As I write this, it’s ten degrees outside with a light snow falling and hints of a heavier snowfall on the horizon. We haven’t had much snow yet in the Flathead valley this winter. Enough on the mountains to keep the skiers happy, but, here in the valley, many of us yearn for the kind of snowfall that will cover the dreary browns and grays for longer than a day. Sure, that means shoveling driveways and braving icy roads and walkways, but the beauty of a Montana landscape blanketed with thick snow is worth those inconveniences.
On a recent, gray day, I observed to my mom, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about our trip to Sweet Grass.”
She agreed wholeheartedly. “Same here!”
In September 2019, I took my parents for a week-long stay in a cabin on a working cattle ranch in Sweet Grass County. On cold days like today, I think about the warm weather we enjoyed that week, the rolling green fields, majestic mountains, vast blue skies and the wonderful people we encountered throughout our journey.
Those who have read my Sweet Grass–Montana Romance series know the books’ setting is Sweet Grass County and the surrounding area. The fictional town of Hollister is loosely based on Melville, an unincorporated community approximately 22 miles north of Big Timber.
In the next few blogs, I’ll share some highlights of the adventures we experienced during our trip. Whether or not you’ve read my books, come along for the ride!
We headed down to Sweet Grass on the third Saturday in September, a warm day that grew increasingly warmer. Other than the last fifty miles, we took the “blue highways” from Bigfork to Big Timber. A little over an hour into our trip, as we approached Seeley Lake, a bald eagle swooped down directly in front of our car and glided past the windshield. I took that as a good sign for the week ahead.
In Lincoln, we stopped for a while to check out the car show being held that weekend. Afterwards, we went to Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild.
Annie, my Aussie Shepherd, enjoyed the stroll through the woods while we explored the amazing sculptures on display. Here’s my mom heading for a closer inspection of the Teepee Burner.
We stopped for a late lunch in Helena, saving a visit to the State Capitol for our return trip the following Saturday.
The passing scenery kept us entertained throughout the six-hour car ride. My anticipation grew the closer we came to Big Timber. Although we drove by that town a few years back on a trip to Mount Rushmore, the last time I stayed in Big Timber for any length of time was in August 1997, when my dad, younger sister and I traveled from California to attend our friend Jennifer’s wedding. Twenty-one years later, memories of that magical visit sparked the creation of my Sweet Grass–Montana Romance series. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself more fully in the area, to explore firsthand the places I mention in my books. Had I got the descriptions right? Were there things I possibly overlooked? Were the people really as genuine and down-to-earth as I remembered? And I was a little nervous too. Would they think my sweet romance stories silly and unrealistic? Would they treat me like the Montana “newcomer” that I am?
But, above all that, my mom and dad and I couldn’t wait to see Jennifer again. I’ll share more about that in my next blog.
As dusk approached, I listened carefully as my mom read aloud the directions to the cabin we’d rented. As I drove along an unpaved road that took us for a kiddie coaster ride in the foothills, butterflies danced in my veins. I hoped the cabin and its setting would be as delightful as advertised. I turned left, down a dirt road cutting through a pasture where horses grazed, across a narrow bridge spanning a creek, past a corral holding two fierce-looking bulls, a big barn, other outbuildings, stacks of hay rolls, and there stood the place we’d call home for the next six days.
Ah, I thought. So far, so good!