Updated Depot: Historic Billings Depot thriving as events center
By Allyn Hulteng
Jennifer Mercer’s eyes light up as she guides a newly-engaged couple around the historic Billings Depot. As executive director of one of the city’s most iconic buildings, Mercer delights in showing off the beautifully restored edifice, weaving bits of local lore into her tour.
“It’s encapsulated history,” Mercer said. “There’s no other place like this.”
Elegant, with ornamental columns, articulated beams and plaster relief, the interior bespeaks of another era, evoking a sense of timeless grandeur.
The authentic vintage appeal is perhaps one reason the Depot has become a popular venue for weddings and other community events. Yet the fate of this legacy landmark could have been far different had a handful of visionaries not intervened.
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Red Ants Pants Music Festival quickly becoming a Montana summertime favorite
By Kelsey Dayton
Photos by Erik Petersen
The stars radiated in the sky as they do only in Montana, flaming, shooting and omnipresent, far from any competition from man-made light as singer Brandi Carlile came back to the stage.
The indie folk rocker had started her set under a true Montana sunset that faded into a night of stars as she sang.
It was the type of moment that makes Montana’s vast sky so famous.
Rising from the prairie near the base of the Castle Mountains, just past the small town of White Sulphur Springs, stacked bales of hay and livestock equipment fill much of the space along one of Montana’s trademark stretches of highway – until a miniature tent city appears each July.
“It’s the middle of nowhere, and as I kind of like to think of it, the middle of everywhere,” said Sarah Calhoun, the founding owner of Red Ants Pants and producer of the same named music festival she decided to host in a local rancher’s field outside White Sulphur Springs, a town of about 900.
For three days each July, well-known musicians like Carlile – and this year, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Lee Ann Womack – play the main stage at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival.
Music from up-and-comers fills the air from a second stage nearby on festival grounds.
If you go: Red Ants Pants Music Festival
The Red Ants Pants Music Festival is July 23-26 in White Sulphur Springs, featuring the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Keb’ Mo’, Lee Ann Womack and Ryan Bingham.
A weekend pass costs $125 in advance; single day passes cost $50. Camping near festival grounds costs $20.
For more, click here.
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Berry lovers find paradise in ‘Huckleberry Capitol of the Montana’
Story and photos by Aaron Theisen
In western Montana, where a relatively short history of permanent human settlement combined with long distances between settlers has somewhat slowed the development of cultural institutions, one tiny fruit has served as a common currency: the huckleberry. Native American tribes that inhabited the region prized the huckleberry harvest as an opportunity to visit relatives and interact with members of other tribes.
European settlers quickly realized the social as well as nutritional benefits of the berries, too, and picking picnics often turned into courting grounds.
- Scroll down to find a set of huckleberry recipes
Often, huckleberry camps high in the mountains represented the bulk of the interaction between the Native Americans and white settlers. Come mid-summer in western Montana, much as it’s done for thousands of years, the huckleberry – which itself has resisted domestication – continues to cultivate a sense of community.
Friends and strangers can discuss the huckleberry forecast or their latest haul – if not their favored picking spot.
Communities throughout the region celebrate the strong pull of the purple berry with festivals.
But it’s in western Montana’s Cabinet Mountains, a lightly inhabited region of rugged ridgelines, expansive wildflower meadows and steep, glacier-gouged basins of beargrass and bighorn sheep, that the huckleberry has attained mystical status.
Here, tucked between the slow-moving waters of the Clark Fork River and the Cabinet Mountains, tiny Trout Creek bills itself as the “Huckleberry Capitol of Montana.”
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Savoring Summer: Our pick-your-own picks
Story and photos by Jessica Lowry
It is a luminous, neon-blue June morning as sunlight spills across the low rows of strawberries at Red Hen Farm. Marked by a large red barn, these 10 lush acres at the edge of Missoula in Western Montana has become a produce-picking destination for families, cooks and fruit-lovers alike.
Visitors to the farm won’t find anything particularly fancy.
