Tag Archives: Montana

September 22: Swoop, swoop, swoop.

I love Lolo Pass. I’ve only driven over it once before, but I just love the lazy, sweeping curves along the river on the Idaho side. Hence the swooping [g].

I headed west then south into what passes for Missoula, Montana’s morning rush hour, then west again up the thirty or so miles to the top of Lolo Pass. This is where Lewis and Clark finally made it over the Rockies back in 1804. It’s also where the Nez Perce fled across the mountains in the other direction on their way to Yellowstone to encounter the tourists before they (the Nez Perce) almost made it to Canada. So, a lot of history here, and a nice visitor center staffed by a fellow who apparently didn’t have enough tourists to talk to, because he all but followed me into the exhibit room and kept talking when all I really wanted to do was look at the exhibits. Oh, well. I know I’ve done more than my share of talking the ears off of people when I’ve been on my own for too long, too.

On the way up to Lolo Pass.
On the way up to Lolo Pass.
The foliage over the pass was really gorgeous, in spite of the gray, spitting skies.
The foliage over the pass was really gorgeous, in spite of the gray, spitting skies.
More foliage, along Lolo Creek.
More foliage, along Lolo Creek.
See?  Snowberries are *white*!
See? Snowberries are *white*!
Lolo Pass, elevation 5555 feet.
Lolo Pass, elevation 5225 feet.

The road down the west side of the pass into Idaho (the border between Idaho and Montana runs along the ridge line, and so does the line between Mountain and Pacific time) swoops down next to the Clearwater River through a deep canyon, curving gently back and forth and back and forth, for almost a hundred miles. It’s just so much fun to drive, almost like some sort of carnival ride or something. I’m not doing it justice at all, but that’s life.

The Clearwater River on the Idaho side of the pass.
The Clearwater River on the Idaho side of the pass.
Coming down the Idaho side.
Coming down the Idaho side.

About seventy miles on from the pass, I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Lowell, Idaho, for lunch in a cute little café. Those were the first buildings I saw after the border, so this is seriously wild country.

When the canyon finally opens out, it’s into a lot of warm brown hills (at least they’re brown this time of year) and then out into what I thought would be the southeastern edge of the Palouse, but the road cuts show basalt, not deep soil, so no, not Palouse.

Brown hills on the Nez Perce Reservation.
Brown hills on the Nez Perce Reservation.
The Snake River, which originates in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
The Snake River, which originates in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

I crossed a big chunk of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation to get to the Washington state line, then stopped for the night in the town of Clarkston, which is directly across the Snake River from the Idaho town of Lewiston. Gee, I wonder where those names came from [g].

Tomorrow night I’ll be back in Tacoma. Sigh.

Home again.  Sort of.  Still have most of the state to cross.
Home again. Sort of. Still have most of the state to cross.

September 21: I could probably make today’s drive in my sleep

Because I’ve driven it at least a dozen times in the last seventeen years. But it’s really the only logical route from Yellowstone to Missoula, so that’s okay. And it is pretty.

Up along Earthquake Lake, which is the only lake I’m familiar with that was created by natural forces in my lifetime [g]. The Hebgen Lake earthquake, which happened on August 17, 1959, caused a landslide that dammed the Madison River, killed over 25 people, and, incidentally and not at all disrespectfully, was part of what sent Charley McManis back in time to 1877.

The natural dam is at the V of the mountains, and the landslide to its left.
The natural dam is at the V of the mountains, and the landslide to its left.

Over the natural dam and down the river to the long, wide valley west of the Gallatin Mountains, which weren’t terribly visible today due to the weather – I’d harbored thoughts of going back down to the park and spending a second day, then camping at Baker’s Hole again tonight, but when I saw the rain coming down I changed my mind. I have spent time tromping around the Upper Geyser Basin in the rain, but I have to say the thought wasn’t all that appealing this morning.

The valley south of Ennis.
The valley south of Ennis.

So on I went, down the valley through the town of Ennis, which is a fly-fishing hub on the Madison River, where I discovered, much to my delight, that the local Town Pump (Montana’s answer to the usual convenience store/gas station combo) sold unsweetened iced tea. No lemon, but that’s what the juice in my cooler is for [g].

North of Ennis.
North of Ennis.
An interesting landform north of Ennis.
An interesting landform north of Ennis.
Almost to I-90.
Almost to I-90.
Homestake Pass, just west of Butte, Montana.
Homestake Pass, just east of Butte, Montana.  A bit lower than Monarch Pass, elevation 11, 312 feet, where I crossed the Continental Divide in the other direction a couple of months ago.

I got back to I-90 about 11:30, and reached Butte about noon. I had my mouth set for another pasty (Butte used to have a lot of Cornish miners the way Michigan’s Upper Peninsula did, and I’ve eaten them here before), but I couldn’t find anywhere to sell me one, so I ended up with a hamburger, alas.

And so on northwestward to Missoula, where I am for the night. In the rain. Which is okay, since I’m indoors.

On the way to Missoula.
On the way to Missoula.

I had an idea this afternoon, too. I haven’t driven over Lolo Pass (about which more tomorrow) in a long, long time. Not since I was researching Repeating History and went to the Nez Perce National Historic Site in Idaho at least ten years ago. So I’m going to do that again, probably spend tomorrow night somewhere around Walla Walla or the Tri-Cities, and drive on in to Tacoma from there. Why not, right? One more day won’t hurt…

September 20: All the exploding water I could squeeze into one day

I need to quit showing up at Yellowstone for a couple of days at the end of trips, and devote a whole trip there again one of these days. With adequate advance planning so that where I’ll stay isn’t an issue. Because if I could have found a place to stay for less than $100 a night in West tonight I probably would have stayed there before camping some more, but oh, well. I was thinking about it on my way out of the park this afternoon, and the last time I spent more than three days here at a time by myself was in 2005. I’ve spent a whole week at a time here several times since then, but always with a friend. I want to spend more time wandering around geyser basins waiting for things to erupt.

Anyway. At least I got to do that today. I got up at the crack of dawn this morning (it wasn’t even good light when I pulled out of my campsite) and drove into the park. One advantage of doing that is that there is no line at the entrance station, very little traffic, and I get my choice of spots in the ginormous parking lot at Old Faithful. Yes, it’s still pretty crowded here, even in late September.

Early, early in the morning on my way to West Yellowstone.
Early, early in the morning on my way to West Yellowstone.
Steam! Lots and lots of steam! That's Fountain Paint Pots, and the brown dots are bison.
Steam! Lots and lots of steam! That’s Fountain Paint Pots, and the brown dots are bison.

