Montana places to explore during Memorial Day weekend
It’s a long weekend and a weekend that launches us into the wonderful time of year that is summer in Montana.
If you’re looking for some inspiration to explore, we’ve some Montana beauty to share:
- Take in a sunset. Photographer Alex Sholes caught this one near Stockett and shared it with us on our Facebook page. More of our favorite reader photos are here
Meet Yellowstone’s faithful Geyser Gazers
Some people love watching wildlife. Some people love chasing storms.
Some people, as we told readers in our May/June issue, love gazing at geysers.
Our “Faithful Gazers” story introduces a set of people who have fallen in love with the immense set of geysers in Yellowstone National Park. Their work to observe and record the geyser behavior is going a long way to help park staff and visitors learn about the geysers.
It’s a really cool story about a set of cool people (subscribe today to get all our full stories).
But first what, exactly, is a geyser? We’re glad you asked:
Geysers are hot springs with constrictions in their plumbing, usually near the surface, that prevent water from circulating freely to the surface where heat would escape.
There are more geysers in Yellowstone National Park than anywhere else on the planet.
Though born of the same water and rock, what is enchanting is how differently they play in the sky. Riverside Geyser, in the Upper Geyser Basin, shoots at an angle across the Firehole River, often forming a rainbow in its mist. Castle erupts from a cone shaped like the ruins of some medieval fortress. Grand explodes in a series of powerful bursts, towering above the surrounding trees. Echinus spouts up and out to all sides like a fireworks display of water. And Steamboat, the largest in the world, pulsates like a massive steam engine in a rare, but remarkably memorable eruption, reaching heights of 300 to 400 feet.
– Courtesy of the National Parks Service
Glacier and Yellowstone: Come with us from Park-to-Park
By Jenna Cederberg
If you set out via vehicle to see both Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, you’ll find many routes on many roads that will take you from park to park.
Google the question and you’re presented with one 370-mile driving route through Montana in about six hours and 36 minutes.
For our Park-to-Park issue, we’re suggesting a broader loop around the state that runs close to 973 miles total.
Whether you want to go from Yellowstone to Glacier, or vice-a-versa, take a look at these routes that’ll take you through a good chunk of the Big Sky State. Whether you make the entire drive or not, don’t worry: Head east or head west, north or south, there are more than a few things to see along the way.
East Route: Roughly 530 miles
Start: Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
Finish: St. Mary/East entrance, Glacier National Park
Leave Old Faithful, head north on U.S. Highway 89 about 18 miles until the Madison Campground – where you’ll veer east and continue on Highway 89 on a portion of the Grand Loop Road – open only in the summer season – for about 164 miles, hopping off the Loop at Mammoth and driving along the Yellowstone River until you reach Livingston. Then, you’ll drive for 170 miles from Livingston to Great Falls. Next, you’ll take Interstate 15 north to Vaughn, connect with Highway 89 again, this time heading west past Freezout Lake, Choteau and north to Browning. Drive 175 miles from Great Falls through Browning and you’ll arrive at the St. Mary entrance to Glacier National Park. Then, you’re ready to head up Going-to-the-Sun Road.
– Gardiner – A “full service” town, according to the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce, this is a must stop to get gas and supplies before continuing through some long stretches of road without gas stations. You might also run into some bison, which are known to walk the town’s streets on occasion near the famous Roosevelt Arch.
– Livingston – By the time you reach this artsy town, you’ll most likely be ready for a bite to eat. Gil’s Goods on the main drag – Park Street – has menu items like sweet homemade sodas and sourdough French toast.
– White Sulphur Springs – Now home to one of the Montana’s most popular summer music festivals – the Red Ants Pants Music Festival – this town lives up to its name in the Spa Hot Springs Motel and Clinic, where there are gorgeous pools filled with natural hot mineral water. Each pool is drained every day, and no chemicals are ever used.
