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Where The Bighorns and Brown Trout Roam

An Architect With a Passion for Fishing Crafts a 21st Century Cabin in the Montana Wilderness

February 11, 2001|BARBARA THORNBURG

As a child in Laguna Beach, architect Tom Blurock spent many an afternoon at Emerald Bay, where he'd fish for corbina, halibut and rockfish. In high school he persuaded his parents to let him hike the 225-mile John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney, during which he fished for trout. After entering the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, however, Blurock turned his attention to architecture. For the next 20 years he focused on his career, and it wasn't until he was in his 40s that Blurock picked up his rod and tackle again.

Upon rediscovering his childhood passion, the architect began thinking about building a second home where he could fish. He found the perfect area six years ago in the Tom Miner Basin in Montana, through which the Yellowstone River flows. "It's the largest undammed river in the lower 48 states and one of the best trout-fishing spots in the world." Blurock says. Knowing he wanted to live near the river, he studied local geological survey maps, identified a dozen parcels of land for sale and flew up for a weekend. "I saw this piece of property set on 20 acres in Paradise Valley with a view of the Crazy Mountains, and I made an emotional decision to buy it. It's the best decision I ever made."

At home in Newport Beach, Blurock, who specializes in designing urban public schools, lives in a 1950s Eichleresque tract house filled with Italian modern and mid-century furnishings. For his Montana retreat, he decided to design a log cabin.

"I wanted to build something that fit in with the area. It was also something I'd never done before." Employing square, hand-hewn 6-by-12-inch timbers with dovetail joints (instead of the more typical round logs with overlapping joints) and a zinc alloy roof, he created a modern 21st century cabin. He left the exterior unpainted to allow natural weathering. "I wanted it as low maintenance as possible. I didn't come up here to paint on the weekend."

A small hill at the rear of the house offers protection from cold winds that can cause the temperature to dip to 20 to 30 degrees below zero in winter. In the warmer months, the stream outside his bedroom window attracts deer, coyote and a herd of bighorn sheep that live in the nearby hills. "In the summer I leave my windows open so I can hear the sound of the running stream. It lulls me to sleep."

Inside, the small 855-square-foot interior features a 10-by-12-foot picture window that frames sweeping valley views, while a pitched 18-foot ceiling adds a feeling of spaciousness. A central living space includes a kitchen and dining area, while a small master bedroom and bath are tucked behind the kitchen. Built-in bunks in the upstairs loft accommodate guests. "I like small living environments," says Blurock. "They're compact, easy to take care of, and there's an intimacy about them."

The architect, who spends one weekend a month at the cabin, says he can leave at 6 on Thursday evening from John Wayne Airport in Orange County and be in the cabin by a little after midnight. He then leaves early on Monday and is back at work by 10 a.m. "It's faster than driving to Mammoth."

On those precious weekend mornings, he's up before dawn, racing toward the river to look for the large brown trout that feed nocturnally, often in shallow water. One trout, which he's never seen, is rumored to be upward of 40 pounds. Although Blurock occasionally eats the fish he catches, most of the time he releases them. "I don't care if I catch fish half the time-- it's just so beautiful to be up here. It's all about fishing, not catching."

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