Sunday, September 10, 2017

4 Weeks in Montana: Prospecting, Chokecherries, Hay Sculpture, and Boondocking Numbers

Chokecherry Festival Lewistown, MT
      We began our journey eastward once again toward home in Michigan.  It was a long visit with Mom, but in the end we did the best we could making sure she was taken care of and everything we could do was accomplished.  She is in much better health than when arrived nearly 4 months ago.  Barb and I spent some very good quality time with her.  We spent 2 days in Naches, WA to gather some fresh fruit and honey.  We picked up some Fireweed and Chokecherry Honey, Marionberry and Chokecherry Jelly, Creamy Bacon Blue Cheese Mustard, Pickled Beans, and Doughnut Peaches.  We had never seen these before, but boy were they sweet and delicious!  
Naches fruit market

Doughnut Peaches
   We headed across Montana with several stops to prospect and enjoy life. We stopped at Lincoln's 50,000 Dollar Casino in Haugan, MT.  Still warm but shady and high in the mountains just across the Montana border at mile marker 16.   Free camping with electric and water as well as a few slots and good food inside. This is a pretty standard stop for us.  It was pretty full when we got there, but managed to tuck in behind a motor coach where there was still one hookup left.  There is a large turnover here daily.  There is also a full service truck stop. This was a 'kick back' stop for us.  No hurry, just chillaxin'.  Sleeping late, movies, and a little geocaching were the order of the day.  Here we dined on Razor Clam Chowder, Fish Tacos, Lasagna and dined out. We always bag up a bunch of Ponderosa Pine Cones here as they make great campfire starters down the road.  We stayed here 4 nights as our next stop wouldn't be available till Wednesday.  There is an RV dump east down the Frontage Road at Big Sky Towing.  $10 to dump.  Average 13.5 MPG this leg.  

Lincoln's Silver Dollar Bar and Casino
Free 30 amp camping out back

Ponderosa Pine Cones

       From here we headed SE to Phillpsburg, MT and Barb's favorite place to pan for sapphires, Gem Mountain.  Free boondocking at their campround is provided.  A water spigot, but no power.  We stayed here 3 nights.  Solar and the battery bank kept us going.  I prepared Croque Madame and Wild Boar Ribs.  Barb panned for three days, accumulating nearly 300 sapphires.  27 were gem quality and she sent the 12 largest off for faceting.  

The main sluice box area at Gem Mountain

The Maestro at her craft
Croque Madame
      Back on the road again after 3 days we arrived at Ruby Reservoir, about 90 miles SW of Bozeman, MT.  This time of year the reservoir is usually drawn down quite a bit by the local hay farmers below the dam so it is easier to get to lower terraced levels of gravel for Garnets and Rubies.  Not so much panning here, but Barb is able to simply sit on the shore and pick thru the gravel.
Ruby Reservoir (when full) BLM Photo

Ruby Camp
      We camp right on the shores of the lake as it is a free boondocking area.  No power, but you can 'water up' in the town of Alder before the 7 mile drive up to the lake.  There is a clean vault toilet in the parking area.  It is an excellent area for solar power in the valley between the Ruby, Gravelly,  and Tobacco Root Mountains.  A relaxing place to stay.  We spent 5 days here.  Plenty of room for Roux and Bones as well.  There is plenty of wildlife in the area; mostly deer, bighorn sheep, and antelope, but you do have to keep an eye out for mountain lions and coyotes who have good numbers in the nearby hills.  There are gas, groceries, and supplies in town.
NOTE:  THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DRY YEAR AND AS SUCH THE USFS AND THE STATE OF MONTANA HAS ISSUED VERY RESTRICTIVE BURN BANS THROUGHOUT THE NATIONAL FOREST, PUBLIC LANDS, AND EVEN SOME PRIVATE LAND AREAS.  THERE ARE SIGNIFICANT FIRES IN MANY PARTS OF THE STATE.  WE MISSED OUT ON CAMPFIRES AND SOME OF OUR MENU IDEAS.  We also used nearly 44 hours of generator gas as the daytime temps were in the 90s and the furbabies were not comfortable in the RV.  In fact we couldn't leave them outdoors much either as 2 rattlesnakes were killed in the area while we were here.  While camped here we enjoyed Wild Boar Tenderloins, NY Steaks, Razor Clam Strips, and Monster Burgers.  Unfortunately, all our meals were cooked indoor due to the fire restrictions.  
Nearly 2 ounces of Garnets and Rubies this stop;
in fact she had nearly 40 gem quality
Barb had 2 Rubies over 4 carats (these will equate to about 1.5 carats each when faceted)
Razor Clam Po Boy

