This page was last updated June 18th, 2010
The picture above is the southern view from our house in Hamilton, which sits at an elevation of 3,590 feet. The three peaks you
see in the upper right of the photograph are called The Como Peaks. The peak furthest to the right in the photo (Como Peak West)
rises to an elevation of 9,624 feet, while the middle and east peaks are 9,530 feet and 9,485 feet respectively. The river you see
bending in the foreground is the Bitterroot River. This photograph was taken on September 25th, 2005 after a light dusting of snow.
Hamilton and the Bitterroot Valley
From 2001 to 2006, our family lived in the city of Hamilton, Montana. Hamilton is located on the very western edge of Montana, right along the border with Idaho. The map to the right will give you an Idea of where Hamilton is located within the state, as well as with respect to Montana's capital city, Helena. Hamilton is located in the Bitterroot Valley at an elevation of 3,560 feet. The Bitterroot River flows north through the valley, and the area is bordered by two mountain ranges. On the west side of the valley, the jagged central portion of the Bitterroot Mountain Range rises to at an elevation of 10,157 feet atop Trapper Peak, and on the east side of the valley, the more rounded Sapphire Mountain Range tops out near 9,040 feet at Kent Peak. To the west of the valley lies the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, the third largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, covering more that one million acres of land. The Bitterroot National Forest also covers 1.6 million acres of land in west central Montana and eastern Idaho, and provides lots of recreation. At Summitpost.org, they've got some great information about the Bitterroot Range, and one of my favorite sites is from Benjamin Siwiec, who came to study geology and has some fantastic pictures of the Bitterroots. Hamilton's current population is about 4000-5000, but its infrastructure supports much of the Bitterroot Valley (approximately 40,000 people) and thus there are a lot of stores (four large supermarkets in town) and other businesses. You can also see a really nice web tour with historical pictures from the Bitterroot Valley put together by Ravalli County Bank. Erica was a 5th grade teacher at the Grantsdale School, a really neat little school at the edge of town. Living in Hamilton wasn't a huge change for us, coming from Vermont, but if you're used to a large Metropolitan area, it will probably seem small. To draw a comparison to places in Vermont, I liken Hamilton, MT to Middlebury, VT, since both have roughly the same population (although Middlebury is a bit bigger with about twice the population, and a college). Just as Middlebury is about 45 minutes south of Burlington, VT, Hamilton is about 45 minutes south of Missoula, MT. Burlington and Missoula are similar cities, both having similar populations of around 100,000 (including surrounding towns etc.) and both having state universities. Both cities are generally considered progressive compared to other parts of their respective states. Hamilton has lots of conveniences, as I mentioned above in the first paragraph, but for more serious shopping (Costco, and other big box-type stores) we will generally head to Missoula, which basically has everything.
The picture above is the western/southwestern view from our house in Hamilton. The three peaks you see in the upper left of
the photograph are part of Ward Mountain, where the leftmost peak is the summit at 9,119 feet. The peak on the right side of the
photo with the prominent avalanche slide path is Downing Mountain (8,690 feet). In between these two peaks is Goat Mountain,
which is much smaller and only rises to an elevation of about 6,000-7,000 feet. If you look closely, you can just make out a sliver
of the Bitterroot River in the center of the picture in front of the trees. This photograph was taken on September 25th, 2005 after
a light dusting of snow hit the peaks.
Rocky Mountain Laboratories
The reason we were in Hamilton was because I was working at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and located right in town. The RML facility was formed back on the early part of the 1900s to combat Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The research at RML mainly focuses on human disease, and I was studying Mad Cow Disease (and other prion forms) as part of Dr. Byron Caughey's group in the Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases (part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease division of NIH.
From right to left, buildings 1, 2, and 3 of the RML campus.
Dr Caughey's laboratories and office space are centered around the ground floor of building 3
The 33-acre RML campus as it looked around 1970. Today, the field in the background is filled with several new buildings, including the BSL-3 facility
and the BSL-4 integrated research facility. The Bitterroot River lies just beyond the back of the facility among the trees. In the background are some
of the peaks of the Bitterroot Range that rise nearly 6,000 feet above the city of Hamilton. The mountain cut off in the far left of the image shows the
area known as Don Mackey Point (5,410 feet) and part of Romney Ridge leading up to Canyon Peak (9,153 feet). In the center of the image is Mill
Point (8,467 feet) which lies at the end of Printz Ridge. Romney and Printz Ridges are separated by Blodgett Creek and the Imposing Blodgett Canyon.
Farther to the right is Mill Canyon, and on the far right is the ridge leading up to Castle Crag (8,984 feet).
Our work on prions at RML
RML is one of the premiere institutions in the world studying the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (prion diseases such as Mad Cow). These diseases are 100% fatal, and are typified by the appearance of holes (spongiform) and rod-shaped protein deposits in the brains of afflicted individuals. I worked with Byron Caughey and other members of the RML prion group who study these enigmatic infectious agents. Unlike typical infectious agents such as viruses or bacteria, prions are thought to be comprised of infectious proteins. Although this somewhat heretical concept has been around for decades, and has even garnered a Nobel Prize for Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the prion hypothesis (as it's called) has been extremely difficult to prove. Several models suggest that an individual prion protein molecule is not capable of replicating itself, but instead, small clusters of prion proteins are needed to cause disease. In addition, these models indicate that small clusters of prion protein should be much more infectious than the large rod-shaped deposits of the protein that are usually seen in the brains of animals or people afflicted with the disease (see the image below for a picture of these structures). Our work, published in the September 8th, 2005 edition of the journal Nature, provides some of the first strong empirical evidence supporting the claims made by these models, and represents another step forward in understanding prion disease. These studies were made possible through the use of a special technique called Asymmetrical flow field-flow fractionation, which allowed us to separate the various sizes of prion protein particles to a degree that had never been accomplished before (see the image below to view the various size particles). For those that would like to learn more about the work in layman's terms, there are links below to many of the media reports (newspapers, online articles) about the Nature publication. Also, an Adobe PDF copy of the actual Nature article can be downloaded by clicking on the Nature Magazine icon below.
From left to right: large, intermediate, and small prion protein particles visualized with a transmission electron microscope (magnification 100,000x). The small clusters on the right are far more infectious than the large thread-like particles in the center and on the left that are typically observed in the brains of afflicted individuals.
Nature Magazine press release - September 2nd, 2005
NIAID press release - September 6th, 2005
Psych Central press release - September 6th, 2005
Nature.com news article (Roxanne Khamsi) - September 7th, 2005
EurekAlert! press release - September 7th, 2005
Vegsource.com press release - September 7th, 2005
Biocompare.com press release - September 7th, 2005
Nature Magazine editor's summary - September 8th, 2005
Independent Record/Helenair.com article (Jennifer McKee) - September 8th, 2005
Medicalnewstoday.com press release - September 8th, 2005
ScienceDaily press release - September 8th, 2005
Xinhuanet article (China) - September 8th, 2005
People's Daily Online article (China) - September 8th, 2005
Spektrumdirekt article (Germany) - September 8th, 2005
Spectrum Directly article (English translation) - September 8th, 2005
Brightsurf.com press release - September 8th, 2005
Infectiousdiseasenews.com press release - September 8th, 2005
Ravalli Republic article (Jenny Johnson) - September 9th, 2005
Billingsgazette.com article (Jennifer McKee) - September 9th, 2005
Missoulian article (Jennifer McKee) - September 10th, 2005
News-Medical.net press release - September 10, 2005
Alzheimer News Forum article - September 13th, 2005
HUM-MOLGEN article - September 21, 2005
HealthCareDir press release - September 24, 2005
Rense.com press release - October 20, 2005
Lancet Neurology article - November, 2005
Dementia.com article - November 21, 2005
Alberta Heritage Fund newsletter article - Winter 2006
Psychiatry24x7.com article - March 22, 2006
Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Area
The main face at Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area on the Idaho/Montana border.
For local skiing around Hamilton, we visited Lost Trail Powder Mountain, which is about 45 minutes south of town on the Idaho/Montana border. Lost Trail is a great little area, which receives about 300 inches of snow annually, and is famous for its powder skiing. Relative to many ski areas, the crowds are very light, which helps keep the snow really soft, and they also have a high base elevation (~7,000') so they rarely get warmth/rain to ruin the snow. A few years ago, they expanded their area (see photo below) and increased their skiable acreage several fold, so now people are even more spread out. Their vertical drop has also increased from 1,200' to 1,800' which makes for some nice long runs. There are many other ski areas in Montana such as Big Sky, Big Mountain, Bridger Bowl etc. which we would occasionally visit. I provided an overview of all the Montana ski areas at the Liftlines Skiing and Snowboarding Forums, which provides some information about them from my perspective. You can find out about all of the Montana ski areas at the Montana Winter Downhill Skiing Page.
Some early season turns over at Lost Trail's new terrain serviced by Chair 4 - click the photo for a full size image.