I packed up my day pack with all the stuff I might need for the day – water, lunch, camera, Kindle (for the inevitable waits), etc., etc., etc. – doused myself in sunscreen, and went to the visitor center to check on predicted eruption times.

Two strokes of luck later – Riverside was due around 11:30 and Grand somewhere between 11:45 and 3:45 so not too late in the afternoon – I headed over to the lodge to get some hot tea, then watched an eruption of Old Faithful before I headed out. And an eruption of Lion, off in the distance. A good start to the morning.

Lion Geyser as seen while waiting for Old Faithful, taken with lots of zoom.
Lion Geyser as seen while waiting for Old Faithful, taken with lots of zoom.
The classic view of Old Faithful.
The classic view of Old Faithful.
Yes, this was taken with plenty of zoom. These two and about half a dozen of their friends were prowling the parking lot in front of the Lower Hamilton store.
Yes, this was taken with plenty of zoom. These two and about half a dozen of their friends were prowling the parking lot in front of the Lower Hamilton store.

I strolled slowly down to Morning Glory Pool (about a mile and a half), stopping to see several more geysers along the way. Castle wasn’t due till about suppertime, alas, so I didn’t get to see it erupt, but I saw Sawmill, which is one of my favorite little (as in about 25 feet high max) geysers, as well as Tardy, which is sort of Sawmill’s little brother.

Sawmill Geyser from across the river.
Sawmill Geyser from across the river, with Tardy Geyser off to its right.

On down a piece, I saw that Grotto, aka the phallic geyser (look at the photo and tell me I’m wrong) was erupting, as was its neighbor Grotto Fountain, the latter of which, to the best of my knowledge, I’d never seen erupt before. Any day is a great day when I see a geyser I’ve never seen before. Trust me.

Grotto Geyser.
Grotto Geyser.
Grotto Fountain geyser, which I'm pretty sure I hadn't ever seen before, so that was cool.
Grotto Fountain geyser.

Then it was on to Riverside Geyser, which is pretty much the most regular geyser in the park (yes, more regular than Old Faithful), and by far one of the most graceful. I took video of it – the first time I’ve ever taken video of a geyser (I didn’t know how to do video until last year, and I haven’t been to the park since year before last). By the time Riverside’s half hour eruption was over, it was time to head over to Grand.

Riverside Geyser.
Riverside Geyser.
Oblong Geyser, as seen from Grand Geyser while waiting for it.
Oblong Geyser, as seen from Grand Geyser while waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  ETA:  Oops.  That’s Daisy, thank you, Lynn Stephens, for the correction.

Oh, Grand. It has a four hour eruption window (that is, 90% of the eruptions happen within that window), and today was one of the 10% of times it was late. While I was waiting, out there in the sun (thank goodness it was only in the low 70s today and breezy), I read, and chatted with my fellow geyser gazers (yes, that’s what we’re called – go check out the Geyser Observation and Study Association – gosa.org – website, if you don’t believe me) and helped explain the Grand’s logic puzzle of a prediction cycle to the newbies (more in a bit), and ate my lunch, and was patient along with everybody else [g].

The Grand finally went off just before 4 pm, two lovely, fantastic, beautiful bursts, and it was, as always, worth every minute of the wait, and every bit of the, okay, the pool’s overflowing, are there waves yet? there goes Turban (Grand only goes off just before or after Turban starts), oh, ptui, there goes West Triplet again (if West Triplet goes off while Turban’s doing one of its every twenty minute eruptions, then Grand won’t go off until at least the next Turban cycle), etc., etc., etc.

It always reminds me of those kinds of puzzles where Mr. Smith lives in the blue house and Mr. Gray is the plumber, but the green house is next to Mr. Jones, so who lives in the yellow house sort of thing.

The Grand!!!
The Grand!!!

Oh, and I got video footage of Grand, which makes me very happy (my comments on the audio portion of the thing are kind of embarrassing, I was so excited, but that’s okay).

After that I needed to hit the road, because the only relatively reasonably priced place I could find to stay tonight (I needed a place with a shower) was 25 miles outside of West Yellowstone, which in turn is 30 miles from Old Faithful, through animal jams and so forth.

I’m in a cute little cabin (with no wifi and no TV, alas, but that’s okay) up by Hebgen Lake, which is rather nice, and it’s on my way home (I still can’t believe I’ll probably be home the day after tomorrow), so that’s worked out for the best. But I do need to plan a whole vacation around the park again soon. I will. Maybe next year.

Aspens in the early evening along Hebgen Lake.
Aspens in the early evening along Hebgen Lake.

September 19: Some seriously white knuckles, and back to my park

Back to Red Lodge’s information center this morning, where I was informed that the pass was open today! According to the lady at the desk, there wasn’t even any ice up there. So off I went.

Dear godlings. I will never drive over Beartooth Pass again. Ever. It wasn’t bad at first, and the scenery was lovely, but that didn’t last long. Oh, the scenery did, what I saw of it while I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, but I am not fond of narrow roads climbing up the sides of 11,000 foot mountains with 1000+ feet straight up on one side and 2000+ feet straight down on the other, with a multitude of hairpin switchbacks and no guard rails! Well above tree line for miles, so there was nothing to stop the howling wind that caught Merlin like a sail, to the point where I was scared to pull over in the turnouts hanging over the edges of the cliffs to take photos for fear he’d get blown down the mountain. Or that I would if I opened the car door.

At least it wasn’t snowing since it was in the forties at the top (10,979 feet), not counting windchill. But criminy. That was terrifying. And I don’t scare easily when it comes to that sort of thing.

But that’s the main reason I don’t have a lot of photos. There was just no way.

Once I got down on the other side of the pass, back below the tree line, I did manage some good photos, but I’ll be honest. Yes, the Beartooth Highway is beautiful, but give me U.S. 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in Utah any day. It was much prettier, and a lot less scary.

At the beginning of the Beartooth Highway.
At the beginning of the Beartooth Highway.
The view from about 10,000 feet.
The view from about 10,000 feet.
You can see two layers of the road in this photo.  Yeah, there was a guard rail here, but that was an exception.
You can see two layers of the road in this photo. Yeah, there was a guard rail here, but that was an exception.
Coming down the southern side of Beartooth Pass.
Coming down the southern side of Beartooth Pass.
And another view.
And another view.
And another.  This was from a little gravel side road leading up to a closed-on-Mondays fire tower.  It would have been nice if they'd actually had that on the sign at the turnoff instead of making me drive a couple of miles to find out.
And another. This was from a little gravel side road leading up to a closed-on-Mondays fire tower. It would have been nice if they’d actually had that on the sign at the turnoff instead of making me drive a couple of miles to find out.
From the same road.
From the same road.  The gold is aspens.
Back down on the highway.  The aspens along the lower part of the road were absolutely dropdead gorgeous.  They reminded me of the time my parents and I drove up to see the aspens in the Colorado Rockies when we were living in Denver.
Back down on the highway. The aspens along the lower part of the road were absolutely dropdead gorgeous. They reminded me of the time my parents and I drove up to see the aspens in the Colorado Rockies when we were living in Denver.
I did know the name of this mountain, but it escapes me now.  That's one prime example of a glacial arete, though.
I did know the name of this mountain, but it escapes me now. That’s one prime example of a glacial  horn and arete, though.
A valley full of aspens.
A valley full of aspens.

