Can you tell I’m still playing catch up with 2014? Not having internet for our first month on the farm really put a damper on my year-end recap abilities. I swear I’ll get to the new year soon enough, but for now, let’s go back to Montana!
I wondered if it was far too late to go back and finish this post series, but as I sat on our couch the other day looking through the album I had made, I realized I wasn’t ready to be done daydreaming about that trip and maybe you aren’t either. Last we checked in, we had gone from sunburns to frostbite and were headed towards the thriving metropolis of Boulder.
There’s nothing outwardly special about Boulder, Montana. Nestled in a grassy valley, between rocky, rolling hills, it’s greatest claim to fame is the historic county courthouse. Which somehow, despite my Aunt working there for the last couple dozen years, I’d never toured before our trip. Something about standing in these dark little record rooms with hundreds of old, gigantic, leather bound books felt oddly sacred. Dusty old volumes dictating who owned which mining claim, establishing property lines and chronicling the lives of some of Montana’s earliest settlers. Many who bore some relation or association to me. I loved it.
Besides dreaming about the Old West in a dusty record room, we also spent some time at my Grandma’s house. Anytime I think of Montana, I’m instantly transported to the tiny, aquamarine bungalow that sits next to a windy “crick,” just on the edge of town. Every inch of that place is filled with nostalgia. It not only houses the sweetest red headed lady this side of the Mississippi, it’s an encyclopedia of our family history. When I close my eyes, I can smell the green beans and fried chicken, and feel the squishy vinyl of the old chairs she used to have in the dining room. I can hear the dull roar of our large family, somehow shoved in a dining room quite unsuitable for so many people. I can perfectly recall my view from the squatty little kids’ table that she squeezed in next to the screen door, from which I’d dream longingly of the day I’d be allowed to sit with the adults.
I can taste the cherry pies she used to bake daily for my grandfather, the rock hard cookies she’d always pull from the freezer just as we walked in door. My mouth waters thinking of the sweet glaze that would end up all over my fingers as I dove into yet another one of her homemade donuts. Or the waxy taste of the paper that I licked until every crumb of her maple bars was consumed.
I remember the hole in my heart our first visit after my Papa passed away. How the house that had always meant warmth to me, suddenly felt cold. And how over the years, thanks to the strength and determination of my grandmother, the warmth has returned. And yet, despite new memories made, how I still walk into the living room expecting him to be there, sitting in his chair, calling out my name in his trademark sing-song southern drawl.
While we were there, we visited my Papa’s grave in the cemetery across town. The stone with a handsome fly-fisherman engraved on it, which sits on the top of the hill, constantly beaten by the biting Montana wind. Standing there with my husband of six years, I found myself realizing how much of my life my grandpa has missed and how much he would have loved harassing me about great-grandbabies. How all I wanted in that moment, was to hop into the dusty seat of his Chevy and cruise to the town DQ for a dipped cone. And at the same time, realizing what a presence he had to make me feel those things without having seen his face in over a decade. It did my heart good to listen to my husband pepper my grandma with questions about him one night after dinner. She pulled out old cards and love letters, blushing like a school girl, and told tales of their most epic battles and bittersweet moments. We were both riveted, talking late into the night without even realizing it.
We sealed our tribute to my Papa by heading down to throw our lines in some of his favorite fishing holes on the Boulder River, which, despite frozen fingers and a momentary panic when Taylor wandered out of sight, was a really sweet moment.
We had a family dinner with everyone who lives nearby on our last night, and it was so fun to be the one to cook dinner after so many years of being spoiled on my Grandma’s homemade treats. I feel such pride and find such meaning in spending time with people who’ve known me since I was born, who love me just because I exist and who always make time to invite me into their lives when I come to Montana. Though Boulder wasn’t our most exciting stop, it was such a special time and such a precious memory.
We took off bright and early Saturday morning, leaving the Boulder Valley to meet my cousin for a day on the river. This was the day I’d been looking forward to the most, as it meant an entire day in a drift boat casting my fly. As we pulled into the boat launch, we quickly became surrounded by a horde of guides and seasoned fishermen. Many a dog, boy and fly rod piled into boat after boat, as we zipped and packed our way to the river. And I noticed quickly, there was not another female in sight.
My cousin John is the type of Montana outdoorsman people write books about. Mentioning casually that he’d thought about being a guide several times, he gave us such an incredible experience on the river. Still being novices, we need all the help we can get and he knew just what to do with rookies. I was greedy for big trout and I’d heard this was the river where I’d finally catch one. Of course, this meant my stinking husband totally out fished me. A huge rainbow, a menacing brown trout and quite a few other catches, while I only managed to land one measly rainbow and hook myself in the cheek. But I was so proud of him, I didn’t really mind. Really. The sun was shining, there were fish in the river and I made friends with my cousin’s spirited lab, Buxton, so it was still a pretty good day. I’ve been plotting my return ever since.
