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On the road this morning by 10:00 am, gassed up, with only one stop at Target in Missoula to find a 12 volt charger for the Garmin.  With that accomplished, and under dark and ominous cloud cover, we steered Coach House for highway 94 east, leaving the “Hub of Five Valleys” (the convergence of five spectacular mountain ranges: the Bitterroot Mountains, Sapphire Range, Garnet Range, and Rattlesnake Mountains).  It’s easy to see that in this part of the country winter is only just releasing its formidable grip; dark clouds, chilly temperatures, and snow-covered mountains seem impervious to all of the early signs of spring.  Driving 94 is a matter of weaving our way through these mountains which rise above us from all directions.  We ascend gradually from the 3,200 foot elevation of Missoula to the 5,500 foot elevation of Butte.

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Sapphire Mts. on the road to Butte, MT

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Ominous clouds above the snow-covered Sapphires remind us that winter is still around.

We have noticed that many towns in Montana share a penchant for  displaying a distinctly visible initial on the side of a convenient hill.

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Missoula hillside “M” with University of Montana in the foreground. Source: wikipedia

The origin of these “hillside monograms” are steeped in small-town history, local culture, with a touch of self-aggrandizement. It seems like every small town I’ve every lived in has a “hillside monogram” somewhere outside of town.  Certainly, graduating seniors of small-town high schools (like Condon High School in Condon, Oregon, for example) have created their own town monograms using spray paint on the side of rock formations, after which the town fathers, under the threat of no diploma, are requested to remove said monogram.  If you are interested in the origins of these monograms, here is an essay I found on the Mountain Monogram website written by Berkeley professor James J. Parsons: “Hillside Letters in the Western Landscape” (1988).

Passing through these small Montana towns, tall spires on church steeples guide the faithful to these houses of worship.  We can see these iconic churches from the highway.  Montana church below is typical of the kinds of churches that dot the Montana landscape and whose steeples can be seen for miles away.

montana church steeple

Source: Revisiting Montana’s Historic Landscape

From Butte, we begin to descend into the beautiful Gallatin Valley and Bozeman.  Bozeman’s elevation is at 4,800 feet and the city is situated at the foot of several mountain ranges that surround it.  Five miles to the east we found Bear Canyon Campground. We didn’t arrive until around 6:00 pm, much later than we usually like stop.  Strong storm-generated head winds slowed us down almost the entire way here.  The campground sits above the din of perpetual highway 90 traffic. Very few campers here, as has been the case for most of the overnight campsites we have stayed at.  It’s the perfect time of year to camp.

Nice campground.  Many empty sites this time of year:

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Out pull-through site:

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Paper Birches just starting to leaf:

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Mountains surround the campground:

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Heavy rain during the night; bright sunshine expected to greet us for tomorrow’s early start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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