Montana Autumn

It’s a crazy world lately. The combination of negative factors we now face, also include a contagious disease and pandemic. Along with these elements, comes an emotional contagion. When things get to us, when we need a break from the resistive noise, sometimes its a good idea to take a break and get away. Or as Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.” Here is a round trip autumn getaway beginning in Libby that highlights the beauty that surrounds us.

Thompson Chain of Lakes State Park covers approximately 3,000 acres and stretches over 20 miles along Highway 2, halfway between Libby and Kalispell. This extensive park includes shoreline access to 18 lakes including McGregor, Little McGregor, Lower Thompson, Middle Thompson, and Upper Thompson Lakes, Horseshoe Lake, Loon Lake, Bootjack Lake, Cibid Lake and several other scattered smaller lakes. This time of year, the David Thompson Chain, named after famous early 1800’s local area explorer and navigator, fur trader, and path finder called he who looks at the stars by native peoples, offers boating, fishing, and beautiful shoreline colors reflecting in its waters. Also at this time, are fall birding migrations, and viewing of both migratory and non-migratory species. Scope out various waterfowl including Pied-billed grebes, Common and Hooded mergansers, Great Blue herons, Common loons, Western and Clark’s grebes. Pack your binoculars, camera, and fishing tackle and enjoy this local lakes region for a fall respite. More information can be obtained by emailing dbennetts@mt.gov

Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge is located north of Highway 2, approximately 45 minutes west of Kalispell. Access is through Lost Prairie Road or Pleasant Valley Road. A secluded valley with distant vistas and mixed habitats is great for photographs, wildlife enthusiasts, and autumn birding. The varied habitats show off many color combinations from Mother Nature’s artistic palette, highlighting Ponderosa pine – Douglas fir forests; high shrub and wetland areas; grasslands with native and sensitive species grasses; Cottonwood stringers, and interesting rock formations. Explore 1500 year old pictographs, some distance west of the main lake, and check out Dahl Lake from the hills. Interesting fall migratory birds such as Sandhill cranes, Trumpeter and Tundra swans, and diversified waterfowl may be spotted. And a wide variety of mammals roam the area. For more information call 406-858-2216.

Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge is located south of Polson near Ronan, taking the 212 Road towards Charlo. This wetland complex contains over 800 glacial potholes and a 1,770 acre reservoir. Known as an exceptional birding area, during spring and fall migrations especially, this is a birders paradise. Species to spot include Double-crested cormorants, a plethora of ducks, geese, and the occasional Short-eared owl. On a recent fall trip this reporter viewed Swainson’s hawks, Tundra and Trumpeter swans, Northern Harriers, Sandhill cranes, Western and Clark’s grebes and a special treat was a pair of North American River Otters playing and fishing nearby. Ninepipe is located on Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Lands. For information on Ninepipe Refuge and the Bison Range call 406-644-2211. President Theodore Roosevelt created this range on May 23, 1908. The refuge is a small, low rolling mountain connected to the Mission Mountain Range. This area also supports elk, Pronghorn antelope, Bighorn sheep, American Badgers, Mountain lion, Bobcats, and over 200 species of birds.

South of the Bison Range, on Highway 200 between Ravalli and Dixon, is an historic sign of great importance. This site marks the spot where the Treaty of Hellgate was signed in 1891.

Continuing northwest on Highway 200, look for interesting rock formations along the Clark Fork River. Near todays Thompson Falls, Montana, keep an eye out for additional historic signs depicting the original sites of some of the first Montana trading posts west of the Rockies. Famous explorer, cartographer, and fur trader David Thompson and his party built Saleesh House near here around 1805 to 1808. northwest, just passed Noxon, is Highway 56, or the Bull River Road. Named for bull moose by the natives, head north here until you see the South Fork of Bull River. Turn east and read the sign that describes an area created in 2015 to preserve the integrity of aquatic and riparian habitats. This space and waterways hold both bull and cutthroat trout, and is a wild country corridor that allows grizzly bears, lynx, and other wide ranging wildlife to travel between the East and West Cabinet Mountains. To loop back towards Libby, head north on 56 to the intersection of Highway 2, and head east. Along the way is Kootenai Falls, a location of the Kootenai – Salish Tribes spiritual vision quest sites. This reporter just recently traveled this entire loop. It was 400 miles round trip, and took a very relaxing and peaceful three days.

By Brian Baxter, The Montanian

Reflections “An Elementary Lesson”

Reflections: A column by Tony Smith

Photo of Tony Smith Reflections Columnist


A number of years ago at a THS school staff meeting, a suggestion was made that high school and elementary instructors exchange job positions for a teaching period in order for each to understand the challenges of the other. Yes, I thought the idea made perfectly good sense, and was anxious to attend the 2nd grade classroom of a superb instructor, and she would assume my Holocaust class position accordingly. At the time, my students, all thirty-nine of them, were immersed in a book entitled, “Auschwitz,” the portrayal of a Sonderkommando survivor, one of many Jews selected to work in Auschwitz’s four crematoriums, and in this case, work closely with the notorious Dr. Mengele, aka the “Angel of Death,” who performed horrific experiments on Jewish children, especially twins, on behalf of the Third Reich. The day’s reading assignment given, including questions allowing the instructor to interact with the kids accordingly, I left the high school building and made my way down to the elementary school and entered the 2nd grade classroom, expecting that my high school instruction experience would serve me well. My “high school instruction experience” went out the window the minute I entered that classroom! The kids were as cute as they could be, and very well-behaved as I expected. However, while my substitute in the Holocaust class was able to focus exclusively on that subject, and on that one reading in particular, I was expected to transition from grammar, to math, then science, to social studies, writing, etc. It wasn’t long before the children understood that a discombobulated, incompetent adult was in front of them. Lacking the structure and the excellent, well-prepared transitions from one subject to the next they were used to, the kids began to shuffle restlessly, and I finally resorted to asking them about their favorite pets, movies, sports, siblings, etc., just to keep myself afloat for the next 30 minutes or so. Of course, dad’s elk, their favorite swimming spot, where they last vacationed became popular topics, none of which had to do with the instructions left to me by their instructor. While praying for a fire drill, one can only imagine the relief I felt when their teacher re-entered her classroom, although the kids seemed thrilled to have avoided the tasks assigned to them. Admittedly, I just didn’t depart- I literally fled, with a whole new perspective and respect for teaching at the elementary level. These instructors were not limited to perhaps a maximum of four preparations per day; they condensed that many within a few hours of teaching instruction, with more to come throughout the day.  One is reminded of the “walk a mile in his/her shoes” in order to gain perspective on the experiences of another. That was my “shoe” reminder, and, admittedly, it didn’t fit.

However, in my own defense, I had better control of those kids than “moderator” Chris Wallace did of the two “children” in front of him during the first presidential debate, one that descended into chaos within the first five minutes.

Well, the time is finally upon us-the November event we’ve all been waiting for these past twelve months, one that has divided the American public and held them in breathless suspension and anticipation: Tiger Woods will be defending his 2019 Masters Golf title on November 12-15th.  “Go Tiger!”