I entered Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance, to discover that this was actually a really good thing because the road between Mammoth and Norris is closed early for the season for construction, so I would have had to go way out of my way to get to West Yellowstone. Which was really my only choice at this point. The first thing I saw after I entered the park was a sign listing all the campgrounds and their status for the day. Half of them are already closed for the season, and the rest were already full for the night.

Soda Butte, a very old, defunct thermal feature in the far northeastern section of Yellowstone National Park.
Soda Butte, a very old, defunct thermal feature in the far northeastern section of Yellowstone National Park.
Bighorn sheep!  Near Tower Falls.
Bighorn sheep! Near Tower Falls.
Tower Falls.  It's about an 80 foot drop.
Tower Falls. It’s about an 80 foot drop.

It’s always difficult to do Yellowstone as a last-minute thing, and I knew that going in. The lodging in the park gets reserved well over a year in advance (the reservations for each year open on May 1st of the previous year, and they’re usually all taken by June, although I have been lucky to get a cancellation with a couple of weeks’ notice in the past). I didn’t think the campgrounds would be such an issue, though – I’ve arrived in the park and gotten a campsite on the spot before. But not this time.

So it was on the 90 miles (Yellowstone is a big park – over 3000 square miles) to the town of West Yellowstone. I didn’t stop much along the way because I figured the earlier I got to West, as the locals call it, the more likely I was to find a place for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to West until about three, and when I stopped at the tourist office, I was told it would be almost impossible to find a motel (also that the average room in West goes for $250 a night – eep! – that’s gone way up in the last few years). So I said what about campgrounds? And she said, there’s a nice forest service campground about three miles north of town, and they have some sites left. So I drove up, and here I am.

Harebells at Baker's Hole campground just north of West Yellowstone.
Harebells at Baker’s Hole campground just north of West Yellowstone.
The Madison River (famous from the movie A River Runs Through It) at Baker's Hole Campground.
The Madison River (famous from the movie A River Runs Through It) at Baker’s Hole Campground.

Tomorrow I will get up early and go wander around the geyser basins and hopefully catch an eruption of Grand Geyser, then drive on out of the park late in the afternoon. I have a reservation for tomorrow night for a cabin at Hebgen Lake, about 25 miles northwest of West, in the direction I’d have been heading, anyway. I wish I could spend more time here, but logistically it’s just not going to work. It’s time to head home. I’ve probably got two more nights on the road after this one, if all goes according to plan. The cabin at Hebgen Lake, and probably the campground about ten miles west of Missoula where I’ve stayed before. That’s a day’s drive from home.

I can’t believe the trip’s almost over. I’ve got some seriously ambivalent feelings about it. Part of me wants to keep on going, even though it’s getting late in the season and if I did I’d have to head south again, and part of me knows I really do need to settle back down again. At least for now.

Sigh. I guess there’s always next year…

September 18: “Mountains, Gandalf!”

Er, Merlin. I’m sure he’ll forgive me the LotR quotation. Anyway. Today I saw Real Mountains [tm] for the first time since June 12th, back in Colorado. I knew I’d missed them, but I hadn’t realized quite how much.

I drove west from Billings a few more miles before I turned southwest on U.S. 212, aka the Beartooth Highway. Well, not quite yet. It’s a bit over forty miles to the town of Red Lodge where the highway actually starts. But I started seeing mountains almost immediately, which made me so happy.

You can just see the mountains in the distance.  Honest.
You can just see the mountains in the distance on the left. Honest.
See, and here's more.  These were taken on the road between Billings and Red Lodge.
See, and here’s more. These were taken on the road between Billings and Red Lodge.

That whole drive was lovely, actually. I’d gotten a really late start, knowing I wasn’t going to go all that far today (I’d figured on camping in one of the half dozen or so forest service campgrounds between Red Lodge and the pass), and I got to Red Lodge just about lunchtime. I stopped at the tourist information center looking for a restroom, only to hear the lady at the desk tell someone else that the pass was closed! Apparently, even though it was in the sixties in Red Lodge, it was snowing up there!

Statue in front of the tourist information center in Red Lodge.
Statue in front of the tourist information center in Red Lodge.

So that threw a serious monkey wrench in my machinery. It was either wait till tomorrow to see if things would get better, or turn around and go back to I-90 and across to Livingston, where I could drive down to Gardiner and the northern entrance to the park. I really didn’t want to do that. And Red Lodge has a laundromat, so I decided to do laundry and wait. If worse came to worst, I’d drive back to I-90 tomorrow.

My clothes all clean, I went looking for a campground. Fortunately, there’s a very nice one just four miles up the road from Red Lodge, so I had a pleasant, quiet rest of my afternoon. It is getting cold out there, though, and it’s been spitting rain a bit. This does not bode well for tomorrow, alas.

The view from the highway close to where I camped tonight.
The view from the highway close to where I camped tonight.

September 17: Across into Big Sky Country

I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.

This is actually in North Dakota, just before the Montana state line.  Anyway, I find it amusing.
This is actually in North Dakota, just before the Montana state line. Anyway, I find it amusing.
And on into Montana.  I've lost track of how many states/provinces I've been through at this point.
And on into Montana. I’ve lost track of how many states/provinces I’ve been through at this point.
Classic southeastern Montana scenery.
Classic southeastern Montana scenery.

I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.

Pompey's Pillar itself as seen from the highway.  It was named after Sacajawea's baby son, nicknamed Little Pomp by William Clark.
Pompey’s Pillar itself as seen from the highway. It was named after Sacajawea’s baby son, nicknamed Little Pomp by William Clark.
Seeing Clark's graffiti will never get old.  Well, it is old, but you know what I mean.
Seeing Clark’s graffiti will never get old. Well, it is old, but you know what I mean.
Looking back from the signature towards the Yellowstone River.
Looking back from the signature towards the Yellowstone River.
A better view of the river.
A better view of the river.
I've never seen pink snowberries before, but that's what they said they were at the Pompey's Pillar visitor center.
I’ve never seen pink snowberries before, but that’s what they said they were at the Pompey’s Pillar visitor center.
Pearly everlastings at Pompey's Pillar.
Pearly everlastings at Pompey’s Pillar.