BARB'S PROSPECTING TOTALS THIS TRIP:  GQ (Gem Quality) Faceted sapphires (14.5 total carats) $435 w/ facet cost $299 factored in.  GQ Facet-able Rubies (3 total carats) $265.  GQ Facet-able Rubies (2 single @ 4 carats each) $465.  Barb had the sapphires sent to be faceted, but the rubies remain rough for now.  The two largest will be faceted at some point.  It's always a decision whether to keep them as souvenirs (NOT), have your own jewelry made, or keep the faceted stones for investment.  
      We did have nearly two extra weeks to spend so we stopped in Bozeman for the Montana Pitmasters Classic KCBS BBQ Championships, boondocked in the Little Belt Mtns. as well as spent some time at the Fam Camp in Great Falls, MT (Malmstrom AFB) to shop, restock, visit several USAF friends, shop, restock, and (did I say) shop? Camping here only $130 for a week.  We wanted the hookups after a couple weeks of boondocking to recharge and refresh.  Averaged 15.5 MPG this leg.  Enjoyed Chicken Fried Wild Boar, Cordon Blue, Brats, Rockfish, and among others Eggs Ahogados (Simmered Mexican Green Salsa w/Poached Eggs and Tortillas for dipping).  This was a delicious breakfast change, in fact I made it twice this trip.  The recipe calls for a medium heat salsa, which is fine if that is your taste, but Barb and I preferred a milder version.  I don't like WAKING UP my taste buds till later in the day.  

Eggs Ahogados

Chicken Cordon Bleu
      We took a couple of days off in one of our favorite towns, Lewistown, MT.  (pictured at top)  We wanted to take in the Annual Chokecherry Festival and What The Hay Celebration the next day.  A good place to boondock for an overnight is the Kiwanis Park at the west edge of town on top of the hill by the airport.  No charge, but no hookups whatsoever.  Just a box for any donations.  Quiet and some shade.  A good overnight spot.  Choices here are limited.  We camped at Mountain Acres RV Park just north of downtown.  Price here:  $28/night.  Once again we felt we deserved some convenience AND within walking distance of the festival.  It is a pretty bare bones park with half reserved for full time residents.  We had full hookups, but our spot was on grass; fun to level.
The sign says it all
A variety of food vendors
Honey like you've never tasted it! 
The Sandwich!
      This is not our first visit to the Festival and Celebration of Hay.  We always have a good time.  What is it about Small Town American celebrations that are just the most fun?  We walked a lot, Barb got some of her favorite Chokecherry Honey, and we ate far too much good food.  Love them Indian Tacos, Funnel Cakes, and Deep Fried Pork Chop/Mac n Cheese Sandwiches! 
      An interesting side trip is Big Sky Grocery located just west of Lewistown about 17 miles.  This is a family owned Amish Grocery (from the nearby King Colony) that specializes in their own harvest products.  From pies to cakes to cookies to bread to noodles to canned veg and fruit and pie filling, there is no end.  You can even get homemade ice cream, deli meats, or sandwiches (which are delicious).  They have a very well stocked produce and dairy section as well.  Local selection abounds.
Big Sky Grocery WORTH THE Roast Beef Horseradish Cheddar Sandwich on Whole wheat with extra meat, mayo, pickles, and onions was to die only $4.99.
Super Mario Bale
    Monster Tiger Muskhay
      'What the Hay' is a colorful celebration of the local hay crop and has been for many years.  The amount of creativity and secrecy that goes into these creations is unbelievable.  The competition can very nearly be called cutthroat.  As always we drove to Hobson to pick up our ballots and drive the 20 mile country route to judge the bale competition.  Braggin' rights here can last even longer than next year.  After the drive there is always a very good burger to be had at the Oxen Yoke Bar near Windham. 
      Although these events cover only two days we spent 4 in Lewistown.  It is just about as friendly, relaxing town as you'll find anywhere.  Barb loves looking around Don's Sporting Goods and just about any local gun shop is easily my 'Mother Ship'.  7 stops and 28 days in Montana; time to go home. 
Wil E. Coyothay
Woolhay Mammoth
      From here it's 4 days drive home now, boondocking and just making time.  We will dine on a Ham Potato Frittata for two nights, but then all other meals are 'catch as catch can'.  There will be some long days driving, but we may stay an extra day at the casino in Marquette.  Barb loves to play the slots and we'll be craving some lasagna/meat balls as well as pick up some cudighi at Ralphs Deli for the winter voyage.  It's been a long summer.  Casa Hilts awaits.

