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Calm and Community

July 31, 2020

Radio personality Todd Herman described the upcoming 2020 elections as a choice: “Chaos and Communism or Calm and Community.”

With a hat tip to Mr. Herman, I’ll borrow his phrase to describe what I saw on a little vacation road trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Nothing but Calm and Community up there. Here’s my road trip chronicle — including breakfast photos! To drum up business for the deserving, I’ll throw in some links to some local businesses I patronized.

Nine Days Total. Enjoy!

Friday July 10, 2020, Day 1
6-hour drive from Colorado up to Lander in central Wyoming, just northwest of historic South Pass. Lander is smallish town (population 7,487) oriented towards tourists seeking outdoor recreation. Main street boasts a brewery with live music on summer weekends and two ice cream stands.

Veterans Memorial outside Fremont County Courthouse. Lander, Wyoming
Elk statue in front of the Pronghorn Lodge in Lander, Wyoming

A few links:
Pronghorn Lodge
Holiday Lodge Lander
To quench your thirst try the Lander Bar. Outdoor live music on Friday night.

Saturday July 11, 2020, Day 2
Up with the dawn (5 am) and out the door by 5:30 in time to catch McDonald’s opening hours for an Egg McMuffin breakfast to go.

Just outside Lander along US 287 I caught some mid-summer hay fields in the early morning light. Those are the Wind River Mountains in the background.

Like something out of Van Gogh, hay fields in Wyoming’s Wind River Valley

As the combined routes US 287 and US 26 head northwest towards the continental divide at Togwatee Pass, the human stories of this land become as dramatic and colorful as the scenery surrounding it. I pass Crowheart Butte — named for the grisly outcome of a long-ago battle over hunting grounds between the Shoshone and Crow tribes.

Historical sign explaining Crowheart Butte
Crowheart Butte

At a turnout a few miles up the road the scenery gets even more colorful where Wind River breaks through a red rock canyon.

Highways 26/287 continue past the mountain town of Dubois, Wyoming, and on toward the Continental Divide. The road reaches the divide at Togwatee Pass.

On the western side of the pass, the peaks of the Grand Tetons come into view, getting larger in the windshield as the miles went by.

For the next 4 hours I drive west through Idaho farming country, stopping only for a Jack-in-the-Box burger in the industrious town of Rexburg, Idaho and at a gas station in Dell, Montana along Interstate 15.

Lemhi Pass, where Lewis & Clark crossed the Continental Divide on their way across the continent to the Pacific.

Lemhi Pass, looking westward into Idaho
Lemhi Pass looking eastward back into Montana
Historical sign explaining the crossing of the Continental Divide by Lewis & Clark at Lemhi Pass
Continental Divide
Lemhi Pass looking west. I posted this on Facebook along with caption below:

Looking west from the summit of Lemhi Pass. On August 12, 1805, Captain Meriwether Lewis finally  reached the Continental Divide at this place. Lewis viewed the same aspect as in the attached photo — mountain ranges as far as the eye can see — and realized that there was no Northwest water passage along this route. Today, July 11, 2020, from the very spot where Meriwether Lewis stood in 1805, I am able to dictate my words into an i-phone, take a photo with that same phone, and post both the words and the picture for the entire world to see instantly.

The ‘High point’ of the journey
The steep road down the western side of Lemhi Pass

Sunday July 12, 2020, Day 3
Sunday was a day of rest, mostly, except for a drive along the rapids of the Salmon River.

Salmon River, downstream of North Fork, Idaho

After crossing the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Lewis and Clark figured they would make dugout canoes from the local timber and just float their way downstream until they reached the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Captain William Clark, a master boatsman, reconnoitered the Salmon River on horseback for some 20 miles below current day North Fork, Idaho. Seeing the river’s extreme rapids and rocky banks, it was near this exact point that Lewis and Clark gave up on the water route down the Salmon.

Salmon River near where Captain Clark turned back.

The Salmon River rollicks through these mountains for hundreds of miles and is, in fact, far too dangerous for travel by dugout canoes. These days, however, scientifically designed inflatable rafts take whitewater rafters downriver all the time — young and old, human and sometimes canine, with oars and usually beers in hand.

