We’d been here before, but things were a little greener than last time.  Trees were starting to bloom, grass was growing strong, and the birds were singing last Saturday at Dunrovin Ranch.  Last November we were out here for the very same reason; to love and ride on some horses.

Our group was smaller this time, but no less enthusiastic.  It’s not every day you get to brush an animal four times your size and weight; at least, not for us.  After the ever-necessary safety talk, the first group of matches started their riding session and the rest of us headed to the pasture to wait till a staff member could show us how to groom and work with the horses in the barn area.  We passed the time with the first ever Dunrovin World Cup soccer game.  What a match it was!

Soccer in the Pasture

Soccer in the Pasture

We soon found ourselves giving some love to the horses by either brushing, or talking with them, and maybe the occasional kiss on the nose.  This didn’t just happen with the typical horses though.  Sicilian Donkeys and smaller breeds of horses also call Dunrovin home and got just as much attention.

The first group returned from their ride about half an hour later feeling excited and accomplished.  Big smiles could be seen on every face!  The next group, consisting of two matches and two volunteers, rotated in for their riding session and the rest of us headed over to the fire pit for a classic American lunch in the outdoors: roasting hotdogs over a fire!

The rotation continued into the early afternoon: matches participated in 45 minute trail rides while the rest of us either groomed the animals in the barn area, played field games in the pasture (Sharks and Minnows is still a hit!), or explored down by the river nearby. All things considered, it made for a great Saturday!  It seems spring has finally arrived in western Montana, and there was no better way to find out than from the top of a horses back.

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Returning from a Trail Ride

Thank you to Dunrovin Ranch and everyone else who made this trip a success!  Also a big thanks to our partners and volunteers, particularly Big Brothers Big Sisters of Missoula and the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center.  This spring was a rousing success for Missoula Outdoor Explorers and this summer looks to be even more so.  Check back with us in June for our latest adventure!

Making Friends

Making Friends

Keep exploring!

 

 

Bow, stern, hull, blade, wet-exit, stroke, t-rescue, roll.  If you know anything about kayaking, you recognize these terms.  Most of us on Saturday, March 15, however, didn’t know any of these.  That’s why we gathered at the YMCA in Missoula this spring afternoon; to learn the basics of kayaking and to find out how fun the sport really is.

Because of the space available at the Y and the nature of the activity, we had to split matches up into groups of 8.  The first started at 2pm, ready to get into the action.  After brief introductions, half of us jumped in the water with one instructor and started to get familiar with being in a kayak while the other half stayed on the pool deck with the other and learned about the anatomy of the boats.  There’s one main thing a person needs to be comfortable with while kayaking: tipping over.  It’s different than canoeing or sailing in that flipping your boat over is a normal part of the sport.  If you’re not flipping over, you’re not doing it right!

Needless to say, there was no shortage of spills in the pool this afternoon.  Everyone was soon familiar with the boats, strokes, and yes, getting wet.  By 3:00 it was time for the 1st Annual Outdoor Explorers Aquatic Kayaking Olympics (title courtesy of instructor Ryan Miller).  These Olympics consisted of two relay races involving teams standing on one side of the pool while their teammates paddled to the other end, turned around, and returned before switching and setting off again.  The competition was close, intense……..and fun to watch!

Soon it was time for the second group of matches to learn.  A different pair of instructors taught this group with a different, but no less successful, approach.  The entire group got in the pool this time and matches helped each other figure out how to get back into the boats after flipping (self-rescue).  After spending some time here it was time for some Sharks and Minnows, kayaking edition!  The sharks had a surprisingly hard time catching these minnows with the prey ultimately emerging as the winner.  Before we knew it our time at the YMCA was up.  

“So what did we learn today?” asked one of the instructors.  “THAT KAYAKING IS FUN!!!” said a little.

Although it was too cold on this March afternoon to kayak in one of western Montana’s many rivers, summer isn’t far away.  One thing is for sure; the Outdoor Explorers have a new skill to try out in the water come the warm months of June, July and August!

A big thanks to all those who made this trip possible: the University of Montana Outdoor Program volunteers, Sussex School for the gear, and the YMCA for the pool space.  Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more pics and stay tuned for our next adventure!  Keep exploring

A little over a week ago, it would’ve been impossible to go cross country skiing near Missoula, mainly because there was no snow.  Never underestimate Montana though.  Just this past week a fresh dumping of everyone’s favorite white stuff blanketed the valley and the surrounding area.  Good thing too, because it would of been a long drive to Seeley Lake (where the good snow has been) last Saturday for Missoula OEMP’s latest adventure!