On one side of the two-lane road leading to the farm is an open field for public picking. On the other side sits the family residence and a table with a small, metal scale where you can pay for your handpicked treasure by the pound.
What sends droves of locals and tourists to visit each summer?
That first, exquisite bite of freshly picked fruit.
At Red Hen Farm there are 18 different kinds of strawberries to keep you hunting for just the right one.
Greg Peters, 42, and his wife Julie Engh Peters, 37, have run the pick-your-own portion of their farm for the past four years.
“Our typical year produces 8,000 pounds of strawberries,” Greg said.
With Lolo Peak as a backdrop, it doesn’t get much more picturesque.
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Glacier’s longest-running hiking crew forms close bond with park
Story and photos by Becky Lomax
On a gray drippy day, a group of 16 Flathead Valley hikers, ages 60 to mid-80, eyeball the pouring rain.
Inside their restaurant meeting place on the west side of Glacier National Park, no one looks at a menu to order breakfast.
The waitress, greeting the regulars by name, asks, “You want the usual?”
One member quips, “With the rain, maybe we should stick around for lunch.”
But weather does not deter these weekly hikers. Not rain, snow or single-digit temperatures.
Every Thursday, nearly year round, the Over the Hill Gang meets at the Glacier Grill in Coram.
After breakfast, they depart to multiple trailheads – some to lung-busting, seldom-visited peaks, and others to worn paths where every red mudstone and gnarled sub-alpine fir is a familiar friend.
It was 1976 when five men in their 60s launched the Over the Hill Gang.
Since then, the gang has grown, evolved with new faces, and garnered the reputation as the longest running hiking group in Glacier. The big adventurers have climbed to hidden lakes, bushwhacked cross-country routes, and summited crags, often returning after dark.
For hikers that could have bragging rights as giant as the roster of peaks they’ve climbed, they ditched egos years ago behind some clump of beargrass in favor of camaraderie.
Glacier’s Over the Hill Gang
Year Established: 1976
Headquarters: Glacier Grill, Coram
Membership dues: $0
Hiking day: every Thursday, year-round
Attendance: approximately 30, for peak summer hikes
To read the full story on the Over the Hill Gang, subscribe today!
Treasure State Hidden Gem: Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum
By Vince Devlin
Photos by Tom Bauer
It would take more than a day to hit all the museums in Great Falls, but it would be time well spent.
No visit to the Electric City, of course, is complete without taking in the C.M. Russell Museum, where you can explore the paintings, sketches and sculptures by one of Montana’s favorite sons and one of America’s greatest Western artists, and visit Charlie Russell’s home and log-cabin studio as well.
There is also the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, considered one of the finest of its kind in the nation by many Lewis and Clark buffs. The Great Falls Museums Consortium can also direct you to the Montana Museum of Railroad History, the Children’s Museum of Montana or the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, to name just half of the consortium members.
- Read more about the Electric City here
In all the varied choices, don’t let this one escape your attention: It’s the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum and Air Park.
It’s really quite fascinating, especially if you let a museum staff member show you around.
Malmstrom is a U.S. Air Force base without an airplane, control tower or flying mission. There are, however, helicopters at the base that patrol almost 14,000 square miles of the central Montana prairie.
That’s where 150 Minuteman III missiles and their nuclear warheads, capable of traveling 15,000 mph, are buried. Malmstrom is home to the 341st Missile Wing of the Air Force Global Strike Command.
At the museum you’ll learn all about the missiles and the Cold War that brought them to Montana. The original concept, interestingly, was to place the missiles on train cars, not underground, and have them constantly on the move. The idea was that a moving target would be a more difficult target for America’s enemies.
Malmstrom may lack airplanes today, but that wasn’t always the case.
Established during World War II, the base helped shuttle almost 8,000 aircraft to Fairbanks, Alaska, from 1942-45. Sometimes they carried supplies, and other times it was the planes themselves that were bound for our WWII ally, the Soviet Union.
