Let's Talk About Food
The road offers up its many pleasures naturally as you go along. New scenery, history, new places and faces, and sometimes just a plain old fun piece of road to drive. One of my favorite gems to find, however, is food. Every place has its own thing and it's always a treat to stumble onto a great new dish you've never tried, a cool new place, or something extraordinary in a place you'd never expect. These last few days found us doing all of the above. Fair warning! The following post will likely make you very hungry!
We left Laramie Monday morning and, after a brief dip into northern Colorado to Fort Collins, we worked our way up the 25 to where it meets the 90 in Buffalo and then on to Sheridan, WY for the night. This stretch of interstate from Fort Collins north is one of the prettiest stretches of road in the country. The northern plains of Central Colorado quickly give way to the golden hills and rocky outcrops of Wyoming with the Big Horn National Forest to your west the whole way up.
Speaking of food, the third Saturday of June each year is the Chugwater Chili Festival (yes, that's a real thing!). Our timing was off to visit this year but let me give you a five star recommendation if you're out this way at the right time. These guys are serious about chili and this is a nationally recognized event. If you can't get there or don't want to wait for some of the best chili you ever had, you can order it at www.chugwaterchili.com. They'll send you the whole kit to whip up at home. Seriously, you'll be glad you did! To learn more about the festival--you can even enter as a contestant if you think you've got the stuff--go to www.chugwaterchilicookoff.org. You can follow them on Facebook as well.
Sheridan is a very charming western town set in a lovely valley with the Big Horn Mountains just behind. It's big enough to have the stuff you need but small enough to have stuff you just can't find anywhere else.
One of my favorite bars in America is called The Mint Bar and is right on the main drag through town. It is truly unique and it's clientele runs the gamut from cowboys to road crew guys to old time locals. You'll always find a great conversation, a nicely poured libation, great country music on the box, and the most incredible decor anywhere. You can check it out at www.mintbarwyo.com. Click on "Take A Walk" to see what I mean.
The Mint does not serve food, however, so do yourself a favor and start your evening across the street at Cowboy Cafe. An example of finding the fabulous unexpectedly, this joint is just plain amazing. Very humble decor and totally unassuming in every way, the chef here is some kind of genius. I had a grilled chicken and shrimp dish that was plain out of this world and treated myself to bread pudding for dessert. Completely blown away on both counts. Check out the menu for yourself at www.cowboycafewyo.com. Add yourself to their mailing list to get your mouth watering for a trip West.
One last tip in Sheridan is the Trails End Motel. Truly an American classic. It's where I've stayed every time here since I tried it the first time years ago. Great staff, convenient to downtown, well-maintained, and always interesting as places built in sections for different needs over the years usually are. They are currently hosting road crews but also are always hosts to a number of vets in town to use the VA here. Apparently Sheridan's VA is among the best in the US, at least to hear these guys tell it. It's nice to hear something good about the VA for a change! You can check out the motel at www.trailsendmotelsheridan.us. It's a cool spot and they are great folks!!
We set off the next morning and continued on out of Wyoming and into Montana. Montana is among my very favorite places on the planet so I'm always happy to get there. Jacki is a serious trail runner who knows the mountains of Tennessee and the Carolinas well but I always say, "Yes, but Montana...".
Our northernmost destination for the trip was Whitefish, MT so we had a full day of driving ahead. Following the 90 takes you past a number of interesting little places including Crow Agency, MT. It is the capital of the Crow Nation and a blistering indictment of our treatment of Native Americans, right on the highway. Without taking this to an overly political place, I will just say what we and our European ancestors have done and continue to do to these people is a national disgrace. That said, you can visit the Little Bighorn National Monument nearby and, if you've studied the history of the battle and it's participants, you might find yourself curious to learn more. It was a complicated scene on those June days in 1876. For me, Custer got what he so richly deserved. You can decide for yourself by checking out www.nps.gov and searching Little Bighorn. Fascinating history!
We finished up that night in Butte, MT. A gorgeous and historic mining town that has struggled to find its way in the 21st century. We were very pleased to see a few new businesses coming to a downtown that has been mostly on the decline for decades. We relied on old standards for the most part, however, and stayed at The Hotel Finlen on Broadway. This is a western classic that has been lovingly maintained over the years. The main hotel building was completed on New Years Day, 1924, and is a wonderful example of French Second Empire architecture and even has a copper roof, fitting for a town built on copper mining. A gorgeous place to see even if you elect not to stay over!
We chose to stay in the Motor Court section rather than the main building, giving Miss Fawn more room to roam and easier access to outside--which she sometimes needs in a hurry at this stage of her puppydom! This portion of the hotel was added in the 50's or 60's and has been kept pretty much as it was then. Spacious rooms with all of the old mid-century modern furniture and appliances--truly a pleasure to wake up and feel like it's 1963!! You can check it out at www.finlen.com.
Butte has a number of bars and restaurants to choose from, the closest of which to the Finlen is a biker bar called Sparky's Garage. They are known locally for great BBQ and steaks and I had both, in a way. They had a ribeye special for $16.99 that came with two sides, one of which I used to get baked beans. The steak was fine but THE BEANS!! Among the best I have ever tasted--and I lived in Kansas City for 10 years!! You have got to get you some of these if you're out this way!! Check out Sparky's at www.sparkysrestaurant.com. Great service as well as a small casino round out a great night in Butte!
