I love September in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Every year I point my car West and head to Wyoming and Montana.
After many years of traveling as fast as I could to get to where I was going, I decided to slow down a bit and see the sights I’d been missing.
First stop out of Chicago, Badlands National Park
I booked a cabin inside the park, arriving just before sunset. I had dinner that night at the Wagon Wheel Bar in the town of Interior, just down the road. Damn good pizza and an unremarkable IPA.
In the morning I did a sunrise hike, a loop comprised of Saddle Pass, Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail. After scrambling up the steep, rocky saddle, being careful to not wake any sleeping rattlesnakes, the trail opened up onto a vast, flat grassland surrounded by castle-spire rock formations. As the light quickly changed, from deep orange to hazy yellow, the shadows receded and the land grew ever more expansive. The temperature rose and the dry rocks and cracked-mud path seemed to suck the moisture from the air. It was officially daybreak- time to hit the road!
I drove the more scenic route through Casper, to Dubois, and on through the Grand Tetons to Jackson, Wyoming. I was treated to a beautiful sunset made even more red behind the Tetons by the smoky air moving east from burning fires farther west.
I first visited Jackson, Wyoming in the summer of 2014. It was a stop on my quest for awesome trails to ride. I wasn’t disappointed. In between rides I met many gallery and shop owners in town, making new friends and business alliances. The following year I exhibited my work at the Western Design Conference. What an exciting place to shop the best artisans of the West. The conference holds an annual design competition and awards thousands of dollars to winning artists in fashion, jewelry, woodworking, mixed media, interior design, home accents, and the very special Sonny Tuttle Western Spirit Award. As a previous award recipient, it was an honor to serve on this year’s panel of judges.
I stayed in Jackson three nights, riding and visiting art galleries. There are many wonderful art galleries in Jackson, representing the best of the classic western history, western lifestyle and American wildlife genres. While I have a real appreciation for this work, my personal taste has always had a contemporary bent to it. My favorite gallery in Jackson is Altamira. No one in the country shows contemporary American western art better. I was excited to see that the gallery now represents one of my favorite western landscape artists, Robert Moore, as well as other personal favorites, David Frederick Riley, Duke Beardsley, Jared Sanders and Greg Woodard. If you visit Jackson, take time out and take in this gallery. In the meantime, you can visit www.altamiraart.com. It’s always time well spent.
My last morning in Jackson began with another sunrise start and a hike at Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons National Park. Bear spray in hand, and boots laced up, I headed out for a short hike around the Moose Pond. My early start was rewarded with few hikers and two grazing moose, a cow and a big buck! I was able to safely hike up a nearby grassy knoll to get these photos.
The moose is the largest of the deer family and grows a most impressive set of antlers. After their first year, starting in the spring, the male moose grows his first set of antlers. The antlers grow all summer and are usually complete by September to be ready by October for mating season. The antlers grow larger and more ornate each passing year until a buck reaches his prime. In this photo, you can see the velvet that nourishes the bone-comprised antlers falling off.
After mating season, antlered mammals will shed their old rack and in the spring, start to grow a new one once again. The antlers that make up the archways in Jackson’s town center are elk antler sheds found on the migratory route now protected as the Elk Refuge located just a few blocks out of town.
Even though it was after Labor Day and wildfires were making alternate days smoke-filled, there were still large numbers of visitors touring the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. Instead of the snow I was expecting, temperatures were in the 90s during the day. Summertime was extended this year. So, I opted for the shorter, more direct route to my next stop, my western home base of Polaris, Montana.
I arrived in Polaris, a small shire 50 miles outside of Dillon, just before a high wind and harsh rain rolled in followed by the most breath-taking rainbow I have ever seen! I reunited with friends over dinner and turned in early. Saturday I met a fabulous group of women in Dillon to be part of the annual Hike for the Cure. The hike raises money for the Barrett Hospital Foundation Mammography Fund. This fund provides much-needed assistance to uninsured and underinsured women facing breast cancer and its treatment. A cancer diagnosis can be especially challenging for rural women who must travel many hours to a facility that provides the necessary treatment and care.
The annual hike is a challenging endeavor up Mt. Baldy, with its 10,500-foot summit, in the Pioneer Mountains of the Beaverhead Deer Lodge National Forest.
My sea-level lungs added an additional challenge, but what is lacking in fitness and acclimatization, can be overcome with enthusiasm. It felt great to be able to reach the summit with some of Montana’s finest women!
After some time in Polaris, I headed to Bozeman for a few days with Ashley Childs. I have known Ashley for going on 15 years. As a young art student, Ashley worked for me as part of the internship program for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduation, she continued working with me as the project manager. After her tenure with me, she went on to create her own company. Ashley is an accomplished jewelry designer, forger, knife maker and entrepreneur. I am so pleased to be part of her new venture, elk & Hammer- definitely check out this link- she is creating something really special here! Elk & Hammer is presenting some of America’s most creative, innovative, quality makers. She introduces the artists to her audience through artful photography and storytelling. She is featuring painters, sculptors, knife makers, and bison ranchers among others with world-class photographers and writers. This is a mailing list you really want to join. I am so proud to be featured. The photoshoot was held at the beautiful North Bridger Bison Ranch with famous cowboy photographer, Ian Mahathey and writer Jessica Byerly. elk & Hammer is representing my buckles and western-inspired jewelry.
Photo courtesy of elk & Hammer
Photo courtesy of elk & Hammer
From Bozeman, I headed north to Missoula for a visit to A. Banks Gallery. Alissa Banks Hamilton, formerly of Bozeman, has recently opened her new gallery in historic downtown Missoula. She represents traditional and contemporary western painters and sculptors including Jim Bortz, Troy Collins, Mike Barlow and Sally Vannoy, as well as my limited edition sterling silver buckles and jewelry. Please visit https://www.abanksgallery.com/ The gallery is in a historic building that has recently undergone a beautiful renovation and restoration. It adjoins the new AC Hotel.
At this point in my journey, I was left with just a few days before I’d promised to be back in Chicago and so many cool ideas of places to go, and things to do! I spent the day driving north through the Flathead on up to Glacier National Park.
I entered the park in West Glacier and drove the full Going-to-the-Sun Road, taking in the scenery and taking photos along the way. I left the park at the east exit and made my way back to route 2 and continued west to Whitefish. The trails were calling me….
I stayed at the Whitefish Bike Retreat located on 20 wooded acres 8 miles out of town, down a steep gravel road. The lodge is a well-appointed upscale hostel with a communal kitchen, and baths and the most wonderful wood-fired sauna! The property has its own trails and a cool pump track with a twisty jump-line that connects directly to The Whitefish Trail, an ever-growing network of trails spanning over 41 miles with 38 different trails. It's on Trailforks.
I had a blast riding and ended the day in the sauna followed by a trip back to town for a beautiful dinner and relaxing glass of wine at Abruzzo Italian Kitchen.
It was a perfect day. I would have extended my stay a few more days for more trail exploring, but the rains came and kept me on schedule- it was time to get on back to Roscoe Village. I pointed my rig east and had the most delightful drive back through northern Montana along the High Line with Canada just to my left and the setting sun in my rearview mirror.
'Til next time, sweet Montana, I keep you in my heart….