Buffalo Jump

David and Josh with the Buffalo Jump in the background.

David and Josh with the Buffalo Jump in the background.

Hundreds of years ago, before horses, Native Americans did something quite ingenious in order to feed their families. They would find a herd of buffalo and the fastest runner would start chasing them. Now, you might wonder, what on earth did they think they would do with a buffalo if they caught it? But they had no intention of catching it – their intention was to make the buffalo commit unintentional suicide. That’s right, they expected the buffalo to kill themselves. Again, you may wonder, what on earth would make a buffalo kill themselves, and how could a buffalo possibly kill themselves?

The answer is, by running over the edge of a cliff. Oddly enough, the herd would simply run and follow the leader and when the first one accidentally ran over and off the edge of a cliff, many more bison would simply follow. It was a long fall to the bottom of the cliff and the fall would kill the buffalo. That did the majority of the hard work for the Native Americans and all they then had to do was go to the bottom of the cliff and prepare the dead animals for their families to eat.

There are several of these places in the American west and Midwest and they are now known as “Buffalo Jumps”. Several years ago we visited a site that David had been too many years previously. This particular one is at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, south of Three Forks, Montana. It’s awe-inspiring to see, this high steep cliff, and imagine buffalo basically falling off of the cliff. You can easily see how it would have killed them.

Looking back down the trail from the lower part of the Buffalo Jump.

Looking back down the trail from the lower part of the Buffalo Jump.

This site has an interpretive display with information telling all about the site. Before we checked it out, we decided that we wanted to hike out to the cliff. So off we went. Luckily we brought water because while it seemed like a simple, quick hike, it was further than it looked, and it was an extremely hot day. We needed every drop of water.

We hiked the trail that got steeper and steeper, until it was almost straight up. I can’t do straight up. However, David, whom I call my old mountain goat, saw the cliff as a simple challenge. So Josh and I waited while David climbed up to the very top. He said the view from up there was unbelievable.

David on top of the Buffalo Jump.

David on top of the Buffalo Jump.

Heading back down was a little treacherous. The trail was dry and it was easy to slip and lose grip on the ground. But we made it safely back down and took refuge in the shadow of the interpretive center so we could cool down.

Cooling off in the interpretive center.

Cooling off in the interpretive center.

While it was fine to see the site from a distance, to really get a taste of the steepness of the cliff and understand how it could kill the buffalo, you really need to hike out the trail to the cliff. From there you will feel sad for the buffalo falling to their deaths but you will also appreciate the ingenuity that the Native Americans had to use the natural landscape and physics to make their lives easier and allow them to feed their families.


Categories: Historical, Montana, Outdoors, Parks, Roadside Attraction | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Upcoming Santa Snow Trains

Snow, trains, Santa and Christmas time – who doesn’t love the combination? Luckily here in the northwest there are several snow trains to take advantage of in the coming weeks.


Alki Tours Snow Train to Leavenworth Tree Lighting Festival

Musicians, magicians, breakfast and dinner on this trip to and from the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth.

Prices are $139 for children and $149 for adults.

  • Saturdays, December 7, 14 & 21


Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum Chehalis, Washington

Santa Steam Train (30 minutes)

Visit with Santa and have your picture taken

Price is $10 (under 2 free)

  • Weekends, December 7 through December 15

Polar Express Train (hour and a half)

Santa, cookies, hot chocolate and a reading of the book Polar Express

Price is $20 for children, $30 for adults

  • Fridays through Sundays, November 29 – Sunday, December 22


Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Yacolt, Washington Christmas Tree Special Train

Prices range from $8-$11 for children ages 2-4, $10-$13 for children ages 5-12 an $15-$18 for adults.

  • Weekends, December 1 through December 22


Lake Whatcom Railway Wickersham, Washington Santa Train

Prices are $12.50 for children, $25 for adults

  • Saturdays, December 7, 14, & 21


Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Elbe, Washington Santa Express Train

Visit Santa and drink hot chocolate while riding along the foothills of Mt. Rainier!

Prices are $22 for children ages 2-12, and $27 for adults.

  • Fridays through Sundays, December 6 – December 22


Northern Pacific Railway Museum Toppenish, Washington Toy Train Christmas with Santa

A unique experience that involves playing with lots of toy trains! A short train ride on a caboose is included.

Prices are $4 for children and $6 for adult.

