Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Lower 47.

I just finished reading Montana: Stories of the Land, a pretty good high-school level history textbook. I know a decent amount of the story of Montana history you get from reading roadside plaques, but less about the non-geographic happenings of the Treasure State. Montana has a history which is more interesting than some states’ and less interesting than others, but what sets it apart to me is that there is no clear distinction between what is and what was. Few states can boast the fascination and complexity of history that, say, Texas has, but the history of Texas is now safely cached in parks and museums, and the lives and landscapes of Texas today are far removed from those of 100 years ago. In Montana, on the other hand, it’s not always clear where the line between before and now occurs. You get a strong sense of a place set apart, and leaving or arriving entails crossing borders both real and imagined.

So anyway, we departed for The Lower 47 and visited Wyoming.


It just so happens that parts of The Lower 47 currently have better skiing than Montana, the scenery is just as good, and the hotels are much, much cheaper.




I guess you don’t ever quite get tired of looking at this, do you?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tools of the Adventure

The Great Falls


As Lewis and Clark made their way up the Missouri they met Indians who told them of a "great falls". When they finally found the falls they were happy -- it meant they'd followed the correct river. But the explorers had expected one waterfall, not a half-dozen falls spread over a dozen miles. The portage took nearly a month.

Lewis, in his journal, called the Great Falls of the Missouri one of the grandest sights he had witnessed. His description and a few early sketches are all that remains. About a century ago the falls were buried behind a reservoir. Today, the reservoirs power the city of Great Falls. You can see a portion of what remains of the falls, but the overlook is only open three months of the year and the rest of the time sits behind tall fences.

A lot has been done to correct the abuses of this planet, but a lot remains. The dams on the Missouri are a reminder that too often people will do wrong by the landscape.

Buffalo Jump


Logging Creek


We fell asleep at about 10 pm only to wake before 1 am to howling winds and rain. The wind overhead sounded like a freight train, and we could hear trunks snapping. What if a tree crashes on our tent? What if the road is blocked by fallen trees? What if the rain washes the road out, or turns it to deep mud? What if the rain changes to snow and we're stuck in here, 20 miles from the nearest pavement?


By dawn the winds are calm, the rain has stopped, and the ground is dry. It's a safe morning, albeit a chilly one.

Tower Rock


The explorers climbed Tower Rock to look back at the plains and forward to the mountains. Indians told them the buffalo could not be found in the mountains. The Missouri flows by below. Again, the Indians were right -- sort of. At this point, the party was headed south and would eventually turn west, then north, before arriving at Travelers Rest -- a journal of several more weeks. A shortcut, however, could have put them at Travelers Rest in just a few days.


Tools of the Adventure

In New Zealand, outfitting our bikes, we bought a pair of locally made panniers called Tools of the Adventure. I always liked that name. A lot of marketing suggests the adventure is the product, but actually the product just facilitates it. Skis are like that. I'm constantly amazed at how these simple, relatively cheap things can so easily take you to so many places. Last week I spent $60 on a set of cross-country skis -- including poles, bindings, and never-worn boots. More adventure.


Friday, November 2, 2012


A few years ago for my birthday Laura got me a rain gauge, a max/min thermometer, and a weather diary; once I made a snowstake and sunk it into the back yard I had myself a nice little weather station.

Most stations report data for the calendar year (Jan. 1-Dec. 31) or the water year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30). My data year is one of convenience starting when I got the instrumentation – Nov. 1 – and running to Oct. 31.

A detailed look at a year’s worth of weather in Missoula (3205 feet) shows a couple of interesting things. One is that, true to its nickname “Garden City”, the weather in Missoula actually is quite mild – at least when compared to the rest of Montana. Last year our high temperature was 100, and while I did not note the low, I believe it was 2. Just 100 air miles east of here that range would probably be closer to 105 to -20. Also interesting is the fact that while Missoula does not get a lot of precipitation, there is a lot of precipitating going on. I recorded at least .01 inches of precipitation on 100 days last weather year (I did some educated guessing on the days I was not here). That’s a lot, but in total we had just 11.27 inches of precipitation (rain and snow water equivalent) – which makes Missoula a desert by most counts. Because some days we have rain and snow in the same 24-hour period, and because I am lazy, the total precipitation counts below include both rain and snow – if I was dedicated to this I would tally rain and snow and rain/snow. In any case, you can see we get a lot of days of a skiff of snow or a few drops of rain, and very few days at all of long deluges.

Since I tally my data off-kilter it’s hard to compare it to the official weather station at the airport, but I do think I can generalize to say that our proximity adjacent to the mountains and nearish to Pattee Canyon’s mouth results in a tad more snow and a bit more precipitation.

So why is Missoula so “dry”? The answer I get is that the biggest storms to roll across Northwest Montana pound the mountaintops but leave north-south oriented valleys shadowed.

Anyway, here’s a rundown (larger amount categories include the smaller amounts, so 30 days of >.1" are included in the 100 days of >.01"):

Total precip: 11.27 inches

Total snow: 45.3 inches

Days of:

Precip >.01”: 100

Precip >.1”: 30

Precip >1”: 0

Snow trace: 71

Snow >1”: 10

Snow>6”: 2

Days with thunder: 3

Days with blizzard conditions: 1

Days with freezing rain: 3

Last frost: June 8

First frost: (actually I forgot to record this but I think it was) Sept. 22

Growing season: 107 days