The dirt road along the banks of the Salmon ends just below the point where the Middle Fork of the Salmon joins the main branch. Beyond this lies the River of No Return Wilderness, perhaps the most remote area in the continental United States.

The carving on the log reads: Middle Fork of the Salmon — Yonder lies the Idaho Wilderness

Monday July 13, 2020, Day 4
Salmon, Idaho has beautiful mornings:

From the hotel room balcony. Salmon River foreground, Beaverhead Mountains background.

Breakfast at the Red Dog Diner on Main Street, which is actually part of a gas station. Aren’t all the best bbq places located in gas stations, like Joe’s in Kansas City? In this gas station you get breakfast and can listen to the local old men talk politics.

Red Dog Diner. Salmon, Idaho

Here’s a look around the calm community of Salmon, Idaho, population 3,112 and county seat of Lemhi County:

Main Street. Salmon Idaho
Lemhi County Courthouse
Salmon River

Links:
Bear Country Inn
Stagecoach Inn Salmon
Red Dog Diner
Junk Yard Bistro
St. Charles Catholic Church, Salmon

Back in the car by mid-morning. I’m heading north to Missoula, Montana the east to Helena.

Stickering the Montana sign has become a popular pastime for bicyclists and hikers.

Following Lewis & Clark’s route (for a while) north into Montana’s secret Bitterroot Valley. Huckleberries grow here and I had to include them in my lunch in Hamilton, Montana (population 4,348 and growing fast).

Lunch at the Coffee Cup Cafe in Hamilton, Montana. Huckleberry pie included.
Pie and Pastry display
Calm and Community at the Coffee shop

Link:
Coffee Cup Cafe, Hamilton, Montana

On a whim I decided to get off US 93 and take a backroad up to Missoula. I stopped for this:

Ranchland in the Bitterroot Valley. Near Stevenson, Montana
An old Montana homestead. Available.

Link: Holiday Inn Express, Helena, Montana (population 28,190)

Tuesday July 14, 2020, Day 5
Breakfast at Steve’s Cafe in Helena!

Chicken Fried Steak with hashbrowns. Eggs over easy.

Link: Steve’s Cafe, Breakfast and lunch among friends. Click the link — just looking at the photo will make you hungry.

Today I’m off across the Montana plains to see some small towns and courthouses. First stop, Townsend (population 1,878).

Broadway Street Townsend, Montana
Photos of seniors from the Class of 2020 have been placed up and down Main Street.

The practice of putting photos of graduating seniors on town light poles will become a theme among Montana towns I visit today.

Missouri River Trading Post, Antique store.
A bungalow on Broadway, Townsend, converted to professional offices.

On down the road, through some hills and ranches to White Sulphur Springs, Montana (population 939).

2 Basset Brewery White Sulphur Springs
Main Street White Sulphur Springs
Inside the Meagher County Courthouse

Next stop: Harlowton, Montana (population 997)

Statue at the Wheatland County Courthouse, Harlowton, Montana
Old bank building, Harlowton
St. Joseph Church, Harlowton
The old Graves Hotel, Harlowton, Montana

Late in the afternoon I arrived in Billings, Montana (population 109,577). I took some photos from the ridge above the city.

Billings, Montana from the airport area

I’ve enjoyed each of my many visits to Billings. Billings has a surprisingly vibrant downtown with a good choice of hotels, restaurants, steakhouses, brewpubs, and Montana casinos. A few short blocks away, old-town Billings has its own group of bars and restaurants clustered around the old train station.

Links: most convenient yet affordable lodging in downtown Billings: The Clocktower
Fanciest restaurant in Billings ($30-50 per person): Walkers Grill. See and be seen at the bar, if you’re into that.

Wednesday July 16, 2020, Day 5
Breakfast!

Breakfast at Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery

Link: Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery

Breakfast is free with a night’s stay at the Clocktower. Opens early at 5:30. Dare yourself to walk out of this place without one of their giant cinnamon rolls.

Pompey’s Pillar:

Pompey’s Pillar

Pompey’s Pillar National Historic site lies about an hour east of Billings along I-94. The rock formation along the Yellowstone River has been used as a landmark and register for travelers for centuries. Its most famous signatory carved his name into the rock in 1806:

W. Clark. July 25, 1806

William Clark and half of the Lewis and Clark expedition came this way on their return trip from the Pacific in the summer of 1806. Clark inscribed his name and named the edifice “Pompey’s Pillar” after Sacajawea’s infant son, who was nicknamed “Pomp” by the crew. (Captain Lewis and the other half of the company as exploring the Marias River in northern Montana at the time. The two sections would rendezvous at the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers a shortly thereafter.

Visitors can climb up to see the preserved markings:

Pompey’s Pillar

The area has a calm, park-like setting.

Yellowstone River at Pompey’s Pillar
Yellowstone River
A beaver or groundhog, or some other critter or varmint-like mammal enjoys an early feed before more people arrive.

I stopped in Baker, Montana (population 1,741), near the North Dakota line, to find another town honoring its graduating seniors with lamppost fame. Perhaps the town does this every year, but it’s a very nice gesture for the class of 2020 who didn’t have a formal graduation ceremony. I’ll do my part to make them famous.

Link: Corner Bar Saloon, Baker. Sandwiches for lunch for me. Sat at the bar without drinking. Stuck a $20 in one of the Montana video poker games and quit with $22.50. Pool tables not being used during the lunch hour.

Into North Dakota. Wide fields of canola near the town of Bowman (population 1,650) in the extreme southwestern part of the state.

Farmers at work (aren’t they always?)

Amidon (population 20), Slope County, North Dakota once billed itself as America’s smallest county seat, but no longer. Wikipedia has the skinny (link):

Amidon was the smallest incorporated county seat in the 2000 census. When the 2010 census reported its population as 20, it became the second-smallest incorporated county seat after Brewster, Nebraska, with a population of 17. In 2000, Amidon had 26 people to Brewster’s 29.

There are two other unincorporated county seats that are smaller: Mentone, Texas (population 19), the county seat of Loving County, and Gann Valley, South Dakota (population 14), the county seat of Buffalo County, South Dakota.

Slope County Courthouse. Amidon, North Dakota
Gone but not forgotten
1919: American Legion First Annual Encampment after the end of the Great War. Amidon, North Dakota

I end the day with a long drive to Minot (population 40,888), North Dakota, past oil wells, fracking towers, and wide bright canola fields sprinkled with glacial ponds called ‘sloughs’ (more on those later).

Link: Staybridge Suites Minot

Thursday July 16, 2020, Day 7
Hotel breakfast. Mistake. Should have eaten at Denny’s down the road.

I was rewarded with an early morning view of the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Minot.

A black bird photobombing my landscape
Souris River
Canola Fields

The town of Mohall (population 783), Renville County North Dakota. This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip — a city worker using a heavy forklift to carry a crate of water and a sprinkler attachment to water all the town’s flower pots.

Using heavy machinery to water the town’s flower pots on Main Street
Memorial Courthouse, Renville County, Mohall, North Dakota
St. Jerome’s Church, Mohall, North Dakota
Main Street, Mohall North Dakota

Finally, this. Found in a basement meeting room of the county courthouse.

Read this. It was probably written during one of the World Wars

The town of Bottineau, North Dakota, population 2,211.

The town’s namesake, Pierre Bottineau. Trapper and guide.
Grain elevators. A common sight on the Plains

In the background of the next photo, Main Street can be seen ascending the heights north of town called Turtle Mountain. More on Turtle Mountain later.

Main Street, Bottineau, North Dakota
A bank becomes a bar

Somehow I missed the highlight of Bottineau, the Pride Dairy. They are the last small town creamery in North Dakota, yet they supply their ice cream, cheeses, and syrups to locations as far away as Mount Rushmore. Hint: try their ice cream bars, called ‘Cow Pies.’ Larger and more delicious than the average ice cream bar.

Link: The Pride Dairy

The International Peace Garden:

Entrance to the International Peace Garden, on the boundary line between the United States and Canada

Link: The International Peace Garden. Situated literally on the boundary line between North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba, this park was dedicated on July 14, 1932 to peace between the two large North American neighboring countries. This site in particular was chosen with a nod to its location near the geographical center of North America.

