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Montana Moonlight Madness – where’s the moon on Flathead Lake?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m as cranked for a boat ride on Flathead Lake of Montana as the next guy.  There’s just nothing quite as relaxing, mellow and laid back as piling onto a party barge pontoon boat and setting out to cruise the lake, especially if there are enough brews and some good eats to fill out the boat trip agenda.

Montana Moonlight Madness - where’s the moon on Flathead Lake?It just didn’t occur to me as we set sail that hot summer afternoon in August, departing the Dayton, Montana bay that we were in for an extended journey in search of the moon – of all things!  Oh sure, Captain Ron at the helm, had talked about the moon rising over the lake, how awesome the scene would be, especially since it would make it’s grand appearance rising over the Mission Mountains to the east of the lake.  We thought he was kidding since the moon wasn’t even scheduled until 11:30 or so that night.

The party boat rides are always a kick, sitting back in boat seats, beer and a piece of chicken in hand, cruising the nearby bays.  As a family gathering on the water, the talk is light, and the sunshine generally splendid, as we enjoy the amazing vistas surrounding us.  Ah, the amazing vistas – spectacular views across one of the largest inland lakes of the northwest, stretching to the rugged Mission Mountain Range to the southeast and a wonderful view of the Swan Range to the northeast.

The tour starts with a wildlife watch spin around Wild Horse Island – yes, with actual wild horses, deer with massive racks, and even mountain sheep high on the craggy cliffs of the island.  As the afternoon faded, the cruise puttered back up into Big Thumb Bay.  We savored more big sky views of the surrounding hill country on the west side of the lake.  Then the cruise slowly puttered back out the Polson, Montana side of the Big Thumb.

The sun slowly set and darkness crept crossed lake, a spectacular sunset washing the lake and the Missions in amazing shades of pinks, reds and dark blues.  As darkness deepened, the banter
muted, and the urge to settle in and take a nap lulled the crew into quietness.  Passing Melita Island we headed out into the vastness of the larger body of the lake, circling back to the east side of Wild Horse Island again.

Out near Wild Horse we cruised, slowed, and stopped. Captain Ron speculated about the location of the moonrise.  The outline of the Mission Range was faintly visible to the east, highlighted by a wondrous Montana starry sky, but no hint of a moon anywhere in the neighborhood.  It just hadn’t occurred to us that Captain Ron seriously intended to be there when it rose.

Huddling in chilly pitch dark, we joked and laughed, told stories, marveled at the amazing ceiling of stars overhead, and speculated regarding the moons rising point over the Mission Range.  I read that the moonrise would be around midnight, and we arrived at our vigil around 9:30.  So time passed slowly, the air provided a chillier note, the interest in beverages waned, and this 50 something crowd did begin to question the sanity of the entire quest.

Captain Ron persisted for the longest time.  The rest of the family crew laughed and joked, saying, “wait, is it getting lighter over the Missions over there?”   Finally, even the Captain concluded that moonrise might run late, given it had to rise over the Mission Mountains.   It was also getting cooler, he had risen at 5:00 that morning, and the crew, well, the crew had started to grumble a bit.  There was no clear indication that the moon was anywhere near rising either.

So, around 11:00 the boat motor was kicked on, and the cruise boat began a slow putter back around Wild Horse Island, heading back to the home port.  At that pace, it was a long, long journey the many miles back across the lake.  Banter picked up as the family crew knew the journey was drawing to a conclusion…., slowly.  And even the Captain with moon performance pressure relieved, took on a lighter perspective – proposing an alternate moon on the water.

Then – less than 20 minutes into the return journey, to the surprise of the moon watch crew – there was the moon – over the Missions!   The boat had passed into a shadow side of Wild Horse Island and the view of the Missions was obstructed for a bit.  Pulling out of that shadow then, the wonder of a Montana moonrise caught us all by surprise.  Truly a moment to treasure as the moonlight sparkled across Flathead Lake.  It illuminated the jagged Mission Range and left us all in awestruck silence as the Captain cut the motor and we all sat back to drink in the wonder.  In moments like that, all the pieces of the wondrous Cosmic Puzzle do fall into place and some perfect order takes on meaning.

There is no question that the marvel that is Flathead Lake of Montana has a thousand unique and unforgettable vistas, scenes, recreational pleasures for all.  The rest of the journey back to the ome port in Dayton was a light and lively jaunt, with the moon shining bright over our shoulder.  There is hardly a time that we’ve explored the wonders of the lake that we don’t come home with memories to treasure.

When your own adventure includes a jaunt to or through Montana, plan at least a brief stay in around Flathead Lake.  Great places for your base-camp accommodations can be found at either end of the lake – in Kalispell, in Polson or a number of spots in between.  Before you go, check for lodging arrangements through www.montanaadventure.com, and be sure to get your reservations plenty in advance as the area does fill up during the summer time.

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