– Great Falls – Perhaps the most famous cowboy painter of all time made this city his home, and the museum named for Charlie Russell is a must-stop on this park-to-park route. The C.M. Russell Museum is home to more than 12,000 permanent collection objects – from Russell originals to his log home and studio.
– Freezout Lake – A wildlife management area on the Rocky Mountain Front, Freezout Lake is a prime stop along the route for anyone looking to spot birds. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, beyond the well-known spring migration that brings thousands of geese and swans to the area, the grasses and marshes of the area attract more than 227 species of birds each year.
West Route: Roughly 443 miles
Start: West Entrance, Glacier National Park
Finish: West Yellowstone
Head south on U.S. Route 2, leaving Glacier National Park on your way toward Flathead Lake. You’ll drive for 35 miles on Route 2, turning south again on Montana Highway 93 at Kalispell and down the west side of Flathead. You’ll approach Missoula after approximately 120 miles, merging onto Interstate 90 heading east at The Wye just west of Missoula. Head east on Interstate 90 for about 168 miles, until you’re just east of Whitehall, when you’ll turn south on Montana Highway 287. You’ll drive for about 120 miles on Highway 287, past Hebgen Lake, before heading south on Montana Highway 191 until you find West Yellowstone.
– Hungry Horse – Sometimes known as “Huck Town, USA,” Hungry Horse is just outside Glacier’s boundaries and is a must-stop for anyone who loves huckleberries. The Huckleberry Patch on Route 2 in the middle of town offers just about everything huckleberry – including one of the best huckleberry shakes in the area, complete with whole hucks at the bottom of each glass.
– Pablo – The People’s Center in Pablo, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is the place to get to know the heritage of the Salish, Pend d’Orielle and Kootenai tribes. The museum includes 1,200 square feet of exhibits and a gift shop that sells local Native American artwork.
– Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge – If at all possible, plan to stop at the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge just as the sun is setting. Not only is it home to a spectacular spread of wetlands, to the east is an unbeatable view of the Mission Mountains.
– Missoula – Next to the Clark Fork River and host of outdoor events throughout the year, Caras Park in downtown Missoula is a perfect stopover spot on your way from park to park. There’s Out to Lunch each Wednesday in the summers, and Downtown ToNight each Thursday. Both feature live music and food from local food trucks.
– Ennis – Officially listed on the “Backroad to Yellowstone” tour that runs through the Madison Valley, this town might be best known for its fly fishing features. But there are a lot of other sites to see, including an outdoor art walk featuring the largest hand-tied fly ever made.
Gesyer Gazers keep track of Yellowstone’s erupting thermal features
By Kelsey Dayton
“Go. Come on,” Mara Reed, 18, whispered staring at the bubbling, steaming thermal feature in front of her.
“Come on,” she said with more urgency staring at Big Cub and Little Cub, two geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park.
Ryan Maurer, 19, stood next to her, frantically scribbling notes on each puff of steam and gurgle of water, calling in updates on his radio. His eyes darting across the geyser basin, head cocked so he could listen for sounds of other thermal features in the area.
Yellowstone is home to the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Visitors travel from all over to witness eruptions, but a dedicated few – like Reed and Maurer – spends weeks or even months in the park, waiting, watching and logging data.
These are geyser gazers.
“Geyser gazers are crazier than wolf watchers, but not as crazy as cave divers,” Maurer said.
- To learn more about the current activity of geysers inside Yellowstone National Park, click here.
The term “geyser gazer” refers to someone dedicated to recording data on eruptions, spending weeks each year in the park taking notes and fastidiously watching and waiting – sometimes for hours or days – for their favorite thermal features to shoot water skyward.
Most gazers are members of the Geyser Observation and Study Association, which logs data online.
To read the entire Geyser Gazer story, subscribe today.
Historic Yellowstone hotel gets national recognition
Big news for a big part of Yellowstone National Park: The historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
It is the oldest hotel inside America’s first national park.
