Worth it: Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone, MT

Just a block from the West entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is worth a stop. And you might find you’ll want to stay a while and even come back the next day. And that’s okay because the  admission fee (just $13 for adults, $8 for kids 5 years and up) is good for 2 consecutive days.

The not-for-profit wildlife center takes in orphaned grizzly bear cubs and adults from as far away as Alaska and as close by as Yellowstone Park. Most adult grizzlies are those that have become habituated to human food due to campers and hikers not following proper food storage requirements. At the outdoor exhibit, you can watch the beautiful, massive beasts foraging under rocks and logs for the fruit treats that the caretaker hides for them.  In order to rescue more bears and provide habitat variety for the existing bears, the center will be creating a new exhibit called bear meadows that will feature mini river rapids and a trout-stocked pond. Note, because they are fed all year round, the bears don’t hibernate so you can see them all year round.  And any day you want because the center is open every day.

The outdoor wolf exhibit and information about the trophic cascade was well done too.

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There’s also an extensive, interactive bear exhibit inside and plenty of programs for kids and adults, including:

  • Bear-Resistant Product Testing (I would have liked to see that one.)
  • Keeper Kids (Kids get to help the caretakers hide food for the bears.)
  • Yellowstone Park Ranger Talks
  • Live Bird of Prey Presentations (A must! The naturalist delivers an engaging, incredibly informative, hands-on presentation.)

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In the works is a River Otter Riparian Habitat that will highlight the interrelations of the critters who make up that ecosystem.

Young or old, you won’t leave the center without learning something new about the wild animals and birds of the region and the impact humans have on them and their habitat.

Why? Because it makes me feel alive.

I’ve often been asked, “Why climb that mountain, or slog through a grueling hike?” Is it the accomplishment, the vistas, the solitude, the workout, the total immersion in nature? Yes, but more. Doesn’t it get old? No, never.

After a vigorous day hiking the Pioneer Cabin Trail in Big Sky, my partner summed it up when he said, “That was something, I really felt alive.” Later, apparently suffering from fatigue induced amnesia, he asked me if I ever get tired or bored of hiking. I replied, “No, and you know why? It makes me feel alive.” If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re a kindred spirit and you get it. It’s primal, natural and great way to nurture our minds, bodies and spirits. Of course, hiking is not for everyone, luckily the options we have to get physical in the great outdoors are virtually limitless. What’s your favorite pursuit?

What makes you feel alive? 

Lake McDonald, West entrance Glacier National Park teaser

You know it’s off-season at Glacier National Park when there’s no one manning the front gate. Drive in just 10 miles and stop by the Lake McDonald Lodge and take in lake. Inhale the last vestiges of the damp, crisp, leave-scented air and enjoy the solitude. It’s clear, we’re on the cusp of winter. It would be great to cuddle up by the fire at the lodge with a hot toddy and your hottie, watching as the rain skips and scatters across the lake. But you can’t because it closes at the end of September. (Rats, or ravens for that mater – saw the one below the size of a duck.)

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I’ve seen lots of GNP pictures, but had no idea there was a lake of this size here, or that were so many lakes here  – 765 to be exact. Lake McDonald pictured at the top of the page is the largest lake in the park, covering an area of ~10 miles.

Yellowstone quickie: Biscuit Basin, Mystic Falls & overlook hike

Wonderful to be in Yellowstone without the crowds. Unfortunately, only had time for a short hike so opted for Mystic Falls – that way I could take in the geological wonders at Biscuit Basin first with the added  bonus of a waterfall and vista of the Upper Geyser Basin.

Silex Spring, the photo at the top of the page, was one of the most spectacular geothermal pools, but there were many contenders. It was mesmerizing to watch what seemed to be sporadic eruptions from pool to pool. After  a while, you notice that the eruptions are actually sequential with the water draining from one pool and filling the next.

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Big Sky, MT: Beehive Basin Hike

Big Sky,  unlike Anaconda, has a name that captures its essence as you can see. This vista above was a big highlight on an otherwise fairly unremarkable first couple miles. I’m a bit surprised that this out and back hike in the Gallatin National Forest was rated one of the top 10 in the world.  (Guess I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.) In wildflower season, I suspect it blossoms beautifully, bewitching its visitors. November is not her best month. It’s either dry and reedy or muddy and icy, but there are shimmering sights at the basin that do reward those with the  tenacity to trudge through the thick slime and slog through the snow in the off-season…(Yes, that would be me.)

