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 

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