Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Postcard from Bozeman, MT

June 11, 2008

We left Missoula in a rain/snow mix that threatened to accumulate to “Chains Required” levels over the high passes, so we decided to stick close to the Interstate System and major roads today. Our first intended stop was Philipsburg, reputedly one of the most perfectly preserved Victorian towns in Montana. However, it was located on a narrow side road that looked treacherous in snowy conditions, so we stopped instead in Deer Lodge, just off the I-15 Freeway. We took time to visit the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, located on the north edge of town. This is a working ranch of 1500 acres with 80 historic buildings, open to the public. The highlight is the 23-room ranch house, furnished in 1860s period, much as Conrad Kohrs, the “Cattle King of Montana”, might have decorated it.

Not far south on I-15 was the turnoff to Anaconda, a famed copper mining town and the seat of Deer Lodge County. MT-SR 1 was a divided highway, so we decided to brave the snow flurries and head west to the town. Anaconda retains many of the trappings representative of its former status as a prosperous copper mining city. One of its most prominent landmarks is the 1900 Deer Lodge County Courthouse, still in use today. Literally blocks of downtown have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Anaconda is also famous for the 585-foot-high Daly’s Copper Smelter Smokestack.

Deer Lodge County Courthouse, Anaconda, MT.

We returned to I-15 and headed into Butte, hoping to spend time walking its famed historic downtown. But at over 5700 feet in altitude, the weather in Butte thwarted our plans. It was snowing so heavily we feared we might not get over the high passes on the way to Bozeman, today’s destination. After we gassed up in a driving blizzard, we hastened out of Butte, vowing to return another time.

Since we now had extra time, we decided to explore the town of Three Forks, which is located on the Lewis and Clark Trail at the junction of the Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson rivers, considered the headwaters of the Missouri River. An attraction well worth a visit is the Headwaters Heritage Museum , located in a 1910 bank building.

We then headed east past Bozeman to Livingston, to pay a visit to its historic downtown. An outstanding museum is the Livingston Depot Center, located in the exquisitely restored 1902 Northern Pacific Railroad Station. The architects of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City, Reed & Stem, designed the Livingston Depot in Italian Renaissance style. In its heyday, Livingston was the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. After visiting the museum, we headed to Sacagawea Park, to view the rushing Yellowstone River, made famous by the 1992 film, A River Runs Through It. The water was flowing high due to rapid melting of the late snowfall.

Architectural Details, Railroad Depot Museum,
Livingston, MT.

Yellowstone River, as viewed from Sacagawea Park, Livingston.

We headed back to Bozeman to meet our hosts for the next two days, Kristi and Mike. The couple greeted us warmly on this winter-like afternoon and we enjoyed a “happy hour” of wine and snacks before a crackling fire. Kristi prepared a pot of hearty chicken soup that hit the spot during such chilly weather. She is quite an amateur photographer, and was a great help in giving us pointers in using our new Canon camera. We should mention that Kristi recommended our stay at the Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton (Click "Postcard from Fort Benton, MT" for more information). After a great evening of conversation, we turned in.

June 12, 2008

A light dusting of snow greeted us in Bozeman.

We awoke to a light snowfall that accumulated overnight; here we were nearly in mid-June and it still seemed like winter! Given the cold, chilly weather, we decided to take in one of Bozeman’s major attractions, The Museum of the Rockies, located on the campus of Montana State University. If one is interested in dinosaurs, this is one of the best museums we have seen devoted to these ancient creatures. Additionally, there are exhibits on Yellowstone National Park, Native-American and local history, and a planetarium.

Kristi and Mike told us about a local institution, Wheat Montana Bakery and Deli, located at the junction of I-90 and US 287. We bought some rolls and six bear claws, to share at tomorrow’s breakfast. We then continued north on US 287 to Townsend, for a picnic lunch.

Our northernmost destination today was Helena, the state capital. We enjoyed visiting the small, but exquisite State Capitol with its stained glass and murals. Another worthwhile sight is the Cathedral of St. Helena, completed in 1914 in Gothic Victorian style. It reminded us of some of the great European cathedrals with its Carrara marble and stained glass windows. We then strolled in downtown Helena, including a visit to the Holter Museum of Art. This gallery features a wide variety of contemporary art in many media.

Montana State Capitol, Helena.
"Driving the Golden Spike", painted by
Amedee Joullin (1862 - 1917), in 1903.

Exterior and Window Detail, Cathedral of St. Helena.

The weather cleared somewhat as we drove south on I-15, so we decided to detour onto MT-SR 69 and stop in Boulder. This tiny town has another impressive building, the Jefferson County Courthouse. Montana is full of hidden gems like this, if one takes the time to seek them out.

Jefferson County Courthouse, Boulder, MT.

It was time to head back to Kristi & Mike's, with the intention of offering to take them and their two sons out to dinner for all the kindness they showed us. Instead, they sprang another surprise-tacos made from venison hunted by Mike! Kristi’s mother joined us for dinner. Another delightful evening of conversation was had by all!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Postcard from Dayton, WA

June 20, 2008

Today, we planned an ambitious drive from the Post Falls/Coeur d’Alene area to Walla Walla, by way of Grand Coulee Dam, Moses Lake, Palouse Falls State Park and Dayton. There is a lot to see and do along this drive, and we will highlight some of the attractions that should be of interest to everyone.

We had visited Spokane on a previous trip so we continued to the massive Grand Coulee Dam. A must see is the Grand Coulee Arrival Center. The featured documentary movie gave a history of the Dam’s construction during the Depression years. Among the facts that amazed us were the 7,000 undocumented aliens, mostly from Europe, who worked on the project.

Grand Coulee Dam.

Today was the hottest (near 100° F) day we encountered on the drive, so we sought out a shady spot for a picnic lunch. We found just the ticket at Moses Lake, a reservoir linked with the Columbia Basin Project. We enjoyed watching the boaters and fishermen plying the lake to cool off.

We then headed southeast toward Walla Walla. First stop was lovely Palouse Falls State Park. We were fortunate to see this 200-foot-high waterfall with the afternoon sun. Note the “rainbow” embedded in the spray!

Palouse Falls, near Washtucna, WA.

Our intended destination was Walla Walla, but instead we succumbed to the charms of small-town Dayton, 30 miles north on U.S.12, and we decided to spend the night there. In contrast to many of the dusty towns in the arid Palouse Country of eastern Washington and Oregon, Dayton has streets lined with tall leafy trees. Additionally, there are numerous historic neighborhoods replete with beautifully restored and maintained Victorian, and Arts and Crafts houses, well worth a walking tour. An outstanding example, now a museum, is the Queen Anne-style Boldman House, located at 410 1st Street.

Stephen Boldman House, Dayton.

On the east end of town lies a park, where a tiny farmers’ market was in operation this Friday afternoon. There were only six vendors, but we could not pass up the chance to pick up some fresh home-grown cherries and strawberries. The best deal was the opportunity to buy a 10-pound bag of freshly milled whole wheat flour for $5, or 50 cents a pound! Perfect for our weekend pancakes and waffles!

We were willing to settle for a conventional motel for the night, but we remembered reading about the Weinhard Hotel, a historic place in the heart of the tiny downtown. We walked into the lobby, inquired about a room. They had one double left, a handicap unit on the ground floor. When we saw how spacious it was, and considered all the safety features in the bathroom, we took it. There were a bowl of fresh fruits and chocolates awaiting us. The room cost $94, with tax and AAA discount. The continental breakfast, included in the price, consisted of freshly baked muffins, fruit, orange juice, coffee and tea.

The Weinhard Hotel. Note the red "surrey" available to hotel guests. The original entrance to the former Lodge is now part of an art gallery.

The Weinhard has had quite a history. Jacob Weinhard, nephew of Henry Weinhard, the Portland (OR) beer brewer, built the combined Saloon and Lodge in 1890. The Lodge continued in use until 1963. The property then contained a succession of uses, including a Safeway grocery (!), until 1994, when the owners did a total restoration and conversion to a Victorian-style hotel. The present configuration consists of 15 rooms and the lobby/sitting room, which came off a distinctly understated side entrance. Much of the Victorian detailing came from elements preserved from the dismantling of the original Lodge.

The elegant lobby was the setting for late afternoon entertainment (offered Friday and Saturday) by an “older” couple playing vintage tunes on the piano and drums. The hotel provided complimentary sparkling cider and cookies with the concert.

Lobby and registration desk at the Weinhard Hotel.

We decided to have dinner at the Weinhard Café, located right across the street from the hotel. The two chefs/owners, Tiffany Cain and Mae Schrey, serve an eclectic American menu with worldwide influences. Our entrees were lamb meatballs with mint and feta cheese over unleavened bread (decidedly Middle-Eastern in flavor); and beef tenderloin with cranberry and onion relish over potato pancake, accompanied by peapods sautéed in garlic oil. We would recommend the Weinhard Café as an excellent place to eat at modest prices.

Two landmark buildings are located in downtown Dayton. First is the Columbia County Courthouse, built in 1887 in Italianate Victorian style. It was completely restored in 1992 and is in use for County business today. It is the oldest courthouse in continued use in Washington State.

Columbia County Courthouse, Dayton.

The Dayton Historic Depot was built by the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company in 1881. It is an ornate example of Stick/Eastlake Victorian style. The Depot was in use as a railroad station until 1972 and now serves as the local historical museum.

Dayton Historic Depot, now a museum.

In all, we found Dayton to be a delightful alternative to Walla Walla, and would recommend a stay there.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Postcard from Fort Benton, MT

June 15, 2008

Fort Benton is the oldest town in Montana. It began as Fort Clay in 1847, and was renamed Fort Benton in honor of Senator Thomas Hart Benton, in 1850. Senator Benton of Missouri was an ardent supporter of the fur trade that played such an important part in Fort Benton’s early history.

Today, Fort Benton is a designated National Historic Landmark for its role in the development of the Western U.S. and Canada. The town was important as a transportation transfer point from the uppermost navigable stretch of the Missouri River to the 642-mile Mullan Wagon Trail that continued westward to Walla Walla, WA. Here, steamboat crews would unload their cargo onto wagon trains that continued to destinations both north and west.

Everything changed in the mid-1880s when the Great Northern Railroad was extended into the region. The shift to rail freight transport quickly scuttled the once thriving steamboat business and the town’s economy with it.

The centerpiece of today’s Fort Benton is the delightful Grand Union Hotel, built in 1882. The Grand Union miraculously survived many years of neglect and economic booms and busts. Here are links to an excellent blog about the Grand Union by Ken Robison, Historian at the Overholtser Historical Research Center, Fort Benton:, followed by clicking "Jewel in Fort Benton's Crown: The Grand Union" under Archived Posts. The 26-room hotel was restored in 1999 to its Victorian splendor and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As of June 15, 2008, rates for a double were $100 to $110 November 1-April 30; and $120 to $130 May 1-October 30. Discounts are available. The room rate includes a full European-style breakfast buffet. Our room overlooked the rushing Missouri River, running high from snowmelt and recent rains. Other rooms overlook the shaded main square and the picturesque waterfront.

The saloon and dining room now house the Union Grille Restaurant and Pub, featuring Montana regional cuisine. The executive chef, Nick Mehmke, trained at the Le Cordon Bleu-affiliated Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR. Before coming to the Grand Union in 2006, Mehmke worked at such esteemed eateries as The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. Our delicious entrees were a roasted chicken breast done in a huckleberry pan gravy, and a Seafood Medley served over a fresh coriander pasta prepared with bok choy and kaffir lime coconut milk. Outdoor dining overlooking the Missouri River is available in summer.

Fort Benton is well worth a full day’s visit with several museums and attractions open during late May-September. We enjoyed strolling through the Museum of the Northern Great Plains. The $5 admission fee also covers the Historic Old Fort Museum, Museum of the Upper Missouri and the Upper Missouri River Breaks Interpretive Center.

Main Entrance, Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton, MT.

Ladies’ Entrance, Grand Union Hotel (see Robison Blog for an explanation).

This bison was used as the model for the “buffalo” nickel, first minted in 1913. It belonged to the Hornaday-Smithsonian Bison Collection, now located in the Museum of the Northern Great Plains, Fort Benton.

“Oxbow” bend in the Missouri River, just upstream from Fort Benton.

Levee in Fort Benton, once used by steamers for unloading cargo.

The 1888 Old Fort Benton Bridge, now on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been a pedestrian bridge since 1963.

1884 Chouteau County Courthouse, Fort Benton, still in use today.