From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.

I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.

Two weeks ago, Day 9

And so on towards home.

From Sheridan — well, actually from Twin Bridges, the next little town down the road — there were two ways to go. One north, which I hadn’t driven before but which led to I-90, which I’ve driven at least a couple dozen times, and one southwest towards I-15, that stretch of which I’d never driven before. Even though it was about twenty miles further, guess which way I took?

And I’m glad I did. The first bit was very pretty, through sparsely populated ranch land ringed with mountains and down into the town of Dillon on I-15. I’ve only been to Dillon once before. It was the first place on my Long Trip in which I couldn’t find a place to stay (due to it being Labor Day and the annual rodeo).

From Dillon I headed north on I-15, and, less than twenty miles down the road, I happened to glance over to the right and saw a bald eagle perched on one of the posts holding up the wire fence running alongside the road. Fully mature, white head and all, he had to be two feet tall, I swear. Too bad I was going 70 mph on a freeway — I’d have tried to take a picture of him. He was amazing.

Deer Lodge Pass over the Continental Divide south of Butte (where I-15 and I-90 cross) is much more gradual and less steep than Homestake Pass due west of Butte. But because of that I think I was climbing pretty much all the way from Dillon to the pass. At any rate, once I hit I-90 I was on familiar territory and pretty much ready to head home.

I stopped for iced tea in Deer Lodge (the town, not the pass, which is about forty-five minutes from Butte (the highway signs say west, but the road runs almost due north-south at that point). I stopped for lunch and more gas in Missoula.

And I crossed over Lookout Pass into Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone about the middle of the afternoon, aiming for Spokane.

I won’t bore you with the hunt I had to make for a motel room in Spokane. Suffice to say that I think I’ve found a new reasonably-priced convenient place to stay there on my way to wherever, which is a good thing as the one I was used to using had upped its price out of reason because of Hoopfest (I’m assuming) that weekend.

Only one photo today, taken along I-90 between Missoula and Lookout Pass, probably closer to Lookout Pass. I was trying to take a photo of the rain falling ahead of me, which actually turned out to be mostly virga (that is, not hitting the ground).

Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.
Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.

And that was the penultimate day of my trip, two weeks ago today.

Two weeks ago, Day 8

Sometimes traveling at the last minute just doesn’t work out. But then sometimes it does.

So. I was supposed to switch from hostel bunk to single room two weeks ago this morning. I had been informed when I originally made the reservation that the rate of $95 would include an ensuite bathroom. I was informed this morning that it was one of the rooms in the old building that shared the same bathroom as the hostel.

You have to understand. I’ve stayed in one of those rooms before (about seven or eight years ago, when they cost what a hostel bunk costs now). It wasn’t worth what I paid for it then, for two reasons. One, the room had a horrible bedbug infestation (the bunks have always been clean), and two, that’s where I had a really frightening experience with what I’m pretty darned sure was — well, I’m not going into that here. Let’s just say that the only reason I was willing to pay $95 for a room was because I thought they were going to put me in the new part of the building. The new owner and I went round and round about it, and I ended up having him refund my credit card.

But now I didn’t have a place to stay tonight, nor did I want to waste the day looking for one. So I drove back into the park figuring I’d make the best of whatever time I had left, and I’d head on out this afternoon to find somewhere to stay farther from the park before heading home tomorrow a little earlier than planned.

Which all turned out to be a good thing. At least timing-wise this morning. I headed back out into the park, towards the geyser basins again, and decided my first stop on this cloudy-but-not-raining-yet morning would be at the Fountain Paint Pots.

The Fountain Paint Pots.  This early in the year, they're kind of runny.
The Fountain Paint Pots. This early in the year, they’re kind of runny.

The Fountain Paint Pots (and the long-gone Fountain Hotel, which was nearby) are named after Fountain Geyser, which is just off the boardwalk there. It was a geyser I’d always wanted to see, but it’s not officially-predicted, and I didn’t know then about the unofficial predictions, so I’d never seen it.

So what do you think happened? Yup. Just as I walked up, it boiled over and started erupting. And if I hadn’t ended up wasting the time arguing with the owner of the Madison Hotel this morning, I’d probably have missed it — again.

Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.
Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.

As for those unofficial predictions, just as Fountain was beginning to wind down from its glorious half-hour long eruption, a very nice lady named Maureen, who turned out to be on the Geyser Gazers Facebook group, strolled over and we struck up a conversation. And she told me about the unofficial predictions available if you have a smartphone. I really do need to get a smartphone…

The rest of the morning was still wonderful, if a bit anticlimactic. I mean, there’s nothing better than a new major geyser to add to one’s life list. But I stopped at all the usual suspects that I hadn’t wanted to get soaked over before — Midway, with the clouds of steam hanging over Excelsior and Grand Prismatic.

Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.
Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.

Biscuit Basin, with its glorious Sapphire Pool.

Biscuit Basin's Sapphire Pool.
Biscuit Basin’s Sapphire Pool, which erupted in 1959 after the earthquake.

And Black Sand Basin, with Cliff Geyser, which is James’s geyser. The one where he finally found out where he really came from, in a brief timeslip one sunny October afternoon in 1959/1983 in Finding Home.

James's Cliff Geyser.
James’s Cliff Geyser and hot spring runoff into Iron Creek.

By then I was way overdue for a late lunch, so I waved farewell to my favorite place on the planet once more, already making plans for a hopefully longer visit next year, and stopped in West for KFC, where the manager was having her Chinese employee write something to do with the Fourth of July on the window in Chinese characters, for some reason.

Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?
Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?

I then headed northwest on U.S. 287 towards Earthquake Lake, which is, obviously, the site of the earthquake I mentioned yesterday that was part of Chuck’s time travel device in Repeating History. On August 17, 1959, a 7.3-7.8 (estimates vary) earthquake struck here and an entire mountainside fell, blocking the Madison River and burying a campground, killing twenty-eight people. The quake also did a lot of damage in Yellowstone, just a few miles east of the epicenter, and, incidentally, sent my hero Chuck eighty-two years back in time.

Today it looks very peaceful, although the slide is still strongly evident fifty-five years later, and there’s an interesting, recently redone visitor center, too.

The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.
The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.

By the time I got that far, it was midafternoon, and while I had a good idea of where I wanted to spend the night, I needed to get moving again. I drove down the Madison River valley and turned west on Montana 287 (as opposed to U.S. 287) at the town of Ennis.

The Madison River Valley south of Ennis.  You'll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .
The Madison River Valley south of Ennis. You’ll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .

I wanted to see Virginia City again. Virginia City, and the neighboring ghost town of Nevada City, are two of Montana’s earliest settlements, and I hadn’t been there since my Long Trip fifteen years ago. It’s a fun, touristy place with an interesting history as a mining camp (of course) where vigilantes dealt with the infamous Plummer Gang. Lots of false-front buildings and even a stagecoach offering rides, and plenty of historical markers. I spent a rather pleasurable hour or so there, before I climbed back in the car one last time for the day.

Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?

On my Long Trip (as documented in Cross-Country), I was desperate for a place to stay one night in this part of the world when I finally ran across the tiny town of Sheridan, Montana, and found a nice little place called the Moriah Motel. I was banking on it still being there, and it was. I think the same elderly lady was running it, too. It was reasonably priced and modern and that was all I needed.

So some things do work out okay. But if a friend and I do go back to Yellowstone as part of our WorldCon jaunt next year, we’re going to make our reservations in January.

Much Ado in Montana, Chapter 2

In case you missed Chapter 1, please go here.

Chapter 2

The gathering lasted until the wee hours.  Which would have been fine if the party hadn’t been on top of the eight-hour drive from Seattle.  Tim felt like propping his head on the Prius’s steering wheel and going straight to sleep in the middle of the rutted meadow the Red Dog called its parking lot.

At least he hadn’t had too much to drink, even if the microbrew Charlie’d served him had been as tasty as anything he’d drunk in Seattle in spite of being called Moose Drool.  Tim had rationed himself carefully enough to draw attention from Jack, who’d razzed him about it, but he wasn’t about to take a chance with his brand-new car.  It was the first car he’d ever bought new, and he loved it, not just because it was good for the environment and economical, the latter a necessity because of his med school loans, but because it was his.  Wiping it out somewhere on the fifteen miles of one-lane gravel road into town would break his heart.

Tim was just about to turn the engine on when he heard a tap on his window.  He glanced up to see who it was and found himself staring squarely at two silver gray eyes gazing right back at him.  He tapped the window opener.  “Tara?  Cripes, you about gave me a heart attack.”

“Hi.”  She gave him a wavering grin.

“Hi,” he replied cautiously, and waited.  Nothing more seemed to be forthcoming from her.  Tim watched her curiously.  She hadn’t spoken to him since he’d returned from the bar.  As a matter of fact, he’d have sworn she’d deliberately ignored him the entire evening, as busy gabbing with old friends she’d no doubt not seen in – how long since her last visit here?  He wondered if she came home on a regular basis, then wished he hadn’t.  He wasn’t going to feel guilty about how few and far between his own visits had been.  His father had gone through med school and residency, too, once upon a time.  He understood.  “What’s up?”

She gestured vaguely.  “I, uh, lost my car keys.”

And she was asking him for a ride?  “Do tell.  Don’t you have a cell phone?  Or did you lose that, too?”  He glanced around.  The parking lot had emptied remarkably quickly.   His car and a little blue jeep that must be Tara’s were the only rigs still occupying it, and the Red Dog’s windows were dark.  How long had he been sitting here?  Tim pulled his own cell phone out of his pocket and blinked at the too-bright readout.  No service out here in the boonies, but at least he could see what time it was.  He should have known.  He glanced back up at her and sighed.  “I suppose you want a lift.”

She grinned at him again.  This one seemed to have a bit more oomph behind it.  He eyed her, sniffed.  Was it his imagination or was the smell of beer stronger since he’d rolled down the window?  She leaned on the door.  He sniffed again.  Nope.  Not his imagination.

“Do you mind?”

“Of course not.”  He wouldn’t leave her out here on her own.  He wouldn’t leave his worst enemy out here to fend for himself.  Well, obviously, he thought.  They were one and the same, weren’t they?  He’d thought so for the last five years, anyway.  Tim tapped the button to unlock the doors on her side and his.  He climbed out of the car and walked around to open the passenger door for her.  She was still standing by the open door on the driver’s side, so he went back and took her by the arm.

“Your seat is over here.”

The hazy glow in her eyes blinded him worse than his cell phone’s light.

“Oh.  Thanks.”  She allowed him to lead her around the car and help her in.

He rested an arm on top of the open car door.  “Just tell me if you’re going to be sick so I can stop.  Chances are I won’t forgive you if you heave in my car.”

She gave him a vaguely puzzled look.  “Just too much beer.  That’s all.”  Her voice was starting to sound slurred.

That she’d had too much beer was becoming more obvious by the moment.  It was also so unlike the Tara he’d known, even in their hell-bent college days, that Tim began to wonder if this was a new habit or a special occasion.  The stray thought occurred to him that he might be the special occasion.

No, that couldn’t be right, as he was sure she’d inform him if he ever demonstrated enough stupidity as to mention the possibility to her.

Surely, since she’d been the one to dump him, since she’d had no problem replacing him so quickly his head had spun, and, most importantly, since it had been five years since he’d lost her in the first place, for him to be any kind of a special occasion to Tara Hillerman had to be a dream on his part.  Or a nightmare.

When Tim realized that he’d been standing there leaning on the car door long enough for a curious expression to filter through the haze in her eyes, he told her, “It’s okay, I’ll take you home,” and closed the door firmly.

He walked back around to the other side of the car, slid into the driver’s seat, and glanced over at his passenger.  She was already curled up in the leather seats he’d had put in, her warm brown curls contrasting with the black material.

Tim sighed, started the engine, and gently edged the Prius over the rutted grass out onto the gravel road.  This was an interesting development, to say the least.

*  *  *

Tara didn’t have any more to say, and, indeed, looked to be sound asleep by the time the car rumbled over the Flathead River bridge and into town.  Tim drove down the late-night-deserted main drag, vaguely noticing some new sidewalks and changed businesses. Under the cosmetic changes he was still in the same Campbell he’d always known and, well, not hated.  But definitely not loved, not the way his father loved the place.  The silhouette of the Cabinet Mountains rose in front of him, silver snow and black rock against the moonlit night, silent walls of the jail he’d once felt so trapped inside of.

At the first stoplight, one of three in town, Tim leaned over and shook Tara by the arm.  “Are you staying with your folks?”

“Mmbghmph.”  She pulled her arm back and curled up again.

“Tara.”  The light turned green.  Not that it mattered.  His car was the only moving rig in sight.  Tim pulled over to the side of the empty street, anyway, and took the car out of gear.  He reached over to shake her again.

“What?”  Her voice sounded petulant and warm and sleepy, a tone he wished he didn’t remember in a completely different context.  He wondered exactly how much she’d had to drink.  And still, exactly why she’d done it tonight.