It was here in the Peace Garden gift shop that I first tried ice cream from the Pride Dairy in Bottineau — and was so sorry I hadn’t stopped at their ice cream parlor when I was in town. Their ice cream is fantastic!

One last photo of the Peace Garden shows an international boundary marker and the clearing marking the boundary extending in the far distance.

International boundary between the United States (left) and Canada (right)

I took some back roads I had found on the map on my way back to Minot for the night. These little roads led along the crest of Turtle Mountain within five miles of the Canadian border. At one point I saw a highway road sign that simply said “Point of Interest” with an arrow pointing to a driveway off to right. No other explanation. Ok, I like mysteries, so I pulled up the driveway, around a bend and found this:

Mystical Horizons

It’s a small park called Mystical Horizons (link) and it’s not shown or advertised on any map — I don’t know why.

This one or two acre park, unmanned, has a replica of Stonehenge-like astronomical clocks, a sundial, and a Polaris sighting tube (to be used in finding the North Star). The park sits atop Turtle Mountain with spectacular views of the North Dakota countryside below.

Sun dial at Mystical Horizons showing 3:00 pm (4:00 pm Daylight Time)
Astronomical observatory. Sunlight shines between the slots on the equinoxes and the solstices.
Looking west from Mystical Horizons
Yellow canola fields and blue ponds can be made out in the distance

Back to Minot for dinner.

Fish and Chips at Ebeneezer’s Eatery & Irish Pub, with a well-earned Guinness

Links: Ebeneezer’s Eatery & Irish Pub
Staybridge Suites Minot
and once again,
Mystical Horizons

Friday July 17, 2020, Day 8
Time to return to Colorado. It will be a 2-day drive. I left very early, before breakfast, heading south on US highway 83.

Canola fields and sloughs south of Minot, North Dakota

For miles and miles the landscape was simply covered with canola fields interspersed with bright blue glacial ponds. I stopped on the side of the highway to take photos. After a bit state highway patrol car pulled up behind me to see if I was taking pictures or “just having a bad day.” This was near 7:00 in the morning. The trooper and I talked a bit, saw a deer running through one of the canola fields. I asked her if people around here referred to the water as ‘lakes’ or ‘ponds’ and she said they called them “sloughs” instead.

After another hour of driving, breakfast!

Hashbrowns are under the toast, and the patties are sausage patties not corned beef

Link: Rolling Hills Restaurant at the Flying J Travel Center in Mandan, North Dakota. Mandan (population 22,752) is across the Missouri River from Bismarck. There’s nothing like a cooked breakfast at an Interstate truck stop!

It was a long, 100-degree hot drive down to Hot Springs (population 3,711), South Dakota. I was detoured around the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation due to Covid-19 concerns. They’re having a hard time of it there and are restricting travel to locals and those with special permits.

Link: The Hills Inn, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Saturday July 19, 2020, Day 9
Breakfast!

Breakfast burrito with green chili

That was a bit of a curveball after all the eggs and hashbrowns I’d been having this trip. Thank you to the Mornin’ Sunshine Coffee House (linked) for the excellent breakfast.

Hot Springs, South Dakota was once a very popular resort town back in the days when doctors prescribed ‘taking the waters’ as a cure. Because it was built up at that early time the town’s buildings are mostly constructed of limestone blocks, giving the town an air of antiquity. It’s a great place and lies in hilly country about 50 miles south of the Black Hills. I even saw a pair of newlyweds on their honeymoon her.

The town’s claim to fame, of course, is its hot springs, shown here cascading down into the Fall River below.

One last photo on the way home. I passed by Pine Ridge near Crawford, Nebraska (population 997). I’ve stopped in this town before, usually for gas, and always for some Dairy Sweet as well.

The Pine Ridge of Nebraska

Home to Colorado Springs by late afternoon.

A most epic trip! Hope you enjoyed it with me.

All photos taken by the author in July, 2021

A list of all Freedom Voyage posts in TimManBlog can be found here.

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