Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Into the Great Wide Open: Day 6, Helena to Livingston and Chico Hot Springs

Breakfast was lovely. There were beautiful hot scones waiting on the table for us, light and fluffy scones, not the crusty tough kind. The hostess, Pat, baked them herself, as well as the breakfast frittata, served with sausages and hot pots of coffee and cream. It was a great way to start the day. 

Carolina B&B Breakfast Room
Coffee and Tea Service
Sun Porch/Reading Room
Carolina Frittata, Sausage and Fruit
Pat’s Famous Scones

At breakfast we met Dave and Carol, from Everett, WA, who were married five years ago at The Carolina and who come back every year to celebrate their anniversary there, they love it so much. 

We drive towards our next stop, Chico Hot Springs, but we stop once again in Townsend. We have been looking for a car wash, our time in Glacier National Park has left us mud-stained and mud splashed; we have dead bugs on our windshield and every time I lean on the car to take a photo, I end up with mud on my legs.

We have MUD everywhere

We really like Townsend. We love the sign in the car wash. I love that while I am reading some Montana mysteries, Townsend is mentioned here and there, and I have a photo of the Commercial Bar, notorious among alcoholic cops and people who start drinking early in the morning. 

The Great Wide Open
“You know those are not real horses don’t you?” No. I didn’t recognize it was an art installation.

It is a beautiful day. 

On every trip, I try to schedule a wild card. A wild card means I don’t really know if we are going to like this or not, it might be out of our comfort zone, but we might also stretch and find we enjoy it. I had found Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley, another place frequently mentioned in Montana detective series, and had reserved a rustic cabin, which happened to be all they had left that looked like what we might like. I was making reservations early in December, so I thought it odd that so much was already reserved.

So on our drive, I experience a few little anxieties, like did I make sure this “rustic cabin” has it’s own bathroom? What if it has a musty smell? What if this is some kind of tawdry experience that we might find distasteful?

We stop in Livingston en route; we want to visit the Railroad Museum and to have lunch at the Murray Hotel, where we had reservations last year we had to cancel when COVID overturned everyone’s lives.

Livingston, MT
Murray Hotel, where we would have stayed

The railroad museum was fabulous. AdventureMan loves history and loves railroads. I found some really cool movies, one in particular, Invisible Boundaries which tracks Yellowstone’s Great Animal Migrations. The film was gorgeous. Some of was filmed from helicopters, some by an independent filmmaker who trekked with wildlife specialists and a wildlife artist. The film is lush with color and action; the still shots and the artwork are breathtaking. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

The Cashier at the Railroad Museum told us many people come to Livingston to visit Dan Bailey’s, famous for angling outfitting

We had thought we would eat at the Murray, but saw Fiesta de Jalisco and had a craving for Mexican food, so we ate there. It was another restaurant which was careful – seating was separated, people were masked (not while eating). Best of all, the food was really good. I had a chicken mole’ and AdventureMan had a tamale and taco. 

“You have to see the rest room!” AdventureMan tells me

(We were greatly surprised that in all the tourist spots, prices were so reasonable. We think Pensacola has a reasonable cost-of-living; the places we found in Montana and Wyoming – OUTSIDE the national parks – were not more expensive than Pensacola.)

We walked after lunch, and found a cute gift shop where I asked if they had any cherry juice from the Flathead valley, and the woman running the shop looked at me and said “We don’t have it here, but I think I know someone who does” and called a friend. “Yes! She has it!” she told me, so we walked to the Copper Moose where we found the cherry juice and all kinds of wonderful Montana specialties, and some great conversation. We love bringing back local treasures to our family when we travel, and we found some really great treasures at the Copper Moose. We bough the large bottle of cherry juice; we should have bought two bottles, we love it so much. It is tasty, without being too sweet. It mixes well with water or with gin or tonic or seltzer. We were looking for a liqueur to pour over ice cream, like Chambord, but we never found it.

Chico Hot Springs was just a short drive down Paradise Valley from Livingston. Chico Hot Springs was really fun. Our cabin was not ready, but they checked us in, gave us wrist bands to use for the hot springs, and towels and said they would call when the cabin was ready. Just as we had parked, our cabin was ready, so we quickly drove up the hill to our cabin, dropped our gear, (checked to make sure there was a bathroom, and there was) and headed back to the springs.

C.J.Box, in his Highway Series, refers to the old Chico Springs as a former Sanitarium.

AdventureMan had told me he would just sit in the sun; not me! Hot Springs are natural! They have minerals! We used to live in Wiesbaden where people came from miles away and paid a lot to “take the waters.” I hadn’t been in ten minutes when AdventureMan came and joined me. I was delighted. It’s out of his comfort zone. We need experiences out of our comfort zone, we are still capable of growth and new experiences.