  • Weekends, November 30 –  December 22


Northwest Railroad Museum Snoqualmie, Washington Santa Train

A beautiful old train depot and museum, Santa, and cocoa!

Prices are $20 for everyone.

  • Weekends, November 30 through  December 21



Oregon Mount Hood Railroad Hood River, Oregon Polar Express Train Saturday

Caroling, hot chocolate, Santa, and a special treat!

Prices range from $18-$38 for children and $26 to $46 for adults.

  • November 9  – December 29


Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad Garibaldi, Oregon Candy Cane Express Train

Ride along the Pacific Ocean with Santa! Cookies, candy, and hot chocolate!

Prices are $15 for ages 3-10 and $20 for adults.

  • December 7 – December 15


Sumpter Valley Railroad McEwen & Sumpter, Oregon Christmas Train

Ride a steam-powered train back in time!

  • December 7 – 15



Idaho Thunder Mountain Line Horseshoe Bend, Idaho Santa Express Train

Christmas music, coloring books, pictures with Santa, Santa’s Magic Forest, candy canes, and milk! Prices range from $20-$30 for children and $30-$40 for adults.

  • Fridays through Sundays, November 22 – December 22



Charlie Russell Chew Choo Lewistown, Montana North Pole Adventure Train

Prices are $25 per person

  • Weekends, November 30 through December 21.
Categories: Festivals, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Search of Sapphires – Gem Mountain, Montana


Pure heaven! Picking sapphires!

If you’re a rockhound like me, you probably usually enjoy rockhounding where you can do it for free. But every once in awhile you’re willing to pay for it. One place that is worth it is Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine.

Located 22 miles outside of the town of Philipsburg, Montana, Gem Mountain lets you have the hands-on experience of loading up a two-pound bucket with dirt, gravel and invisible sapphires. I say, “invisible” because when they are covered with dirt and dust, you can’t see them in the bucket of gravel. Then you take a little shovel and put some of the mix onto a screen, which you then take over to a trough. There you put the screen underwater, shake it around a bit, then take it back to your table where you quickly dump it upside down. There on the top of the pile of gravel, will be beautiful shiny sapphires! Because they are heavier than the gravel, they settle at the bottom of the screen which becomes the top when you turn the screen over on your table. You then use tweezers to pick out the sapphires and put them someplace safe like a baggie or old film canister. After you have picked out all that you can see, it’s a good idea to put the gravel back into the screen and wash it another time or two – you might have missed some sapphires.


David and Josh (age 7) picking sapphires

1-cut sapphire

Heat-treated, faceted sapphire

You can buy one bucket at a time ($20 each) or buy six and get one free. Yes, it’s a little spendy, but if you know you are going you can simply budget for it as you would any other entertainment. After finding all of your sapphires, you can either choose to just take them home that way, or if you have some spectacular ones, you can leave them with the mine office to be sent off to be heat treated and faceted (for an extra charge, of course.) Heat treating is what gives the sapphires that cobalt blue color. Otherwise they are a dull blue, but they can also be yellow or white.

1-sapphires 1

Pure heaven! Picking sapphires!

Another fun thing you can do if you can’t make it there is have them send you a jug of dirt to screen at home. David did that for me for my birthday after we had been there the first time and had so much fun. He felt a little weird telling people he got me a jug of dirt for my birthday but I was in absolute heaven! Again, if you find some spectacular ones, Gem Mountain includes a return envelope and you can send one or two back to them to be heat treated and faceted. Be ready to practice your patience though – it can take up to six months to get them back.

There is a small store with limited snacks and water and six free first-come, first-served camping sites.


Trough where you wash the gravel

Sifting gravel and picking sapphires is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. It was like an addiction, very hard to quit. Thank goodness they close at 5pm or I would have gone until I passed out!

We spent the entire day sifting rocks and picking out sapphires. By the time we left I was as worn out as a kid on Christmas day. David was driving and I said, “I’m so tired, I just need to sleep,” and he said, “Go ahead.” I leaned over on the seat and BOOM, I was out! THAT, my fellow rockhounders, is a GREAT day!


Gem Mountain is open through September, from 10am-5pm, seven days a week.

Getting there: Gem Mountain is located at 21 Sapphire Gulch Lane, at mile marker 38 on Highway 38, Skalkaho Pass Road between Hamilton and Philipsburg.

Categories: Montana, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: