"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Adventure on Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake

Wild Horse Island is the largest island in Flathead Lake and it's relatively close to the south end, where we are. We'd been wanting to get out there since the last time we were here, but couldn't quite figure out how. It's an undeveloped state park with access only by boat. The local boating company's day trip boat is out of commission as a result of a recent storm. The island is probably too far to kayak, then hike for 2-3 hours, then kayak back. It also seemed foolish to drive 20 miles to the north side of the lake where there are charter companies to the island, have them boat 15 miles down here to the island, and back again, and then drive 20 miles home to Polson.  There is no actual docking available at the Island so we were hesitant to rent a boat and ground it on the rocky shore. 

Finally we found Big Arm Boat Rentals and Rides (in Big Arm, a few minutes north of Polson) that has a ride service over to the island and back for less than the cost of renting a motor boat for 4 hours. 

Big Arm Boat Rentals and Rides
It's not a big or flashy place, but the family that runs it is very nice, efficient, helpful and full of local information for the asking.  

The owner, Matt, gave us a ride over in a small motor boat and dropped us of at Skeeko Bay, one of only two places where visitors can access the trails. There is a self-pay kiosk at the trail head. The standard MT state park day use fee seems to be $6. There is also a map posted at the trailhead. You can find this one on the MT state parks website.

After signing in at a day user's register, we headed upland toward the center of the island, past a few wooden structures identified as the Homestead.

At that location we met a large family of Patriot's fans. Because Rick wears a Patriots' hat, he meets a lot of fellow fans. Turns out this family had a special Patriot of their own with them. More on that at the end of our hike. They also pointed out a herd of about ten male big horned sheep resting in the shade down the hill a ways. 

Hiking on up the hill, we got some great views and lots of evidence of wild horses (six of them live on the island now) but no sightings. The horses are here from when the local Native Americans used the island to keep their horses so that other local tribes wouldn't steal them. 

We chose not to take an unmarked extension of the trail that seemed to go up to the peak of the island, where we had read elsewhere that there is an old volcanic crater. We weren't sure how far it was and we felt the 3.5 mile hike was enough. The views from our highpoint were great anyway. You can see in the above picture how dry it is here now.

The trail then turns downward through a ponderosa pine valley that skirts the edges of a restricted area protecting nesting bald eagles.  There were hundreds of pine white butterflies flitting around in the dark green tree branches.  Caught this one on the ground for a few seconds.

The descent brought us out to Eagle Cove, a beautiful little bay.

The shoreline all around Flathead Lake is rocky, usually with small to medium sized colorful smoothed stones.  The water is always crystal clear.

A wiki-up like those in the Pacific Northwest, on one of the small beaches. 

The trail finishes with a final mile along the shore through the trees ending back at Skeeko Bay, where we would be picked up.

And there was the big family from Massachusetts again, vacationing with their patriarch Dante Scarnecchia, who was the offensive and assistant head coach of the Patriots for many years. Rick was a happy Patriots' fan indeed. 

Our day at Wild Horse Island ended with a zippy, bouncy, invigorating ride back to Big Arm Boat Rentals and Rides, on a jet ski driven by the owner's 14 year old son, who didn't know the meaning of "Slow down!"

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Mission Mountain Rodeo

It's getting to that time of year when family oriented community events rule the local calendar. We're in Polson, Montana for the month, at Eagle Nest RV Resort. We've been looking forward to returning here for four years. It was one of our first destinations when we began full-timing. It's also another place with western family connections for me. We used to come visit my grandparents on my mother's side when they lived in an Airstream, in nearby Big Arm, on the shores of beautiful Flathead Lake.  I fell in love with the lake then, 40 years ago, and it hasn't changed much. It even still smells the same.

Jack was a fisherman

Eagle Nest is a lovely park with lots of shade provided by beautiful blue spruce trees, green grass between all the sites, a small pool and hot tub, playground, pickle ball courts, well-equipped exercise room, super clean bathrooms and laundry rooms, recycling, plenty of green space for dog-walking (though no fenced dog area) and an all-park happy hour every day. It's run extremely well by folks who really seem to care about their park and are always making improvements. The sites are probably a little close together for some folk's tastes, but not right on top of each other either. The park is on the edge of town, close to Safeway, but surrounded on three sides by green space (golf course, horse pasture and cherry orchards) and a small residential area on the fourth, so it's quiet.  Great views.

Every July 4th they host a BBQ potluck picnic followed by fireworks, but this year the fireworks are cancelled because of a county wide ban due to the extreme dryness.  They sell a lot of fireworks around here, and there are going to be a lot of disappointed people with fireworks stored until New Years I guess.

The town of Polson however will set off their annual fireworks by the lake, with the support of the town fire department. There'll be a parade and other local celebrations.  There's a powwow in nearby Arlee that we may get too as well. But last weekend was the Mission Mountain Rodeo. I love these small local rodeos, especially because they are more about family and community than about national competition. 

The rodeo began with events for the local kids. First there was sheep riding for little guys and girls as young as two!!!  Let me tell you, there was some anticipation in the crowd waiting for those kids to show their stuff.  

The young man in the center picture was last year's sheep riding champ.

Don't they look like a docile bunch?

It took a lot of help and time to get each kid geared up and safely on a sheep.

The boy on the right is a rodeo clown in training.

And they didn't stay on too long...

The two year old stayed on long enough to get out the "buckin' chute," but just barely. 
He was fine, just lying there trying to figure out what happened. 

Next came the mini-bull riding for teens. They did a little better.

You can see how many people are involved in these events, keeping the people and animals safe.

Finally came the adult events, including bareback riding of bucking horses and bulls.  This was one of the longest rides of the evening, measured only in seconds.

The last events we watched were various kinds of roping and wrestling feats.

It's a long program. The locals have got a lot of passion for these events and for the people involved,  (many of whom are local contestants) and that along with plenty of cold beer got everyone through the hot evening.

We'll be here in Polson for a few more weeks. We're kind of taking it easy on this rare monthly stay, but we're still seeing and doing plenty around this gorgeous part of the world.