After I left Yellowstone National Park, I began the 85 mile drive to Bozeman, MT. It was the end of a long day of driving and I was exhausted. Also, the sky was dark, cloudy and ominous looking. I entered Montana – the state I’d been dreaming about since I first started contemplating this journey. This state has fascinated me ever since I watched A River Runs Through It. All I have been able to think about is how much I want to see the immensity of the sky in this state.
I passed through the town of Gardiner and then headed north into the Gallitin National Forest. The huge Absurakoka and Gallitin Mountain ranges immediately appeared before me – gigantic, overwhelming, and just a bit ominous. Perhaps it was because of the dark cloudy sky, but I felt intimidated, small, and scared as I drove through them. I continued on, and then noticed the beautiful Yellowstone River right next to me. It’s beauty as it wound around back and forth, sparkling and fresh, comforted me as I drove along the lonely expanse of 89.
At the town of Livingston, I turned onto Interstate 90, almost breathing a sigh of relief after the extreme solitude of the previous hour’s drive. In 30 minutes I drove over a little hill and the town of Bozeman appeared before me, surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. I took my exit and shortly pulled into my stay for the night, The Rainbow Motel. As soon as I saw it, my heart dropped. From the outside, it appeared shabby and dated, something I would stay at when I was traveling with my family as a kid.
Oh, well, I thought, it’s only for one night. I entered the lobby to check in, and a sturdy, no-nonsense but friendly Montana bred woman checked me in. And I got an actual plastic old fashioned key. With building dread, I found my room, turned the key, and walked in – to one of the cleanest, most well maintained rooms that I’ve been in my entire trip. The bedding was brand new and beautiful. The towels were snow white and soft! The bathroom was spotless! I was relieved and delighted. Exhausted from the long day in two national parks, and too tired to go out for food, I poured myself a bourbon on the rocks, grabbed a little sweet cigar, and walked outside to enjoy the sun setting – marveling that it did so at 9:45pm!!! It was so beautiful and peaceful. I enjoyed the night breeze and the colors of the sky.
The next day I rose early. Since I’d not eaten dinner the night before, I went out in search of a good breakfast. Thanks to the wonders of Yelp, I saw a highly recommended little diner, The Western Cafe, right in downtown Bozeman. I walked in and was immediately taken with it. It was small, decorated like a page out of Field and Stream, had a long counter on the right and some small booths on the left. Country music was playing in the background. It was cozy and inviting. I took a seat at the counter and a handsome bald bearded guy with an earring and tattoos brought me a mug of coffee and a menu. I didn’t need it, as reviews on Yelp highly recommended the homemade biscuits and gravy. I ordered that with two eggs over easy and it came out in no seconds flat (I could see the cook preparing it!). It was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.
While I was eating, a middle aged man with curly gray hair came in and sat next to me at the counter. He was obviously a regular, as the workers there greeted him by name (Rick) and brought him coffee and juice right off the bat. He lamented to me the construction downtown and how hard it’d been to get around. I said, well, I”m just passing through so I hadn’t noticed! He asked where I was from, I told him, Kentucky, and he said he’d lived in Montana his whole life. He asked what brought me to Bozeman, so I told him that I’d quit my job, sold my house, and was on an adventure around the country for a few months. He was fascinated by my trip and called over the owner of the cafe, whom he introduced to me as Susan. He said “This young lady quit her job, sold her house and is driving around on an adventure!” She looked at me in amazement an exclaimed “Honey,that takes alot of guts!” I sat there long after I’d finshed eating, drinking coffee and talking to these friendly folks. I had the best vibe in there – I wanted to stay there all day. Finally I paid my bill, and when I got up from the counter and said my goobyes, Susan came over with a bag of food for me and said, “Here you go hon, for the road.” I got a lump in my throat and I felt on the verge of tears, so touched by this kind and generous gesture by a perfect stranger. And I am more firmly than ever convinced that you get back what you put out.
I made a couple more stops before leaving Bozeman, and snapped a few pictures of the mountains surrounding this lovely little town as I left.
I headed west on Interstate 90 towards Missoula. With a clear blue sky and the sun shining brightly, I finally saw what I’d only imagined in my mind – the immensity of the sky in Montana. It is so immense that I just cannot capture it in the limited frame of a camera. You have to see it to really experience it. After an hour and a half of very flat terrain, the mountains appeared before me again and I kept noticing more winding creeks alongside me. These are fascinating to me, they are so prisitine and isolated and beautiful, and I was determined to find a way to get right next to one. About 20 miles outside of Missoula, I noticed a little exit for a state park. I turned off the interstate and made my way to a tiny little campground/park called Rock Creek Recreation area. I drove down a lonely little road, and there I saw it! The most beautiful little private little creek. I sat there for about a half hour enjoying the solitude.
I finally made it into Missoula and checked into my motel. I planned to be there two days. I needed to have my brakes looked at – they had made me a bit uncomfortable on Teton Pass, and I wanted to make sure they were checked out before I continued on my journey. I called a local Midas and made an appointment for the following morning. I made my way to downtown Missoula and found a little local spot and had a couple of delicious sliders and some sweet potato fries as I enjoyed a White Sox/Tigers game on TV.
The next morning I loaded up my backpack with my computer and snacks, just in case my car required a long repair. I drove downtown and dropped it off, found a little local coffee spot and enjoyed a brew before finding some breakfast. I stopped in yet another local spot, The Hob Nob, very tiny, but enjoyed an amazing corned beef hash breakfast.
When I walked out the door I heard music – a guitar. I popped my head back in the restaurant and asked where it was coming from. The gal replied that Missoula holds a lunchtime concert series every day down at the river park, with food trucks and activities for kids including a carousel. So I made my way across the bridge that spans the Clark Fork River. Oh, another river for me to enjoy! I made my way down to the rocky banks, took my shoes off, and stepped into the cold clear beautiful water. Another one of my dreams fufilled – to have my feet in a Montana River.
After that, I walked into the River Park and enjoyed a little music and walked through the long long tents with lots and lots of food vendors. I found a little ice cream stand and asked the gal what she would recommend and she said, “Well, you’re in Montana, you have to try the Huckleberry!” I opted for that, and she offered another scoop of a different flavor, and I chose Mexican Chocolate. It was delicious!
My phone rang – my car was ready for me, and it was only 12:30! I walked the short distance to the shop and picked up my car, which had nice new front rotors. I headed back to the motel and wrote the rest of the afternoon. That night, I sat outside on a picnic bench and witnessed one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. Again, I wish my pictures could do it justice.
A lovely ending to a few days in the most beautiful state I’ve seen yet.