In my first video, I mistake the first, unnamed lake for the destination lake.

 

 

As for equipping myself with the bear spray, I learned that the “griz” are the most active before hibernation and there have been recent attacks in nearby  Ennis and Yellowstone National Park. Not to mention that the sign at the trail head was difficult to ignore.

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You may notice that I’m wearing a bell around my neck to alert bears of my presence. (Let’s see a bell, chocolate in my pocket -you got it, I’m a walking, talking bear toy.) Have you heard the rangers joke about how you can tell black bear scat from grizzly scat? The grizzly scat has bells in it. I’ve stopped wearing the bell as they say the bears might find the ringing intriguing (or perhaps annoying). They say it’s better just to talk loudly and make a lot of noise in areas with limited visibility. You don’t want to surprise a griz. Supposedly, they’ll hear you coming and go the other way.

 

 

The panoramic views were breathtaking. And slogging through mud, ice, and snow mean I’m getting a more intense workout. What’s not to like, right?

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Topped off a fantastic day with a feast at the Gallatin River House Grill, what a great spot on the river with outdoor seating, a band stage and volley ball court. Their Famous Flank Steak Sandwich is as outstanding as is their riverfront view. One day, I will return to see the trail in its wildflower splendor and for post hike festivities and another feast at the River House.

Road Trip: Pintler Scenic Route, MT

If you’re heading to Butte from Missoula or visa versa, the 64 mile Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway is a great alternative to Interstate 90. It starts  in Drummond, a not at all scenic, 1-horse town (population 309) that bills itself as the “Biggest Bull Shippers” in the country. I “ship” you not. We stopped for gas and nothing else there.

Our next stop was historic Phillipsburg, a charming 19th century mining town in the heart of Montana sapphire country (population 820 as of 2010). We strolled up and down the short main street in about 5 minutes, grabbed a coffee and indulged in some Montana bbq for lunch.

Main Street Phillipsburg, MT         Population ~820

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We enjoyed the lovely views Georgetown Lake and Silver Lake (see top feature picture) along the way.  Georgetown Lake is famous for its fishing in the summer and ice fishing in the winter. Unfortunately, the sky didn’t clear for a good pic at Georgetown Lake.

Georgetown Lake, 3000 acres, ~6000 altitude
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Roadtrippin by “Painted” Rocks on the Pintler Scenic Highway

We didn’t stop in Anaconda, nearly named Copperopolis, it was named after the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and at one time this small town was the world’s largest supplier of copper, just as electricity became ubiquitous.

Overall, it’s a pleasant drive with a backdrop of conifer-carpeted mountains and sage-brushed hills along Flint Creek.

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Flint Creek Meandering Near the Roadside

If you’re into historic mining towns, ghost towns (3), and a sapphire mine this is your route. (There’s a waterfall out here somewhere too.) In any event, it’s certainly more interesting than Interstate 90. If you have the time to spare, just do it.

Local color, the Hungry Horse Reservoir & a scary attic

After working up an appetite on the Avalanche Trail in Glacier National Park, we stopped in for some sustenance at a local watering hole…It was very “colorful” as they say…Friendly barmaid and a handful of Montana mountain men.

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On the way back to Columbia Falls, we swung by the scenic  Hungry Horse Dam, the 11th highest concrete dam in the  US at 544 ft tall, 2115 ft wide, 39 ft thick at the top, and 330 ft at the base. There’s a 15 mile loop you can drive or bike, but it started pouring rain and visibility was poor so we opted out.

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Stopped for a cocktail at the Blue Moon Bar and Casino.

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Have I mentioned that it’s all about hunting in these parts? Taxidermy shops and small bars / casinos are as common as nail salons back in LA. When I walked into the Blue Moon, it was like walking into a natural history museum (and I’m not talking about just the patrons either).

 

Later, the granddaughter of the owner took me on a private tour of the attic that was jam packed with the owner’s “trophies” of big game from Canada, Alaska, Montana, etc…It was like something out of a horror movie, a bit creepy, and way over the top for this animal lover.