Montana: Big Sky Country


Isn’t all sky created equal? Isn’t sky just that, sky? Isn’t sky in
Nebraska, Maine, or Texas, just as it is in Montana? The truth is
that not all sky is created equal. Montana’s sky, like the state
itself, is majestic and grandiose.

I fell in
love with Montana on a trip from Western Washington. Heading east on
Hwy. 2 from Bonners Ferry, ID leading into Libby, MT, is some of the
most spectacular scenery I have ever witnessed. It was resplendent.
Although I love Northern Idaho, it still pales in comparison to
Montana. I knew that Montana was a place that needed to be shared and
explored by those who had never seen it. There was Glacier National
Park (including white water rafting), The National Bison Range,
Flathead Lake, Lewis and Clark Caverns, St. Ignatius Mission, and, of
course, the best steak ever at Spencer’s Steak House in Whitefish. It
was a great place for a Catholic Match get together.

National Park is comprised of 1.4 million acres. It is home to 50
glaciers, 200 streams or lakes, and 730 miles of trails. While there
are too many animals that call Glacier home to list here, the
highlights would be elk, bear (both black and grizzly), bobcat, bighorn
sheep, mountain goat, and moose. At last year's CM event, I was three
feet away from a bighorn sheep (and, yes, I left my digital camera in
the car) and Mike saw a bear while he was on a walk. Our white water
rafting excursion will happen before our trip up to Glacier. We get to
see the park from both the river and the top of the mountain. The drive
up Going-To-The-Sun Road is nothing less than breathtaking. But,
Glacier is not the only place in Montana that can claim the phrase

The National Bison Range, south
of Flathead Lake, is breathtaking in its own right. While there is not
the majesty of trees at Glacier, it does live up to Montana’s Big Sky
Country claim. You almost feel as if you can see to the end of the
earth. Established in 1908, it is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in
the country. 350-500 bison make their home, along with elk, deer,
pronghorn, black bear, and coyote, on this 18,500 acre refuge. Over 200
species of birds call The National Bison Range home including eagles,
hawks, meadowlarks, bluebirds, ducks, and geese, It was our pleasure,
last summer, to see baby black bear playing and bison (much bigger than
you imagine) up close. The 19-mile drive through The National Bison
Range takes you from the Palouse Prarie up into the forest. You can
view streams and wetlands. Vying against Glacier National Park and The
National Bison Range for the most glorious spot in NW Montana is
Flathead Lake.

Flathead Lake is south of
Kalispell, Montana. The views are dramatic and impressive. It is the
largest natural freshwater lake in the Western United States. It spans
200 miles of surface water, is 28 miles long running north to south, is
anywhere from 7–15 miles wide, and 300 feet deep. It has terrific
fishing (if you want to fish at the CM event, you will have to get a
license). Flathead lake is home to seven kinds of trout (including Rainbow,
Brown, and Lake), Bigmouth and Smallmouth Bass, Kokanee Salmon and
Whitefish, to name a few. Every water sport imaginable is available on
Flathead Lake. When we stay on the cabin for CM Montana II we will have
access to both a canoe and a ski boat. There are several small islands
on Flathead Lake. The largest is Wild Horse Island, a 2,000 acre State
Park. The Salish Indians, also known as the Flatheads, used the island
to pasture their horses and protect them from being stolen from other
tribes. The lake is named after the Flathead Indians. The Flathead was
one tribe who sent for a missionary to come to them so that they could
convert to Catholicism.

Jesuit Father Pierre De
Smet was finally able to come to the Flathead Indians in 1841. It was
then that he founded the St. Ignatius Mission on the Flathead
Reservation (which encompasses the southern half of Flathead Lake). An
interesting side note is that the same priest founded the Cataldo
Mission here in Northern Idaho. The most remarkable thing about the
mission is its murals. There are 58 murals painted by Brother Joseph
Carignano. He was a Jesuit as well and his primary duties consisted of
being the cook and handyman. He was not a professional painter and
painted the murals when he wasn’t attending his other duties. To say
that the murals are stunning would be an understatement.

At CM Montana II, "stunning" will be our buzzword. One other
stop that we will make in July will be to visit the Lewis and Clark
Caverns State Park. Although I have never visited the caverns, I am
eagerly anticipating this new addition to our event. It will be a long
day trip, but ancient caves lined with stalactites, stalagmites,
columns, and helicitites will make it all worth while. We will take the
two-hour guided tour as well as do some hiking on the paths of this
2,920.2 acre park.

One other stop on our CM
Montana II tour will be Spencer’s Steak House. It is located in
Whitefish. I ate there ten years ago and remembered it as the best steak
that I have ever eaten. When we went last summer I was not
disappointed. They have great food, great service, and a great
atmosphere. It is the perfect place for Catholic singles to sit, relax,
laugh, have great conversation, and build friendships that will last a

Last year I was a little nervous
before the event. Although I organized it and was confident we
would enjoy the scenery, it was an intimate setting (staying in CM
Mike’s family cabin) with strangers. We weren’t strangers long. We
laughed from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon when the event
ended. I made lifelong friends. This year will be even better. It
starts July 14th, for the early birds, and lasts for eight days until July
22. Our main events (the trip to Glacier National Park, The National
Bison Range, white water rafting, and Spencer's Steak House) will
transpire the weekend of the 20th. There will be the trip to Glacier
National Park, The National Bison Range, Flathead Lake, Lewis and Clark
Caverns, St. Ignatius Mission, and, of course, the best steak ever at
Spencer’s Steak House in Whitefish and white water rafting. Aside from
the designated trips, there will be bike riding on trails around the
lake, bbq’s, campfires, either canoeing or boating, and just generally
relaxing. Most importantly, we will build friendships that will last
over a lifetime.


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