Smoky Skies in Northwest Montana

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To catch up, we have left my ‘birding paradise’ of Billings to head further up into northwest Montana.  (still more photos to come!)

While crossing the Rocky Mountains on I-90, from our first overnight stopover, I had an opportunity to capture “Our Lady of the Rockies”.  She sits atop the Continental Divide at the elevation of 8,510 feet, overlooking Butte, Montana.  Unfortunately, there were smoky skies.

This 90′ statue is built in the likeness of Mary, Mother of Jesus.  She is the fourth tallest statue in the U.S. and sits on private land.  It was originally conceived by Butte resident Bob O’Bill in 1979 as a tribute to the Virgin Mary following the recovery of his wife from cancer.  Later, the statue was additionally dedicated to “all women, especially virgin mothers.”

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“Our Lady of the Rockies”

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“Our Lady of the Rockies”

(more about this statue here)

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We’re reached our destination to Kalispell, where we are surrounded by the Salish Mountains and Swan Mountains.  As we rolled in and set up camp, we had high haze that quickly turned into smoky skies in a couple days.

We just cruised the scenic US-2 Highway that crosses the Rocky Mountains from Hungry Horse to East Glacier Park Village and back.  It weaves through the southern part of Glacier NP, giving us a chance to see more of what the Rockies were looking like with the smoke.

Here are five random photos from along the highway.  Working with the layers and distances of contrasting smoke, I tried capturing some beauty of the mountains.

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#01 Glacier NP, Highway US-2

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#02 Glacier NP, Highway US-2

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#03 Glacier NP, Highway US-2 (with a bit of snow still present)

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#04 Glacier NP, Highway US-2

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#05 Glacier NP, Highway US-2 (with remnants of a previous year’s fire)

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Currently, Montana has 19 of the United States 79 largest wildfires presently burning.  For our location, we are not in any danger’s way at this time.

Recent news reports the smoke has now reached the east coast, including New York City.

Let’s keep the brave firefighters and rescue teams currently battling the fires, as well as those in harm’s way, both people and wildlife, in our thoughts and prayers.

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56 thoughts on “Smoky Skies in Northwest Montana

  1. Dear Donna… it just isn’t fair that you’ve come all this way only to encounter those nasty smoky fires. Stay safe out there. This wildfire season is no joke these days! Eric mentioned that a lot of birds died last year because of all the intense smoke we had then. It’s not looking a whole lot better this year. 🙏

    • I thought I had all my bases covered with confirmed reservations made for an entire summer, but my fault I did not think about mid-summer wildfires and the drifting smoke for Montana. We are here for several weeks so I’m hoping some north winds blow in to give some partial clearing at least for a day or two. 🙂 With 6-8 weeks left of the summer, these wildfires are scary. Along our travels, everywhere seems to be in a drought.

      • This wildfire season has become the norm for at least the past 5 years. Each year being worse than the last. We had one close to the house the 1st year I moved down here. We were packed and ready to evacuate then, but it was Sept. and the wind and rain coming off the ocean saved us.
        I might suggest a really cool site that gives a LOT of info and it’s visual. https://www.windy.com
        Go to fire intensity to see what you’re headed into (not good!) You can also pull up wind direction and a mind-boggling bunch of other choices (air quality for one)!!! Apparently there’s talk of another heat dome and I’m guessing that it might affect us this time since the cooling winds from the north start to dissipate as we head into fall.
        Wishing you lots of good luck and DO stay safe….. 🙏

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about the smoke and fires. God Bless those fighting the fires, and protect those in the area. The statue is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing your photos, and be safe!!

    • Thank you, Lisa, safety will be our priority! This is certainly different for us but goodness, this is almost ‘normal’ for the locals every summer, from what we’ve learned.

        • I agree with you. I know the smoke has hindered our outdoor activity, but we’ve still been enjoying just driving around and seeing the local towns and scenery. We’ve talked to a few locals and this is ‘normal’ and will be normal for the next 6+ weeks. It’s just expected each summer, like so many other places with their now smoky summers. 😟

  3. Donna, being a native Montanan, I enjoyed this post. I can remember seeing parts of the “Lady” parked along the freeway in Butte before helicopters airlifted her to the final destination. I hope you liked Billings, my hometown. Safe travels!

    • This was our second visit to Billings, and we knew it would be a good stopover enroute to Kalispell. We stayed for two weeks this time, and the birding was so awesome, I’ll not forget it! When I researched the “Lady”, I saw some photos of her being airlifted, wow! Special story and she is beautiful up on the mountain. 🙂

  4. What interesting photos – somewhat like the “Smokey Mountains” of the east. And yes, we have had some interesting fireball red sunsets, as well as quite red setting moons early in the AM. Thanks for sharing the photos and your adventure!

    • Thank you, Susan, it’s almost as if we’re having daily fog. Most days we don’t smell it, but every so often you get a whiff. So far, there’s been no dramatic sunsets either. I was sure we’d have them often.

