"M" Trail, Mt. Sentinel, Missoula, MT: Missoula lies under the watchful eye of a giant "M" on the side of Mt. Sentinel near the University of Montana campus. I climb the series of switchbacks to get an awesome view of the city nestled in the crook of three mountain ranges.
Mt. Sentinel, Missoula, MT: From atop the "M" Trail, Missoula fills the valley before me. The Clark Fork carves lazy S-turns through Missoula's lively downtown and the two closest wilderness areas rise just outside the city limits, providing places to enjoy high country activities. These wilderness areas, plus several more within a few miles, are part of what draws people from all over the country to settle here.
MBW, Missoula, MT: Missoula has a thriving community of cyclists made up of everything from year-round commuters to pro racers. Missoula Bicycle Works embodies Missoula's independent nature: a local shop serving this diverse community better than any chain retailer. I worked here for three years and enjoyed stopping by and catching up with old friends.
Hellgate Cyclery, Missoula, MT: I also visit Hellgate Cyclery, one of a new breed of shops around the country focusing on bicycle repairs and selling used bikes rather than dealing in bikes from large-scale manufacturers. Tucked into an alley downtown, this shop feels like a hidden doorway into the heart of the local bike scene, complete with a greeting by the shop dog.
Missoula, MT: I wander along the Clark Fork through a series of parks and greenways. The flowers and trees along the river stand in stark contrast to the semi-arid land just outside the valley, giving the "Garden City" its nickname.
Missoula, MT: These massive fish "swim" between boulders at the edge of the Clark Fork in Caras Park. This sculpture is a great reminder of what makes Missoula a haven for people who want to live someplace because of their passions (in this case, anglers) rather than the availability of high-paying jobs. This, in turn, has brought a lot of diverse talents to the area, making Missoula the home base for several international businesses and organizations.
Fire Tower, St. Mary's Peak, near Stevensville, MT: The final stop on my trek across Montana is at St. Mary's peak near Stevensville. After the hike to the top, I am greeted by both great views of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and and a Forest Service lookout who was kind enough to let me check out the instruments he uses to track fires. He will live in this 12'x12' box for weeks at a time watching the forest through most of the Bitterroot Valley to the east and the rows of jagged mountains in Idaho's panhandle to the west.
Fire Tower, St. Mary's Peak, near Stevensville, MT: From inside his tower, a Forest Service fire lookout keeps an eye on one of several fires that sprang to life over the hours since I started my climb. High winds drive these fires across the mountainsides even as I watch them. These fires, like human presence, will change the landscape. In some ways these changes will be for the better and some ways not. These fires are often out of our control but, in the end--with fires, at least-- nature prevails. A new cycle of life begins.