Summer vacation, Montana

Summer is coming to a close and back-to-school busyness is already flooding in (it’s the first week of homeschooling at our house). I recognize that I’m only halfway through my summer vacation report extravaganza.

Lots of big things have happened since July, the shining star of it all being Jason and Ian’s trip-of-a-lifetime to Africa. Our family trip to Idaho and Montana can’t really top seeing a solitary leopard saunter out of her den five feet away from you with an impala head in her mouth. In the WILD, people–no fences, no glass, just a beautiful African skyline cast out before you (or at least that’s how I imagine it).


She got tired, dropped the skull and sprawled herself in the road, right in front of the truck Jason and Ian were sitting in.


I would’ve just about DIED. My mouth is actually still hanging open from the retelling of that story.

The one very special thing that Africa did not have was all of us together. Our family vacation obviously had a lot of that. My guess is in a few short weeks when I’m worn down from the intense teaching and parenting that school brings, I’ll want to look back fondly on lovely memories and remind myself why I like my people so much. (To be honest, I’ll probably also look at the leopard because it is AMAZING.)

So, I continue on with my report–for anyone who is reading, and mainly for my future self.


With our 4th of July celebration in Coeur d’Alene complete, we packed up and left for Great Falls. Our goal was to toodle along, both there and back, since it was only about 300 miles and half of that was on the interstate.

The weather was hot and sunny and it continued that way into Montana. Not a cloud in the sky and blue, blue, blue. Memories came back for me as we drove over 4th of July pass, made our way over Lookout Pass, and entered into a place that holds a quite a few memories for me.

Lots of summers, lots of road trips, lots of visiting relatives, lots of passing through. I’ve seen a lot of Montana and that’s saying a lot because it is BIG. In fact, I’ve seen more of it than the states I’ve lived in.

I hadn’t been to Montana in a long time, and this was first time I was going to this beautiful state with ma fam. I was happy.


We only had one stop on our agenda before Great Falls, and that was several hours ahead. I did insist that we turn off at 50,000 Silver Dollars (it was a mere 10,000 when I was a kid).

It was just as I remember it–packed to the brim with souvenirs and tourists. We were the loudest people there (we like to remain consistent wherever we go). When I was young you could buy handicrafts made my Native Americans there. I’d like to think these items were reasonably priced. Somewhere in the depths of my memorabilia I’ve got to have a beautiful beaded leather coin purse I bought there.

In 2017, $50k Silver Dollars has mostly cheap crap with expensive price tags. Still, I insisted each kid pick out something under $5 to take home, for my own sense of well-being and nostalgia. Let’s just say none of it was the product of Native American creativity.

Our next stop was the REI in Missoula. I had been on the hunt for the perfect sun hat and hadn’t found one in Coeur d’Alene. We had some fun in the store while our children ran around hiding in clothing racks while mostly understanding clerks loomed nearby.

Three hats are pictured in the photo below. We bought two; you can take a guess which one didn’t make the cut.


About that time we got onto The Lonesome Highway (200) and headed toward our one on-the-agenda-from-the-beginning stop. It was an hour plus before we hit gravel road and found ourselves at the trailhead that would take us to Garnet Ghost Town.

Recommended by Bill and Becky, this place was definitely worth seeing (but just once with small kids). There’s a short hike down into a dip in the hills where we had a great view of the skeleton of what was (for a very short time) a thriving western pop-up at the turn of the 20th century.






The place was small enough that we went into most of the structures before the kids got bored and/or wily.


One of the forest service volunteers was kind enough to take our picture right up at the bar. In the Wild West there is no drinking age!



I honestly don’t remember where else we stopped, but we didn’t pull into Jared and Rosheila’s driveway in Great Falls until about 6pm. As it was in Idaho, it was dry, hot and sunny at their house. People in these parts of the woods also have air-conditioning–something strange and lovely to those of us from Western Washington.

The next day we headed to Malmstrom Air Force Base. Master Sergeant Haggard/Aunt Rosheila had thoughtfully scheduled a tour for us of a C-130. As you can see we had a fancy escort.



Future flight engineer, perhaps?


Better keep your eyes on those instruments, ladies.



We went inside a couple of hangars and managed not to break anything. The military makes things pretty sturdy, but you’d be surprised what the Haggard kids can destroy–intentionally or unintentionally.


Here’s the gang–the grown-ups lookin’ good and the kiddos lookin’ cute! Notice the Bebo from Seattle who can’t handle the sun (that or she doesn’t know how to salute, I can’t tell).