  5. Sorry to hear about your fires. It appears you are suffering similar to us last summer, where we had almost 6 months of thick smoke every day and night and many birds and animals were consumed in the fires as were homes and towns. Praying you are kept safe. Australia has sent a water bomber plane to assist. Blessings my friend 🙂

    • Thanks, Ashley, I’ve actually thought of you and your fires last year as we’ve been experiencing this. It is scary to think of the loss of life and assets that so easily occurs with out-of-control wildfires. Thank you, Australia, for your water bomber plane for assistance! Most appreciative!!

  6. The wildfires are terrible, we saw it on television. In your case the smoke gave you some advantage in composing your pictures but I hope the fires can be stopped soon.

    • Thank you, Rudi! I can’t help the smoke situation, but I am interested in the challenge to see how I can capture the different yet still beautiful mountains are here with the smoke effects. It is so sad to see the wildfires on the news, no matter where they are in the world, and knowing the amount of loss of nature and wildlife that occurs. 😔🙏

  7. Believe it or not… overhere in the UK we are getting high level atmospheric dust from the fires. We only really notice it at night when it changes the colour of the moon… last night a pale orange. Another illustration of just how small our world is. Stay safe

    • Wow, David, that is incredible for you to be experiencing effects, definitely proof how small our world is…. I can imagine the different colorings of the moons each visible night, I bet it is pretty.

  8. What a beautiful statue! And those majestic mountains! Even surrounded by smoky skies. We’ve had a red sun and smoky skies from the fires out west here in Connecticut, too. Joining you in thoughts and prayers for the firefighters, residents and wildlife, all of us interconnected and sharing this little blue planet.

  9. Great photos! Love the mountains! If you didn’t tell me it was smoke, I would have thought it was fog. Forest fires are quite early this year. Apparently it’s going to get worse in the coming years. Prayers for the firefighters, people who lost their homes, the valuables trees and lost wildlife.

    • Thank you! I agree on it really looking like fog, it made for some cool shots. Living most of my life at sea level, to see these majestic mountains is just incredible and humbling. My dream was to camp near Glacier NP for a month after we retired, unfortunately I didn’t figure in summer wildfire effects. They’ve gotten worse in years passed, and as you pointed out, are to get worse. Oh my, it is disheartening to see the news videos and knowing the smoke we see is danger and loss somewhere. Fingers crossed some north winds come for a day or two, the locals tell me that’ll clear up the skies a lot. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Smoky Skies in Northwest Montana — Photos by Donna – ° BLOG ° Gabriele Romano

    • It is beautiful! So far I have not been able to get tickets, I try each morning at 8:00am for the limited 375 tickets available. They go in seconds. 😠 Anyone can enter the park after 5 pm without that $2 ticket so we will start doing that the first clearer days that comes up. But I’ll keep trying to get our $2 ticket, which is good for 7 consecutive days entering 6am to 5pm. Fingers crossed!

  11. I hope that the fires do not come your way. They sound terrifying. The statue looks very odd to me in your picture, totally out of place in its setting but it may be different when you see it in real life.

    • Thank you, Tom, we are keeping an eye on the nearby fires, we do not have any near us at present, but that can change in an instant. We do a lot of interstate route traveling and it’s not uncommon to see large crosses high on a mountain. At a far distance, I thought it was going to be another huge cross because of the whiteness. It certainly was different.

  12. Eerie but fascinating, Donna. First off, I am wondering about your air quality, as here in Massachusetts we had an bad air alert from the fires. Can’t imagine what your air quality is!I
    I can’t decide if I liked the statue of Mary or not. Maybe It was it’s bright white color, but it seemed out of place there. You said you could see it from your camp, and you liked it , though, right?
    I echo the other responses when I remind you to stay safe. I think it’s great that you are able to be in the moment and photograph what IS, smoke or not. It is a good record of our environment.
    Cheers,
    Julie

    • Thank you, Julie! It was eerie, like it was a fog, I loved the contrasting layers it created. Yes, we have had air quality alerts issued where we are. Last two days it was lifted, but the news says the winds are changing again and the smoke will be back. We are supposed to be here until mid-August, I hope it doesn’t get worse and we have to leave. We had passed the statue of Mary on the interstate and was surprised we could still see it from our campsite. We travel interstate highways a lot and it is not unusual to see a big cross up high on a hill or mountain. I thought this was a cross when we could see something white at a distance, I was surprised it was a statue myself. Thanks for safety concerns too, I am monitoring the Montana wildfires around us every day, I cannot believe how many ‘new’ ones show up so often. 😦

  13. We got a little reprieve from the smoke here and a good shower, but need more. Was shocked to see on the news how much drought there is north and south of the border. Wish you well.

    • Glad to hear of your little reprieve, we got some the past two days with some good winds. This morning it was back to the heavier layers. I’m presently less than 500 miles directly south of you, that feels pretty cool. Wish you well too, Jane.

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