Montana: Big Sky

First, apologies for such a long delay between blog posts.  I could blame it on sorting out health insurance, car troubles and planning our trip to Asia etc., but such a hiatus is simply an unacceptable way to treat my beloved readers!

In an attempt to return myself to your good graces, I have some breaking news to share: Montana is really big.  And it is sparsely populated.  If you find yourself lamenting that the world has become too crowded, spend a little time in these parts.

August 29, 2013 (Thursday) – We packed up camp and set out from Idaho for a luxurious wedding weekend in Big Sky, Montana.  Route 3 put us on I-90 a bit east of Coeur d’Alene and we avoided driving the same road as yesterday.  At an elevation above 4700’, we crossed Lookout Pass into Montana.  There is an eponymous ski resort located here, though I would not imagine it merits more than an hour or two of travel.

Interstate 90 passes most of the state’s largest cities and we broke for lunch in Missoula.  Only burgers are on offer at the Missoula Club, perhaps the executive chef sought the no-creativity crown from the name-giver.  We sat at the bar with a close-up view of the flat-top where the chef prepared some very tasty burgers.  Two singles with American cheese, mine with bacon, and a root beer to split.  The Mo Club also serves shakes and malts.  It is reminiscent of a double-deep, alcohol-serving, Montana style version of White Hut (credit to Jenni).

In addition to solid grub and ambiance, I had a wonderful “technology is everywhere” experience here.  The walls are covered with old black and white photographs of University of Montana and local high school athletic teams.  An older fellow saw me admiring the display and approached to tell me that he was on the 1953 state championship football team (and that his son owns nearby Red’s bar, I think).  He then pulled out his iPhone to show me pictures of a recent team reunion and told me he posted them on Facebook, after which he heard from classmates he had not communicated with in 50 years.

I grabbed a coffee at La Bella Vita, which is the first combo belle epoque furnishings / barista establishment I have visited.  We continued east on I-90 and spotted a billboard for the Testicle Festival.  How bizarre that Dave and Barbra did not choose their wedding weekend to coincide with this romantic event?  The drive was fairly scenic, much of it along a river.  Especially so on Route 191 which I believe runs through the Gallatin Valley from Bozeman south to Big Sky.  Apart from the usual summer construction delays, the trip was smooth.

Seth and Jill had already checked in so we went straight to the Mountain Home we had booked at Moonlight Basin.  Our foursome headed back down the hill towards 191 where we saw a big moose right on the side of the road!  We grabbed drinks, snacks and breakfast supplies at the aptly named Hungry Moose Market & Deli in the Big Sky Town Center before heading to Dave’s rented home where Dana cooked up some terrific chicken wings and ribeye steaks.  It was so nice to catch up with Dave’s family and meet Barbra’s.  The stars were outstanding.

August 30, 2013 (Friday) – Today we went to Yellowstone, but I am going to cover that in a separate post.  Many more wedding guests arrived today so in the evening we had dinner with close friends at Buck’s T-4 Lodge down on Route 191.  The menu was more extensive and upscale than I had anticipated, and we all shared an excellent pheasant quesadilla plus Jenni and I split pan seared red deer loin with truffle risotto and Montana natural lamb.  It is a nice place and the meal was tasty, though not superb.  Some of us hung out for a while back at our house.

Lone Mountain Trail runs about 10 miles from Route 191 up to Moonlight Basin.  There are a few different commercial areas, it appeared that the Big Sky Town Center is the most robust.  The scenery is great and the wildlife most impressive.  Lone Peak is a commanding pyramid that stands guard at 11,116 feet of elevation.  The meadow area closer to 191 sits around 6,000 feet and Moonlight Basin around 8,000 feet.  In addition to the moose mentioned above, we saw many deer, some bighorn sheep on the roadside, others saw a bear near the lodge on wedding day and Jenni promises she saw a wolf in the early morning on our drive to Yellowstone!  A few of us may also have seen a wolf.  Our hearts tell us so, though statistics might suggest it was a coyote.  But it sure did look like a wolf.

