On the following morning, we were heading out to the Bison Range, a national park. Located near Charlo, this was about an hour or so drive from Hamilton. Before this, it was a great time to grab some breakfast at the local Coffee Cup - a traditional, midwest Diner. Exactly what you will expect to see, they had everything you could want to power you up for your day! Cheap and cheerful with free coffee refills as you would expect. You can sit up at the diner or choose to grab a table. As there was a few of us we opted for a table. I ordered the pancakes, whilst my husband and father-in-law opted for a more traditional eggs and hash. The service was not only great, but personable - a trait that followed everywhere in this sleepy mountain town.
The Coffee Cup Diner - Hamilton.
Our breakfast at the Coffee Cup. The bison range is in place to protect a species that nearly became extinct due to overhunting, it has two varieties of buffalo - the Plains and Wood Bison. It is a huge reserve, covering nearly 19 thousand acres, and rising up to around 4,900 feet at its highest point. Good news for those who don’t like to walk: this park can be covered all by car. You get to drive around most of the park, and can get out at designated points to walk around and take in the views. There is not only bison there, you can also catch a glimpse of the odd and reclusive grizzly bear. We were lucky enough to see a momma bear and her cubs up in the hillside (although thankfully from the comfort of our vehicle), as well as of course many, many bison.
Herd of Bison at the National Bison RangeThe views at the uppermost point are spectacular. You can have a view over the basin, and on a clear day see all the way over to the Glacier Park. I will note at this point, that the Glacier National Park is well worth a visit, although we did not visit on this trip as we did not have time. I would suggest taking at least three days to visit Glacier Park as there is so much to see! Camping out is the best way to take in the majesty of this spectacular park, and there is certainly a lot to do. One for another trip for sure!
The basin overlooked by the Glacier Mountain Park.
The size of that sky! National Bison Range - MontanaThe National Bison Range pretty much took up all of our day. We returned to Hamilton where we opted not to go to a chain, but to a lovely authentic Mexican restaurant. As is typical with this area, prices for a good spread were far from expensive, but the food was authentic and very good. As mentioned earlier, the service was fantastic and personable! With a full belly and very tired legs after such a long day, we retired for the evening, set for a much more relaxed day to follow. The next day was a more chill day. We had a slow morning, enjoying breakfast on the veranda whilst taking on the views of our next stop - Lake Como. Named after the Italian lake of the same name by Father Ravelli, it is thought to have been named in remembrance of the lake in his native country. The lake was dammed in 1910 for irrigation storage, and is overshadowed by mountains and forest. It is just a short drive from nearby Darby, and not too far from Hamilton. It is very popular amongst locals, particularly in the summer. There is a beach which offers safe swimming, as well as water sports. Many locals with a boat will spend a lot of time here. We chose to spend the first part of the day at the beach for a picnic and a bit of light swimming in the lake. The water here is so fresh and clear, almost tropical looking - similar to what I have seen in places like Mauritius! The weather was fantastic for this, hot - but with a cool wind blowing. Afterwards, we took a trek across the shoreline and through the forests that are along the lake. It is three miles long, so a fair but good trek, with plenty of scenery and also shade.
The beach area at Lake Como
A view over Lake Como from the trailTo finish off our day, my husband and his dad went to a local firing range. As being so remote, it is important and typical for people of the area to be armed. I have been told that bear and mountain lion tracks have regularly been spotted tracing up to the property and accounts of being stalked by creatures is commonplace. As such, it is important for people to be proficient and safe in the handling of firearms. I watched as my father-in-law instructed my husband in such practice. Whilst interesting, it was certainly a loud experience. Anyone who is properly licensed can visit and practice in the range. After-which, we returned home once again, had some fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella.
Pistols and handguns at the firing range. Once night drew in, we sat out on the veranda with some drinks and did a bit of stargazing at the huge, star filled sky. For a city girl, this was extraordinary. With no street lighting anywhere nearby, you could see everything - I had never seen the milky way like this before. The next day took us a bit further afield, a few hours drive to an old and now retired prison, which had been converted into a museum. My husband had visited before as a kid, so there were a lot of fond memories here, and he and my father-in-law spent time recreating some of his childhood photos! It’s located in Deer Lodge, near Anaconda in south west Montana. It used to function as the Montana state prison since the late 1800’s, until it was finally shut down in 1979. It gives unrestricted access to how the old penitentiary system in the United States used to function, complete with cells and mess halls set up how they used to be. You can even get inside some of the cells for a photo op! It saw its fair share of experience over the years, including riots, and is now listed as a historical landmark. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Montana just to take in this piece of history, and if not, worth looking into more as there are a fair few tails to be told about the place. The town of Deer Lodge is also fascinating, much akin to Hamilton and many others in the area, so also worth taking a walk around once you have visited.
The prison chapel at the old penitentiary
A cell block and example cell in the old federal penitentiary Another worth while trip that we made was to Missoula, arguably the largest City to Hamilton. It is a great City for exploring and general shopping and dining, offering a multitude of options for both. We did some typical shopping for supplies, wandered some of the malls in the downtown area, then stopped for some lunch at a local restaurant, the Thomas Meagher Bar, located off main street in an area that is called “the heart of Missoula”. The weather was great so we got to dine al-fresco, and the food definitely didn’t disappoint.
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