Friday, July 19, 2013

Missoula, Montana

Our next stop was to have been Boise,Idaho.  However, the town seems to be caught in the grip of a heat wave, so we changed our plans and headed north to Missoula.  It was a beautiful but slow drive yesterday because we went over a couple mountain passes and through some gorgeous canyons.  Because of the narrow winding highway we were on (US 93) I felt that I could just about reach out and touch the jagged rocky canyon walls.  We are now parked outside of Missoula, all the campgrounds closer to town were full.
 Near where we are parked is the U.S. Forest Service campus.  In Missoula it maintains its Region Number 1 headquarters, research station and smokejumpers training center.  We had learned that a museum was located there and that we may also have a tour of the center.  We arrived a few minutes before a tour started.  Smokejumpers give the tours, which made it very interesting as our tour guide gave us his first-hand experiences with fighting forest fires.  I could not help but notice how much he loved his job, and he has been a smokejumper for 10 years.  He told us that it is necessary to have 10 years of fighting fires before taking the job, jumping from planes to fight forest fires is taught at the center.  He showed us where their parachutes are hung, in another room they are mended and placed back into their sacks.  In that room we saw jumpers at sewing machines and also at tables folding their parachutes.  It is expected of the jumpers to keep expenses down by repairing their own clothes and equipment.  On the tour we also saw their locker room.
It all reminded me of a regular fire house, with the difference being that the jumpers load into planes with parachute gear.  Their tools and food and water get tossed out of the plane after them.  Once they have landed it is necessary for them to fold and repack their parachute.  They also have to also fill their backpack with food, equipment and water.  It all comes to about 110 pounds which they have to carry.  They are not usually flown out of the fire area once the fire is contained, but must walk from several or possibly as much 100 miles out. In the museum a mannequin is dressed with the full gear of a jumper as he is about ready to head to a fire.  The forest fires out west here are usually caused by lightning.  They can be as small as 2 miles of forest, or involve many acres.  The center may receive several calls a day or there may not be any fires for a couple of weeks.  We looked at the names of the jumpers posted in the dispatch room and noticed that there are female jumpers.  The Forest Service has learned since 1944 that fire jumpers are the fastest and most efficient way to contain a forest fire, especially in remote areas where there are no roads.
After our visit to the museum we drove into Missoula.  The city sits astride the Jack Fork River.
 There is a beautiful river walk in the downtown area.  Maybe in a day or so we will hike the hill in the background.  Before starting our walk along the river we rode the carousel  at Caras Park. It is the fastest carousel we have been on, seat belts are required!  The carousel was made possible by many volunteers who carved and painted its animals. As we were leaving town we noticed a deer feeding in a residential neighborhood.   And to think that I have been looking for them in the hills behind where we are now parked!

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