After a short while, we headed back to the room for a short nap before dinner. I caught up on my trip notes while AdventureMan went deep into sleep. By dinnertime, we were both relaxed, refreshed and ready.

View toward mountains
Dining Room at Chico Hot Springs

Reservations were a must. The Hotel had contacted me a couple months before and notified me that because of COVID, and employee shortages, and a requirement to socially distance, and the high volume of people wanting to eat in their dining room, if we wanted to eat there, we really needed to make a reservation, which I had made. 

We had an isolated table. Everyone there did. We had a delightful server, Purity, who really knew the menu and the wines. I discovered they had a very large wine tasting room just off the nearby bar, with a lovely selection of amazing wines.

Everything I ordered was off the evening specials menu – they had me at Butternut squash soup and Alaskan halibut. AdventureMan had Prince Edward Island Mussels and the Alaskan halibut, we both had white Bordeaux to drink and ended the meal by sharing a creme brûlée. The meal was magnificent, one of the best on our trip, probably because the wine was so perfect with the meals.

It was nearing sunset. We decided to take a drive along an unpaved road leading out of the hot springs area down into a valley area. We saw a mother deer with two fawns, and we watched the sun set behind a mountain. When we got back to the cabin, there was a fowl – a grouse (?) without fear, waiting to greet us. AdventureMan said he heard coyotes yipping nearby during the night; I slept through it. Our cabin was isolated from the main part of the hot springs complex, and very quiet. We had a wonderful sleep in this rustic cabin. 

One of the things AdventureMan says he loved about these rustic cabins was that they had great lights for reading. We don’t understand why hotels and inns have beautiful nightstands, and even maybe beautiful lights, but the bulbs are puny and they don’t put out enough light by which to read. Chico Hot Springs rustic cabins had good lighting to read by, and lots of hooks to hang up our clothes. We also had all the privacy in the world; the rustic cabins were relatively remote. 

September 14, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Food, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Hotels, Local Lore, Privacy, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Into The Great Wide Open, Day 2

Bozeman to East Glacier

Nice breakfast, then back to Walmart looking for a couple more layers; it is cold. We’re on the road to East Glacier Park by 0900, with the luxury of time to talk and catch up. 

The major topic, as it will remain throughout the trip, is demographics. Many of the businesses we have interacted with don’t have enough people working for them. It is a constant topic. Hotels aren’t renting out all their rooms; they can’t get them cleaned and serviced fast enough. Restaurants have to limit the number of people, they don’t have the staff to cook and serve the meals. Many restaurants are closed altogether, with signs saying “we will re-open when we can find people to work.” 

Some people feel very hostile about this. I believe it has to do with demographics, and my age group is greatly complicit. For years people have worked well beyond retirement age, not just out of need, although that has driven some, but also because they loved working. COVID changed a lot of that. COVID made having a lot of public contact more risky. People who might still be working have retired, decided to live on less and to enjoy life more. OK, Boomer, you have that right.

COVID also impacts on young families, what mother or father of a young child wants to take a job which could expose their vulnerable children to the ravages of COVID? And, who is going to take care of the children? COVID had made parents reluctant to use child care centers, and child care centers are nearly non-existent because caretakers are also vulnerable, physically and financially. 

In Bozeman, there are a lot of people happy to work outdoors. Not so many willing to work in the service industry. Some believe that the end of federal employment subsidies will make a difference. I imagine it will, for those with the fewest choices, but will not make the difference people expect. Is not one of our inalienable rights the right to protect our own health and that of our children? Montana, like Florida, has a governor who does not allow mask mandates. To me, that is insanity. We know masks plus social distancing work to lower the rates of transmission. Why would we not choose this rational, proven formula which works? 

AdventureMan and I wore masks in public places. We also spent a lot of time in wide open spaces where there were few people. That was part of the whole point of choosing Montana and Wyoming. 

It is also raining, and rain is a big topic of conversation. Montanans tells us they are thankful for this rain, there is been a huge drought which has been hard on the cows and hard on the crops. The rain dampens the forests, and helps the fire fighters. 

Because the roads are nearly empty and we are driving kind of fast, we also have a long raucous discussion of embarrassing speeding tickets we have earned over the years.

