We’ve spent the past three weeks traveling up and down the Atlantic Coast exploring Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts. This week we’re jumping ahead in alphabetical order a bit so we can do Michigan up in style a few weeks down the road) to the enormous Western expanse of Montana. After being inundated with information on Massachusetts you can imagine my apprehension about tackling Montana when I started my research by turning up such facts as “In Montana, the elk, deer and antelope population outnumbers the humans” and that the town of Ennis has a signing claiming to be home to 660 people and 11 million trout. Well OK then. But I have discovered that if nothing else the sheer beauty of the land called Montana (derived from the Spanish word for ‘mountain’) makes up for it. So I am determined to do Montana proud this week by teaching the kiddos all about want it means to be a Montanan.
While low on human inhabitants (there are approximately six people every square mile, which makes the third least densely population stated behind only Alaska and Wyoming) Montana has over 100 species of mammals (the most of any state) including elk (of which it has the largest migratory herd in the United States), black bears, grizzly bears (of which it has the largest population of in the lower 48 states), antelope, big horn sheep, mountain goats, moose (which were thought to be extinct in the US in the early 1900’s, but now boast a population of 8000 in Montana), caribou and mountain lions. In fact, on average, sharing that one square mile with six humans are 1.4 elk, 1.4 pronghorn antelope and 3.3 deer. (What do you think four tenths of an elk looks like?) In the spring, it plays host to 10,000 white pelicans with a wingspan of nine feet who migrate to Medicine Lake from the Gulf of Mexico. So if wildlife in wide open spaces appeals to you, a trip to Montana might be in order.
While there you may consider visiting Yellowstone National Park (we’ll talk about this more during Wyoming week as the park is in both states) or Glacier National Park. The park is known for breathtaking scenery that was carved by glaciers (50 of which you can still view at the park) over thousands of years. While there a drive down “Going to the Sun Road” is a must. The scenic highway was completed in 1932 and spans 53 miles across the park past such places as Lake McDonald, Trail of the Cedars and the Weeping Wall (one of over 200 waterfalls in the park). You may also want to make a stop at Flathead Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in the West with over 200 square miles of water and 185 miles of shoreline. Rumor has it that there is also a monster (similar to the Loch Ness Monster) that inhabits the lake. You can only imagine how much this excited the kiddos who were beginning to warm up to Montana by this point. When I told them about the discovery of dinosaur eggs at Egg Mountain which lent support to the theory of Montana born paleontologist Jack Horner that dinosaurs may have been more like mammals and birds than reptiles, Noah decided we should pack up and move to Montana. Mikayla reminded him about the grizzly bears at this point and Noah decided maybe we should just visit first.
To get Noah completely back on board, I pulled the ace I had hidden up my sleeve – gold! (If you remember Idaho week and the gems mined there you know Noah has decided that mining is his ticket to hitting it rich.) In 1862, gold was discovered at Grasshopper Creek, leading to a population boom for Montana as it was the greatest rush to the West since the 1948 California gold rush. The distinguishing factor to the Grasshopper Creek discovery (near present day Bannack) was that the gold found there was 99-99.5% pure, while most gold is around 95% pure.
Mining continues to play a key role in Montana’s current economy as well. Its nickname of “The Treasure State” comes from the wealth of copper, lead, zinc, coal and oil in its soil. The Montana Yogo Sapphire is also the only jewel from North America to be included in the Crown Jewels of England. After learning this, Noah was totally back on board. Pack us up – the Gatchel’s are moving to Montana!
Historically, the most well-known event (other than the Gold Strike) in Montana is most like The Battle of Little Big Horn or as it is more commonly referred to “Custer’s Last Stand.” In 1876, the US Arm arrived at the Little Big Horn River to place all Native Americans on reservations. There, confronted by Sioux and Cheyenne forces, Custer and over 200 of his men were killed in less than 20 minutes. Though defeated, newspaper accounts hailed Custer and his men as heroes and in many ways the battle was really a last stand for the Native Americans, as shortly thereafter Calvary units began more actively pursuing the Native Americans who would never again assemble to fight US forces in a major battle.
I ended the night by introducing one of Montana’s native sons I was sure both of the kiddos would be interested in – Evel Knievel! The motorcycle stuntman was born in Butte in 1938. His world famous televised stunts included jumping his bike over 16 parked cars and jumping Snake River Canyon. Perhaps less glamorous is the fact that his stunts led to over 40 broken bones during his career. My twosome didn’t much care, they both now want to move to Montana, mine gold, dig for dinosaur eggs, hang with some moose and ride motorcycles. It was at this point that I decided I had done Montana proud with tonight’s wall. But don’t worry, tonight is only the start of our Montana fun!
Montana has proven to be a bit of a culinary challenge as well, but I’m going to do my best. I don’t think I could convince the crew to try bison (nor do I have any idea how to properly prepare it) so think we’ll stay away from that this week. But fish I can do! And it just so happens that the beautiful rivers in Montana are stocked with the state fish the blackspotted cutthroat trout. So for dinner tonight it was my intention to try my hand at a recipe for Oatmeal Crusted Trout straight from Montana Outdoors website. (I knew at the least the Bean would be pleased!) But after a trip to 4, yes 4 grocery stores this morning (Aldi, Miejer, Wal-Mart and Kroger all let me down today) I gave up my hunt for trout today. So instead I let the Bean pick from my stash of go-to seafood (yes, with my daughter I have to have that) for our main course. So we made do with tilapia and with it I made Couscous with dried cherries. While not the leading producer of sweet cherries (that’d be Washington!) Montana does crack the top five with its Flathead Lake cherries (think the monster snacks on them in his spare time??) so thought I’d include a cherry recipe tonight. For dessert, while we put up the wall I made Montana Monster Cookies. (aka Montana Monster Munchies) which are billed as “The Last Best Cookies”. My crew would definitely agree. Just a note, though, these are big! I halved the recipe and still ended up with some monster sized cookies! (Kristi’s side note: If you want actual chocolate chips in the recipe as opposed to the melted chocolate version that I ended up with, you’re going to have to let the peanut butter/oatmeal mix cool for awhile OFF the stove before stirring in the chips and raisins. My crew loved them this way, but just a suggestion)
May be having some of the girls over tomorrow to hang out and head to the first MUSICAL STORYTIME in awhile (Bean and I are super stoked) and then a little change of pace tomorrow night. We learned over the weekend when we were there that the Lego Store does a free build (similar to Home Depot’s) once a month for the first 200 people on a Tuesday evening. We figured Noah would LOVE doing this, so Grant is actually picking Noah up from school and taking him there while the Bean and I have a bit of a girl’s night. Should be fun, though it did mean scrapping a recipe I had planned to try from Montana. (It was for Lentil Vegetable Soup if you’re interested. Montana is one of the nation’s leading producers of lentils) I have a feeling no one will be too bummed out ;-) So until then…
Montana Fun Fact of the Day: The largest snowflake ever observed (38 cm wide) was recorded in Montana on January 28, 1887. That’s darn near 15 inches!!!
How to make one Mikayla VERY happy at the grocery store
My Montana cheflet
Those are some big cookies ready to be baked...
We needed a dress-up break
Monster Cookie seems pretty accurate!
Couscous with Cherries
We decided we needed to watch some videos of Evel Knievel after we got the wall up tonight
They're on board for Montana week!