The north entrance/exit of Yellowstone brings you into the neighboring town of Gardiner Montana on the Wyoming/Montana border. River Motel owner Gayle Phillips had an exceptionally warm personality and upgraded us to a suite. Of course, like most small towns, little was open after 8 pm, so we had to scramble to catch a bite to eat. It was here where we had our most expensive dinner on the trip to-date, at the Italian Park Street Grill on the main drag. The food was fabulous and while overly priced for what it was, it marked a watershed for the rest of the trip.
Montana and Idaho were to be the more nurturing states on the trip, and while this didn’t mean adding expensive hotels and restaurants to the agenda, it did mean slowing down, reducing the number of miles per day, adding a nice glass of wine to a meal, and hanging out a bit later in the evening.
Montana allowed for that since we were passing through college towns Bozeman and Missoula. Montana also has a wildness to it that other states can’t compare to.
We missed Red Lodge Montana where I had fond memories of pouring a bucket of water over Ray Lewis’ head after a drunken evening in a biker bar where I became alias British writer Angela Duncan for the night. After inviting some heavily tattooed Harley Davidson riders to our Motel 6 after a bit of pool and swing dancing on tables, Ray dragged me out of the place before things got a little too wild. I still blame Ray for loading me up on 75 cents tequila shots. Despite my thundering hangover the next morning, it was indeed a night to remember.
There’s something about the color of Montana’s interior that melt me; its one of those places that while sparsely populated and immensely vast and open, its nostalgic emptiness grabs you, draws you in and says “paint me, write about me, dance with me, hike my mountains, swim in my rivers….”
It’s a wild place and yet incredibly quiet and peaceful. It’s population is not much higher than South Dakota at less than a million. Famous for its fly-fishable rivers, mountains, big sky and bears, I think of its plains, and its eclectic mix of artists, song writers, athletes and students in the towns and cities in between the mountains. It’s also a health conscious place with wheat grass and vegetarian restaurants available in the main towns.
Its mystical appeal brought me back to explore the northern route some four years later, this time sans hot springs, sans biker bars, sans camping……just large wild mountains and wide open plains in conjunction with some of the best tunes I’ve heard in years. It was here that we went through the entire 1970s Collection (all 10 CDs), Tony Robbins Unleashing the Power Within from start to finish, and the best of Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, John Cougar, Rush and Fleetwood Mac.
The drives are long but breathtaking and sacred with the occasional middle American eye soars – a propane gas tank on the left, piles of timber on the right, America’s Universal Health Station and a McDonalds sign blaring in the distance. Alas, welcome to Livingstone, the point where we had to choose Billings to the East or Bozeman to the West. Petrol shot back up from $1.80 to $1.98 but still nowhere close to the $2.45 per gallon prices which were waiting for us in California.
Sadly, we blew through Bozeman, a small town with a lot of charm, which has sprouted in recent years into a vibrant, fast growing hub. My time in Bozeman a few years ago was full of lazy afternoons sitting in outdoor cafes with porches, hammocks and birdcages, eating vegetarian Indian food and Chai Tea. The Main Street is lined with boutique shops, colorfully dressed college students and has a view of the Bridger Mountains in the distance. We hiked in Hyalite Canyon to the south of the town before heading to Missoula, another Montana college town to the north.