He nudged her, her shoulder soft beneath the cotton sweater she wore.  “I don’t know where you’re staying.  Are you at Becky’s?”

Her eyes slowly focused on him.  “Why would I be staying at Rebecca’s?”

“How should I know?” he replied, frustrated.  “Where are you staying while you’re here?”

“My place.”

That startled him.  “I didn’t know you had one here.”

She stared at him curiously, then rubbed her eyes with a fist.  “Of course I do.  I live here.”

“No, you don’t.  You live in Portland.  With what’s his face.”  What’s his face had been the only reason Tim hadn’t gone after her once he’d gotten over the shock of her thinking she could just dump him like that.  Well, that and his pride.  Mostly his pride, he thought ruefully.

Tara stared at him.  “Who?”

Tim shook his head in frustration.  “The bald guy.  The one with all the tattoos.  Where is he, by the way?”

“Hans?  How should I know?  I haven’t seen him in years.”  She blinked at him, then licked her lips.

Tim absorbed the shock.  So she’d dumped bald and tattooed, too.  Tim could almost rustle up some sympathy for the guy.  Almost.  He wondered if he and Hans were only the first two in a long line of dumpees.  Or if she was in a relationship now.  No one had been cozying up to her at the Red Dog.  It was none of his business, he decided firmly.  He wasn’t going there.  No matter how tempting that beautiful mouth was.  “If that’s the case, may I have some directions?”

Three minutes later he pulled up in front of a little white frame house on the edge of town.  Two enormous Douglas fir trees swept the ground in front of it, partially blocking the moonlight and the mountains.

Tara appeared to have spent the time doing her best to wake up, and she was out the door before he could make it around the car to open it for her.  He trailed her to her front door, anyway.  Some habits of good manners simply refused to die.

Her smile was a bit sheepish, but a little less fuzzy.  “Thanks for the ride, Tim.  I’m glad I didn’t make a mess in your car.”

Tim chuckled.  “I’m glad you didn’t, either.  I didn’t know you’d come back home –”

She interrupted him.  “I’m sure I’ll see you around while you’re here.”  She fumbled with her key in the lock until Tim took it gently from her.  He unlocked the door, noticing that her car keys were still on the ring with her house key.  He was glad she’d asked him for the ride, anyway.  The last thing he wanted was for her to end up in his father’s clinic, or worse, airlifted to the hospital in Kalispell after wrecking her car.

She turned to face him, leaning on the doorframe.  “I hope you realize I don’t make a habit of this.”

“What, accepting rides from ex-boyfriends?  That’s probably a good idea.”

She smiled up at him.  Tim sternly ignored it.  One, she was drunk and probably had no clue she was aiming that lethal smile at him.  Two, when she was sober she probably still hated him.  And three – three went completely out the window when Tara tilted her head up, reached a cool hand around behind his neck, pulled him down to her, and kissed him.

Ohmygod.  Where the hell had this come from?!?  Warm soft lips and warm soft breath and sensations he’d thought relegated to his dreams for the last five years.  She tasted like beer and peanuts and deep dark turbulent Tara, and she kissed as if the world had stopped spinning.  Maybe that was because it had, Tim thought dazedly.  His world certainly felt like it.

No soft breeze in the trees, no gentle light from the porch lamp.  More like a tornado with fireworks attached.  The cataclysm only got more disastrous when she opened her mouth on him.  Her tongue came searching for his, and he gave it up without a whimper.

He’d completely forgotten how wonderful she tasted.  And felt.  But his body hadn’t.  Tim felt his arms wind possessively around her of their own accord as she swayed against him.  Felt her soft breasts flatten against his chest, felt himself stiffen against her.  Half of him waited for her to realize how far things were going and pull away.  The other half simply took the good fortune and ran with it.

Just as he was about pick her up, open the door, and carry her inside, even if it would have been the most idiotic thing he’d ever done, the inevitable happened.  Tara saved him from his own stupidity by breaking the kiss.  She lifted her hand from its warm clasp of his nape and stepped back out of his embrace.  Tim braced himself, ready to withstand anything from tears to a slap.

He didn’t think he could be shocked any more than he had been in the last five minutes, but then she grinned sloppily at him and glanced down at the keys in his hand.

“What do you know?  There’s my car keys.  Silly me.”  She turned to open the door.  Reached out and hooked the keys from his limp hand with a finger.  “‘Night.”

She vanished into the house, leaving Tim standing dumbfounded on the doorstep.

Much Ado in Montana will be available on April 1st.

Much Ado in Montana, Chapter 1


Chapter 1

Timothy Swanson stamped the dirt from his boots and shoved open the swinging doors to the Red Dog Saloon.  He was glad he hadn’t given into the admittedly juvenile impulse to wear his normal Saturday night duds tonight.  He’d have been as out of place here in Italian wool and leather as his Prius was out in the Red Dog’s gravel and mud parking lot.

Still, he had to resist the impulse to shoot the cuffs of his flannel shirt, one of several he’d bought specifically for this visit.  At least it wasn’t plaid.  This one was navy blue, shades darker than his jeans.  Tim hated flannel.  He’d grown up in flannel shirts.  Gone to college in them.  But as soon as he could ditch them and still fit in, he had.  Stupidly enough, they made him feel like a hick.  But when in Rome…

No one had noticed him yet.  Tim couldn’t decide if that pleased him or ticked him off.  The big, low-ceilinged, wood-paneled room was packed with people.  Everyone looked as if they’d just come off shift at the mill or in the forest, which most of them probably had.  Peanut shells littered the scarred plank floor.  Country music poured from enormous speakers that looked like they dated from thirty years ago because they did.  The place smelled like beer and sweat, and, whether he wanted to or not, Tim felt himself relaxing after the eight-hour drive from Seattle.

Then one head turned, and another, and another, astonishment chased by ear-splitting grins and shouts.  Tim braced as he was engulfed by the crowd.  As he fielded their boisterous greetings.  Got slapped on the back.  And was yanked forward as the door swung shut behind him.  A mug of, yes, that was Budweiser, was shoved into his hand – Tim hid his grimace as he took his first sip and wondered if the Red Dog had anything else on tap these days.

He was home again.  Whether he wanted to be or not.  Then he saw her face, and froze.

*  *  *

It took him longer than he’d have liked to break free of his impromptu welcome-home party and make his way to the table where Tara Hillerman sat, big as life and twice as beautiful, as if she was holding court at one of the battered tables.  She leaned forward, an elbow on the red-checked plastic cloth covering the rough planks, and watched him approach.