Initially designed by architect N.L. Haller of Washington, D.C., and constructed in 1891, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel was entirely reconceived in the first decades of the 20th century by architect Robert C. Reamer as a grand resort hotel displaying the Colonial Revival style. Currently the park’s oldest hotel in existence, the building overlooks the north shore of Yellowstone Lake.
This comes after a $28.5 million renovation, according to the Billings Gazette story.
Here’s a little more about the renovation:
Perched along the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, the hotel is far from major attractions like Old Faithful and the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River, so it’s usually less crowded, hosting visitors who typically move at a slower pace.
The hotel first opened in 1891 as a three-story clapboard structure with 80 guest rooms. Between 1903 and 1937, a series of expansions led by architect Robert Reamer turned the hotel into a 210-room Colonial Revival style lakefront complex beloved for a its Ionic columns and genteel sun room, which still hosts string quartets and pianists performing for visitors taking a sweeping view of the largest alpine lake in North America.
Adding bathrooms to each guest room has cut the current room count to 153.
Learn more about our upcoming issue featuring Yellowstone here.
Yellowstone roads set to open
It’s time to get your summer park plans in order. The mild winter around Montana means that the parks are beginning to awake early this year.
Portions of roads inside Yellowstone National Park (open to bikes only for a few weeks) are set to open Friday.
The road from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will open for the season at 8 a.m.
Each spring, Yellowstone National Park plow crews clear snow and ice from 198 miles of main road, 124 miles of secondary roads and 125 acres of parking lots inside the park, as well as 31 miles of the Beartooth Highway outside the park’s Northeast Entrance to prepare for the summer season.
Additional road segments in the park will open during May as road clearing operations progress.
We’ll be taking readers into both Yellowstone and Glacier in our upcoming Park-to-Park issue.
As for Glacier – here’s a look at plowing progress on Going-to-the-Sun-Road.
Want more of Montana all year? Subscribe today and don’t miss our Park-to-Park issue.
Yellowstone! Glacier! Come with us on our Park-to-Park journey
We’ve got National Parks on the brain this month at Montana Magazine for a couple reasons.
For one, we’re preparing to send our Park-to-Park issue where we’ll take readers from Yellowstone to Glacier and back again in a couple ways (spoiler alert: there’s a map and a couple can’t-miss features.)
- Subscribe today!
For example, take writer Kelsey Dayton’s story on Yellowstone’s “geyser gazers.”
The feature showcases not only the geysers of Yellowstone, but the self-appointed stewards of the geysers. They’re a set of people who dedicate years’ worth of vacation time to documenting the activity of geysers. Their data allows rangers to guide millions of visitors around the park, so they can have their own geyser gazing experiences.
Our Park-to-Park issue ships to subscribers on April 30.
Also, the National Parks Service launched its Find Your Park campaign this week, as it gears up for the 2016 centennial of the National Parks System. The new website includes several videos – including this one where Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone makes an appearance.
Still want more from Glacier and Yellowstone? We’ll help you find the people and place that make Montana’s national parks special year round in Montana Magazine. Subscribe today!
Nat Geo photo shows hungry grizzly digging for pine nuts
We noted earlier this year that Montana bears were waking up pretty early this winter, as the unseasonably warm temperatures had them coming out of hibernation in mid February.
They were hungry then. But perhaps not as hungry as just before they went to sleep last winter. National Geographic featured a bear in the Beartooth Mountains inside Yellowstone National Park stealing pine nuts last winter as its Photo of the Day (by Drew Rush) today on Facebook. The grizzly was captured by a “camera trap” set up by Rush and tripped by the bear.
It’s easy to see why it’s the Nat Geo Shot of the Day. Rush a set of awesome of photos of the bear digging in the Yellowstone snow to find much need food.
But he also had a close encounter with a hungry bear while checking the camera that left him shaken but unhurt. Rush describes the experience for National Geographic in this Proof blog post.
When he finally retrieved the camera, he found the awesome shot of the Grizzly – as well as some other awesome wildlife shots.
Check them out!