My most embarrassing traffic ticket was presented to me by a German policeman who delivered it to my house. He gives me a photo. I am sitting in the front seat, driving my Volvo with a big smile, and chatting with my cousin, who is visiting me. It is taken just outside Heidelberg, in a notorious speed trap. I am well over the speed-limit, and oblivious. When the policeman sits down on the couch I have been working on re-upholstering, the leg falls off and he jumps up very embarrassed and apologetic, which saves me from a very uncomfortable lecture. He delivers the fine, I accept and sign, and he is too embarrassed at “breaking” my couch to even scold me or warn me not to do it again. It was a hefty fine, but I am an expat, and I was thankful just to pay the fine. 

A couple hours into our drive, we come to Townsend, a town we didn’t know we were going to like as much as we did. It started with a restroom in a gas station which was also a town True Value Hardware store. The restroom was beautiful and very clean, and the store was wonderful, with really cool useful things. They had barrels of nails and screws and farm items we could not begin to identify. People stopped in to pick up what they needed, but also to exchange news of what was going on in Townsend. 

We decided to take a look around, and liked the neatness of the place, some old houses, some new. AdventureMan spotted a bakery, his weakness, and found a parking spot. 

Often mentioned in C.J. Box Montana Mystery series

I laughed. “Do you see where you have parked?” I kidded him, and he saw that he had parked in front of the Quilt shop, and it was open. Sometimes fate just works that way. 

The quilt shop was full of wonderful fabrics. I restrained myself; my suitcase capacity is limited, but I allowed myself a little, and a James Lee Burke novel from the used book shelves in the back that I had read before but knew I would love reading again. I could see that this shop was also a great Townsend gathering place, and a good place to learn what is going on with your neighbors. We really liked Townsend, and we liked that almost every town and city we visited in Montana had a bookshop.

We arrived in Augusta around lunch time, and found a place we couldn’t resist. There was a horse carrier out front. Inside, yep, were real cowboys who kept their cowboy hats on while they ate lunch, and one of them ordered GIZZARDS.  I had a crispy chicken salad, which was really pretty good, and AdventureMan had a Ham and cheese sandwich with salad, also pretty good. It was a welcome surprise to find more salads and more vegetables in Montana than we have found on previous trips.

The entire restaurant is decorated with antlers, mostly from elk, but maybe a Moose and some smaller deer, too. What I liked, in addition to the very courteous service to people who clearly “aren’t from around here” was that they had tiny bottles on every table with fresh wildflowers, a nice touch in a very masculine restaurant. 

Many times I might ask people if I can take their photos, but I didn’t ask the cowboys and I didn’t take their photo. They did not seem to be people who would like to be thought of as local color, and I did not want to offend them. 

Montana has a lot of long rural stretches.

We arrived at Traveler’s Rest and our cabin was ready. We’ve stayed here before and really love that the owners built these cabins themselves. They are beautifully crafted, and well thought out. This time we are staying in the cabin they call Two Medicine (also one of our favorite drives) which is in the back. All the cabins are somewhat together, but the porches all face in different directions, and none looks on each other’s porch or into another’s windows. There are poplar trees between and amongst the cabins, and a wind which blows through them and makes the leaves quiver and whisper. They have metal roofs, so when it rains, you can hear the drops hit the roof. 

View from Traveler’s Rest toward Glacier National Park and Mountains

We unpack, and drive to the East Glacier Trading Post for fresh milk for our breakfast and for my coffee. It is half a mile down the road, and full of just about anything you could need, and some fun stuff you don’t need but can’t resist. In front of the store is the first time we see the notice that masking is required on Blackfeet Nation property, and what is really cool is that there is a box of masks on a table in front of the store free for people who do not have masks to use. The Glacier Trading Post also sells ice cream, and ice cream cones.

We take a quick drive on Two Medicine Drive to the lake.

We also take a quick hike to Running Eagle Falls, greatly reduced from when we visited them in the Spring, a year and a half ago. Then, they were double in height. I just love the story of Running Eagle, and it’s a quick, easy hike.

For dinner Friday night, we choose Serranos, a Mexican restaurant that wasn’t there the last time we stayed in East Glacier. We both ordered Devil’s Stew – WOW. It was mostly pork, stewed in some fiery concoction. I had a bowl, AdventureMan ordered a cup but got a bowl, and he also ordered a tostada. The stew was out of this world, although we are usually a little cautious about eating fiery dishes near to bedtime, oh well. (LOL yes, we suffered, but it was worth it.) We ended up with boxes, and the waitress, who was inexperienced but very kind and a very good server, gave us an extra bag of fresh hot taco chips to take with us.

This was Flathead Cherry cider, not the same as cherry juice. Packed a punch.

It’s little things that people remember. I remember that waitress, and how attentive she was, and how caring, even though she told us she was new on the job. 

September 13, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Hotels, Photos, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment