Entries in ‘Montana’ Journal

Enchanted Highway, North Dakota: You’ll be glad you made the drive

Wednesday February 19, 2014 at 9:09 AM | 5 Comments

The largest tin family in the world is a folksy beacon to Regent, North Dakota

The largest tin family in the world is a folksy beacon to Regent, North Dakota

The first indication that there’s something amazing off of I-94 west of Bismarck, North Dakota is the scrap metal sculpture “Geese in Flight.” You can’t miss it. Depicting Canadian geese flying over the seemingly endless expanse of prairie, this intricate sculpture stands at 110 feet tall and 154 feet wide. Its size landed it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture.

This sculpture is only the beginning of the scrap metal wonders along the 32 mile stretch of quiet two lane road in the middle of farmland between I-94 and Regent, North Dakota. Gary Greff, “Geese in Flight’s” creator, started his scrap metal creations back in 1997 when he made the world’s largest tin family. Dad, mom and son, standing at 45 ft., 44 ft., and 23 ft. tall, serve as Regent’s welcoming committee of sorts. Their folksy how-de-do has worked like a charm.

Part of Fisherman's dream

Part of Fisherman’s dream

See, Greff, noticing that Regent was on its way to ghost town status if something didn’t happen to change the tide of small town flight, came up with the idea to build enormous sculptures as a tourist attraction and call the endeavor “Enchanted Highway.”

Greff’s idea worked. I know that first hand. There I am one day in my office in Ohio listening to NPR when Greff is being interviewed. The story about the former teacher and principal who built the largest scrap metal sculptures in the world to save his town of 200 people in North Dakota caught my attention. How could it not?I pulled out our atlas, pointed to Regent, North Dakota and said to my husband, “We have to go here. We have to see the largest tin family in the world.” Besides, what’s a few more miles when one is driving from Ohio to Philipsburg, Montana? It seemed to me that the fact the hat of the tin dad is the size of a Volkswagon Beetle was reason enough to make the drive.

The sculptures along the Enchanted Highway that now include: “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again,” “Pheasants on the Prairie,” “Grasshoppers in the Field,” “Deer Crossing,” and “Fisherman’s Dream” did not disappoint. Serving as a lesson in prairie and North Dakota history, they also amaze with their variety and whimsy. We were so enthralled with them that we’ve made the drive to Regent two more times.

Another kind of pheasant in North Dakota

Another kind of pheasant in North Dakota

This coming summer may be round four. Last summer, we were close but headed to Teddy Roosevelt National Park, a place we had yet to see on all our trips west. I sure did miss seeing the tin family, though. Happily, the “Geese in Flight” soared as magnificently as ever as we drove past them on I-94.

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association

Philipsburg, MT: Prettiest painted town with history and more

Thursday August 22, 2013 at 8:08 AM | 15 Comments

Over looking Philipsburg and the Pintler Mountains.

Over looking Philipsburg and the Pintler Mountains.

When I first drove into Philipsburg, Montana, 10 years ago, I knew my family and I had arrived somewhere special. Located along the 64 mile Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route that cuts down from Interstate 90 and rejoins it again between Missoula and Butte, Philipsburg is well worth the trip.

Located in Flint Creek Valley, with the Pintler Mountains as a backdrop,  this once mining town is the county seat of Granite County. Here, small town authenticity is blended with tourist town charm. Its historic, painted buildings have landed it a spot on The Today Show, and placed it on the finalist list of   the Prettiest Painted Places in America.

Even though everything to see and do is mostly within walking distance of  Philipsburg’s one stoplight that blinks red on and off in either direction, there’s enough to do that an overnight or couple days stay is worthwhile. Or, make Philipsburg a day trip from Missoula or Butte if that’s all the time you have.

Philipsberg Brewery is located in the same building as The Broadway Hotel

The Philipsberg Brewery is located in the same building as The Broadway Hotel

Be forwarned, however. You may find, like we did, that Philipsburg is a town that evokes a love affair. One encounter is not enough. Either is two.

After becoming smitten by the hanging flower baskets that festoon the period lamposts in the summer, and the live theater performances at the Opera Theatre House that continue into September, we’ve gone back to Philipsburg every year since our first visit. If I ever miss seeing at least one of the Opera Theatre House’s shows, the rest of the year would not seem right.

Owned and operated by Tim and Claudette Dringle, the Opera Theatre House has the distinction of being Montana’s oldest, continuously operating theatre. Considering it was first opened in 1891, that’s an accomplishment. In the years since the Dringles have owned it, the theatre has been largely restored and rennovated to be handicapped accessible and as lovely as it was when it first opened.

