Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Postcard from Mountain View, AB, Canada

June 16, 2008

Fort Benton to Glacier National Park.

We enjoyed an extensive European-style breakfast buffet at the Grand Union Hotel, then hit the open road for
Glacier National Park.

Browning is the locale for the excellent Museum of the Plains Indian; we had seen it before a few years ago, but would recommend it highly.

We spent the afternoon soaking up the wonders of Glacier National Park. The following photos depict the glorious scenery.

Scenes from Glacier National Park.

We booked the night in one of the grand lodges, the
Many Glacier Hotel, that dates from 1915. It is notoriously difficult to secure a reservation in the major national park lodges on short notice, but fortunately they had a standard “value” room available for this one night ($135+$12 room tax=$147). Believe us, the room was nothing fancy (no TV, etc.), but we didn’t mind. Note: this was the only place on this trip where we encountered surcharges to offset energy costs.

The Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park.

Swiftcurrent Lake, Dock at Many Glacier Hotel.

The Ptarmigan Room offers gourmet Swiss-style cooking. The food (a hearty buffalo stew and tilapia fish prepared Creole style) was OK; the views through the picture windows outstanding!

June 17, 2008

Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes to Mountain View, AB, Canada.

Rather than partake from the pricey breakfast buffet this morning, we opted for simple egg sandwiches and coffee in the informal snack shop. After breakfast, we continued exploring both Glacier National Park and
Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. Although jointly known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the United States and Canada administer their respective units separately. We could use our age 62+ Senior Pass (formerly known as the Golden Age Pass) at Glacier, but we needed to buy Parks Canada Day Passes for about $8.75 ($7.50 with age 65+ senior discount) each in U.S. funds for Waterton Lakes.

Upper Waterton Lake, ruffled by the usual stiff wind.

Red Rock Canyon, Waterton Lakes National Park.

Bison standing in Waterton Lakes National Park.

We considered our options for an overnight stay. There were several lodgings in Waterton Townsite in the $90-$175 range; the Prince of Wales Hotel that would have run at least $180; and some AAA-listed motels in Pincher Creek and Cardson for near $100.

We decided to stay in the tiny community of
Mountain View, about 10 miles east of the Waterton Lakes National Park entrance. This part of Alberta is known as “Mormon Country”, influenced by the establishment of Alberta Temple in Cardson, located about 12 miles east. By far, the most imposing structure in Mountain View is the local LDS Church.

The Rocky Ridge Inn was just the ticket. For about $20 more than the cost of an ordinary motel, we could have a room with a reputedly excellent breakfast, in a quiet place away from the hub-bub of Waterton Park. Although the Inn is located only about a half mile north of the landmark LDS Church, we felt were were deep in the country, with magnificent views of the Canadian Rockies. We had a delightful stay, and the Skylight Room was well worth the $118 (US with AAA discount). This inn and the related
Mountain View Inn were owned and operated by a Mormon family (a sale was pending at the time of our visit).

Note: We had some problems booking a room as their internet/toll free phone service was down in April when we were making our reservations. We finally had to resort to a direct call ($1.43 a minute at international phone rates) to secure our reservation. Management promised to fix the problem; perhaps it has been resolved by now.

Rocky Ridge Inn, Mountain View, AB, Canada.

Barn near the Rocky Ridge Inn.

There were no dinner options in town, so we headed to Twin Butte about 20 miles north, and had a good Mexican dinner at the Twin Butte Country General Store. Larry and Jane Davis, an expatriate California couple, own the Country General Store that specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine. We enjoyed this informal cantina, here in Canada!

Twin Butte Country General Store.

We then returned to the Inn, retired to our room and watched some DVDs until bedtime.

Alert: An International Driving Permit, obtainable only from the American Automobile Association (AAA) or National Automobile Association, is required of U.S. citizens if one is driving 50 miles or more into Canada. The Los Angeles Times had a recent article concerning scams relating to International Driving Permits.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Postcard from Billings, MT

June 14, 2008

Our Red Lodge hosts, Lynette and Merv, treated us to a homemade eggs, cheese and sausage rolled tortilla casserole that was out of this world! After a last minute online check on their computer in the faint hope that the Beartooth Scenic Highway was open (of course it wasn’t), we headed out on MT-SR 78, to see some of the ranch country near the tiny hamlet of Roscoe. Believe it or not, we first heard about this scenic area from a fellow we met at the Pahrump Valley Winery (click “Postcard from Tonopah, NV”).

Scenery near Roscoe, MT, with views
of the Beartooth Mountains.

We drove back through Red Lodge to a viewpoint just below the closure on the Beartooth Highway, to take a close-up photo of the Beartooth Mountains, then began our trek east.

Beartooth Scenic Highway, just south of Red Lodge.

First was a stop to see the ghost town of Washoe. This was a coal-mining town that suffered a calamity in February 1943 when an underground explosion took 74 lives. Very little remains today.

Ghost Town of Washoe, site of 1943 mining disaster.

We continued to Lovell, WY for a grocery and gas stop, then embarked on the Medicine Wheel Passage/Bighorn Scenic Byway (US 14 Alt/US 14). The highest reaches of this challenging road were nearly 10,000 feet in altitude. Although the road had been plowed, the rolling plateau and adjacent slopes were still covered with considerable snow. There was even snowmobile activity this far into June!

Scenes along the Bighorn Scenic Byway, WY.

We enjoyed a picnic amid the snow banks, warmed by a benevolent sun, then began the long descent to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. According to the National Park Service's narrative:

“Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana, commemorates one of America's most significant and famous battles, the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Here on June 25 and 26, 1876, two divergent cultures clashed in a life or death struggle.

“Four hundred years of struggle between Euro-Americans and Native Americans culminated on this ground. Like a handful of battles in American history, the defeat of 12 companies of Seventh Cavalry by Lakota (Sioux), Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors rose beyond its military significance to the level of myth. Thousands of books, magazine articles, performances in film and theater, paintings, and other artistic expressions have memorialized ‘Custer's Last Stand’.

“In 1879, the Little Bighorn Battlefield was designated a national cemetery administered by the War Department. In 1881, a memorial was erected on Last Stand Hill, over the mass grave of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers, U.S. Indian Scouts, and other personnel killed in battle. In 1940, jurisdiction of the battlefield was transferred to the National Park Service. These early interpretations were largely mono-cultural, honoring only the U.S. Army's perspective, with headstones marking where each fell.

“The essential irony of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is that the victors lost their nomadic way of life after their victory. Unlike Custer's command, the fallen Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were removed by their families, and ‘buried’ in the Native American tradition, in teepees or tree-scaffolds nearby in the Little Bighorn Valley. The story of the battle from the Native American perspective was largely told through the oral tradition.

“Even so, today, no memorial honors the Native Americans who struggled to preserve and defend their homeland and traditional way of life. Their heroic sacrifice was never formally recognized - until now.

“In 1991, the U. S. Congress changed the name of the battlefield and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial. In 1996, the National Park Service - guided by the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Advisory Committee, made up of members from the Indian nations involved in the battle, historians, artists and landscape architects - conducted a national design competition. In 1997 a winning design was selected.”

7th Cavalry Monument, Little Bighorn Battlefield
National Monument. The monument contains a list of
the U.S. soldiers killed in Custer's Last Stand.

Wild Horses at Little Bighorn Battlefield.

After our visit to the Battlefield, we stopped at the Big Horn County Historical Museum and State Visitor Center, then continued to downtown Billings. With a population of about 90,000, Billings is the largest city in Montana. People were enjoying happy hour in sidewalk cafés on this balmy late afternoon.

Billings is a vibrant city with an eclectic blend of the old and new. There are worthwhile attractions, including the Moss Mansion, and Montana Fun Adventure Tours offers walking tours of the downtown historic district.

Another private home, a townhouse located in newer northwest Billings, served as our overnight accommodation. Doris offered us a glass of wine and recommended a nearby Italian restaurant, Carinos Grill, for dinner. Although it was a chain restaurant, we both thought their baked lasagna at $11 was tasty and an excellent value. After a pleasant evening of conversation with our hostess, we turned in.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Postcard from Baker City, OR

June 21, 2008

After our continental breakfast at the Weinhard Hotel in Dayton, WA, we stopped in at McQuary’s Grocery to pick up several bottles of moderately-priced Washington wines, then headed out for
Walla Walla on US 12. Since it was Sunday morning, and most attractions were closed, we decided to pass quickly through Walla Walla, to begin today’s highlight-the Wallowa-Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Rather too quickly: we found ourselves in a 30-mph speed trap, hidden from view by a big rig we were passing. Marie yelled out: there’s a cop! Too late! Sure enough, the police car, lights flashing, pulled us over. Meanwhile, Marie’s nose was buried in our road map, so after the customary “license and registration, please” request, the officer offered to help us find the Byway turnoff. In the end, he let us off with just a warning (perhaps playing classical music on NPR helped!), and we were on our way, albeit a bit more slowly.

We continued south on WA-SR 125/OR SR 11 to
Weston, the beginning of the Tollgate Road (OR-SR 204) that linked us to the Byway. The landscape changed rapidly from the green and tawny hues typical of the loess-covered Palouse Hills to the deep greens of the conifer-clad Umatilla Wilderness.

The Byway began with OR-SR 82 at the tiny village of
Elgin. The drive then took us through the hamlets of Minam, Wallowa and Lostine, affording us magnificent views of prosperous horse ranches set off against the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains.

Horse Ranch in the Wallowa Valley.

There are few opportunities to purchase gasoline in this remote area, so we decided to refuel in the small Wallowa County Seat town of
Enterprise. After taking photos of the 1909 County Courthouse and strolling the quaint downtown, we continued southeast to Joseph, the gateway to the Hells Canyon National Recreational Area. Joseph is also known for its outdoor bronze sculptures and art galleries. There are several foundries in the area that cater to collectors and some of the finest examples of metal art can be found here.

Wallowa County Courthouse, Enterprise, OR.

Outdoor metal sculptures, Joseph, OR.

We decided to picnic at lovely Lake Wallowa, located just south of Joseph. During our picnic the wind had picked up to such an extent we stayed inside the car. Ominous clouds started to build in from the north and we were concerned about the prospect of bad weather during the most arduous part of the Byway drive just ahead. Forest Road 39/OR-SR 39, from Joseph to near Oxbow is open only in summer and could be treacherous in heavy rain. But we were fortunate in two respects: a) the road was much better than we expected, and b) the weather held off.

Our picnic site at Lake Wallowa.

This part of the Byway was most rewarding! Wildflower displays were spectacular and the views of Hells Canyon were resplendent with shades of green over reddish slopes. We spent some time at the readily accessible
Hells Canyon Overlook with the wide-open skies. What a panorama!

Wildflowers at Hells Canyon Overlook.

Panoramic view from Hells Canyon Overlook.

One should note that this road is very popular with the motorcycle culture, and groups of motorcyclists would roar past us on the sharp curves. An aside: there are apparently subgroups of motorcyclists identifiable by make; for example, we saw Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Honda, and BMW aficionados parked at the Hells Canyon Overlook, segregated by brand name.

We then came to OR-SR 86 for our continuation drive to
Baker City. By the time we reached the town of Halfway, we became enveloped by heavy rain that had chased us down from the Wallowa Mountains. The weather lifted just as we entered Baker City, although the high overcast threatened rain later on. We learned later that this same weather disturbance produced the “dry” thunderstorms that started the devastating Northern California fires June 20-21.

Baker City, population 10,000, is the seat of Baker County. It was an important stop along the historic Oregon Trail. Baker City has a remarkable collection of historic buildings downtown. About 100 structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The centerpiece is the
Geiser Grand Hotel, built in 1889 and meticulously restored. We had a passing thought of booking a room (from $79 up) there, but Baker City was hosting the Elkhorn Classic Stage Race, a major bicycle race held annually in June. The race is routed right through the heart of downtown, so we opted to stay at the quiet Always Inn Motel, located about three miles east, adjacent to Interstate 84. A couple we had dinner with in Dayton recommended the Always Inn. We were almost too late, but they had a handicap room available for the $65 AAA discounted price, so we took it.

It was still afternoon, so we decided to return to OR-SR 86 to see the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center we had passed earlier. Most unfortunately, the afternoon electrical storm knocked out the power to the center, so it was closed. Bummer!

Instead, we returned to Baker City, to see some of the bicycle races. The occasional showers led to slippery conditions, but they did not seem to slow the riders down. We ended the day by going to a Safeway deli, to pick up some goodies, and retired for the night.

Historic storefronts, Baker City.

Elkhorn Classic Stage Bicycle Race, Baker City.
Note the Art Deco 1929 Baker City Tower in the background.

The 1889 Geiser Grand Hotel, Baker City.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Postcard from Tonopah, NV

June 8, 2008

We left San Diego about 4:00 a.m., to avoid much of the desert heat. We took a breakfast break and refueled at Barstow (later, we found the cheapest gas was at an Arco station near Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner in Yermo, about 8 miles beyond Barstow). Note: regular unleaded gas was selling for about $4.50/gallon in June, 2008 in this desert region.

We continued on I-15 to Baker, with its famed humongous outdoor thermometer, where we turned off on CA-SR 127, the cutoff road to Death Valley National Park. At Shoshone, we turned off on CA-SR 178/NV-SR 372 to Pahrump, NV. The town itself is nondescript, but a worthwhile stop is Pahrump Valley Winery, one of only three licensed wineries in Nevada. We stopped in for a complimentary wine tasting and bought a couple of white wines suitable for summer quaffing-a semi-dry Symphony for $11 and White Peak, a fruity white blend for $10. The winery is in a garden-like setting, a true oasis in the desert.

Pahrump Valley Winery. Note the zinfandel
vineyard in the foreground.

Next stop was Rhyolite, a ghost town located just outside of Beatty. One of the most photographed ghost towns in the West, Rhyolite was founded in 1905. Built of stone and concrete, the town had three-story office buildings, banks, churches, an opera house, hotels, a school, and dozens of streets, all complete with plumbing, electricity and telephone service. By 1911, Rhyolite's one mine, the Montgomery, had closed after producing $2 million in gold. There is little left to see today, but considering the substantial derelict remains, one can sense there was once a sizable city at this site.

Railroad Depot, Bank and Bottle House, Rhyolite.

Further along US 95 is Goldfield, another mining boomtown that sprang up in 1902. By 1906, the city reached its peak population of 30,000. Goldfield was such a vibrant place that it became a venue for major boxing matches. At that time, Goldfield was the largest city in Nevada. However, as was so often the case with mining boomtowns, when the bust came, coinciding with the 1907 financial panic, the population declined sharply. By 1910, the population was under 4900, and by 2000, the estimated population was only 440. Goldfield has retained its role as the seat of Esmeralda County, despite its current status as an unincorporated town.

The most prominent building in Goldfield is the four-story Goldfield Hotel. The hotel, constructed in 1908, was considered the finest lodging between Kansas City, MO and San Francisco when it was built. Of course, its fortunes declined as gold mining played out and it closed in 1946. However, there is hope for its restoration as its present owner plans to restore the building as a boutique hotel. In fact, there is a mini-historic restoration boom occurring in hopes of bringing back Goldfield as a tourist destination.

Goldfield Hotel, currently under restoration.

We decided on Tonopah for the overnight stop since it was about 500 miles from San Diego and offered several choices for accommodations. At about 6000 feet in elevation, afternoon temperatures were in the comfortable 70s. Tonopah is the seat of Nye County and offers several attractions worth visiting. (Click Tonopah History for a good rundown about the town).

Tonopah’s history paralleled that of Goldfield, except that its more diverse economy has enabled Tonopah (population 3000), to survive as a viable small town today despite the fluctuations in mining activity. It benefited from the World War II Era development of the nearby Nellis Air Force Bombing and Gunnery Range, and later the missile testing facility. Additionally, Howard Hughes’s Summa Corporation was active in the Tonopah mining industry during the 1960s and 1970s. In recent years, tourism and the role of county government have gained in importance.

We had just enough time to visit the Central Nevada Museum, 1900 Logan Field Road. Its exhibits cover Nye and Esmeralda County history, with an emphasis on silver and gold mining. Jim Butler, who is credited with the discovery of a major silver lode in Tonopah, is given extensive coverage.

Tonopah Historic Mining Park, is situated on 100 acres of abandoned mines, and visitors have the opportunity to explore mine shafts and other aspects of Turn of the 20th Century mining technology. Admission is $5 ($1 discount if staying in local lodging) to do a self-guided tour. We hope to see this park the next time we pass through Tonopah.

Downtown Tonopah’s sports two five story landmarks: the Belvada Apartments, built in 1906 as a bank that foundered in the Panic of 1907, and the Mizpah Hotel, that dates from 1908. They have both undergone recent restorations, but were both for sale, as of 2008.

Mizpah Hotel, Tonopah.
Photo courtesy of Western Mining

We decided to stay in the Jim Butler Inn and Suites, 100 S. Main Street, located literally in the shadow of the Mizpah Hotel. It was nothing fancy, but it was quiet, and they offered a double room with a modest continental breakfast for $65 (AAA discount). The motel office has a collection of Jim Butler memorabilia, alluding to the site’s original ownership by this historic figure.

AAA recommended the El Marqués Mexican Restaurant, 348 Main Street, for dinner. Indeed we found it to be popular with the locals, which is usually a good sign. Their carnitas were delicious, and dinners were cheap at about $7.

In all, we found much to enjoy in Tonopah, and would recommend staying a couple of days to explore the sights in this historic mining area.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Postcard from Red Lodge, MT

June 13, 2008

We had a hearty breakfast, including the bear claws we contributed, but very reluctantly, we had to leave. We hope we have another chance to visit Kristi and Mike, and their spacious Bozeman home, again in the future.

The weather improved dramatically this morning, so we decided to take some back roads west of Bozeman, to visit two ghost towns. Virginia City was a former territorial capital (1865-75), and is the seat of Madison County. Once a city of 5000 inhabitants, Virginia City’s population declined sharply with the move of the territorial capital to Helena, and has dwindled to about 150 today. The Courthouse, built in 1876, is beautifully preserved, and is still in use.

"Downtown" Virginia City, MT.

Madison County Courthouse, Virginia City.

Nevada City lies about 1.5 miles west and has only 14 original buildings left. However, many other historic buildings from throughout Montana have been moved into Nevada City, and are now open as the Nevada City Outdoor Museum. An outstanding attraction within this complex is the Nevada City Music Museum, where for a dollar each, one could play a number of nickelodeons and music boxes. Most impressive was the 90-key, intricately carved Gavioli & Co. military band organ, built in Paris, France, about 1895.

Scenes from Nevada City.

We then continued a loop through rolling country green and lush from recent rain and snow, first stopping in the tiny rod and reel town of Twin Bridges, then picnicking in Whitehall, about 28 miles further north. Both towns are noted for their outdoor murals. We found this spectacular allegorical mural, painted on an otherwise blank wall of the Twin Bridges Public Library by Jim Shirk, in 2006.

Public Library Mural, Twin Bridges.

Whitehall is noted for its scenes of the Lewis & Clark expedition. These were painted by local artists in 2002-05 for the Bicentennial of Lewis & Clark’s passage through the Jefferson Valley, near Whitehall.

Mural of Lewis & Clark Expedition, Whitehall.

Livingston was on the way on our eastward trek, so we decided to make a return visit, to see another museum recommended by AAA. The Yellowstone Gateway Museum of Park County is housed in a 1906 schoolhouse. Among its noteworthy exhibits was an extensive collection of Native American Indian arrowheads, a display of early Yellowstone National Park souvenirs and memorabilia, and a series of display spaces replicating a Victorian-era small town main street.

We refueled in Laurel, then headed south on US 212 to Red Lodge, gateway to the Beartooth Scenic Highway, named by the late Charles Kuralt as the “Most Scenic Drive in America.” One of our original objectives of this trip was to drive the Beartooth east from the Yellowstone National Park boundary through Cooke City to Red Lodge. Alas, an avalanche at Milepost 51 had not been cleared in time for us to approach Red Lodge from the west, so we had to come to town south from Interstate 90.

Our mid-afternoon arrival gave us time to stroll through Red Lodge’s well restored and preserved downtown. It was so pleasant walking along Broadway, watching the sunlight dancing off the quaint storefronts this mild afternoon.

Downtown Red Lodge in Late Afternoon.

Red Lodge, population 2200, is the seat of Carbon County and the takeoff point for the Beartooth Mountain ski resorts. It was a coal mining town in the past, and when the mining industry played out, it became a year-round resort destination. Local legend has it that Red Lodge is named for the Red Lodge Clan of Crow Indians, who reportedly caked their teepees with local red clay [AAA Guidebook].

We were most fortunate to come to Red Lodge during the annual Red Lodge Montana Music Festival involving 200 music students, grades 8-12. After a good Mexican dinner at Bogart’s, a local favorite, we attended a student open rehearsal recital (free admission) at the Red Lodge Civic Center Auditorium, a Quonset-like converted gymnasium located at the high school. The virtuosity of some of the students was truly amazing, as they tackled a wide variety of classical solo and chamber music.

We stayed in another private home, a Victorian located next to Merv’s photography studio. Merv and Lynette put us up in an upstairs bedroom decorated with birdhouses in a simulated forest setting. We slept very well in this rustic setting!