• Lake McDonald by Bob Hosea

    Nov/Dec issue preview: Holiday Happenings

    Bob Hosea’s lovely cover photograph of Lake McDonald brought back so many memories of Glacier National Park’s iconic scene. I’ve never perched a Christmas tree along the shore, but I’ve shared many a lakeside rock-skipping competition, boat launch, happy hour libation and photo op there with family and friends.


    In fact, my last trip to the park was perhaps the most memorable – not only because a shroud of wildfire smoke enveloped Lake McDonald late last August, but because I shared that end-of-the-lake vantage with my dearest friends, most of whom had never been to Glacier before.


    I will think of them often this holiday season, as my family gathers to give thanks for the year’s many blessings: the birth of beautiful and healthy twins Giani and Giuliana, the start of preschool for their sweet older brother Vinnie, the days we each spent with lifelong friends this past summer, the promise of a new year at our door.


    This edition of Montana Magazine celebrates many of those same themes, including a wonderful Thanksgiving photo essay by Lynn Donaldson and Corinne Garcia, the perfect culmination of their yearlong “Last Best Plates” series. Lynn even coaxed her sister-in-law into sharing her much-requested pumpkin pie recipe.


    Brett French’s tribute to the late Norman Maclean and his fishing haunts on the Big Blackfoot River is another gem, made all the more special with the on-the-water commentary of Jerry O’Connell. I’m not sure anyone loves Maclean’s writing or the Blackfoot River more than O’Connell, who lives on its banks 40 miles northeast of Missoula. Just ask to see the inscription inside his wedding band.


    Our photographers combined their efforts for a special holiday edition portfolio from across the state. We spotted Santa in Lockwood and Missoula, Cowboy Claus in Ovando, toy soldiers in Dayton, and wide-eyed children everywhere. Share your holiday photos with us on Montana Magazine Facebook and Instagram this season, and we’ll include the best in upcoming editions.


    And no, we didn’t neglect to include a bit of Montana quirkiness in these pages. Reporter Vince Devlin and photographer Kurt Wilson made a trip to Judith Gap, where they spent a couple of hours in jail. We’ll let them explain.


    And we have plenty of fun in the wintry out-of-doors for you as well. Aaron Theisen went afield with the dedicated folks who help keep backcountry snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders safe during avalanche season. And Jack Ballard left his home in Red Lodge to visit another downhill destination, the Pilcher family ski area known as Discovery, just outside of Philipsburg. What a story they had to tell!


    Finally, all of us here at Montana Magazine want to take a moment to wish all of you – wherever you may be – the warmest of holiday wishes. We are thankful for your long years of support and friendship, and look forward to many more. May the holidays, and the year to come, bring you peace.

  • Smoke Elser, 81, teaches the art of "mantying."  Photo by Tom Bauer

    Smoke Elser: A backcountry pack horse legend

    Smoke Elser is a legend in Western Montana.

    There isn’t anyone who can take on the backcountry like Smoke, who has been packing horses into Montana wilderness since he was in his early 20s.

    It’s no wonder he’s the focus of this National Geographic story entitled “81-Year-Old Wrangler Teaches Cowboy Skills to Navy SEALs, FBI.”

    Here’s a quick preview: 

    Ask around for Arnold Elser and you’ll get a blank stare—that name was forgotten long ago, when a young freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, arrived in Missoula for a season with the Forest Service working in a fire lookout. It didn’t take long for the vast, wild country to steal Elser’s heart (a local sweetheart named Thelma also played a role), and soon he was learning the tricks of the outfitting trade from northwest Montana’s finest horsemen, who were the era’s primary wilderness advocates.

    Dubbed Smoke by his mentor, a locally famous outfitter named Tom Edwards, Elser had landed in Montana, the cradle of the wilderness movement, at a critical time in history: Post-World War II expansion and consumerism were poised to irreparably change the West’s backcountry. Elser was swept along in the excitement and joined in the fight to pass theWilderness Act, even testifying before the Montana Senate.

    Read the full story here


  • Using plaster to create a protective jacket around a fossil, Michael D’Emic, at right, provides tips to Keegan Melstrom. Courtesy photo

    Digging up millions of years of Montana

    We really dig this story. Get it?

    Dinosaur dig revealing insights to Montana 103 million years ago

    By Brett French

    In a region of Montana known for a 1960s fossil discovery that forever altered paleontologists’ concepts of dinosaurs, Michael D’Emic may have unearthed the bones of three new species — one a mammal, another a crocodile and the third a dinosaur.

    Since 2007 Michael D’Emic has spent five summers digging at this site in the Bighorn Basin. His discoveries include three new species that he is waiting to identify. Courtesy image

    Since 2007 Michael D’Emic has spent five summers digging at this site in the Bighorn Basin. His discoveries include three new species that he is waiting to identify. Courtesy image

    “What’s really cool about the site is we’re getting a big picture of the ecosystem,” D’Emic said in a telephone interview from his home in Stony Brook, N.Y., where he teaches anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University. “We’re finding stuff that died in a flood, and a few seasons before, all collected in one area.”