The original backdrops are still used during some performances. Each summer season has three separate shows. One show is always a vaudeville version of several singing and sketch acts that are family-friendly, quirky and belly laugh funny. Show times rotate starting with a Thursday night performance to a Sunday afternoon matinee. On some Philipsburg visits, I’ve caught two shows in one day and have never been disappointed. Show descriptions and times are posted on the Opera Theatre House website.

Inside the historic Opera  House Theatre where  live theater means belly laughs fun

Inside the historic Opera House Theatre where live theater means belly laughs fun

Along with catching a show or two each year, we also visit the Granite County Museum. The museum, across the street from the Opera Theatre House, provides an interesting history of Granite County.  Of particular note is the display that highlights the Chinese settlers who lived in Philipsburg and the exhibit about mining towns of the area.

Each time I visit the museum something new catches my attention but downstairs continues to be a favorite. There is a reconstructed miner’s cabin, an assay’s office and a walk through replica of a silver mine complete with equipment and mining sounds.

Shopping is another Philipsburg must do. Start at one end of town to meander among the bounty. No shop is like another. Some stores feature antiques, others local artists and others are a mix of clothing, jewlery and gift items. Almost all feature items with a Montana theme. If you can’t find something related to huckleberries, you aren’t looking.

Sweet Palace, Montana

A trip to the Sweet Palace in Montana is like going to candy heaven

The biggest draw in the shopping division is The Sweet Palace.  Along with every childhood candy you can think of, the Sweet Palace creates its own confections. There are 50 kinds of fudge, 72 flavors of salt water taffy, 20 types of caramels and several types of hand-dipped chocolate. Plus, name a Jelly Belly flavor and the Sweet Palace probably has it. Each time we come to Philipsburg, our son makes a beeline to browse the Sweet Palace’s jar and bin lined-shelves almost before we’ve turned off our car’s engine.

As with any town that’s worth visiting, Philipsburg has enough restaurants and bars to provide variety at meal times. This summer I had breakfast at Doe Brothers, dinner at The Sunshine Station, drinks at The Silver Mill and coffee at The Daily Grind.  The Silver Mill is where to head for more upscale dining. Unfortunately during this year’s trip, we ran out of time.

Along Flint Creek on the way to Philipsburg

Along Flint Creek on the way to Philipsburg

Although we normally don’t need a hotel during our Philipsburg visits, we have stayed at The Broadway Hotel (103 West Broadway, phone: (406) 859-8000), a boutique-style establishment that includes a deluxe continental breakfast. Each of the 9 creatively appointed guest rooms in this 1890s building has its own clever theme. Guests can use the common lounge sitting room where videos, books and games are available to use. Wifi is free.

One of the newest additions to the Philipsburg scene is the Philipsburg Brewing Company that serves up handcrafted beers. The brewery is below the Broadway Hotel, but it closes at 8 pm. Happily it is open 7 days a week. I highly recommend a stop here.

The area outside of Philipsburg is also worth exploring. Four miles from Philipsburg is Granite, a ghost town that was once a vibrant silver mining town of 3,000 residents. The road up to Granite is doable with a hearty car, truck or SUV—or park part way up the mountain and walk the rest of the way. There are remnants of buildings and signage that provide a glimse into 1890s history.

Boating and fishing can be found at Georgetown Lake, halfway between Philipsburg and Anaconda. If you do go to Philipsburg in the winter, there’s downhill skiing at Discovery Ski Area within an easy drive of Georgetown Lake, Anaconda or Philipsburg.  Check out the ski and stay packages offered through a partnership between Discovery Ski Area  and several hotels and B&Bs.

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, Montana

The Ranch at Rock Creek is where luxury meets dude ranch

The Philipsburg Chamber of Commere website has information about lodging, shops and places to eat. Check it out to help plan your trip. Some of the hours are unexpected. For example, the Sweet Palace is closed on Saturdays and some shops are seasonal.

Philipsburg Insider Tip

If you are looking for a luxury dude ranch experience that is five star, consider a trip to The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana.

Post Courtesy of Jamie Rhein of the Midwest Travel Writers Association.

Philipsburg Brewery, Sweet Palace and Ranch at Rock Creek photos by Nancy D. Brown. Opera House photo courtesy of Philipsburg Chamber of Commerce. (Jamie Rhein took the photo overlooking Philipsburg and of Flint Creek)

Big Sky, Montana Adventure at Lone Mountain Ranch

Friday August 16, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 0 Comments

Lone Mountain Ranch porch

Kick back on the porch at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana

Disclosure: I’m a California girl, in love with Montana!

I know why they call it Big Sky, Montana. At night, the stars shine brighter than a brand new penny and during the day, your eyes will be hard pressed to find a focal point, as everything around you seems miles away. Big Sky country is where the deer and the antelope and the elk roam and the skies are cloudy and might even open up and rain down upon you. But that’s okay, because you can scurry into the dining room at Lone Mountain Ranch and grab yourself a steaming cup of coffee or hot chocolate, along with a fresh baked cookie and all is right with the world.  Wait ten minutes and the weather will change from wet to wild with color, with rainbows arching over tall, grassy meadows and hillsides bursting with flowers. It is summer time in Montana’s rocky mountains.


Kurt Dehmer Fly fishing

Kurt Dehmer Lone Mountain Ranch fly-fishing guide

Family camp for kids and adults at Lone Mountain Ranch

While our kids grew up making life long memories vacationing at Sunriver Resort in central Oregon, I wish I had known about Lone Mountain Ranch when they were younger.  Watching the children swarm the camp counselors, eager to learn a new activity or climb on the open wagon, the jungle gym of a Big Sky dude ranch, I’m reminded of how quickly time passes.

Our teenagers, one in college, the other a senior in high school, would certainly enjoy a family vacation at Lone Mountain Ranch. There’s nothing like watching your kid ride a horse or shot an arrow into a target for the first time. Maybe I should have them fill out job applications for seasonal work at the guest ranch? I’ve heard more than one story of staffers finding love at Lone Mountain Ranch.


Lone Mountain Ranch outdoor activities

I tried my hand at fly-fishing on the Gallatin River with a professional Orvis endorsed guide, but the fish were not biting.  Mine was an abbreviated visit for review purposes, so I didn’t have a chance to try all of the activities the ranch had to offer.  As I mentioned, the kids program looked wonderful and all of the parents I talked with had nothing but praise for the program and staff.


Lone Mountain Ranch horseback riding

Horseback riding at Montana’s Lone Mountain Ranch

Horseback rides at Lone Mountain Ranch

One of the highlights of my trip was horseback riding through Montana wild flowers and crossing crystal clear creeks on horseback. The horses were good, the wrangler was friendly and knowledgeable and the landscape – a show stopper.


Lone Mountain ranch steak

All-inclusive dining at Lone Mountain Ranch includes Montana beef

All inclusive Lone Mountain Ranch

I think I speak for all mothers when I say that all-inclusive resorts mean that mom gets a vacation, too. Typically, on our family vacations, I still end up shopping for groceries, as well as planning and preparing the daily meals. At Lone Mountain Ranch, three meals per day are included in the cost of the vacation.

Breakfast is served buffet style, but menu items such as eggs cooked to order are available. Typically, guests are out and about during the day, hiking, kayaking, fishing or rafting, so picnic lunches are packed and ready in the morning. Dinners are enjoyed in the dining room with menu items and chef’s specials. I loved the filet mignon of local Montana beef and the next night I ordered the farm-raised bison steak – an excellent choice.


Bald Eagle cabin, Lone Mountain Ranch

My review of Bald Eagle Cabin at Lone Mountain Ranch

Big Sky, Montana log cabins

Ranch stays are typically 4-7 nights with lodging offered in 24 cozy log cabins situated around the property, or in the Ridgetop Lodge for family reunions, corporate retreats or wedding parties.

The guest ranch is open during the summer and winter. My cabin, Bald Eagle, is one of the original one room cabins with a queen bed, fireplace, desk, bathroom, coffee maker and electric heater. I kept the bathroom window open at night to hear the creek behind me.


Yellowstone National Park Tour

While I have had the opportunity to go horseback riding in Yellowstone National Park, my stay at Lone Mountain Ranch afforded me the chance to see the park through a local’s eye. Our guide brought his spotting scope along with us in our small van to shows us newly hatched chicks in an osprey nest, as well as elk in the velvet hidden among the trees.

This family-friendly dude ranch is only 18 miles from the Yellowstone National Park entrance. This is an all day trip that is available to guests in the summer, with snow coach trips offered in the winter.

With its Nordic ski trails and sleigh ride dinners, I truly hope to experience Lone Mountain Ranch in the winter!

Need to know:

Guests will either drive to Big Sky, Montana or fly into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN.) Transportation is available to the ranch. Check the website for details.

Check-in time: flexible

Check-out time: 10:00 a.m.

Lone Mountain Ranch nature trails

All trails lead to Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana

Insider Tip

Lone Mountain Ranch is located at 6,500 feet in Big Sky, Montana. Carry your water bottle with you to all activities and keep hydrated. Drinking more water than you usually do will help you adjust to the high mountain elevation and give you more energy.

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter and Lone Mountain Ranch on Facebook.

If You Go:

Lone Mountain Ranch  (406) 995-4644 or (800) 514-4644

750 Lone Mountain Ranch Road

Big Sky, Montana 59716

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Lone Mountain Ranch.

Related Posts:

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, MT

Things to See and Do in Big Sky, Montana