Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Thinking Outside The Park

Ready for a change of pace? Leave Bison Backup behind and head into town.

We headed west for the natural beauty and the spectacle that is offered by national parks in Wyoming and Montana. That beauty and spectacle, of course, do not end when you leave the parks. There is plenty to see and do before and after spending time in each park, and we tried to get a sense of the local life at every place we visited.

We began and finished our trips to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks in Bozeman, Montana. Yellowstone is less than two hours south of Bozeman, and Glacier is about 5 hours north, so it was an appropriate place to fly into to launch and terminate our journey. While in Bozeman, we stayed at the Fox Hollow Bed and Breakfast which is quite near the airport and is an easy drive from the interesting parts of town. Our hosts were Mike and Nancy, and they could not have made us feel more at home. Low-key and down to earth, they were welcoming in all ways, and our stay there was just about perfect on both ends of the trip.

Red Molly
Bozeman is a charming college town with a small and diverse downtown with plenty of good choices for food and drink, as well as a superb independent bookstore, The Country Bookshelf. A favorite meal was had at Montana Ale Works, a casual and roomy place with a diverse menu and interesting local beer list.  A highlight of our time in Bozeman was a concert by Red Molly at the historic Ellen Theater. We had never heard of this talented trio who are a little bit country, and we loved their original tunes as well as their arrangements of songs by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Simon & Garfunkel. If they are in a town near you, I encourage you to seek them out!

Once in Yellowstone, we chose to leave the park one night since we wanted to see what the local folks are doing away from the “bison backup” created by wildlife and tourists. We headed to West Yellowstone, Wyoming one evening for dinner at the Bar N Ranch, about an hour’s drive from the park.  It was an amazingly terrific meal in a beautiful, large space. True to its name, it feels like a bar and a ranch, and the food and drinks were a pleasant diversion from National Park food. Of particular note were the Montana strip loin and the blueberry/raspberry crisp (with huckleberry ice cream, of course!).  We followed up dinner with a local rodeo that I will not soon forget. I had never been to a rodeo before and I suspect we were the only tourists there.  There was a caller, of course, and even a rodeo clown, and we enjoyed the playful competition among cowboys and animals in this authentic atmosphere. Our favorite part was the “Kids’ Scramble” which provided children to enter the ring with smaller cows to try their hand at what may become their future calling!  Take a look.

Heading to Glacier National Park, we stopped for lunch at Park Café in St. Mary, Montana.  You are nearly in the park once you reach this place, but don’t pass it up.  It feels like it is out of another era or, maybe, “Twin Peaks”, but the food is hearty in what is otherwise a nutritional wasteland, and you do not want to miss their pies. The variety is impressive and ours did not disappoint.  While in Glacier National Park we saw our personable waitress from the Park Café at our hotel bar and she encouraged us to return for breakfast. On our departure day, we took her good advice and had a hearty (don’t skip the pancake) meal to fill us for our long drive back to Bozeman.

As we did in Yellowstone, we left Glacier one night for dinner to check out the highly recommended Cattle Baron Supper Club in Babb, Montana.  Don’t get the wrong impression from the name.  This is not much of a “club” but a downhome steakhouse with all the trimmings.  Share a steak, though, as they are HUGE, and can certainly satisfy two people. With the steak comes a nice salad, and the best homemade bread I had on our entire trip.

The National Parks are filled with tourists of all kinds.  One cannot complain because you are that camera-wielding wildlife lover, too. It is nice, therefore, to get out of the parks and see how the regional residents spend their time. We were glad we did at every stop, though nothing can outdo the peace and quiet of a kayak on a still lake with purple mountains majesty all around you.

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