Montana Moonlight Madness – wheres the moon on Flathead Lake

Dont get me wrong – Im as cranked for a boat ride on Flathead Lake of Montana as the next guy. Theres 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.

It just didnt 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 its grand appearance rising over the Mission Mountains to the east of the lake. We thought he was kidding since the moon wasnt 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 hadnt 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.