Monday, August 01, 2011

Big Sky Country

Off course, most of the mountain and prairie states of the west can claim a big sky, but Montana made it official.DSC_0140 We’re in a little town called Deer Lodge, which is between Missoula and Butte. One of the neat things about our trips is the discovery of awe-inspiring scenery or extremely interesting places we didn’t know about until we got into the area. Take Deer Lodge, for example. We’re were planning to head east on I-90 and needed to find a place to stop for the night. Unless we have a specific destination in mind, I calculate miles from where we are to between 200 and 300 miles in the direction we’re going, then look for a campground. So Deer Lodge is 280 miles from Spokane, WA, and there were a couple of decent campgrounds listed, so that’s where we headed.


Little did we know that Deer Lodge is home to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The ranch was donated to the National Park Service in 1977. It’s a working cattle ranch of 1600 acres, which is a fraction of the 35,000 which made up the ranch in it’s late 19th century heyday. Conrad Kohrs, the founder, was known as the Cattle King of Montana. At the time, the western plains were open range, and Kohrs grazed his cattle on millions of acres from Colorado north into Canada. DSC_0141

Today, the ranch maintains about 100 head of cattle, and the entire place is open to tourists who are interested in the way cattle were raised in the old west.


The ranch is staffed by volunteers and part-time rangers who do all the work required to maintain the buildings and livestock.

At it’s peak, the ranch sold 10,000 head of cattle yearly, which made Mr. Kohrs a very rich man.  Although the house and ranch were vacant for quite a few years before the property was given the the NPS, everything on the ranch is original to the Kohrs family, including Mr. Kohrs’ unusual desk, whichKohrs Desk could be folded up and locked when the boss was traveling.

Even though the house is open for tours, no photos are permitted inside, so this interior shot is from the NPS web site.

One feature of a visit to the ranch is the opportunity to sample “cowboy coffee” made by the cook at the chuck wagon. DSC_0155 Penny and I tried it, and it wasn’t too bad, considering its made by just dumping coffee grinds into a pot of hot water. The only problem is that the grinds tend to get stuck between your teeth.


We had a nice chat with one of the volunteer cowboys, who is really a dairy farmer from Wisconsin.

Tonight we’re going to attend a presentation of Much Ado About Nothing by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks at the Old Montana State Prison, which is also located here in Deer Lodge. The prison is no longer occupied by bad guys and the prison is now a tourist attraction. Interestingly, some of the bad guys who now live in the state prison in another part of the state make handcrafted bridles and other items out of horse hair. Their work is quite nice, and quite expensive. The western bridles go for $1500 and up. We didn’t buy one.


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