Teddy bears and badlands

The father of the teddy bear was our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest man to become president at age 42.  TR was sworn in when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.  Known for his cowboy persona, TR was a Colonel in the Rough Riders,  he was a mountain man, loved to live off the land.  His home was New York, but he loved the Dakotas.

He went to North Dakota and partnered with a man to build a ranch in the badlands, a year later, he bought his own ranch 60 miles away.  After a severe winter wiped out most of the cattle in North Dakota, he returned home to New York, and re-started his political career, but kept his ranches in tact.

Those ranches still exist today, as part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the western edge of North Dakota.  Two sections of land split by I-94 are held for the public to enjoy, including a third consisting of Roosevelt’s home ranch, Elkhorn, lying on both sides of the Little Missouri. 

In the South unit, there is a 35 mile loop road that runs through river bottoms and badlands; the North unit has a 14 mile road through flats, buttes and canyons.  But the point of the National Park isn’t to “see” stuff, like you do in most, it is to honor the Nation’s first and foremost conservationist.  To find solitude and truly “get away from it all”.  There are no crowds, no traffic jams, just plenty of room to roam.

Sightseeing in my own backyard

Nothing like sight-seeing in your own backyard.  Sometimes there is so much to see, we just have to take the time to look.  My backyard includes Big Springs and Mesa Falls, all of Island Park up through West Yellowstone, Montana.  Great places on the road north-west.  I’m so lucky,South-east Idaho is a great jumping off spot.

Island Park, Idaho has the longest main street in America at 33 miles long.  In most places it is only 500 feet wide, but it brings together many resorts and areas in to one tight-knit community.  There is Mack’s Inn and Island Park Lodge, Last Chance and Henry’s Lake.  There is so much to see and many places to visit.

Earlier this summer we got to spend a weekend at Lakeside Lodge for the wedding reception for a terrific couple.  What fun was had there, the Lodge was great with the food and entertainment and making us all feel welcome.  The bartenders were awesome, and what a beautiful setting.

Our trip this week brought us from West through the first few miles of Island Park for a quick side trip to Big Springs.  Big Springs is a constant 52 degrees all year round and boasts some big fish hanging out to be fed by the visitors.  It is home to the Johnny Sack Cabin built in the early 30’s by a German immigrant, it was built by hand with a remarkable use of the wood, leaving on most of the bark in the building process.  In 1957, Mr. Sack died leaving the cabin in the hands of the government, through the efforts of local citizens, it was saved and is used as an example of great craftsmanship.  The cabin is available for visiting during the summer months.

Our next little detour off Main Street or Highway 20 as most know it was on to Highway 47, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.  I visited Mesa Falls a few years ago and was awed by the beauty of the falls, but this experience was even better. Mesa Falls is beautiful from all angles, but there was something new there.  A fantastic walkway that was recently built gave some new vantage points to see the falls.  Thanks to the Forest Service for a great addition to an already beautiful spot.

The road ended in Ashton, Idaho, with a stop at the local Frostop drive-in.  Worth a stop, the mug still goes around and the place is fastidiously clean.  Give yourself a treat and stop for a snack before you tackle the Main Street if you are headed north.

Football and fall

Idaho State 35 – Portland State 42, I love college football!  The result was not what we were hoping for, but the game was awesome.  Well, maybe not the game, but certainly the atmosphere.  In all my many years, I’ve never been truly tailgating before, and thanks to my friends Jane and Shawn, I got a taste of my first experience.  It was homecoming in Pocatello yesterday, there were tons of people around, and I got to make fish tacos.  What a great time that was. 

With the addition of the Taj MaHauler in our lives, I have camping gear of the best variety.  I’ve got big cook stoves to feed hundreds or little ones to fry up tortillas.  It doesn’t matter what the occasion, I can do it.  Last week we fed over 200 people with dinner and breakfast, yesterday it was just a few for lunch, but as much fun.