In the morning, I walked over to the BS Cafe which is a personal breakfast favorite. If you're not from Butte, natives don't generally roll out the red carpet and no exception here. Bob and Sandy are cordial and efficient but the love goes into the food, not the welcome. Don't worry, it's not that they don't like you. You're just not from there and they are busy with the steady stream of locals coming in to eat at the counter and pick up breakfast to go. One bite in and you'll understand why they have such a following. I had a Denver omelet this trip (as I do nearly every time here and, as I do nearly every time, explained to Sandy what that was). Bob did his usual fantastic job and my breakfast was an absolute triumph. I'm hungry to get back there just thinking about it! Bob and Sandy don't have a website, they have a cafe. To learn more you'll just have to go! Believe me, you'll be glad you did!
We made our way that morning up to Great Falls and were pretty bummed by all the smoke in the air. Remember, I've been saying to Jacki, "yes, but Montana" for nearly a year. Here we finally were and you just couldn't see it for all its glory. What we could see was incredible and I've included a shot from Lion Lake at Hungry Horse Dam on the edge of Glacier National Park to give you the smallest idea.
We share Glacier with Canada and it doesn't disappoint at any place. It's an experience like no other and I will not attempt to use my meager words hear to describe it but here's a Pro Tip nonetheless: Take the Going To The Sun Road. Just do it. Plan ahead, though. It's only open about 3 months per year.
Another Pro Tip for you: When you visit Hungry Horse, stop for some huckleberry pie and ice cream at Willow's Huckleberry Jam and Pie Factory on the way back into town. It's incredible. I had the best intentions of supplying a picture here but I ate mine literally standing up in the parking lot--could not get it in my face fast enough. You can check out the place and the Willows family by searching them and huckleberry pie. They don't have a website but there are plenty of pics online to give you an idea.
In Whitefish I always stay at the Downtowner Inn, an old time highway motel in the heart of town. Easy walking distance to every place you'd want to go, the coolest of which is the Palace Bar. There since 1903, it has a storied and inspiring history to say the least. Two words: Mouse Racing. Not making that up.
It was finally time to make the turn towards home--now 1018 miles to our south. No, we did not do that in a day. It so happens that Whitefish is about the start of US 93 so it's a straight ride down to Vegas through some of the most beautiful country this country has to offer. It's mostly two-lane and worth every foot. Montana, Idaho, Nevada. That's the good stuff, my friends.
Our first night south ended up being in Salmon, ID after about 280 breathtaking miles. And I mean breathtaking. This is two-handed driving country! We made a ton of art and wound up at a place called Sacajawea Inn. WHAT A FIND!! Can't rave about this place enough!! Super cute and beautifully maintained rooms, an unbelievable $3 ($3!!!) breakfast, and a great location walking distance to town. Not to mention what may be the friendliest, most accommodating staff I've ever encountered. A total treat!!
The room was really nice sized and the beds were amazing!! Worn flannel sheets with similarly soft blankets and comforter made our best night sleep on the trip. Fawn loved jumping around the furniture as well as the grassy area out front for romps. I loved the easy stroll into town for dinner at the Owl Club. I've been by this place a few times but never had a chance to stop before. It's a bar, not a restaurant, but they bring in food from home which turned out to be delicious chili dogs in this case. I absolutely chowed down. Great pours at great prices rounded out a very pleasant evening indeed! The Owl Club is as historic as it gets and features an owl storefront that has been shot full of arrows--apparently a swipe at local laws that don't allow for the discharge of weapons in town. That, friends of the revolution, is local color. See the club by searching it in Salmon, lots of images and videos will give you the idea. For the motel, visit www.sacajaweainnsalmon.us. We're definitely going back and I hope we'll see you there!
Here we decided to take an awesome detour. How that works is usually me saying something like, "Hey, let's go to Tonopah (in this case)!" Followed by a brief description and Jacki saying saying something like, "Hell yes!" You'd think people that have been home less than 30 days this year might be in more of a hurry to get there but not these kids. So, we drove to Tonopah by way of Jackpot, NV.
Jackpot is basically a hell hole just inside Nevada meant for convenient cross state line gambling for Idaho--a purpose it fills nicely. You won't see a lot in the travel guides to rave about but let me share a serious dining tip: Pancho Villa's at the Horseshu Casino. Do yourself a favor and order the prime rib burrito. One of things that exists only here and is totally delicious. Truly a find for any burrito lover. Forget Chipotle. They really have no idea. I included a pic here and you can see more offerings at www.cactuspetes.com. They are part of Pinnacle so be prepared for a big website. Easier just to go to Jackpot!
We finally wound up Saturday night in Tonopah and we're DELIGHTED to find that the Mizpah Hotel had a room available! One of the loveliest properties in the West, it was built in 1905 and was remodeled most recently in 2011 by the Cline and Jacuzzi (yes, that Jacuzzi!) families. It is a treasure in every way. The Pittman Cafe is fantastic--eat there as often as they'll let you (I had five meals there in two days)--and the place is just gorgeous throughout. They are pet friendly-ish; $10 per pet per night and you can only stay in one of two rooms which they save for that purpose it seems. They present your pet with a fantastic little welcome kit, however, that makes the small hassle well worth it. Fawn gives it four paws up! We spent the weekend and relaxed like champs. See more about the Mizpah at www.themizpahhotel.com. It's an incredibly romantic, amazing place. You will be transported.
15 days and a few thousand miles later, we're back home where we started and pleased to be here indeed. Sorry for the slight delay in this week's post but yesterday was Labor Day and Jacki and I took the day off! This week we'll be putting together our fall travels which will finish out September and October primarily in the Northeast and Midwest. Stay tuned!!
*We are not sponsored for any of our posts. We love all of the places we recommend and would love to see them thrive. Hopefully we'll see you there!