Monday, July 14, 2008

Missoula and Bozeman

After the National Bison Range, we spent the weekend enjoying the Fourth of July festivities in Missoula, Montana. Our first stop, after some brief lost wanderings, was to KOA where we’d reserved a site for a couple of nights. We normally dislike planning in advance and reserving campsites, but on a holiday weekend it seemed like a necessity.

The site we were assigned backed up to a construction site, had no shade, and had about a dozen bikers for neighbors. This seemed less than ideal, so we looked around for another option and stumbled upon the “tent village”. Here, there was water and an electrical outlet right in your campsite, plus shade. Kind of silly, but since this wasn’t a wilderness experience anyway, we decided to take advantage of the amenities and swap campsites.

The next morning, we went to the local historical museum for a pancake breakfast. There were tons of people there and we were kind of late, so we ended up getting a free breakfast of the leftovers they were handing out.

The museum seemed kind of cool, with a huge outdoor area exhibiting various items relevant to local culture (like old tractors). The coolest thing, though, was a used book sale. We love books. Before we finally pulled ourselves away, we had a computer-paper box practically full of books all for the bargain price of $11. Now we just had to figure out how to fit them in the car…

It was quite hot, so we spent most of the afternoon hanging out at our campsite and hiding in the shade. Except for our next-door neighbors, a seriously dysfunctional family, who were blasting bad music and swearing loudly at each other, it actually wasn’t bad.

In the evening, we took the shuttle from the KOA to the local fireworks. It was quite a production. The event was located in a mall parking lot and had a bunch of entertainment leading up to the fireworks. There were bagpipers, skydivers, a couple of helicopters that landed and had tours for kids, some local music, etc. The fireworks were set to mostly country music and lasted close to a half hour. It was an impressive show for a place the size of Missoula.

Saturday morning, we went to downtown Missoula and walked around the markets. There are three different craft and farmers markets within walking distance from each other. They were all bustling.

We also checked out the carousel at the local park. The hand-carved carousel was a community project in the mid-1990s that was spearheaded by a local cabinet-maker named Chuck Kaparich. The horses and details (including gargoyles) were beautiful.

The carousel spun amazingly fast. Here are some people enjoying it.

Brian wouldn’t let Sarah ride for fear she’d get sick going around in circles so quickly.

Next door, lots of families were hanging out at a cool playground called Dragon Hollow.

After a morning or wandering around Missoula, we drove to Bozeman. Bozeman had more of a central downtown area than Missoula. When we arrived, we walked around and had a very tasty pizza for dinner at the original Mackenzie Pizza, now a chain of popular Montana gourmet pizza restaurants. The place was mobbed, and for good reason.

Our campsite was about 10 miles outside of town on National Forest land. We arrived there around nine only to discover that there was a group of suspicious characters residing in our campsite. Kicking people out is never fun, but they left surprisingly easily. They did come back for their firewood though (which we later found out they had stolen from the couple in the next campsite over earlier in the evening).

The campsite was beautiful, right along the Hyalite Creek. After a full night’s sleep, we went back into Bozeman to explore some more. We spent most of the afternoon at the Museum of the Rockies. They had a surprisingly extensive collection. Most of the museum was dedicated to dinosaur history and bones. Montana is apparently one of the premier places where dinosaur bones have been found.

In addition to the dinosaurs, there were some exhibits on Montana life, Indian culture, and some off-beat special exhibits. One exhibit, which was on loan from the Experience Music Project in Seattle, was a display of costumes from various movies. There were a number of costumes from Star Trek and Star Wars, including Darth Vader. They also had the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. The museum also had a living history farm and a Lewis and Clark display that we never made it to.

After the museum, we ran some errands and explored Bozeman a bit before heading back to our campsite for the evening. Bozeman is in a great setting, with mountain views to be had from almost anywhere in town and outdoor recreation practically as soon as you reach the city limits.

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