Monday, August 31, 2009


        "Retirement isn't the end of something, it's the beginning."  That is part of what we heard earlier today while watching CBS Sunday Morning.  (I know, it's Monday.  Isn't a DVR wonderful?)  The story segment was about creative retirement.  A retired college professor, who advised people about retirement before he retired, said, "Something special should happen at this stage of life."


        That has certainly been true for us.  We retired in 2003, at the age of 60.  For most of John's working life, he had been on call 24 hours a day, whether it was the Boulder Police Department, our funeral home in Castle Rock, or the congregations in the churches John served.  The phone could ring at any time.  People had all sorts of expectations of us.  Increasingly, in our last working years, we had left town in our RV without telling anyone except my mom and our son Eric where we would be or how to contact us.  That was to insure some real peace and relaxation.  So it was natural to escape and live a new life in our RV, since there we had found such a fun lifestyle there.


        We have toured Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as all but 11 of the 50 states.  We have lived and worked (actually, volunteered mainly) in Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Oregon, Colorado and, now, Montana.  We have seen moose, caribou, whales, black and grizzly bears, driven backhoes, fork lifts, 4-wheelers, all sorts of trucks, a dump-truck gator.  We have learned how (or increased our skill at) using table saws, electric drills, chain saws, the sawsall, commercial riding lawn mowers, and tractors.


        We have learned to explain what it meant to "Take the Baths" at Hot Springs, Arkansas.  We learned enough about the hiking trails at Bryce Canyon National Park that we could direct visitors to the type of trail they wanted, from ½ mile flat to 9+ miles steep.  We have built and installed very large signs, cleaned a ditch, fed fingerling salmon in a hatchery and repaired hiking trails.  We are learning the information we need to give interpretive talks about the Hohokam in Arizona. 


        We have shopped in Fred Meyer and Sobey's stores, as well as IGA and mom and pop grocery stores and Wal-Mart.  The grocery store has been across the street and it has been 50 miles away.


        The Sunday Morning story said people are doing all sorts of things in retirement that they haven't done before.  They are volunteering, starting new projects or businesses, taking classes.  That has certainly been true for us.  Most of our working lives was lived in offices and working with people, all within about 100 miles of where we were born.  Since retirement we have done a lot of manual labor and learned about so many aspects of life we had not known before.


        It is predicted that baby boomers will spend 1/3 of their lives in retirement.  So far, we are enjoying almost every minute of ours.  What will you do, or what are you doing in retirement that expands your horizons?

Friday, August 28, 2009

King's Saddles

Yesterday we drove down to Sheridan, Wyoming, to look around, eat lunch and shop at Wal-Mart. Sheridan is a really pretty small town just south of the Wyoming-Montana border.

We visited the late Don King's saddle shop and museum on Main Street. King was an artist in leather and created saddles that were awarded to world champion rodeo performers for many years. We spent the rest of the morning looking around the store and exploring the museum.

This is a wall full of lariats. I had no idea that many existed in the whole world. Are there really that many cows to lasso?

What on earth is this? you ask. It is a stuffed bear wearing the trappings worn by a horse in the Arab Costume Class. Isn't he cute?

Here is an Apache Indian Cradleboard. The dress on the "baby" is probably decorated with elk teeth. The fancy decoration on the cradleboard doesn't fit my earlier idea of what one would look like.

These two wood panels were made by Al and Ann Stohlman, artists who worked in both leather and wood. They are doors for their work bench. Al designed the pictures, Ann cut out the wood overlay, then Al carved the details and attached the picture to the doors. The work, as well as other items they created that are housed in the museum, are exquisite.

We both grew up in Denver and shopped at The Denver Dry Goods Co. downtown. But we were not aware that the Denver had a Stockmen's Store, so this catalogue was really interesting to us.
Can you guess what these round pieces of wood are used for? They are snowshoes of horses and mules. Have you every heard of the like?

Here is one of the saddles created by Don King. There were so many in the museum and saddle shop, we were not able to really study them. But they are so intricately carved and beautiful.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

7th Ranch

This is the office where I spend my work days at 7th Ranch. The building was first used for the announcer when rodeos were held in the area behind the building.

The campground is extremely well-run, with excellent facilities. Almost every single comment card we receive reports they are extremely pleased and many say it is the best campground they have stayed in for a long time. It is certainly good to work for a place that serves its customers well and where we never have to apologize or feel bad about the experience the campers have.

This is the first time we have taken a work camping position in a commercial RV park. We will probably never do it again, either. Like I said, we feel good about this park. However, when we volunteer at a state or national park or fish and wildlife facility, we feel we are providing something extra they wouldn't have otherwise, because of limited budgets. Here, we are necessary just to keep the facility operating. That increases the responsibility or pressure of the job. In government parks we know our responsibilities and the hours we must work. Often, we can do the duties assigned whenever we please. In a commercial park, we know when to show up and we are told what to do with our time. We prefer the freedom and flexibility of the government positions. However, we will complete our assignment here. We will do what we agreed to. But, never again will we accept a position that says "so many hours for your site, additional hours at $8 an hour." Those additional hours can be the real problem.

The decorations are very creative. Below are pictures of some of the old farm equipment around the campground.

There are several bird feeders (and lots of grasshoppers) around the office, so I am always surrounded by many birds—especially male and female American Goldfinches. It is so fun to watch them. We also have Western Meadowlarks and Mourning Doves, as well as assorted sparrows.

Part of my responsibility is to water the lawns around the office. I get lots of exercise moving the hoses, even building some muscle when I drag a long hose a long distance. At least I get outside each day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pompey's Pillar

I wasn't able to post photos with this last night. They are here now.

This week we visited Pompey's Pillar, a rock formation along the Yellowstone River that provides the only surviving physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark exploration of the lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. In 2004, on our way to Alaska, we first encountered the Lewis and Clark Trail when we visited Great Falls, Montana, on the Missouri River, on May 20. 2003-2006 was the bicentennial celebration of the pairs' trip to the Pacific and back. I had read Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose's history of the trip, and was fascinated.

Then, last year, we saw several museums that explored the history of the trip while we summered along the Columbia River. On May 31 we visited Fort Clatsop in the Lewis and Clark National Park in Oregon.

In 1806 Lewis and Clark split their group of explorers, Lewis going north to learn more about the Marias River, Clark following the Yellowstone River south then east. They met up where the Yellowstone flows into the Missouri, east of here near the Montana-North Dakota boundary. William Clark and his party stopped at Pompey's Pillar and Clark carved his name into the soft rock. Many other people have done the same over the years, until the area was set aside as a National Monument.

The pillar or rock outcropping is named after Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagewea, the Shoshone Indian guide and interpreter who traveled with the Corps of Discovery. Clark called the child Pomp and named the pillar Pompy's Tower after him. The view from the top of the pillar is impressive.

There is a beautiful grove of Cottonwood trees between the pillar and the Yellowstone River.

This is a buffalo hide boat, like ones built by some of Clark's party when their horses were stolen. They had seen similar boats used by the Mandan Indians in North Dakota.

Clark had two 28-foot dugout canoes made from some of the Cottonwoods growing along the Yellowstone. Here is John looking at replicas.

Members of the Corps of Discovery had been away from supply centers since 1803 and their clothes had worn out. By 1806 they were wearing buckskin clothing, like I tried on at the Pompey's Pillar Visitor Center. They are really quite comfortable.

We saw some kayakers getting ready to float down the Yellowstone near the pillar. Here three of them are on their way.

We had been there and done that, so here I am checking out the T-Shirt.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Crow Indian Fair

7th Ranch RV Camp is located within the Crow Indian Reservation in south central Montana. The Crow are allow to sell their land to outsiders and some time ago the Enemy Hunter family sold their land. Eventually Chip and Sandy Watts bought the land to ranch, then later developed the RV park.

The 91st Annual Crow Fair is being held August 13-17, featuring daily parades, rodeos, dancing contests, Pow Wows, and other competitions. Indians from throughout North and South America attend.

The Crow traditionally build the largest tipis (teepees) around and some of them still use them when traveling. The Crow Fair is the largest assembly of tipis in the country. As we drive around the surrounding area we often see piles of tipi poles leaning against ranch buildings or fences. Many who come to the fair bring their tipis, while others bring tents or trailers or stay in motels.

Crow women historically decorated their clothing with elk teeth. Today they may use the real teeth or manufactured replicas. We saw lots of evidence of that at the parade we attended Saturday. I can't tell you a lot about what we saw except it was a riot of color and very interesting.

Here are a few of the approximately 200 photos we took. Enjoy.

This little girl looks so proud, wearing her traditional clothes and sitting on a full-sized horse. The horse is being led by her mother. We saw many young children in the parade, with parents leading the horse.

Here is mom leading a horse with two young children on the Paint. I think the Paint horses are my favorite. We understand the Indians feel the same way. This young Indian boy chose a motorcycle over a horse. What is the world coming to?

Isn't his young Indian maiden in her traditional clothes, tiara and huge sunglasses about the sweetest thing you have seen? Here is another example of mother and child. There is a real emphasis on teaching the traditions to the children here.

Both young and old women were riding on this float.

Notice the saddle on the roof of the truck. And don't you wonder how the driver sees to navigate the parade route? Many of the trucks were covered with blankets, scarves, emroidered and beaded pieces.

Here is one group of tipis.

This Crow Indian was wearing his feather headdress and many fine beaded items.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Big Horn Mountains

Yesterday we left the wheat fields of Montana to visit the Big Horn Mountains in northern Wyoming. It was only about an hour's drive to US Higway 14, which goes up into the mountains. The steep climb from 3400 ft to 8000 ft was beautiful, with many interesting sights. Signs along the way point out the geological formations and the dates the rocks were formed. We were sorry our son Eric, the middle school science teacher, wasn't along for the ride.

The Fallen City is one of the features we saw. This boulder field looks something like its name.
US 14 is being straightened and widended. So the next few miles took us another hour, till we reached the US Forest Service Visitor's Center at Burgess Junction. After we bought some books, we walked a 0.6 mile trail with some good views of the area. Twin Buttes is one of the most obvious landmarks around.
We were delighted to see this marmot on the rocks. At least we think it is a marmot. It doesn't look like any of the marmots in my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals.
These two small butterflies were also a delight.

This wind generator behind the Visitor Center produces 1000 watts of power. To an RVer, that is pretty good. We also saw our first solar-powered trash compacter. Isn't that amazing? After gathering some information about nearby hiking trails, we drove off. Just a little ways down the road, several cars and trucks were pulled to the side and their occupants were pointing cameras into the trees next to the road. Of course, we joined them. I was so grateful for my new long camera lens when we spotted this moose! What a treat.
We took a short hike around Sibley Lake. The anglers were having good luck and the duck families were a delight to watch. Is this a female Mallard Duck? If not, then what is it?

On the back side of the lake, it was peaceful and we saw some pretty reflections.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Harvest Time

It is wheat harvest time in eastern Montana. We have spent most of our lives on the Front Range and in the mountains of Colorado, so we are much more familiar with the process of cutting hay than that of harvesting wheat.
There is a large wheat field that can only be accessed by driving through 7th Ranch RV Camp. Three times a week we run up and down the road to that field. So we were very interested when we learned that the harvesters would be driving through the RV park to do their work.
Last Sunday, soon after the cattle roundup was completed, we saw the harvesting equipment drive in. To us, it seemed like an awful lot of equipment for what appeared to be a small field.
On Monday and Tuesday mornings, the harvest crew drove in at about 8 am. On Wednesday we saw part of the equipment being driven out. A number of large grain trucks had been filled with wheat. Later that day, John and I talked to a man (we guess he owns the wheat field) and he said they harvested 71,000 bushes of wheat up there.
On Thursday we watched several large flat-bed trucks drive up to the field, then return with huge round bales of straw.
According to the Big Horn County News on July 30, “Dryland wheat harvest is in full swing with winter wheat doing well, Scott Schubert (of Big Horn Ag Services) said. ‘We’re coming in at anywhere from 40 to 70 bushels per acre with the average being about 50-60 bushels per acre.’…According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Big Horn County has about 134,000 acres of wheat being grown.” This story would indicate that nearby field we saw being harvested was somewhere between 1000 and 1775 acres.
Being city-slickers, we don’t know much about wheat and straw. For those of you who are like us, I include the following question and answer I found on the internet.
Dear Twig: What’s the difference between hay and straw?
Hey, good question. Often the words “hay” and “straw” are used interchangeably. But hay and straw aren’t the same thing. If you’re a farmer, a horse or a cow, the difference is especially important.
To explain: Hay is made out of grasses and legumes (plants like clover and alfalfa). Farmers grow these plants in fields; cut the plants down a couple times a summer; dry them out; then roll, wrap or cram them into bales. (Imagine mowing a really tall lawn then rolling the clippings into a really big Ding Dong.) Hay is full of nutrients, and farmers feed it to their livestock.
Straw, on the other hand, is made of the leftover stalks of plants like oats and wheat and barley. The hollow stalks are left behind when the seeds of the plants are harvested. The stalks are cut and dried and baled. The result, voila, is straw. Straw has fewer nutrients than hay but is light and warm and absorbent. It’s best for livestock bedding, not food.
There you are, fellow city-slickers. We all learned something this week.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Big Man Strays

Big Man, a Mexican bull, spends part of his summer in a field at 7th Ranch. He lives there with a small herd of Mexican cows. Apparently on Sunday Big Man was bored with his own herd of cows. When he spotted a group of attractive Black Angus ladies, he went through or over or under the fence to join the other herd.

That didn’t please Chip, owner of 7th Ranch. So he and Ron saddled up their horses, deciding to move the whole bunch of cattle—Big Man and the Black Angus ladies—down to the parking lot, then into the corral, where Big Man could be separated and held. That meant opening a gate to let the herd out of their pasture, driving them down a hill to an opening in the fence around the parking lot, persuading them to cross the parking lot and move into the corral. Since the parking lot has several avenues of escape, a number of vehicles were moved in to close the gaps.

Last year we watched a cattle roundup while we were volunteering at White River Wildlife Area in Oregon. There we watched at least five or six people on horseback yell, wave their hats and charge their horses to move the cows. Chip and Ron took a very different approach. They moved slowly, talked softly. I heard Chip say, “Come on ladies. There’s the gate. Go through it.” “It’s OK. You can go right there.” Ron said, “Go, cows.”

It didn’t take too long to get all the animals into the corral. Next, Chip and Ron moved Big Man and a couple of the Black Angus toward a pen. The next task was to get the cows and calf out and leave just Big Man. Finally, he was penned in alone.

Next, they herded the cows and calves out of the corral, back across the parking lot and up the hill to their own field. It didn’t take the cows long to realize where they were headed. They were happy to be back home.

Later in the afternoon Big Man was loaded in a trailer and taken to another rancher’s field. He should have been content to stay with his own ladies, rather than having a roaming eye. He wouldn’t have had to go through the trailer trip so soon, if he had been a good boy.

I have put photos of the cattle drive into a slide show, so you can see how everything went.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Birds at 7th Ranch

I used to think American Goldfinches were unusual. That was before we came to southeast Montana. They are everywhere! Sunflowers are blooming throughout 7th Ranch RV Camp and the Goldfinches feast on the sunflower seeds.

At the office, we have four feeders filled (and filled and filled) with thistle seed. The Goldfinches particularly enjoy eating at these. Filling the feeders is one of the responsibilities of whoever is staffing the office. Two feeders are filled with black oil sunflower seeds. They attract the Goldfinches, Western Meadowlarks, and Black-headed Grosbeaks. There are other birds feeding there, as well, but they are so shy I haven't been able to identify them, much less get a picture.

A birdhouse on one of our fence posts here houses a family of Barn Swallows.

A pair of Mourning Doves also lives nearby. Sometimes they visit the sunflower seed feeder.