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Oh, Montana (and Wyoming)

mountain pond

Pond above the resort as the sun crests the mountain

Oh, Montana. On Sunday, my husband and I—empty nesters that we now are—traveled to southwestern Montana to meet up with old friends, some of whom we haven’t seen since before the turn of the century. (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to use that phrase…)

Catching up was great, and doing it in a wild and beautiful place like Montana and northern Wyoming made it fabulous.

Here are a few of my favorite memories from our trip.


I don’t think I’ve seen so many stars since my parents drove us into the mountains in Utah at night and we lay in the back of our little pickup truck on the side of the road.

Out in isolated Chico Hot Springs (about an hour’s drive southeast of Bozeman, and maybe thirty minutes from the northern entrance to Yellowstone at Gardiner), there is little light to interfere with the view.

The stars. Were. Incredible.

Billions and billions of them filled the sky and the Milky Way looked like a band of gauzy clouds. We sat outside in the growing chill for hours, following the path of anonymous satellites and catching sight of shooting stars.

Absolutely breathtaking.


I adore the mountains and ocean in almost equal measure, and one of my regrets is that Sacramento doesn’t have either the low mountains that cling to California’s coastline or the tall peaks that hug its eastern border.

In Southwestern Montana, on the other hand, the mountains roll in seemingly endless waves across the land. Some soft and green with pine trees, some brown with long grass, others barren or snow-covered with gray rock jutting toward the clouds like blades of a knife.

Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana

Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana


I haven’t been to Yellowstone since I was eight. Pretty much the only thing I remember is Old Faithful and bears. On this trip, we hiked into northern Yellowstone—crossing into Wyoming after entering the park—to visit Hellroaring Creek, a clear, rock-strewn flow that feeds into the Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone River from a suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Creek trail

The Yellowstone River from a suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Creek trail

Hellroaring Creek

Hellroaring Creek

Here there be bears. Luckily—though some in my party might have disagreed—we only saw paw prints. And a bison!



Afterwards, we returned to Mammoth Hot Springs near the park entrance and walked around the mounds built up over the years by the (literally) steaming springs. The landscape is like something you’d find deep in a cave or on some imagined, hostile planet.

A mound at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

A mound at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

We ended our day trip watching elk eat, bugle, and even lock antlers, both at Mammoth Hot Springs and in the town of Gardiner, just outside the park’s Roosevelt gate.

Elk hanging out in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

Elk hanging out in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming


I try not to worry too much about work when I’m on vacation, but my goal is to look at my story for at least a few minutes every day so I don’t lose my momentum. With Scrivener for iOS and a new hard-case bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, I managed to stay immersed in my manuscript while sitting on the lodge porch in the cool morning air, sipping hot tea, and soaking up the view of the turning trees.

View from the lodge porch at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana

View from the lodge porch at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana

Honestly, that’s not even work. That’s the dream.

Oh, Montana.

What are some cool things you’ve seen on vacation? Where would you like to visit next?

Feeling like a rock star in MT

On the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP.

On the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP.

Sometimes you feel like a rock star. Last weekend in Montana was my turn.

Thanks to the lobbying efforts of a former student—writing instructor and novelist Dennis Foley—I was invited to speak at the Flathead River Writers Conference (FRWC) in Kalispell, near Glacier National Park.

This was the first time I’d been paid to attend a conference, rather than just having part of my registration fee comped. I was flown in, fed, given my own hotel room, and gifted with treats.

It was non-stop fun the whole weekend.

Shortly after arriving, I was joined by literary agent Paige Wheeler and novelist William (Bill) Haywood Henderson, and we were whisked away for a trip up the Going-to-the-Sun Road that leads to the top of Logan Pass in Glacier.

Top of Logan's Pass in Glacier NP. Cold!!

Top of Logan Pass in Glacier NP. Cold!!
(Photo courtesy of Constance See)

The views were fabulous, though the top of the mountain was bitterly cold and windy. The three of us bonded over scary drop-offs, frozen toes and fingers, and knock-you-down wind. On our descent we stopped for several short scenic walks and a tour of the lodge.

Then we were off to dinner to meet up with some of the other presenters, and members of the Authors of the Flathead.

On Saturday, after a full day of fabulous presentations by Bill, Paige, agent Liz Kracht, and several local authors, I spoke for an entire hour—my longest ever non-teaching speech—about how I (try to) fit in writing, training, family time, travel, and exercise. I was nervous about this one. How to give tips without sounding like I think I’m fabulous or perfect? Based on feedback, I *believe* I managed to find a good balance.

FRWC is one cool conference. You might be surprised how many successful and aspiring authors live in sparsely populated northern Montana. I was. With only 100 attendees, the conference is cozy and welcoming, and everyone is friendly, yet the lineup is on par with any first-class conference. (If I do say so myself. 😉 )

I couldn’t believe how many people thanked me for my speech and for coming to the conference. We all need to feel special now and then, and this weekend, I did.

On Sunday, during my Scrivener workshop, I mentioned that the bookstore had about ten copies of Scrivener For Dummies still in stock and that I’d be happy to sign for anyone who bought it. Several people stepped out immediately and then approached me after the workshop. And the bookstore sold out!

That night, one of the local authors hosted a potluck at her house in nearby Whitefish. Good food, good conversation, and a packed house full of friendly faces.

I almost didn’t want to leave.

At FRWC, I learned new things, made new friends (and met some I’d only known online), and explored the local area on our tour and my Monday morning run. All in all, a great time.

If you’re looking for a well run, casual, and welcoming general writing conference, you can’t beat Flathead River Writers.

Many thanks to the Authors of the Flathead for making me feel like a rock star in Montana!

More pics (click for slideshow)…