North to Alaska-2010 travel blog

Train Car

Smokejumpers Headquarters

Ready to Jump

Tools of the Trade

Food for Pack

First Aid Kit

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Mounts at Elk Foundation

You meet some really interesting people while RVing. The people parked next to us have this little car looking thing that has wheels like it would go on a train track. So being the nosy/friendly people we are we asked the man when we saw him outside. He said it does go on a train track and they belong to an international club that travels on the rails. He said they have logged over 30,000 miles in it. The club organizes the trip for them and they purchase rail time. They put a suitcase and a cooler in it and off they go, staying at hotels along the way. He said they see magnificent scenery you can never see from the road. They are leaving from here and going to Oregon and back. Who knew? Later in the day we sent to the Smokejumpers Visitor's Center, where we encountered several conversion vans - after talking to them we found out they also belong to an organization for people who travel in conversion vans. They had all met in St. Louis and were traveling to Oregon. They were on a 35 day caravan - similar to ours, with a wagonmaster, etc. More on the Smokejumpers - they are people who jump out of planes to put out forest fires. There are numerous locations around the western states, but the one in Missoula is the largest. It is a very competitive job (they claim a lot of people want to do this) and the person must have 3-5 years ground wild fire experience before being considered for the smokejumper position. They do not have to have jumping experience - they train them here. When they jump they are fully suited up in fire retardent gear as well as a pack containing firefighting gear. They jump from only 1500 feet so they hit the ground pretty quick and hard. After the jumpers are all out of the plane it circles around and drops the rest of their gear and food supplies. The size of the fire depends on how many jumpers go. After the fire is out they have to collect all their gear and hike to the nearest road, carrying their gear, which can weight anywhere from 80-100 pounds, they may have to hike 3-5 miles. Only 10% are women and the average age is 35. They have to sew their own suits and packs and make repairs as needed throughout the season. They are government seasonal employees. This was a very interesting tour - also it was free.

We also visited the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They have a beautiful building with lots of nice displays. They are dedicated to bringing back elk to the wild. Elk used to be found all over the United States, but like buffalo overhunting almost decimated the species. The Foundation buys land, manages herds, and introduces elk back into areas. They are like Ducks Unlimited for elk. They had a lot of educational displays for children to make them aware of the importance of conservation. This was also free.

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