BOONDOCKING NOTES:  Lowest diesel price this entire summer was $2.56 in Lewistown, MT and the highest $3.08 at Sprague, WA.  Average MPG 14.7 towing.   Total boondocking days this summer 79 out of 143 total.  With an average RV Park cost of $30/night (minus $260 paid to mom for electricity & $35.70 generator used) =$2083 savings off the grid.

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things"
                 Henry Miller
WiFi courtesy of Mountain Acres RV Park 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

KCBS Montana Pitmaster Classic

      Welcome to the 1st Annual Montana Pitmasters Classic, the first and only Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) sanctioned BBQ event in Big Sky Country.  Pretty much the State BBQ Championship.  There is still over $12,000 in prize money, championship points, and plain old braggin' rights at stake here.  We discovered this quite by accident online and it fit our schedule without much adjustment.  BBQ, Bozeman MT, and the Best of the West.  There isn't really any boondocking here close.  We were unable to get into the first 3 parks we tried, Bozeman filled up quickly for this.  We set up camp at Bear Canyon RV Park. 
      Bozeman has bittersweet memories for us as this is where we stayed several years back during the sudden, unexpected loss of our pets Bodhi and Dharma.  It is such beautiful country.  Good people live here. Bear Canyon is located just east of Bozeman on the west slope of Chestnut Mountain near the pass.  A very nice, scenic park, but a bit pricey at $49/night.  
     This is a two day Masters Series BBQ Contest.  A Master Series requires teams to cook 4 meats (Chicken, Pork Ribs, Pork Butt, & Brisket). The cooking source at a Master Series shall be of wood, wood pellets or charcoal. KCBS Rules and Regulations apply. Master Series are eligible for American Royal and Jack Daniels World Championship, upon meeting qualifying criteria. In addition, all teams who participate in a Master Series earn points towards KCBS Team of the Year awards presented at the annual banquet.  This is BIG TIME, the Real Deal.   Additionally, any and all teams may sell any food item or product during the BBQ N Blues Night.  30% will go to the Gallatin Valley Y.M.C.A. which will be a tax deductible donation for that team. We bought a pack of $20 which entitled us to sample 4 different vendors.  
     Barb and I were ready, our first 'big time' KCBS event.  We arrived a day early in order to be sure to get tickets as well as do some long overdue laundry.  Priorities?   Tickets were NOT an issue as this is a sponsored and fundraising event.  Friday night was just chillaxin' with good blues and food.  Andre Floyd picked the stings and we ate.  Saturday the fun begins.

Schedule of Events - Saturday August 26th

11:55 AM - 12:05 PM

Chicken category is turned in and judging begins

12:25 PM - 12:25 PM

Pork Rib category is turned in and judging begins

12:55 PM - 1:05 PM

Pork category is turned in and judging begins

1:25 PM - 1:35 PM

Brisket category is turned in and judging begins

4:30 PM

Awards ceremony

     Saturday dawned bright, sunny, and warm once again.  Of course this meant Barb and I moved around quite a bit taking pictures whenever we could. It gets quite busy and stays that way.  There is always delicious food.   Pitmasters were always willing to share pieces of leftovers as they finished up their presentations to take to the judges.  We sampled some moist chicken and some of the best pork ribs I have ever had.  These cooks do like to smoke the meat with the BBQ sauce on during cooking.  The quality of food today is a hundred fold better than the fundraiser last night.  