At least she looked as astonished as he felt.  Her gray eyes were wide, and, as he came closer, she almost seemed to shrink away, even though he could have sworn she hadn’t moved.

The last time he’d seen Tara had been at the University of Washington five years ago.  She’d been snuggled under the arm of a fellow library school student.  The guy could have won a “least likely to be taken for a librarian” contest with no problem whatsoever, given his abundance of tattooed muscles and shaved head.  The last Tim had heard, not that he’d tried to find out or anything, she’d been planning to follow him, and a job, to Portland.

Tim glanced around.  No bald heads stuck up out of the crowd, but then most heads here were covered with cowboy hats or gimme caps.  Maybe she was visiting home on her own.  But why this weekend?  Tim almost felt like that line in Casablanca.  “Of all the gin joints, in all the world,” he muttered, “you had to walk into mine.”

Tara’s expression of consternation didn’t last long.  By the time he reached her table, her expression had gone from shocked to sly.  But she shifted in her seat.  Was she uneasy to see him?  No, of course not.  After all, he wasn’t nervous about seeing her again after five years.  Then again, she’d dumped him, not the other way around.

“You came a long way for a party,” Tara commented dryly.  “I try to draw the line at a three-hour drive unless it lasts overnight.”

Tim leaned forward onto the back of a wooden chair on the opposite side of the table and set that gawdawful beer down.  The chair’s occupant, little Becky Thorstein, picked up her glass of soda and toasted him.  Tim grinned at her briefly before aiming his gaze back across the pitchers of beer at Tara.  “The drive or the party?  Or do you make a habit of spending all night on a three-hour drive?”

Tara glowered at him.  “I suppose you terrorized the state police and got here in six?”

Tim straightened and folded his arms in front of him.  “I’m a law-abiding citizen these days.”

“Meaning that you’ve got enough traffic tickets to make you worry about losing your license.”

Her smug expression made him long to wipe it off her face.  “Who was it almost took a header into the Ship Canal trying to beat the drawbridge?”  He could hear snickering, wanted to laugh himself but it wasn’t worth ruining the effect.

“Better than getting caught by the campus police popping wheelies in Husky Stadium.”

Her smug expression was back.  Of course she’d have a comeback, he thought.  Why would he expect things to change in five years?  “Which didn’t do any damage.  That bridge will never be the same.”

“Neither will you, Tim,”  said a new voice.  Tim turned to see Jack Rasmussen striding towards him, the saloon doors of the Red Dog swinging behind him.  He was brown from a summer in the plains of eastern Montana digging for dinosaur bones, and it looked as if he’d come straight here, not bothering to change clothes and get cleaned up on the way. His jeans and plaid flannel shirt wore dust like a badge.  His worn boots crunched on the peanut shells and other debris strewn over the plank floor as he came closer.  Voices rose in welcome again, this time sounding more like the people in the bar on that old TV show.  Jack was obviously known and loved here.  Tim was not envious of that fact.  Jack went around the table slapping backs, and gradually made his way back to Tim.

Jack clapped Tim on the back. “I figured you wouldn’t be in town till at least next week.”

Tim turned gratefully from Tara’s frustrated glower to the mile-wide grin on the face of one of his oldest friends. “Plans change.  I see you got home from the back of beyond in one piece this time.”

“Sure did.  Found some interesting stuff, too, but I won’t bore you by dragging you out to see it.”

Tim chuckled.  “Thanks.  I appreciate that.”

“Is that your itty bitty rice burner out there?”  Jack nudged Tim away from the back of Becky’s chair, leaned down, and kissed her.

Hello, Tim thought, watching Becky wrap her arms around Jack, dust and all, and return the kiss with interest.  What’s going on here?

A few long moments later, Jack pulled up a chair, placing it as close as humanly possible to Becky’s.  He pulled her hand into his lap, where she seemed quite content to let him play with her fingers.  He then resumed the conversation as if nothing had happened.  “I sure wouldn’t want to take a toy like that up the Yaak,” he said, referring to the rugged, sparsely populated area north of town.

“Huh?”  Tim tore his eyes away from the unexpected display and took a surreptitious glance around the table.  No one else seemed surprised.  He guessed it was what he got for staying out of touch so long.  What were they talking about?  Oh, yes.  The Prius.  “I wouldn’t want to take anything with less than two feet clearance up the Yaak, Jack,” he replied, as the half dozen people seated around the table groaned at the familiar rhyme.  “I drove here from Seattle on one tank of gas.”

“I’m sure you did.”  Tim turned back to Tara as she spoke.  His surprise at Jack and Becky had only deepened the smug look on her face.  “And you probably even managed to cram a change of clothes in there, too.  So, to what do we owe this rare appearance in our fair city?”

Tim cleared his throat, prepared for a small dose of crow.  “Ah, I came home for a visit.  Dad’s going to be seventy-five this month.  The least I could do was show up to celebrate it with him.”

Tara eyed him.  “You can’t possibly be here for that party yet.  It’s still three weeks off.  People were taking bets –”  She broke off, blushing slightly.  Tim wondered that she had the grace to be embarrassed.  He suddenly remembered why he hated small towns.  Everyone knew everyone else.  Butting in on private business was a common pastime.  And no one was ashamed to wager on anyone else’s behavior.

Well, he had to salvage something.  “How much money did you just lose?”

“What do you mean?”  Tara tried to look innocent, but Tim wasn’t buying it.

He leaned forward on the narrow table across from her and watched with satisfaction when she pulled back in her chair.  “How much money did you lose because I showed up?”

“None of your business.”

“Must have been a lot.”  Someone snickered. Tim ignored it, the same way he ignored the heads following the conversation as if it were a pingpong match.  Having Tara on the defensive was something he hadn’t been able to accomplish frequently.  Certainly not often enough to be blasé about it.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“Children, children.”  Becky glanced up from where she’d been gazing at Jack as if he was a mirage and laughed, but the sound was distinctly uncomfortable.  Tim could hear her tone over the female singer belting out how she wished she hadn’t shot him, the rattle of glasses, and the half-dozen loudly-conducted conversations in his immediate vicinity. Becky Thorstein had never been very fond of the way Tim fought with her best friend.  All the way through their lives.  Right up till five years ago.  “You don’t have to kill each other tonight.”

Tim smiled down at her and noticed the look of relief in Becky’s eyes.  And then, inevitably, his gaze wandered back over to Tara, who naturally looked triumphant.  “No, I suppose not.  But don’t ask us to declare a truce, Becky.  You might get struck by lightning.”  As he went to the bar to get himself a real beer, Tim shook his head.  The more some things changed, the more they stayed the same.

