Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Great North American Adventure !!

After visiting Helena, Philipsburg & Missoula, we went to Holland Lake. This was where my breath was taken away. Holland Lake is located in the Swan Valley.

Pinched between the east slope of the Mission Mountains and the west slope of the Swan Range, the Swan valley contains a series of pristine mountain lakes amongst dense stands of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and larch. The valley is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise for boating, waterskiing, canoeing, swimming, fishing, birding, or just snoozing in a hammock.

Lower Holland Lake

I felt that it was an amazing place of outstanding beauty. Holland Lake is split into two parts, upper and lower. The Upper Holland Lake is located somewhere up in the mountains and the water flows from the upper lake down a series of rivers and waterfalls before feeding into the lower lake. Both lakes were absolutely stunning! The water was so still that it mirrored the forest and snowy peaks in the background. It was so quiet and peaceful.

Justin on a mission...

We wanted to hike to the nearest waterfall but ended up taking a 14 mile hike to visit the upper lake. The 14 mile hike was really treacherous, with river crossings and...guess what....snow! And at this time of the year!

Lower Holland Lake (Taken on the way to the upper lake)

Upper Holland Lake

The snow appeared in patches and covered several parts of the route the higher we went. I wasn't really prepared for the snow and river crossings and was only wearing sandals. My feet were so cold that I lost all feeling in them, which was just as well because they were continously being pierced by sticks and stones along the route. The route would sometimes take us along the river, and I could see and hear the roar and power of the river. That was nature at it's best, and it was truly humbling.

Treacherous crossings!

There were several "heart in the mouth" moments though, like when I was trying to cross a patch of snow just wearing sandals. The sandals had no grip and it was slippery. One slip and I would have gone tumbling down the side of the mountain.

Slippery moments!

The other moment was Justin's leap across a swollen river. I knew it was too wide for me to jump across, hence I simply waded through the icy water to the other side, getting my feet wet and cold (again!). Justin wanted to remain dry and hence tried to jump across it. But before that, he had the smart idea to give me the camera to record his leap of faith. He leapt....I thought he was going to die....and he landed safely on the other side. He must have felt like a child....jumping around and putting strange things into his mouth (like flowers), telling me they were edible.

Justin's leap of death!

Anyway, it was an amazing time and I still think about it every night before I sleep. After our adventures at Holland Lake, a few days later, we brought our tired and broken bodies to Hot Springs!

Yes...I kid you not...there's a town actually called Hot Springs. And guess what...there's a hot spring there. A historic hotel called The Symes Hot Springs Hotel was built just by the hot springs and has been in operation since 1928.

The Symes Hotel

However, we decided to save a bit of money and gave the hotel a miss. Instead, we camped in the grounds of the hotel in our little tent.

Our tent

The spring itself is known for its healing waters and draws both locals and travellers from afar to sample it's wonderous smelling waters. If you think it's like a natural rock spring/pool, then you're wrong.

A very modern hot spring

The hot spring has been developed and it is now more like a jacuzzi/swimming pool. There are three pools in total, ranging from very hot to hot, and to medium. And the waters smell like sulfur. We enjoyed it so much that we soaked ourselves for hours and hours.

Mr June and Mr February. Which one would you take home?

Next post: Yellowstone! Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Great North American Adventure!

"How ya doin?" A typical greeting in Montana. I've just returned from a two week adventure visiting my friend, Justin, in Montana, USA. If you don't know where Montana is, look at the map below.
I flew in from London Heathrow, had a stop over in Minneapolis, and finally touched down in Missoula, the hippy capital of Montana. With a land area of 145,552 square miles, the state of Montana is the fourth largest in the United States (after Alaska, Texas, and California). Although the state ranks fourth in area, it is ranked 44th in population, and therefore has the third lowest population density in the United States.
Big open roads

Big open fields....and er...Justin doing his 'thang'....crazy hippie
Coming from a place like Bristol, I was struck by the amazing sense of space in Montana. In the towns, the streets are wide and everything is so widely spaced out. In the country, you get wide open plains bordered by snowy mountains and blue skies. Hence it's nickname "Big Sky Country". The people are amazingly friendly. Everyone smiles at you and some greet you by saying "hello" or "how ya doin?". No one locks their houses or their cars. My car would probably get nicked if I did that in Bristol. Gun ownership in Montana is one of the highest in America but yet crime is one of the lowest. Amazing but true.


Anyway, I shall get on with the tale. I stayed with my good friend, Justin, for the two weeks I was there. He lives in Missoula, hence that's where we were based most of the time. But we went out and about in Montana during those two weeks, and did many amazing things.

Good ol' Justin

We went to Helena to visit his folks. Along the way, we stopped by a town called Philipsburg to do some sapphire hunting. Yup, you heard me right....sapphire gems. Philipsburg has a rich history in mining and ranching. The roots of the area started as a booming mining town in the late 1800's. It's historic downtown is full of beautifully restored buildings from that era.


Amzing ice cream flavours in a diner in Philipsburg

Today these buildings are full of friendly shops, saloons, and other enjoyable establishments. We bought two bags of rocks dug up from the local mines and got it washed. The washing gets rid of the dirt and dust and makes it easier for you to pick out the sapphires amongst the useless rocks. The washed rocks are then dumped onto a table and you then use a pair of tweezers to pick out the sapphires.

What happened to the hard hats and pickaxes? !!

Can you spot the sapphires?
It was quite an interesting process as I've never done it before and I managed to pick out quite a few sapphires of various sizes (mainly small) and of various colours (mainly shades of blue). Apparently the red ones (also known as rubies) are worth a lot more.

There you go...sapphires!

Justin showing all how to bbq properly

In Helena, we met up with Justin's family and had a nice bbq. Helena is the capital of Montana. It is the county seat of Lewis and Clark County and it has a rich history in gold mining back in the 18th century.

St Helena Cathedral
Helena's main street is named Last Chance Gulch and follows the winding path of the original creek through the historic downtown district. By 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more millionaires per capita than any city in the world.
Are these streets paved with gold?

About $3.6 billion (in today's dollars) of gold was taken from Last Chance Gulch over a 20-year period. The Last Chance Placer is one of the most famous placers in the western United States. Most of the production occurred before 1868. Much of the placer is now under the streets and buildings of Helena (but even as late as the 1970s, when repairs were being made to a bank, a vein of gold was found under the Bank's foundation).

A dedication to gold miners of the past

Next post: Holland Falls! Hot springs! Action! Suspense! And danger! Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Update 3.0

Ok, I know....the silence is overwhelming. What can I say? Well, many things have happened over the past few months. These things combine together to take up most of my time, hence the lack of any activity on this blog . However, I shall try to rectify that with this update.

For starters, I've been 'sort of' promoted in my job. It's not official, but my responsibilities have gone up. That means more work and more commitment. I've also got myself another motorcycle.....and a car....and a girlfriend. The last one seems to take up most of my time. So you can probably understand why most of my free time seems to disappear so quickly. The weekends and evenings are spent maintaining my two bikes and servicing my girlfriend. Any other spare time is spent on myself.

So why this update now? Well, I've just returned from an amazing holiday in Montana, USA, visiting the all wise and knowing Justin. And the girlfriend has gone home for the next two weeks. Hence I'm currently free and relaxed, although I don't expect this to last for long. Hopefully, I'll have time to write a couple of posts on my recent holiday, my vehicles, my current plans and future hopes. Stay tuned!