The sun was shining, in fact, it was 85 degrees on the first of October.  Unheard of in Idaho.  So many people sporting orange and black cheering on the Bengals.  Our favorite, #88, Josh Hill had a good game, he is a quiet leader on a team of young kids hoping to improve over a sad season last year.  Of course, not a lot has to change to improve.  The administration did the right thing already by changing coaching staffs.  The enthusiasm of the fans is apparent, the noise in the minidome is deafening.  We are proud of our boys and wish them the best for the rest of the season.  Regardless of the win-loss record, the fans are behind you.  Good luck against the Griz next week.

My enthusiasm for college football is not limited to the Bengals (my alma mater)  I also support the Bears, Longhorns, Razorbacks, Broncos and Trojans.  All have special places in my heart based on the players or their supporters.  USC was my first favorite team back in the 70’s when the McKay’s were playing and coaching.  California was recently added to my list of teams to support with the addition of Big in my life.  Last year, my “nephew” Ryan played for Arkansas, and you can’t be from Texas without supporting one of those teams “Hook ’em Horns”  The Broncos are easy to support when you live in Idaho, so many of our local kids go to school at BSU, and we all know that Boise is the only city in Idaho that matters – just ask them.  Fall is a great season with football and the great weather, I hope it lasts for months.

I-15 mm99 Montana to mm99 Idaho

There is a lonely stretch of highway running from mm99 in Montana to mm99 in Idaho along the I-15.  To the blind eye it looks like nothing is going on through that stretch, only two “cities” to speak of – Dillon and Idaho Falls – neither of which jump off the map and scream “Happening place here” (although I beg to differ).  The rest of the road is desolate and isolated – or one would think.

I can spend all day running that stretch of highway and have plenty to do.  Let’s start on the north end.  MM99 is the Moose Creek exit, one of my favorite stretches to drive on I-15 in Montana, it ranks right up there with the Grasshopper Creek section.  The state didn’t quite get the turns banked right through both of those, so as you are flying along the Montana freeway on cruise control – both will take you back just a little bit.  Words of advice – take if off cruise and slow down just a little, you won’t quite get the roller coaster feel in the pit of your stomach, but you’ll stay on your wheels.

Melrose is the next stop – main street is a bit short, but their claim to fame is the Moscow Mule – ginger beer and vodka served in a copper mug.  My friend, Sean, claims it’s special cuz it makes your paws tingle.  It’s important to have it served in a copper mug., just not the same otherwise.  The local bar charges you a deposit on the mug, because so many were getting swiped.

My next favorite spot is Yesterday’s Calf-a in Dell.  We’ve been known to plan our launch time based on when we will get to Dell so we can have a meal.  The Calf-a is an old one room school house with community tables.  We’ve met some great people there and the food is homemade.  My favorite is the roast beef or pork roast, smothered in homemade gravy and served with the best rolls.  I have a particular fondness for rolls of all kinds, so I know from what I speak when I say they are delicious.

Lima is next in line down this stretch of road, I smile every time I drive by.  The mascot in Lima is the Bears, but the way their football stadium is painted it could easily be mis-read.  I intentionally mis-read it every time.  My brain shouts “Go Lima Beans!”

Crossing in to Idaho will bring you past my long time favorite railroad bridge.  On the east side of I-15, it is set across a canyon and will take you back a century when you notice it.

The Opal capital of Idaho follows along the path in Spencer. Idaho opals are different than Australian opals, they are more blue.  But in Spencer, you can mine them yourself or stop off at any of four stores (all the stores in town) to purchase those that have been mined for you. 

One more stop to make, but plan to be hungry again.  Roberts,Idaho is home to BJ’s Bayou and the VooDoo Lounge.  BJ and Cheril hail from New Orleans by way of family connections and serve up the only Cajun and Creole grub you can find in Idaho.  The special occasions are my favorite up there, they bring in gypsies or Zydeco for the pleasure of those of us living here.  Etoufee and jambalaya are on the menu together with alligator.  If it’s a live alligator you’re looking for, they’ve got that too.

The final stop on our tour is a favorite of every man I know.  The Army Surplus Warehouse.  An entire store devoted to things you have never needed.  It’ll take you hours to figure that out though.  Personally, I want an artic ghillie suit – I just can’t figure out where I’m going to wear it.

The Path to Wisdom

The path to Wisdom is filled with many distractions.  I found that out on my way to Wisdom tonight, everywhere I drove, there was plenty to see.

You didn’t really think I was spouting philosophy, did you?

I’ve been traveling Montana highways for a long time now, and it seemed like every road I turned down had a sign that said “Wisdom”.  I’m thinking there’s no way they really all lead to Wisdom, but they really do – you can get there from I-15, I-90 and Hwy 93.

And it is an impressive journey, if not an impressive destination.

The road from Highway 93 begins along the Bitterroot and will take you through the Big Hole Battlefield where the Nez Perce Indians fought General Gibbons 4th Infantry in 1877. 

Highway 278 will take you through some of the largest ranches in Beaverhead County and past Bannack State Park, home of the first gold rush in Montana and the first territorial capital.  An impressive number of buildings still stand in this ghost town originally founded in 1862.  The Hotel Meade started out as the county courthouse until the railroad made Dillon the commercial powerhouse and the county seat was moved.  You can see the gallows from the jailhouse window, where several men were hanged, including Sheriff Henry Plummer and his deputies.  It is reputed the Sheriff and his men killed over 100 people and committed numerous robberies before his hanging. Bannack State Park provides an excellent distraction.   

The path to Wisdom is long and windy, at least if you are talking about the road from Divide.  It is the most beautiful, following right alongside the Big Hole River.  Lots of fishing and camping spots and bordered too by the Pioneer Mountains.

Wisdom itself, not so much of a distraction. There is a restaurant, it began as Fetty’s in 1932 and is now the Crossing, food is grand.  So, if the rest of the town doesn’t impress, at least stop for the food.  The chicken fried steak was over a half inch thick and hand breaded, followed up with homemade rhubarb pie, it was worth the drive.

And remember, in Montana, all roads lead to Wisdom.

Dillon, Montana

I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Dillon this week.  What a quaint little town.  Everyone is friendly, the cars stop for pedestrians (even when you are in the middle of the road), and there are a lot of good things going on there.  The Jaycees host the Dillon rodeo on Labor Day weekend, and it is the talk of the town, billed as Montana’s Biggest Weekend, it is sure to be the thing to see – rodeo, parade, concert – a good time to be had by all.

But in addition to the upcoming event, lots of other good things happen there.  Did you know that Patagonia has an outlet store in Dillon – it’s biggest sales are on summer holidays, with lines that run outside and down the street – wear your lightest clothes so you can try things on right in the aisles.  The Great Harvest Bread company has their franchise headquarters in Dillon, it’s the place new owners come to learn about the business.  There are days during the month when the new bakers help a local charity while they learn their craft.  The Montana Youth Challenge goes on at the University of MontanaWestern, a program for at-risk youth to help them become productive members of society. 

My few days there I’ve tried most of the restaurants, pub crawled through town with my friends and checked out a few of the stores.  My favorites were the Taco Bus – I’m sure it has a name, but all you need to know is that it is on the way in to town from the main city exit.  You just step on to the bus and taste your way to authentic Mexico, I also adored the Sweetwater Cafe, best coffee and sandwiches in town – right next to the office I was working in, it was not only convenient, but also offered friendly service, outstanding lattes and yummy sandwiches – the reuben was my fav.

Another cool fact about Dillon, or Beaverhead County more specifically, there are about 6000 people in town, but over 80,000 calves are shipped out of there each year.  The rolling ranches are everywhere you look.  The most important part is to look.