Sunday, June 7, 2015

Montana - the NW 7 Begins

I've been on this journey an entire week and my first painting was today. That's what happens when you look at an atlas and put your finger down on the west side of Montana. Actually, the trip here was really fun. Allen drove with me and we made a vacation of it, taking Highway 2 (the northernmost east-west US Route in the country) from the Mackinaw Bridge to the east side of Montana, where we dipped down to reach Missoula via Lewistown.

After I dropped him at the airport at 5:30 Saturday morning, I returned to La Quinta with a heavy heart. Was I really going to continue without his light touch and large stature? What made me think I would be up to a month-long journey through the Northwest alone (not counting Charlie)? Then the coffee kicked in and by the time I met Katie - a high school friend - for a hike above the city, the excitement of the unknown had lifted my spirits.

I am staying at an Airbnb home in Hot Springs, a little hippie town west of Flathead Lake by 30 miles. After our hike, I drove directly to the lake to get a feel for it's landscapes. They are all stupendous, with giant purple mountains rising virtually out of the water, but I needed a workable vantage point. I entered a large state park and took a track winding up into the pines. Suddenly, I was at a dead end. There was no way to turn around with my trailer so I unhooked it to reposition for the drive out. Silly me! The incline of the hill tugged the trailer and I was suddenly holding on for dear life. Several bruises and blasphemies later, it rested snuggly against a tree. Phew! Right about then, a man bearing a brown beer bottle and wearing a sleeveless shirt and ball cap showed up. I was still panting as I asked if he was local. Yes. "Where can I go to paint this lake from up high?" Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, just 12 miles up a dirt road from Lakeside.

So, today I took that dusty trail, and learned that 12 miles takes a long time when battling the bumps and turns of a wiggly unpaved uphill. I ended up on the top of a mountain in the Flathead National Forest. I could see a ski lift just below and there was a radar tower behind me with signs reading, "US Property. No Trespassing". A pile of clothes lay on the ground. I wondered if a bear had spit them out after eating a fellow traveler. No matter - I was committed to this vista and it was breathtaking!

I spent the first hour alone and expected no company but then a mountain biker showed up. Soon after, some ATV riders arrived, followed by several carloads of locals plus tourists. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with those who came over to meet me. One family invited me to share their lunch of brats and sauerkraut! But I stuck to painting and blissfully filled the canvas with color. The wind was light, the sun was bright and the temperature was perfect. Life does not get much better than that!

Tomorrow I head into Idaho over the Lolo Pass for two nights at a rustic lodge. Montana has been very welcoming and extremely beautiful. Now I'm excited to discover what the next state has to share.

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