Macadoodle, so can’t tell you what the heck they are, but the names do intrigue. There’s no seating at the Bonanza; you either do the drive-through or walk up to the window and then wait in your car for your order. Somehow they manage to keep open even during Butte’s extreme winter weather. More power to them!