The bus was packed with skis, sack lunches, 33 explorers, and a whole lot of energy as we headed to our destination for the day.  For our first ski outing in two years we headed to Lubrecht Experimental Forest.  As a disclaimer, this forest is not where mutant coyotes are created, as one person guessed!  The forest is actually owned and managed by the University of Montana College of Forestry and is a beautiful place for some nordic skiing.  45 minutes later we arrived at the parking lot, bursting at the seams for a chance to glide across the snow.  At least, that was the idea.

Gearing Up

Gearing Up

As the group split into three equal parties, we headed out to conquer the ski trails.  The day proved to be one of the best of year, staying a toasty 18 degrees (it was -36 with windchill in Missoula last week folks) with soft snow flurries and eventual sunshine. Volunteer instructors from the University of Montana Wilderness Association and the Zootown Area Nordic Youth club taught newcomers and veterans alike the tricks of the trade.  Soon the winter air was filled with shouts (and some heavy breathing) from the Outdoor Explorers!

At the Starting Gate

At the Starting Gate

After a few hours of nordic goodness we began to hear our stomachs growl.  Back to the bus it was and then on to the Rec Hall (just one of many facilities available for rent at Lubrecht) where a warm fire, hot cocoa, and lunch awaited.  With our appetites satisfied, a group headed back out into the sunshine for more skiing while the rest of us enjoyed ourselves near the Hall.  As is always the case, however, the time came to head back home.  With fresh snow, gorgeous weather, an energetic group, and new things to learn and discover, this Saturday was more than we could have hoped for.  A great start to the year, and an exciting prelude for what’s to come!

A huge thanks to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Zootown Area Nordic Youth, University of Montana Wilderness Association, Lubrecht Experimental Forest, and Outdoor Supply and Rental for making this possible.  Be sure to check our Facebook page for more pics!  Keep exploring!

Aside  —  Posted: February 13, 2014 in trips
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Most of the time, we try to be outside during Outdoor Explorers trips.  After all, we are the OUTDOOR Explorers.  On December 5, however, it was pretty cold outside.  4 degrees F in fact, without wind chill.  Needless to say, we weren’t going to put anyone through that.  Lucky for us, there’s this place called the Montana Natural History Center here in Missoula.  Never been?  You’re missing out.  The Center has an incredible display inside with animals of all shapes and sizes from all different backgrounds.  And this Thursday, we were going to take full advantage of it!

We began the evening off with some pizza (instant hit) and casual exploration of the main exhibit at the Center.  Soon it was time to get things rolling though.  To start, Steve Archibald, an outdoor education specialist, taught us about how to properly layer up for winter weather.  Two main points were made during this activity.  First, it was really really cold outside, as our short talk on the front steps taught us.  The second point, made when we went back inside, was that humans could really use some fir!  Until then, though, fleece jackets and down coats will have to do.  After a choosing a match to come up and demonstrate, Steve fully dressed (and talked through every step) a little with winter gear.  Perfectly sized too! 

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Dressing a Little for Winter

    Next the baton was handed off to Lisa Bickell, a naturalist at the Center.  Lisa is a professional story teller, and she proved it that night.  After telling a quick story about hibernating animals, she set the matches in action to find animals throughout the Center that hibernate.  Matches and volunteers scattered in every direction, searching for animals to put in the blanks.  If you need something to keep people busy, give them a scavenger hunt!  Eventually everyone found what they were looking for and we gathered around to talk about animals found in Montana.  

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Learning about the Animals

Lisa and Tom, an intern at MNHC, talked us through each and described their adaptations to winter weather.  Skulls and pelts of each were passed around for all to inspect.  One thing is for sure.  They are a lot more well adapt for surviving cold than we are!  Good thing we’re smart (or so we think).  

A huge thanks to our friends at the Montana Natural History Center for making our evening possible!  As always thanks to the Carhart Center and to BBBS for their continued partnership, and thanks to the volunteers!  Merry Christmas everyone.  Stay warm and keep exploring!     

A Day at Dunrovin

Posted: November 14, 2013 in trips

You never would’ve guessed it, but right in the middle of Lolo, MT, there’s a horse ranch.  Just a 15 minute drive from Missoula, Dunrovin Ranch offers lodging and trail rides to those with an appetite for seeing the landscape the old school way; and as far as appetites for horseback riding go, our group of bigs and littles were ravenous.

Last Saturday on November 9, twenty of us from Missoula Outdoor Explorers spent half a day with the folks at Dunrovin.  Some matches had gone horseback riding before, but none had had the complete experience they were about to get.  After brief introductions and a thorough safety talk, the group split up.  While three matches mounted up and went on the first trail ride, the rest of us got introduced to the rest of the horses and then enjoyed one of the best meals of all time; hotdogs roasted over a campfire.

Getting Warmed up for a Trail Ride

Getting Warmed up for a Trail Ride

After lunch, the matches that weren’t riding horses returned to the stable area to groom, lead, and just give some love to the horses.  Dunrovin has horses of all shapes and sizes, from full size steeds to dwarf-ponies.  There was something for everyone to enjoy!  It wasn’t long before the phrase, “He’s my favorite!” could be heard throughout the yard.  Eventually the first group returned and the second mounted up for their trail ride.  The rotation continued throughout the afternoon, allowing everyone to get experience in what goes on at a ranch.

Of course, what would a visit to a ranch be without some form of character building?  In other words, we grabbed some rakes and scooped horse manure.  Not everyone was enthusiastic about this job initially, but by the end we were all racing to see who would be the super-pooper-scooper of the day!  Following this especially popular activity, we went to the nearby pasture to play some field games.  In case you were wondering, Sharks and Minnows is still a hit, regardless of age.

Everybody's Favorite Chore!

Everybody’s Favorite Chore!

With the return of the third riding group, we snapped a quick group photo and then piled back into our two passenger vans.  As we waved goodbye and took our leave of our friends at Dunrovin, we all were thinking the same thing. I want a horse!!!

A big thanks to Dunrovin Ranch for making this horseback riding adventure possible, and to all our partners at the Carhart Center and Big Brothers Big Sisters in Missoula.  Be sure to check out Dunrovin’s site at http://www.dunrovinranchmontana.com/, and our Facebook page for more photos.  As always, keep exploring!!

Special Places

Posted: October 22, 2013 in trips

What is wilderness?  We could look in a book or on a website for the answer, but for Outdoor Explorers that just wouldn’t be good enough.  Our quest to find the answer led our two vans full of matches and volunteers to the Welcome Creek Wilderness on a gorgeous fall Sunday.  A short hike into the wilderness area was on the agenda and by the time the 45 minute drive was over, we were ready for action!

The Welcome Creek Wilderness is one of three wilderness areas close to Missoula.  Most participants and staff members, however, had never visited the area before.  As we prepared to cross the suspension bridge spanning Rock Creek below, our excitement grew.  We were going into wilderness!

Crossing the Suspension Bridge at the Trailhead

Crossing the Suspension Bridge at the Trailhead

Splitting into two groups (wilderness areas have a group size limit), wilderness pro’s Caitlyn Berkowitz and Dylan Lang led the way.  As Dylan led the first group across the bridge, Caitlyn started asking the second group questions about what wilderness is and why it exists.  Our minds started working to find the answers and our legs soon joined in on the work as it was our turn to hike.  We didn’t have far to go when we reached the wilderness boundary sign.

We stopped briefly here.  “What do you think we can do on the other side of this sign?” asked Caitlyn.  “Climb trees!  Play capture the flag?” came the replies.  All correct, but Caitlyn clarified for us further what wilderness really is.  “Wilderness areas are special places,” she explained.  “In wilderness, man is a visitor, not a resident.”

Snack Break at the Rockslide

Snack Break at the Rockslide

We hiked a mile or so down the trail and stopped for a snack break.  By a picturesque rock slide we played a game of Sharades, trying to guess whether or not the activities acted out before us were allowed in wilderness.  Turns out learning can be pretty enjoyable when done right!  40 minutes and a beautiful hike later we were back at the trailhead, skipping rocks on the creek as we waited for the first group to return.

We found the answer to our question, “What is wilderness?”  We recommend, from personal experience, not looking on the internet or in a textbook for the answer.  Visiting a wilderness area provided all the answers we needed, and we’re sure it’ll do the same for you.  Thanks to BBBS and our awesome volunteers for another great trip!  Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more photos.  Keep exploring!

Our second event of the summer was amazing! More than 50 people from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Missoula, the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, and the Montana Wilderness Association rafted the Clark Fork River through Alberton Gorge. What an experience! 

Zootown Surfers picked us up at Big Brothers Big Sisters in a giant neon green bus. They took the best care of us. 

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After about an hour drive we arrived at the put-in. Our guides gave us a thorough safety talk and we got on the water. 

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Our time on the river was both serene and invigorating. We went over about a dozen class 2 and class 3 rapids. You could hear giggles, shouts, a whoops from each boat as they bounced through the whitewater. The guides gave us great directions on when to paddle and when to relax. During calm water we got a chance to jump out of the boats and swim in the Clark Fork River. 

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Along the river we were treated to a view of historic Mullan Road and wildlife sightings. We saw myriad birds of prey, including bald eagles. A beaver even swam right along side one of the boats! 

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No trip down the river is complete without at least a couple people bouncing out of the boat, but we all had a great time. The Zootown Surfers crew were incredibly prepared, professional, and fun. We were on the water from about 6-9pm, so we had the gorge to ourselves. It was GORGE-OUS!

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Hope you can join us next year for a memorable trip down the river next summer. 

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