I've been really behind on so many things these last few weeks and posting here is one of them. Only one, sadly. It's snowing, again, but I've already beat that drum so I thought I'd move on to a field trip report. One of the reasons I can gloss over the weather is that I had a wonderful weekend in Austin, Texas last week visiting my cousin Kathy (and her wonderful husband Ron) and enjoyed sun, music, a day of mentally stimulating oral history training and lots of great Austin food! (Chuy's for Tex Mex, Homeslice for Pizza, Hotel San Jose for a nice glass of wine and funky atmosphere, late night pie and coffee at The Woodland, and Maria's Tacoxpress for breakfast burritos before a quick trip home.) Sigh. Austin is great. (Thanks to Ron and Kathy for showing me the town!) And yes, I'm back on my diet.
But...I digress. This post is about LOCAL travel. It's a place that you might not visit if you are a traveler to Yellowstone Park but certainly a worthy destination in beautiful, classic Montana country. If you get tired of all the mountain splendor you get around here and if gas is under $4 a gallon, you might want to put it on your summer agenda.
Our middle daughter played in a three-on-three basketball tournament in Lewistown, Montana so we packed up the family for a 6 a.m. departure and headed north, then east, then north again along rolling open vistas with snow-capped mountain backdrops. Rolling two lane highway, and some good music along the way (thank god for satellite radio!) made the day even more pleasant.
Tim commented that this was probably the type of landscape that scared the pants off early settlers who traveled from the intimate, tree-filled eastern countryside they were accustomed to. It's big, wide and open to be certain. Growing up here, I always preferred this vastness. I guess I figured that if something was coming to get me I'd like to see it at a distance...despite that fact that there'd be little refuge offered once the predator arrived.
For me, the highlight of the day was the Judith Gap Wind Farm. Truly amazing! HUGE wind towers whooshing away against a very dramatic backdrop dotted with black cows. The meadowlarks and the whoosh whoosh of the turning blades were louder than the gentle wind at ground level. It reminded me of a very serene sculpture garden save for the occasional semi traffic. It made me wish I had the mind and imagination of an engineer. Since I lack any part of that personality set, I just used my right brain to admire the way they looked against that cerulean blue spring sky.
I was inspired to do a little research after communing with the wind towers. The top of each of the 90 towers is over 250 feet high and the blades are 125 feet long and constructed of some sort of fiberglass. At the top of their rotation, the blades are sticking up nearly 400 feet into the air; enabling them to take advantage of more consistent wind speeds and making them visible up to 25 miles away. (In short, they are colossal!) Each tower can generate enough energy to power over 300 homes per year. You can read more about this project, which is set to expand in 2009, here.
I thought that it was surprising to read that a 2007 estimate revealed the the blades had killed over 400 birds and over 1200 bats. A Montana native species biologist said, "It does seem to be a bit of a bat highway." Who knew?
And, as your reward for exploring such a lonely piece of Montana highway, don't forget to make a stop at the Judith Gap Mercantile (founded in 1908) and try one of their milkshakes perched on the tractor seat counter stools. I'm a fan of the raspberry banana.