Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Missoula Club, Smokejumpers, and Elk

What you do not see in this picture is the colossal
milkshake Betsy had to accompany her burger.
During our brief time in Missoula, we found some interesting places to visit and another good burger dive (so we’ll start the post there).  While browsing through Barnes and Noble while still in New Orleans, we came across a book that peaked our interest - “Hamburger America.”  Since we are crisscrossing America and Betsy loves her hamburgers, we may as well be eating at the countries best (or unique) burger joints.  We put the Missoula Club on our list but forgot about it until we saw it unsuspectingly while driving around downtown.  Betsy pointed to it and immediately we both started drooling and looked at our watches to see if it was a respectable time to head in.  Locally known as the “Mo Club” this is no ordinary bar.  It is decorated with sports memorabilia and loved by locals as well as young college students putting on the freshman 15.  They have been serving hamburgers since they were introduced at the 1903 World’s Fair in St. Louis (also where the ice cream cone was invented).  Betsy swears that it’s one of the best burgers she’s ever had because of the taste of the meat.

The menu (listed above the cooks head) is
pretty simple - burger, cheese, grilled onions.
But, do you want 1, 2, or 3 patties? 

The place opens at 8 am and locals start falling in.

After our cultural experience at the Mo Club, we were off to sight see and answer the question, "Who would be crazy enough to jump out of an airplane, crash through the trees, and land in a remote wilderness on fire?"  The answer is smokejumpers. So we were off to the Missoula Smokejumper Visitor Center to learn more about these elite fire fighters that risk their lives to attack fires before they become out of control.  Once safely on the ground, they pack up their parachute gear and attack the fire using hand tools.  They may work for 10-14 hours a day for days on end trying to contain the fire.  Once it is out, they pack up their 100+ pounds of gear and begin walking to a pick up spot which may be 10 miles away.  It is no wonder rookie trainees have to pass a test carrying 110 pounds in 90 minutes.  Most smokejumpers have been fighting fires for 5-10 years before they even have the guts to apply to this elite team.  Smokejumpers date back to 1940 when it was realized that devastating fires could be avoided if caught early.  It was recognized that many fires start in remote wilderness areas inaccessible by firefighters. 

Smokejumpers parachute with two parachutes (just in
case), a bag of personal gear, helmet, padded suit,
and an orange bag to stuff their jumping gear into.
Once safely on the ground, they change into firefighting

The "machine shop" is where they make and alter their gear.  It really is a sewing room, but apparently they don't like it called that.
Parachutes are inspected after every jump and repaired on site, if necessary.  They are packed by only a select few jumpers that are certified in packing.  After demonstrating they can successfully pack a chute ten times, they must jump with one they packed.
Round and square chutes are used and certain sizes are based on the weight of the jumper and their gear.  In 53 years and 350,000 jumps only three jumps resulted in death.
Much like firemen in a fire house, their gear is always ready to go.  When the alarm sounds they get suited up within two minutes.  It only takes 10-15 minutes for them to suit up, get loaded and airborne.
They only jump with a small amount of personal gear, so food and tools (called "Sherpa Gear") comes down in boxes by parachute.
Boxes are tightly packed and one of the smokejumpers we talked to boasted about how they have successfully landed eggs and pies without breakage.
Inside the sherpa box is usually a cross-cut saw, extra gloves, a bladder bag (to fill with water and spray on the fire), harness and spikes (to climb back up a tree and retrieve the parachute), and other miscellaneous tools.
Of course, there is food.  Apparently Spam is a favorite food.
There are 12 smokejumper teams around the country and all are located in the west where  fires occur in remote locations.  Ten are run through the U.S. Forest Service and two by the Bureau of Land Management.  
Our interest in wildlife led us to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (REMF) Visitor Center which is free and very educational with great exhibits and movies.  These majestic animals have struggled like many of this country’s wildlife populations.  Two hundred years ago an estimated 10 million animals roamed all but a handful of the 50 states.  Habitat loss and overhunting reduced the population to less than 90,000 in 1900.  Thanks to conservationists, the elk population has rebounded to one million animals and they continue to be reintroduced to their historic range.   The REMF has been instrumental in elk conservation and boasts about their protection and enhancement of 6 million acres of elk habitat since their inception in 1984 - a conservation effort well worth commending. 

In addition to the visitor center there is a nature trail and 10 acres along Grant Creek for the public to explore.
There are six subspecies of elk, two of which are extinct.  Bulls can weigh 700 pounds and are known for their buggeling call that attracts cows in mating season.  
The elk population in Yellowstone National Park was instrumental in sustaining the species and many reestablished populations came from the Yellowstone herd.
The most recent elk reintroduction program is planned for West Virginia.
The elk "Wall of Fame."  Historically elk were hunted for food and their hides and body parts were used to make blankets, clothes, chaps, tools, and decorative items.  
The Elk Foundation’s mission is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat. 
Before leaving Missoula, we drove out to Fort Missoula and the Historic District.  On our way, we spotted nine red fox kits frolicking in the grass.  The kits captivated us for so long that we didn't have enough time to see the museum.  Oh well!

1 comment:

  1. I would say fox babies far out weigh a museum for viewing pleasure!!


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