      Congratulations to the Montana Outlaw BBQ Team that were awarded  2nd place in Brisket, 1st place in Pork, 3rd place in pork Ribs, 3rd place in Chicken, as well as Grand Champion.  It really was a great time; an unexpected detour from the route we initially planned.  Sometimes those are the best.  Although the food was good, I STILL MISS TEXAS BBQ.  We move on now north to the Little Belt Mountains and several days 'off grid' once again to chill, hopefully enjoy campfires, and eating well while watching the furbabies frolick in the Rockies.  Interested in a KCBS Tour Event in your area?

"BBQ may not be the road to world peace, but it's a start"
Anthony Bourdain

WiFi courtesy of Bear Canyon RV Park


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Olympia Oyster House

      We have eaten here several times before, but not since the fire and rebuild.  I have trying to find a place to dine out with Mom due to the heat wave and seafood provides a decent alternative, plus it provides her with her meal of choice:  Crab Cakes.  Olympia Oyster House has been in existence since the turn of last century.  The restaurant is the oldest seafood restaurant in the State of Washington.  It is the old original culling house of the original Olympia Oyster Company, which was formed prior to 1900.  Here for many years the Olympia Oysters were culled after being barged in the basin immediately to the north of this building.  As far back as 1859, Olympia Oysters were sent to San Francisco where gourmets would pay $20.00 per plate for them.
Olympia Oysters
      Their menu is extensive, of course specializing in locally grown Olympia Oysters, but also providing an excellent fare of local clams, mussels, crab, and other FRESH seafood as well.  You won't survive here if your seafood isn't fresh.  It is a local landmark.
      We chose our midweek experience mostly due to the uncharacteristically warm temperatures invading the Pacific Northwest and lack of traffic.  Much of the menu will depend on 'Market Price' which is always determined by local catch rates and freshness.  The cuisine can vary from simple entrees to loaded seafood baskets, to full entrée style dinner. 
Battered Halibut
Blackened Salmon
It is only by coincidence that we all LOVE seafood and mom's recent heart procedure dictates a recipe that coincides within reason, but who the hell is complaining?  We always try to get a table near the window so we can leisurely gaze out upon the sound.
      We were seated immediately by the windows and once our large, cold drinks (to combat the hot day) were ordered as we attacked the menu.  Barb is not much of an adventurer and once she finds something she likes, she stays with it, ordering her usual 'Basket of Clam Strips'. 
      Mom has been here several times and LOVES their 'Crab Cakes'.  Not usually on her AHA diet, this was a special occasion and I let her order them as long as she got steamed veggies with them and no taters or fries.  
      I wanted something a bit different.  I have destroyed my fair share of most all kinds of seafood the past 3 1/2 months so I decided on the 'Scallops'.  The waiter did have to ask the kitchen if these were Bay or Sea Scallops, which does make a big difference.  Sea Scallops are MUCH LARGER, NEARLY MINI STEAKS.  Once they arrived I realized these were Bay Scallops and only 7, but in a wine, oil, and butter sauté they were delicious nonetheless.  My meal also came with a delicious assortment of steamed veggies.  

      The service here is very good and the food is excellent, but I do have to comment on the prices.  The seafood is fresh, but the costs are a bit higher than I thought fair.  My scallops alone were $30 and the total bill amounted to $91.  You must be paying for ambience by the water or the fact that this is peak tourist season.  Both Mom and Barb got 'to go' boxes so they will have some snacks later on or lunch tomorrow.  In the end we were treating Mom to a night out in air conditioned comfort with some of her favorite (allowed) food.  It's all worth it.  
      We depart in a few weeks and from here we head east towards our home.  We'll take several weeks getting there as we have several favorite stops enroute for prospecting, boondocking in the Rockies, friends, and fairs.  I'm not sure how the 'furbabies' will take to being OTR again. 