We spent the next couple of days enjoying being with Jared, Rosheila, Aiden, Amaya, and Adessa. Things are pretty low-key around their house. So, not surprisingly we brought noise with us, but hopefully not too much chaos. Aiden showed Ian around the Wii, and the girls played together on the swing set. Honestly, I’m not sure what else they did, they were just off being busy and happy together.

Jason and Jared took the kids to Flippin’ Family Fun after visiting Malmstrom. It is–you guessed it–flippin’ fun, or so our kids say. Trampolines galore, and a foam pit. Calories were burned with the bouncing and then put back in in the form of frozen lemonade cups. I took myself on a solitary date to a nearby Target, which was fabulous.

While we were at Jared and Rosheila’s a timely package showed up from Tiffany, filled with items for both sets of kids. As you can see, some of them were matchy and mermaid-themed.


The two youngest, Beatrice and Adessa. The girls all got miniature mermaid tails to fit their dolls. All handmade, of course, by Aunt Tiffany.

The other exciting day trip we made was to Electric City Water Park. Part of the Great Fall’s Parks and Rec department, it was very inexpensive and way better than any city pool I’ve been too. It had an Olympic size pool, a couple slides, a nice kiddy pool/splash pad, a lazy river (my personal fav) and a body-boarding ride (Jason biffed it).


I think we all got in for about $30 total. You gotta love Montana being cheap! Well, everything is cheap compared to Seattle.

The final evening our family grabbed teriyaki and went to Giant Springs State Park, just past the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center (that’s for next time).


Jason and beautiful, happy Imogen.


Me and crabby Bebo. She refused to eat delicious teriyaki. So sad for her.


Me and my eldest. We’re clearly headed toward adolescence.


Giant Springs State Park has bragging rights for having the world’s shortest river. But what it should really brag about is the beautiful, green, wooded park, and the big bubbles of the natural spring that flows into the Missouri a few hundred feet later.





It took us a few tries to get a good pic. And then we ended up with one of the best of all-time, in my humble opinion.





Recently discovered records from Lewis and Clark’s stop at Giant Springs are surprisingly fitting:

“After a long day of travel, Lewis was pleased to reach the Missouri and delighted by the Giant Springs his (her) troop discovered there . . . Clark was clearly unimpressed.” (Wink.)


The morning we left for Coeur d’Alene, we go a few cute pics of all the cousins together. Next time this happens they will probably look like giants in comparison.

As we cruised along Highway 200 heading west, we decided to stop at some of the historical signs, mainly marking pioneer trade routes and Native American happenings of old. The kids mostly humored us.

Soon it got to be lunchtime and we started looking for a good spot to picnic. We stumbled upon a fantastic place in little Lincoln, Montana, of which I am still quite amazed by.

It’s Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild, and it’s a privately-funded and maintained sculpture art park made filled with the products of Montana artists and inspired by the region. Super random–I still can’t get over that part of it.


I wish I would’ve taken more pics of the art and our explorations, but all I’ve got is a teepee. Visit the website to see more of what we saw.


As we got closer to Missoula Imogen insisted that we stop and skip some rocks she had collected back in Great Falls.


So idyllic. Think River Runs Through It–but with three small children. The epitome of Montana wild, with some Haggard wild thrown in. And we all know Jason is just as handsome as a young Brad Pitt.


I wished we had put our suits on and dipped in, but I was nervous about the current. The river was just begging us!

There was something else we needed to do that was very important, and that important thing was ice cream. Yelp had told us to go to The Big Dipper in Missoula.

I have a lot of thoughts about ice cream and the places where people should eat it. My thoughts on The Big Dipper are this: It was worth the outside line and the 20 minute wait. They had lots of flavors–including black licorice–which surprised and delighted me, and which of course I ordered and consumed.

Also, if you go there you can sit among hip liberal locals wearing Kavu shirts and Chacos on their feet (WAY before they were cool . . . again). It’s not a leopard with an impala head in its mouth, but it’s a particular brand of wild only found in western Montana.

Once we curbed our sugar craving in Missoula, we got on I-90 and booked it home (as in Coeur d’Alene, our landing place). A week of doing whatever was waiting for us.

Also, it must be noted there is SO much more we need to see of Montana–Glacier, Flathead Lake, Whitefish, Bozeman, Yellowstone, Havre, Hot Springs. For next time.

You can catch up with our fun in Part 1: Cave B and Part 2: 4th of July.

Happy trails to US!!!



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