Tim couldn’t see that five years — or her bald, tattooed librarian — had changed Tara one bit.  Her gray eyes still shot sparks, and she still had a line of malarkey a mile long.

She’d never been classically beautiful.  Her features were too strong for that description.  When Tim had been young and stupid, they’d always struck him as being perfect for her quick intelligence, even when she’d used it to aim snarky barbs at him.  Her mouth, though, was another story.  Her mouth was a work of art, wide and pink and soft, and it brought back unwanted memories that didn’t involve snark or barbs.  She’d left it unpainted tonight, the way he’d always liked it.  He refused to wonder if bald-and-tattoeed liked it that way, too.

The little he could see of her figure hadn’t changed, either.  He wondered, absently, if she would still fit against him as well as she had five years ago, and brought himself up sharply as he reached the bar.

The chances of him finding out if Tara Hillerman was still as desirable as he remembered in his fantasies were less than none.  And if he was to maintain his sanity over the next few weeks while he figured out what had his mother so upset, he’d better remember that.

Too bad, though.

“Any microbrews, Charlie?” he shouted to the bartender over the noise.

“Got some Moose Drool –”  The beefy man in the dirty apron turned around and beamed.  He stretched out a huge damp paw.  “Tim Swanson!  Come home to take over your daddy’s practice?”

Sighing inwardly, Tim shouted back the answer he knew he’d be repeating till his eyes crossed.  Till he managed to escape back to Seattle.  “Nope.  Just visiting.”

Charlie frowned.  “Your dad said you were.”

And so it begins, Tim thought ruefully, as he tried to explain over the racket to Charlie that, no, he hadn’t changed his mind, that, yes, he’d just taken on a perfectly good practice at Harborview Hospital in Seattle now that he was done with his residency, and, much as he liked the good people of Campbell, he didn’t want to come back to the sticks to live.  Or words to that effect.

It was going to be damned hard to keep explaining all this without hurting anyone’s feelings.

* * *

Tara surreptitiously watched Tim from her spot at the table as he leaned over the bar, yakking with Charlie.  Nice butt, she thought wistfully.  But then he’d always had a world-class butt.  It matched his world-class temper.

Tim Swanson had come home.  It made her wonder if there wasn’t a fatted calf roasting over coals in the county somewhere.

He wouldn’t stay, though, Tara thought, more wistfully than she realized.  The gossip running through town like wildfire recently notwithstanding.  Most of it originated in the clinic, anyway, and anyone with any sense at all would know better than to believe Tim’s father’s wishful dreams.

Tara would bet her life on it.  Timothy Swanson was too sophisticated for Campbell, Montana, population two thousand, six hundred, and fifty-three, sixty miles east of Idaho and eighty miles south of Canada.  A hundred and twenty miles from the nearest mall and the nearest hospital, and – okay, Tara thought, enough already.  It was big enough to have a library, wasn’t it?  Her library.

She’d memorized all the statistics during her high school years, while she waited to make the great escape herself.  It was just that, for her, the wide world had become too lonely.  Her attempts at adventure had been just that, attempts made because she couldn’t simply give in to her own nature without at least saying that she’d been a rabble-rouser once.  A nature that craved home and security more than it did the troublemaking she’d caused during her brief college years in the big city.  She’d tried, but without Tim, she’d found that the wide world wasn’t what she wanted.  She’d rather have the comfort of people who knew her.  Family nearby.  And friends.

Still, he was awfully good-looking.  Eight years hadn’t darkened that beach-boy blond hair, now clipped short and stylishly.  The last time she’d seen him his hair had been carelessly dragging at his collar, because, as she well knew, he couldn’t be bothered to get it cut regularly.  The closely-trimmed beard, just a bit darker than the hair on his head, was new, too.  It looked good.  Gave him a layer of class.  His baby face was gone forever.

The last time she’d seen him, he’d been an unformed college boy, out to raise hell, and darned attractive then.  Now, with a man’s build, a man’s strength, and a man’s awareness, he was far more than just attractive.  Compelling was the word.

Gorgeous, maybe?

No.  Never.  And even if he was, she hoped he never found out she thought so.

No, his hair was no closer to dirty dishwater blond than it had been then.  She’d wished that on him, along with warts and klutziness and anything else she could think of when he’d betrayed her.  His face was smooth-skinned where his beard didn’t cover him and he was athletically graceful.  So much for wishing curses on him.

Some people were born with it, and some weren’t.  Dr. Timothy Swanson had it in spades.  But then he always had, in her book.  Even back when they were kids, best friends palling around together.  Before puberty arrived and made them aware of each other as more than just buddies, before it made them uncomfortable unless they were fighting.  Long before she’d started noticing his physical attributes.  Before he’d started noticing her.

She’d have been better off if he hadn’t noticed her in that way at all.

He wouldn’t be around long, though.  Long enough to celebrate his dad’s birthday with him, then Tim would shake that infamous Campbell sawdust off his feet again.

She could survive his father’s matchmaking efforts till then.

Because that’s what she’d been putting up with lately.  Dr. Swanson – the other Dr. Swanson, Tim’s father – had visited the library a record number of times during the last month, chatting up the big question, which was, of course, whether or not Tim would show up for the party.  Tara had to give the good old doctor credit, though.  There were very few people in town whose first impulse wasn’t to run for their lives when she and Tim were in the same state, let alone the same room.

Tara sighed.  It wasn’t that she hated Tim, exactly.  She just wanted to skewer him with his own scalpel for what he’d done to her.  Then wipe that smirk off his face with a kiss he’d never be able to get over.  Nature could then take its course.  Maybe with a tornado.  It was probably the kindest thing nature could do.

Tara deliberately reached for an empty glass and the pitcher of beer Jack had plunked on the table moments ago, ignoring both her soda and the curious glance Rebecca aimed at her.  Carefully she poured the lager, stopping just short of spilling foam all over her fingers.

So what if the last – and first – time she’d had a beer was two sips at a microbrewery in Portland four years ago when Hans insisted she at least give his favorite substance on the planet a try?  So what if she’d hated the stuff so badly she thought she’d never want to taste it again?  She needed some kind of courage to deal with Tim, even if it was the dutch variety.

Making a face, Tara took a mouthful and gulped it down like medicine.  It insulted her tongue and burned all the way to her stomach.  And the smell…  Taking a deep breath, she swallowed another gulp.  Anything had to be better than dealing with Tim.  Even getting drunk on beer.  Deliberately Tara turned towards Rebecca’s friend Cindy, seated next to her, and started a conversation as Tim headed back towards the table.  If he found out she’d been watching him, he’d never let her live it down.

Available at all the usual retailers, April 1, 2014.