- See more photos from across Great Falls here
At the air park outside the museum you can see several of the planes that did call Malmstrom home when the base had flying missions during its first half-century, including a KC-97 stratotanker, an F-84F Thunderstreak fighter bomber, an EB-47B Canberra tactical bomber used for electronic reconnaissance and radar-jamming, not to mention an LGM-30G Minuteman Missile that gives the base its purpose today.
Malmstrom Museum Tip Sheet
Anyone with an interest in military history in general, and the U.S. Air Force in particular, will enjoy the Malmstrom Museum. But an interest in history or technology, period, will make it a worthwhile stop, and kids will like both the roomful of shelves filled with models of aircraft the U.S. military has used – from WWI biplanes to the stealth bomber and Air Force One – to the real things outside the museum in the air park.
How to see it
You’re free to wander the museum on your own and read about the exhibits. But we highly recommend asking if a museum staffer is available to give you a tour. You’ll learn lots more than is printed on the displays, and find your visit is far more informative and interesting.
Seeing the museum won’t cost you any money, just a little time – there’ll be some paperwork involved, seeing as you’re being admitted onto an active military base. They’ll help you at the Malmstrom Visitor Center at the 2nd Avenue North gate.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you have questions, call 731-2705.
Vince Devlin is a frequent Montana Magazine contributor. He writes from Polson.
It’s movie star season in Montana
Missoulians – especially those at the MADE Fair in downtown Caras Park – were excited by a couple of mega movie star sightings last weekend when Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were spotted shopping at the craft fair and buying coffee at a local shop.
The Missoulian’s David Erickson has the story:
Chase Taylor might be one of the only people in the world who has talked with Leonardo DiCaprio – arguably one of the most famous celebrities on the planet – without having any idea who he was.
Taylor spent Sunday at Caras Park helping his wife Paisley with her baby clothing business, Paisley Designs, at the Missoula MADE Fair, an alternative arts and crafts market featuring local artists.
A bearded man walked by, and Taylor did what any good salesman would do. He called him over to check out the baby clothes.
“My wife was out of the booth breast-feeding our son,” Taylor recalled. “Leo wasn’t interested in buying my wife’s clothes, but I pulled him in and talked to him. I was one of the very few people that got him to go into a booth. He was a very nice guy. It was a very brief conversation, and I gave him my business card and then he left. And then the lady next to me told me who he was. I had no idea.”
The man was DiCaprio, a five-time Academy Award nominee who probably doesn’t enter into many conversations with people who don’t recognize him.
“He looked like a normal Missoulian,” Taylor said. “He fit in very well. It was kind of cool to see someone that famous here on a very hot day.”
Read the rest of the story here.
Preview: Our July/August issue hits mailboxes next week
It’s heeeerreeee: Our summertime issue, that is.
We can’t wait for you to read it. Below are a couple summertime stories you’ll find inside the July/August 9issue. But first, did you like our sneak peek of our amazing cover by photographer Kurt Wilson? It plays well with our main feature, Stages and Skies (see below).
- We’re taking you to the best little music fest in the West
- I can tell you that writer Kelsey Dayton did a beautiful job capturing the spirit of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival, a one-of-a-kind celebration that takes place “in the middle of nowhere,” and at the same time “the middle of everywhere.”
- We’re all about the berries – huckleberries and pick-your-own strawberries that i
- Aaron Theisen takes us to Trout Creek, which is officially (thanks to a legislative designation) the huckleberry capitol of the state. Jessica Lowry went hunting for berries as well, and found a more domesticated, but equally as sweet, set of fruit in her pick-your-own story. Lowry will introduce you to two farms in particular that allow pickers to find and savor the sweetness of summer.
- We’ll introduction you to the longest-running hiking crew inside Glacier National Park
- They don’t pay dues and they don’t follow maps. And their status as hikers inside Glacier is legendary.
- We’ll tell you about a yurt camp with some of the most delicious food west of the Mississippi
- In the fourth installment of our The Last Best Plates series takes us to the American Prairie Reserve where gourmet dinners are served out of yurts.
Ready to read yet? Here’s a couple summertime stories from last year to tide you over.