It was an unexpected journey for Steve
Michaels when he started building a guesthouse in 2008.
"We were just building a guesthouse for friends and family," recalls Michaels.
"Halfway through construction the carpenter's son came up to us and said 'That looks like a Hobbit house.'"
Deep in the woods of Montana, Michaels and his wife Chris created a Hobbit Shire.
I had heard about the single-lodging Hobbit House of Montana during one of my road trips a couple of years ago. It was printed in a brochure for available accommodations I picked up at a highway rest area in Idaho. I made it a point of seeing it during a road trip this past October on my way to the Little Big Horn Battle Museum in Montana.
The "shire" is just down the road from Trout Creek, which is a little more than a nine-hour drive from Richmond. Drive east on the I-90 from Spokane, Washington, to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; north on Hwy 95 until it connects with Hwy 200 and continue through Montana until you reach this rural hunting and fishing town where you can buy milk, eggs and 30-30 calibre rifle ammunition all at the lone gas station.
A note of caution: When driving Montana motorways in the fall, beware of big horn sheep, they pop out in the most unexpected places.
Continue about 13 km past Trout Creek until you come to White Pine Creek Road, where you turn right and drive another 4 km down an unpaved road until you come to Hobbit Lane. You park under the Hobbit House sign.
The address to the Hobbit House is 9 Hobbit Lane. Don't use GPS; it doesn't work. Don't use Google map, it'll steer you in the wrong direction.
To the right is a road that goes up to the Hobbit House with signs warning of video surveillance and angry trolls who do not want to be disturbed. On the left is a small, single-storey house with an overgrown hedge picket fence.
As I introduced myself to the Michaels, a SUV came down the hill. A young engaged couple from Great Falls, Montana, Kayla Butcher and Ryan Wilson, had spent the weekend.
"Totally magical," said Kayla. "The attention to detail is amazing." The couple is contemplating coming back for their honeymoon.
Michaels is an author, pilot, llama rancher and sportsman. His real job is running a communication company with his wife called TAS Marketing. He figures he spent more than $400,000 building his Hobbitshire guesthouse on 20 acres of his 100-acre property.
Despite my sudden visit, Steve agreed to show me around the shire. We hopped into his Kubota ATV, which looks like an armoured military golf cart, with his dog, Libby, a collie-cross, and drove up the 60-metre, heavily wooded lane.
Thanks to the extraordinary landscaping, the lane breaks open into big sky and a tremendous view of Michaels' 100-acre property. You see the woods raise to the sky on the other side of the valley. Below, a corral where four alpacas roam next to a two-acre pond stocked with more than 1,000 cutthroat trout.
Wildlife is abundant here. There are eagles, wolves, bears and mountain lions. Michaels said he had to hunt down a mountain lion earlier this year because it killed one of his alpacas. He also shovelled a truckload of elk dung from atop the Hobbit House throughout the summer.
The Hobbit House is as JRR Tolkien described, "...it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." And then some.
The outside looks unusually small and squat with a thatched roof and a green cottage door. To the left is an attached woodshed stocked with firewood and kindling to feed the stovepipe fireplace for those cold mountain evenings. To the right is a large water spigot with a façade to make it represent the shire's fire department.
The inside would put most three-and four-star hotels to shame. It's a remarkably spacious, 1,000 square feet with a 30-foothigh dome ceiling.
The front room is a living room/entertainment area complete with big screen TV, Direct TV, wifi, blue-ray player and Harmony sound system.
The master bedroom is in the back along with a small hobbit-size guest room and a hidden trundle bed for a small child. Everything furnished with a rustic, country-craft feel.
The most unique piece of furniture is just outside - a troll chair. Legend has it that when trolls are exposed to sunlight, they turn into stone. The chair is actually a 900kg sofa-shaped rock from Bali that Michaels had picked up in a forfeiture sale.
There is a real well for a wishing well and hobbit bridge over a man-made stream wired with motion detectors that trigger fairy giggles or an upset troll wondering what you are doing on his bridge.
The grounds are inhabited by elves, fairies, trolls and other hobbits. You have the homes of Bilbo and Frodo as neighbours.
"Built Frodo's place, then Bilbo's, then a troll mine, and it escalated from there," recalled Michaels. "It was not planned and it's still (a work) in progress."
This year he had put up an elfin village just back of the house because of a fortunate inventory arrival at a local hardware store.
"(The local) Ace Hardware knew me and when a whole bunch of these little smoke stacks came they called me up and I said, 'Hey, I'll take them.'"
If you look at many of the nearby trees you will notice little smoke stacks protruding from their lower trunks.
Along with small doors, window frames, stone steps and laundry drying on clotheslines. Many are wired with little lights that automatically turns on when the sun sets. And scattered all about are more than 200 solar-powered dragonfly-shaped LED lights.
"At night it's very, very cool," said Steve with the wide-eyed wonder of a young child.
In spite of the child-like quality of the place, no children or pets are allowed.
"We had some kids the first few times (we rented), but they tore up the place," explained Michaels. "This is a playground for adults."
The Hobbit House is closed from Nov. 1 to May 1 because of the harsh Montana weather. But bookings are good through most of the season.
"We are booked three quarters of each month we are opened."
The Michaels rent the house for $245 per night, minimum of two nights for a couple and it's a good idea to reserve in advance.
For more details, check their website at www.hobbithouseofmontana.com.
When leaving the Hobbitshire, check your vehicle. As I reconnected with Hwy. 200 to continue my road trip, I heard what sounded like someone running about under the seat of my car. At one point, I thought I actually felt it brush against my foot. I pulled over and looked under the driver's seat, but saw nothing. I walked over to the passenger, opened the door and something dashed out and into the tall grass. I know I left my windows open during my visit to the Hobbit House, so maybe it was a chipmunk or squirrel...I think.