    D’Emic is waiting to collect more bones from the specimens before he names or describes the new fossils.

    “He doesn’t want to say anything until he knows more,” said Greg Liggett, paleontologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Billings.

    Fossil history

    In 1964 in the same region of the Bighorn Basin, south of Billings, John Ostrom of Yale University discovered the deadly curved talon of a dinosaur later named deinonychus, or “terrible claw” — a smaller, feathered version of the fierce velociraptors made popular in the movie “Jurassic Park.” Ostrom’s research into the dinosaur’s skeletal structure was the first to relate the animals more closely to birds than lizards and to defy earlier concepts of dinosaurs as slow and stupid.

    “It kind of started us on the whole dinosaur revolution of the past 50 years,” Liggett said.

    Liggett, who oversees the granting of permits to dig on BLM lands in his region, said the layer of rock D’Emic has targeted to chisel into is not as readily accessible in other parts of the continent.

    “I’m working one of the few sites still producing a lot of material, but logistically it’s difficult,” D’Emic said.

    Read the rest of the story here

  • Elk at twilight. Photo by George Tillman

    Top Reader Photos: Smoky skies and summer fun

    We’ve been seeing more than our fair share of smoky skies across Montana lately.

    First: We’re hoping all those firefighters working to contain the wildfire are staying safe. Never can say thanks enough to those folks.

    Second: Despite the smoke, we’ve been treated to a bunch of stunning sunsets and sunrises through the smog. You’ll see a shot here of that, thanks to Robin K. Ha’o.

    We’ve also got a great set of Top Reader photos to share. Including some rodeo and crystal clear night skies.

    Smoky storm at sunset near the Wild Horse Plains. Photo by Robin K. Ha'o

    Smoky storm at sunset near the Wild Horse Plains. Photo by Robin K. Ha’o


    Whitetails in the meadow. Photo by Whispering Peaks Photography

    Whitetails in the meadow. Photo by Whispering Peaks Photography


    Helena Youth Rodeo. Photo by Mark LaRowe

    Helena Youth Rodeo. Photo by Mark LaRowe


    Clear skies and stars. Photo by Jullie Powell

    Clear skies and stars. Photo by Jullie Powell

    You can see more of these photos at our Facebook page, fb.com/montanamagazine. Or, on montanamagazine.com



  • Tim Nolan paints some of the Silver Dollar Bar building on Wednesday in preparation for the business’ 80th anniversary celebration. The bar was originally on Woody Street, and moved to its current location after World War II. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Sillver Dollar marks 80 years of family ownership

    Here’s a great Montana story out of Missoula.

    The Martellos have owned and operated the Silver Dollar Bar there for 80 years.

    There’s no one better the Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman to tell us more about that impressive history:

    Ben Martello made his sons partners in the Silver Dollar 10 years ago, and they all work there to varying degrees. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Ben Martello made his sons partners in the Silver Dollar 10 years ago, and they all work there to varying degrees. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Family memory doesn’t stretch back far enough to explain why an Italian immigrant and railroad worker opened a bar on Woody Street in late 1935.

    Benjamin Martello purchased one of the county’s early liquor licenses after Prohibition and set up shop less than a block from the Northern Pacific tracks, in what’s now a parking lot between the red-brick Brunswick Building and the Missoula Public Defenders building.

    It was the last year the Peace Dollar was minted in the U.S. Martello called his new establishment the Silver Dollar Bar.

    After World War II, he and son Domenic moved the business across Woody Street and just down the block to 307 W. Railroad St. There the “Dollar” has remained and so have the Martellos.

    Ben sold the bar to Domenic in 1960. When Domenic died of a heart attack at age 50 in 1974, ownership went to his wife Mary and their three children.

    “We inherited it and my mother said, ‘Why don’t we just sell it?’ ” said Ben Martello, their only son and a Missoula optician at the time. “I said, ‘Let me try it for a while and at least make it to 50 years.’

    “That (1985) was my goal then. Now we’ve been here 80. I’ve surpassed my goal.”

    Read the rest of the story here

  • Glacier National Park After Dark: Sunset to Sunrise in a Beloved Montana Wilderness is available directly from author John Ashley through his website, johnashleyfineart.com

    New book tells the nighttime story of Glacier

    Here’s a beautiful story about a photography who captures the best of Glacier National Park – at night:

    Glacier Park’s nighttime stories come alive in new photo book

    By Rob Chaney

    To see Glacier National Park like John Ashley does, you don’t have to be a mountaineer or a tour bus driver.

    You just have to stay awake. All night long.

    Landscape photographers lecture one another about the “golden hours” around sunrise and sunset, when the sun skims the horizon and alpenglow gleams on the mountain peaks.

    Ashley’s biological clock ticks to very different rhythms, like moon cycles and magnetic storm pulses. Any Glacier visitor treasures snapping a photo of a grizzly bear. Ashley holds out for comets.

    Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) rises over Mount Brown on a minus 11-degree December night in 2013, just three months after its discovery. Photo by John Ashley

    Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) rises over Mount Brown on a minus 11-degree December night in 2013, just three months after its discovery. Photo by John Ashley

    “The image on the cover is one of Comet Lovejoy,” Ashley said from his home in Kila, where he’s launching the publication of “Glacier National Park After Dark – Sunset to Sunrise in a Beloved Montana Wilderness.” “That comet was only visible during the month of December 2013, and there were only three nights that were something less than 100 percent cloud cover. Those three nights, the temperature was 10 below, 11 below and 21 below zero. I was out all three nights, and I never saw another photographer on any of those nights.”

    That could be because a photographer had to linger four hours on the subzero shore of Lake McDonald hoping that a night fog would clear. But then, Comet Lovejoy only passes by once ever 14,011 years.

    Numbers and calculations hold considerable sway over Ashley’s art.

    He schedules his photo forays by the appearance of meteor showers, the seasonal aspect of constellations, and when those features might line up with park landmarks such as lookout towers, lake valleys or significant mountains.

    Read the rest of the story here

    Where to get ‘After Dark’

    Glacier National Park After Dark: Sunset to Sunrise in a Beloved Montana Wilderness is available directly from author John Ashley through his website,johnashleyfineart.com and wherever Montana natural history books are sold.

  • paraglider

    Paraglider sets Montana record with 192-mile flight

    In a flight that took him further than the distance from Bozeman to Billings, Bozeman paraglider Andy Mcrae – who some say is one of the top paragliders in the world, broke a Montana record.

    Mcrae flew 309 kilometers – 192 miles – in his glider. That meant he was up in the air for more than six hours.

    Billings Gazette reporter Brett French explains the flight

    Mcrae’s new record was 309 kilometers – 192 miles – set as he climbed and descended many times en route from the west side of the Bridger Mountains near Maudlow to southeast of Hardin. The flight, in a craft that resembles a large parachute fitted with a harness that allows the pilot to sit suspended beneath the canopy, lasted more than 6 hours. At that rate his average speed was more than 30 mph.

    “Any time you’re above 300 kilometers, that’s a tremendous flight,” said Huntley Brockie, a former student of Mcrae’s who lives in Big Sky. “Up until about five years ago that distance was unheard of. There’s maybe a dozen guys in the U.S. that could do what Andy did.”

    When Mcrae hit an altitude of 14,500 he was able to cross the Crazy Mountains south of 11,214-foot Crazy Peak and continue east paralleling the Yellowstone River drainage.

    “I got into a line of cumulous clouds called a cloud street where there’s rising air,” Mcrae explained. “I followed that up to about 17,000 to 17,500 feet – nice and high. I could glide to Billings from there.”

    Landing south of Billings would have broken his old record. But as Mcrae descended past ZooMontana and came to the Yellowstone River, he caught another uplift.

    “He had no intention of coming down,” Brockie said.

    Twice more Mcrae climbed to more than 12,000 feet as he flew southeast out of Billings toward Pryor and the Crow Reservation and then soared to 14,400 feet just before reaching the Bighorn River near St. Xavier. From there his flight steadily descended, crossing Interstate 90 before finally landing just south of the Custer Battlefield National Monument. He had launched at 1:25 p.m. and extended his flight until about 7:30 p.m.

    Read the rest of the story here.

  • MT-Mag_cover-fan

    Editor top picks: Features worth reading twice

    We’re getting ready to send our fifth issue of 2015 to the printer. That means we’re 5/6 of the way through 2015.

    How time flies.

    In light of that, I took a moment to look back at all our features for 2015 so far and find a few I hope you haven’t missed – or are worth a second (third, fourth…) read.

    Sean Kochel. Photo by Kurt Wilson

    Sean Kochel. Photo by Kurt Wilson

    To me, the below list represents exactly what we try to accomplish in each issue by telling the authentic story of Montana through the eyes of the people who love it.


    • Over the Hill Gang, from the May/June 2015 issue: Meet the members of the longest-running hiking crew in Glacier National park.
    • A World Wildlife Experience, from the November/December 2014 issue: Glasgow native Skip Erickson donates wild gift to children’s museum
    • Homegrown Guitars, from the March/April 2015 issue: Sean Kochel’s guitars are made from Montana
    • Best Pie in the Big Sky, from the May/June 2015 issue: A very sweet installment of our The Last Best Plates series (including a pie slideshow!)
    • Woodpecker Men, from the January/February 2015 issue: Ryegate men keep unique tradition alive
    Ed Osse works in his shop in Ryegate. Photo by Kelsey Dayton

    Ed Osse works in his shop in Ryegate. Photo by Kelsey Dayton

    Happy reading! 

    – Jenna

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