Aside from the dining options I tried, some recommended spots include Blue Moon Bakery, Choppers Grub and Pub, Lotus Pad, Broken Spoke, Olive B’s, Rainbow Ranch, The Corral Bar and Steakhouse and The Cabin Bar and Grill.

August 31, 2013 (Saturday) – Today was a great day.  We saw Seth’s ass and didn’t even have to use the A.K.  Plus, Bugaboo Cafe cooked the Montana Size breakfast sandwiches with much hog.  We grabbed these before rehearsing at the chapel and then heading to white water rafting the Gallatin River.  Montana Whitewater Rafting Company guided us through mostly class 1 and 2 rapids.  In my raft were Jenni, Phil, Seth and Jill.  The weather was perfect.  Seth was cajoled into joining after declining via email because he was only interested in class 4+.  After all, it was not long ago that he had run a West Virginia dam release with class 5 and 6 rapids.  Shortly after we set out, the raft hit a little bump in a mild rapid and out popped Seth.  We all laughed hard.  Phil immediately reached for him and ended up pulling down his shorts.  But we believe he re-secured his under garments before being pulled out of the water.  At which point his shorts caught on the rope on the side of the raft, and he was left flopped over the side, half in and half out, limp as a dead fish, big white ass facing the world with his shorts at his ankles.  This was one of the funniest experiences of my life.  A raft with the same company (but visitors outside our crew) was in perfect position just upstream and the guide got some amazing shots.

MOONlight Basin, the PG-13 version
MOONlight Basin, the PG-13 version

At this point in the season the river was pretty mild, but whitewater rafting is always supremely enjoyable.  Nobody did the zip line also offered onsite.  After some relaxing jacuzzi time on our home’s deck, we boarded the 4:30 pm school bus shuttle to the rehearsal dinner.  The ride up to the mountain top pig roast catered through Cache Creek Outfitters was on a narrow dirt road that we shared with some cows.  With a little vino in hand, we took a horse-wagon loop ride and enjoyed the views and late afternoon light.  The pig was wonderfully tasty (I went just with the Carolina-style vinegar sauce though there was also a sweet sauce), there were heartfelt toasts, a s’mores station and a local bluegrass type band.  Another highlight was the welcome/warning  from the proprietor informing us that there was a grizzly in the area so think twice before wandering off.

The after party, of course, was at our house.  We put a large dent in the Glenlivet 12 that Koz had given me, and Jenni wowed the crowd with her backcountry knowledge that Dorito’s make an excellent fire-starter.  I guess if Duraflame tasted as good then I might shrug off all those chemicals, too.

September 1, 2013 (Sunday) – I cooked some bacon, eggs and cheese then relaxed a bit before donning my tuxedo and visiting Dave and Barbra’s new cottage and then the lodge for some wedding party pictures.  Newly endowed with stylish blue-striped socks, a fine silk bow-tie and a Tiffany money clip, I was ready to celebrate the marriage of one of my dearest friends in the world.  We had a fabulous night of dancing to an awesome Montana band, followed by an after party in the penthouse suite at the lodge and then the after after party back at our house.  We hit the pillow around 4:30 am, best I recollect.

September 2, 2013 (Monday) – We beat the odds and made it to the brunch at Dave’s original mountain house.  I was pretty crushed and placed low odds on completing the six-hour drive to Glacier National Park.  A large iced latte from the coffee stand (these are ubiquitous in this region) in the Conoco lot at the intersection of Lone Mountain Trail and Route 191 helped us get started.  After passing through Helena we stopped for gas in the tiny town of Augusta.  It would have been cheaper in Choteau but this is not territory flush with civilization.  The drive becomes especially scenic around Dupuyer where the Rockies loom to the west juxtaposed against the plains to the east.  Dinner was a sordid affair consumed between the Taco John’s drive through in seemingly dejected Browning and our campsite at Two Medicine on the east side of Glacier.  TJ’s makes Taco Bell feel like organic kale and quinoa.

Please note that I cannot insert a hyperlink to Two Medicine campground at the moment because lunatics have hijacked the Republican party and shut down the federal government.  But hey, when you can print the world’s reserve currency and after trillions it remains so, why not shove your middle finger in the rest of the world’s face and hope for the best?

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