On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Monday, July 17, 2006

Anaconda, MT - July 11-17, 2006

This time we’ve landed in an RV park between Butte and Anaconda, MT – both towns with a long history with mining. Butte was once a wealthy mining center; the scaffolds of old head frames still tower above the town and the hills beneath are honeycombed with over 10,000 miles of tunnels. Anaconda is a small, neat community dominated by an old smelter stack and miles of coal black slag piles. In either town you’ll have to look hard to find anything built after World War II.

The big money was in Butte. We toured the mansion built by William Clark, one of the so-called “Copper Kings.” Down the street is the replica of a French chateau he built later as a wedding gift for his son. There are lots of other stately old homes as well. The historic downtown section stretches for blocks. The office buildings are well preserved – it looks like a movie set – but they’re primarily occupied by coffee shops, print shops, and other small businesses, not major employers.

Anaconda is a working class town that has also seen better days but is trying to capitalize on its former glory. They have a first class Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course (The Old Works) that uses the fine black tailings from the old slag piles in the traps instead of the usual sand. The course is built on the site of an old smelter operation, hence the name. It’s a beautifully maintained course with lots of character that’s a real challenge to play. We had dinner at a steak house that looked like someplace I might have gone with my folks back in the 50’s – shrimp cocktail appetizers, dim lighting, and black leather banquettes. Like most restaurants in this part of the country, your best bet is to order the steak – anything else is a risky choice – trust me!

On Sunday, we visited the local craft fair in Anaconda. One of the fund raising events was a duck race. I got a photo of all of the kids who were "helping" to capture and tally the winning ducks.

One of our day trips took us to Deer Lodge, site of the old Montana prison. This place will remind you of the prison featured in “The Shawshank Redemption” – only not as luxurious. Some cells had no plumbing – just two buckets – one for water and one for waste. It almost makes Alcatraz look like a resort. We spent well over an hour in the vintage car museum located adjacent to the prison featuring some vehicles from the earliest days of motoring through the fifties. I liked the “motor home” from the 1930’s where the kitchen was located in the same space as the bathroom?!?

Also in Deer Lodge is a perfectly preserved cattle ranch, basically untouched from the early 20’s. It was a treat to see the old bunkhouse, the vintage wagons and farm equipment, and the elegant farmhouse where several generations of this well-to-do family lived. We also got to meet several draft horses and some longhorn cattle whose horns spanned at least four feet!

Our other excursion was to Phillipsburg, another western town that saw its heyday during the mining boom. Again, many of the buildings here are restored or perfectly preserved. (The picture at the beginning of this post is in Phillipsburg.)
Our favorite stop was a candy factory where they make dozens of flavors of old-fashioned taffy as well as a mind-boggling assortment of chocolates and fudge. You would have been truly amazed at our restraint given the level of temptation.

Another authentic feature of these old towns is the number and variety of bars, saloons, and taverns. Some of them have a certain charm, others are still as sleazy as they probably were “back in the day.”
Note the smaller sign on the bar in Phillipsburg!

Next we will make our way to Glacier National Park, making a stop in Missoula along the way. Stay tuned. .

Yellowstone National Park - July 5-10, 2006

It’s just a short, scenic drive from Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone. We’d heard stories about the tourists and traffic jams so we were gratified when our initial trip through the park went smoothly. Because we were in the motor-beast and pulling the Durango, we decided to drive directly to our next destination without making any stops. We’d save the sightseeing for another day.

Driving through, we couldn’t help but notice how the park is recovering from the devastating forest fires of 1988. I never realized what huge sections of Yellowstone were blackened by the fires that year. Even though it’s been 18 years, you can still see acres of small lodgepole pines that have grown up since that summer. Scattered among the smaller trees are the charred remains of the big trees that were destroyed. It’s all still beautiful in its way, but a dramatic reminder of how widespread the devastation was that year.

All the stories you’ve heard about the wildlife in Yellowstone are true. We’d only gone a few miles inside the park when we had to stop to allow a doe and her fawn to cross the road and it’s common to see large herds of elk and buffalo grazing along the highway. They all seem relatively unconcerned with the many tourists that stop to watch and take pictures. A pair of bald eagles had set up housekeeping in a nest just a few feet from the road. The park service had posted a helpful sign asking cars not to stop along that stretch of highway, but the result was a stream of vehicles that slowed to a snail’s pace as they tried to catch sight of them. Again, the eagles perched on the nest appeared oblivious to the cars below.

Our home base for this part of our trip was several miles from the park along the Madison River. This area is known for world-class fly fishing and every day we saw dozens of anglers along the river, either fishing from the shore or navigating their boats down the rapids. This is cattle ranching country with golden plains that stretch up to the mountains in the distance. We made a couple of trips to the little town of Ennis where we played a round of golf and enjoyed lunch at an old-fashioned drugstore/soda fountain. We also had some real decent Chinese food in a western bar with a restaurant in the back. A few miles up the road are the old silver mining towns of Virginia City and Nevada City. In Virginia City we saw the old building where four outlaws were strung up from a beam by a band of local vigilantes. Their graves are now a tourist attraction at the local boot hill.

Because we were quite a distance from Yellowstone, we only took one trip back for a closer look at the attractions there. We spent a day checking out Old Faithful and many of the other geothermal phenomena in that area. It’s quite amazing to see all of the bubbling, smoking, gushing, and blowing out of the ground! It’s humid, hot and everything smells like sulphur. And of course, you’re experiencing all of this with thousands of other people. I preferred trying to imagine what it must have been like to come upon this scene 150 years ago when this was truly a wilderness. I know we missed lots of other great Yellowstone sights, but we’ll save these for a future trip.

Next, we’re headed up towards Butte, MT. This RV park was quite remote; we had to drive over 25 miles to the nearest “real” grocery store. We made a plan to try to stick closer to the trappings of civilization. . . Check back to see if we're successful.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Grand Teton National Park - July 1-4, 2006

When we came over the mountains and saw the Grand Tetons for the first time, all the other fabulous sights we’ve seen in our travels were forgotten. Even if you’ve seen pictures, you’re never quite prepared for the reality of this scene – it’s overwhelming!

Our campground was just about six miles from the park entrance – a good jumping off point for our exploring. Driving down through Jackson Hole to the town of Jackson, we stopped at every turnoff for a Kodak moment. Jackson is a hoppin’ place – real stores like Eddie Bauer and The Gap mixed in with the obligatory tourist traps and some good restaurants. We joined a couple from Salt Lake for dinner at a great restaurant – he’s a former restauranteur who looks at fine dining as research – good company and fun to share a table with!

The wildlife in this area runs a close second to the scenery. We had to stop the car at one point while 20 or more buffalo crossed the road in front of us. We saw more elk than deer on our sightseeing drives – and we saw quite a few deer! Near our RV park, two pairs of osprey had built their nests on platforms constructed on top of power poles near the river. Every time we drove by you could expect to see the female sitting on the nest and the male perched close by watching for a likely fish dinner to swim by.

But above all, the Tetons are moose country! Lots of good habitat – ponds and slow-moving streams or rivers filled with grasses and surrounded by willows. We found that the best indicator of wildlife is when you see lots of cars parked at the side of the road with people staring off into the distance.

That’s how we found our first moose sighting – a cow and her calf standing in a reed-filled pond next to the road. They were feeding contentedly, apparently oblivious to the near pandemonium on the road above them! We snapped a bunch of pictures and went on our way. When we passed again a few hours later, mother and baby were still calmly entertaining the crowd!

Not all of our wildlife encounters had the same Disneyland-like atmosphere. We took off exploring on some dirt roads a few days later and came upon a pair of young moose who trotted down a hill near us, munched on some shrubs for a while, and then wandered back up the hill and out of sight. They seemed more concerned about the deer on the far side of the meadow than they were about us. This was the perfect time of year to be exploring because the remote forests and meadows are carpeted with dozens of varieties of wildflowers. Wish my pictures could do justice to the beauty of it all.

We drove up to Teton Village one afternoon. That’s where the ski resort is located. Even though it’s not ski season, the restaurants and shops were bustling and the tram to the top was running. We spent some time watching a classic car auction that was going on while we were there and somehow managed to resist bidding on any of the cars.

We decided to spend the 4th of July at the RV park and avoid all the crowds and noise at the big celebration in Jackson. What we didn’t know was that the park was hosting a youth group get-together and over 100 teenagers would be setting up camp across the road from our RV! ACK!!! Ez thought that blasting classic rock on our iPod player would send them packing, but no. . We finally relented, went inside the coach, closed the windows, and watched old movies on TV.

Don’t forget to stayed tuned for our next episode when our intrepid adventurers tackle the vacation hordes at Yellowstone. .

Across Wyoming - June 24-30, 2006

We spent the next week traveling across Wyoming toward Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Our first stop was in the small town of Buffalo where we spent three days relaxing, playing golf and checking out the local sights. Our park here was situated in a lovely, tree-shaded spot where we were visited daily by deer and three wild turkeys. The park featured a short trail through an adjoining wooded area where we spotted red winged blackbirds and meadowlarks. The golf course was lovely – lots of trees and big, grassy fairways. My game is improving so I’m enjoying it more. Soon I may have to start keeping score!

We spent a couple of delightful happy hours with Mary Jane and Joe, full timers who spend their winters in Wellton outside of Yuma. When they reported seeing moose on the highway a few miles out of town, we had to go take a look. I’ve never seen a moose! We saw lots of great scenery (as usual) but no moose . . Better luck next time. . .

Another day of driving through the “big wide open” of Wyoming brought us to the small town of Lander. Like many of the towns we’ve passed through in the west, this one is loaded with historic charm. It’s easy to see why so many retirees and telecommuters are moving here from the big cities. But we always have to remind each other – just think what it’s like here in the winter!

Lander had one advantage missing in many of the towns we’ve visited – a better-than-decent restaurant (with a funny name)! We spent a great evening dining on the vine-covered porch, drinking good wine and listening to a funny little band that wandered in to provide some background music. If you’re ever in Lander, Wyoming – visit Cowfish!

We decided to take a guided audio-tape tour through the mountains around Lander. It’s kind of fun driving along and listening to the narration which included western music and cowboy poetry. . Our first stop was Sinks Canyon – a remarkable spot on the Popo Agie (rhymes with ambrosia!) River where the stream cascades into a cave and runs underground for over half a mile before rising into a tranquil pond where dozens of huge trout hang out year round. Alas, no fishing allowed!

Our tour also took us to South Pass City, a historical mining town, where we looked through the restored buildings and tried to get a sense for what it was like when it was a bustlin’ burg. Times were tough – in the cemetery we saw the grave of a 19-year-old girl who died when her kidneys burst because her corset was fastened too tight! And I thought low-rise jeans were unforgiving!

We also stopped in at the bar in nearby Atlantic City for a couple of cold ones. This is also a historic town, but folks are still living there, trying to eke out a living where the snow drifts can reach 23 feet in winter and the snow plows don’t come through on the weekends. There was a picture on the wall of a young Robert Redford relaxing at the bar – I bet he was there in the summertime!

Before leaving we made a pilgrimage out to a small cemetery on the Shoshone Indian Reservation where it’s believed that Sacajawea is buried. According to stories, she lived to be 100 years old! I’ll be reading a history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to learn more about this remarkable woman who left on her journey when she was just 15 years old.

Stayed tuned – next stop Grand Teton National Park. .