After our epic day of fishing one of Montana’s most famous rivers, we headed back towards Boulder, stopping just short to head out to Lumpgulch, where my Mom was raised. My mom’s oldest brother and his wife bought property next to the original house and a few years ago, after decades of saving, built their dream house. And boy is it dreamy, indeed.
Though we hadn’t announced it yet, we knew of our impending move to the country, and the idyllic setting of their home made me so excited about our rural farm house. It was so fun to see all of their hard work and dreams and plans come to life, and so wonderful to spend a few days getting to know each other better. One of the best parts of our trip as a whole was getting to see pieces of both of my parents in their siblings and finding similarities in all of our interests and tastes. Something about connecting with who and where you came from is so meaningful. We talked for hours of my grandpa’s adventures (and misadventures), memories of my Mom in her younger years, and our mutual admiration for labrador puppies. We waxed poetic about the L.L. Bean catalog and my Aunt shared a collection of fishing stories from my great grandfather that I’d never read before. Talk about a treasure!
Uncle Jeff and Aunt Julie were gracious enough to host the whole Chaffee crew on Sunday, and Aunt Julie and I got to spend a few hours in her gorgeous kitchen, prepping together, which is always one of my favorite ways to spend time with people. After our meal, a group of us took a hike up the hill, passing the trees and caves and rocks that my Mom played amongst as a little girl, and though I never knew her then, it wasn’t too hard to picture her there squealing with delight. My aunts and uncles narrated the hike with tales of their childhood- silly squabbles and taunting nicknames- weaving in all the danger, intrigue and humor my own mother has always told of. Though she wasn’t there, I felt like I got to see a side of her I’d never seen before. To understand her just a little bit better and to see all of the beautiful reasons why she is the way she is.
We ended our time there gathered around a map of Yellowstone, the park where my Grandfather served as a ranger for many years. It seemed like the most fitting end to our time together. Listening in, absorbing every ounce of advice on where to go and what to see, planning our departure for our last stop in Montana. Thank you for hosting us Uncle Jeff & Aunt Julie! We can’t wait to come back.
Monday morning we packed up our car, once again, and took off for Yellowstone National Park. We knew the trip to and through the park would take most of the day and couldn’t wait to get started. We planned to stop quickly in Bozeman, drive by my Grandpa’s childhood home in Livingston and stop at as many fly shops as we could, along the way. As we got closer and closer, I felt the anticipation of seeing something you’ve heard about your whole life. We went in through Gardiner, and I’m so glad we did, as the first stop at Mammoth Hot Springs seemed like the perfect welcome to the park. I couldn’t help but picture my Grandpa in his glory days, strutting around in his ranger uniform, hat cocked slightly to the side, just as it always was.
Planning to camp just outside the park at the West Yellowstone KOA, we knew we had to get a move on, so we spent most of our first day in the park driving. Winding up and around the mountains that surround the caldera and passing signs bearing the names of hundreds of landmarks, and stopping at a few of the “big” ones. It was a bit surreal. And a little overwhelming. Glacier was massive, and impressive, and there was so much to see, but at least there was really only one road in and out. Yellowstone felt like it’s own mini state, with half a dozen small cities to see and vast wilderness to explore.
When we finally made it to West Yellowstone, we stopped at every fly shop in town. Priorities. We wanted to get the scoop on where to fish, buy our fishing licenses and get a feel for what conditions were like in the park. At that point, all I wanted was a campfire, so after an abysmal dinner at a local dive bar, we headed back for a short-lived fire and an embarrassingly early bed time.
The next morning, we packed up our little camp, raided the local bakery and made for the park. Though we’d gotten an early start, our arrival at Old Faithful was a few minutes off and we ended up deciding the hour long wait was worth it to see such a famous landmark. We perused the gift shops and made a quick trip through the museum before seeing the famed geyser erupt, and while it was fascinating, I have to say, a little anticlimactic.
After the eruption, we raced back to the car and sped towards the Firehole River where we’d planned to spend the morning fishing, until Old Faithful decided to ruin our time frame. Feeling the pressure of the ticking clock, after an hour or so, we packed up and moved towards the park exit to quickly cast our lines in the Madison. It felt so unfair spending hours on rivers that require weeks to learn, but I decided I was grateful for the chance to whet my appetite and vowed to return.
Bidding farewell to the famous park, we drove out of West Yellowstone and headed towards Silver Creek, Idaho, the last stop on our crazy adventure. To be continued…
For Part I of our trip, go here! For Part II, here! See the whole collection of photos from our Montana trip, here.