"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls"
                                                                                Anais Nin 
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Rise of BOGOYOLO

      Okay, suffice it to say this is more of a satirical post, written to wring empathy from any male I can.  Of course part of the process of helping Mom straighten up, clean up, and reduce the amount of clutter accumulated over the oh so many years of living in our home would be the inevitable 'Garage Sale'.  Barb and I have visited literally hundreds of these over the years, but in all honesty have never held one ourselves.  Yeah, amazing isn't it?  22 years in the Air Force, 20 more teaching, moving all over the planet and we've never 'been there, done that'. 
      We've been at Mom's for about 11 weeks now and all the 'prep' has been done.  Thanks solely to my wife Barb all the closets, spare bedrooms, workshop, garage, and storage building have been cleaned out.  The years of old documents/tax returns have been shredded, and load upon load of trash and Dad's old paint/chemicals hauled to the dump.  I watched as the pile of 'stuff' grew weekly in Dad's workshop area, spreading into 2 rooms, hoping it would eventually be the resultant end of some plan.  Little did I know that my bride was very much in her element here.........Dr. Jekyl nurturing Mr. Hyde right before my eyes.  The beast began to stir.....
      Admittedly this has been a bit hard on Mom.  Her home for so many years, yet no less so on me.......yeah, you know what I'm saying.  Even my cooking doesn't cure everything.  Barb is the best woman any man could hope for.  We are also very fortunate to have a dear friend from high school that helped us with much of this to include dump trailers, tables, pricing, setup, and general support.  Mom's friend and neighbor, Rosalie, volunteered to contribute/help out too.  For a day my faith in humanity was saved. 
     Setup occurred several days before the sale, including table setup, pricing, advertising via Craig's List, yard signs, and newspaper ads.  Rosalie and Wilma's experience and pricing skills proved invaluable.  I really appreciated her husband John who was a tremendous help loading out the rest of the stuff plus helping me price tools and 'man stuff'.  It was a little sad watching Mom walk around browsing stuff she hadn't seen for so many years.  Barb, Wilma, and Rosalie were of great comfort to her.  The beast, however, was now fully awake. It was looking for Tokyo.
In order to keep the beast somewhat under control I had even made a pretty thorough flow chart and list as what needed to be done or obtained and when.  However, since women are normally the 'Great Organizers' when it comes to lists........they didn't need mine. Uh oh.....
      We had tables spread throughout mom's patio, yard, and the garage as well.  Not that I mind, but my role throughout most of this has been 'Gofer'.  You know the drill.  I did have one pretty innovative idea about a 'full wet bar' for the shoppers, but that seemed to get shot down as quickly as a Naked Pig Roast in the Middle East.  Heck, I didn't even know a permit might be needed for this silly event.  Good thing we didn't.  When the day of the sale arrived I don't know what anyone else expected, but against all testosterone driven odds the sun did come up.  The beast, however, had already arrived......

The Three Amigos
      Well, at least for now this beast has been slain.  The damage to my man card was minimal and the screams have subsided.  Tokyo is safe.  We'll have a small service and then haul the rest of the carcass to the dump in a couple of days.  No Evergreen College protestors or Spotted Owls were harmed during this and no Safe Zones violated.                           
      In all seriousness it was a very well planned and executed sale.  I certainly did appreciate the efforts of my entire crew.  In fact Wilma's husband, John returned to help me with tool management.  That boy could sell ice to an eskimo.  Under such stressful situations my leadership skills astound me, but seem to escape the ladies.  Seriously, once again my wife continues to amaze me.  Her warm spirit and selfless heart have really risen to the top this summer.  I salute my friends for pitching in and making Mom's day less stressful and even a little more fun.  I love you all.  The weather was beautiful, in fact it was a warm summer weekend with most of the Department of Tool Sales Management (me) seeking shade and ice tea.  In the end we cleared just short of $12,174,804.  We did set our sights on making a significant impact on the National Debt, but after Mom's 99% profit margin we'll donate the remainder to our favorite charity.......Helping Rich Hilts Age a Bit More Gracefully while hauling more loads to the dump.  The Summer of Altruism continues........Joie de Vivre. 

"Anytime women come together with a collective intention, it's a powerful thing.  Whether it's sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book,  around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens."                                                                                  
       Phylicia Rashad
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi