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!

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