Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bozeman Montana...

So I know I have mentioned Bozeman a number of times in prior postings, as if it was some kind of destination, which it really wasn't,  just another whistle stop on the Boise express, where we will end our trip where we started, in a week or so spending the last 3 or 4 days there for Rosh Hashanah.  In fact, my only real acquaintance with the place prior to this was in an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon Cooper chooses it as the perfect place for him to move after their apt was broken into.  He was right, and for that reason, Bozeman turned out to be not all that photogenic, it being a well manicured, upscale college town with nice bars, nice restaurants, nice sporting goods shops, a really nice, in fact great food coop with great prepared food right by the bus station,  everything clean and well kept, which did not fit well into my photoparadigm, but even so, I reluctantly admit that I had a great time, even if I was old enough to be a professor emeritus.   Here's me at Wild Joe's Coffee Place, a great place to set up your laptop, or put your feet up.

That's Jackie holding the coffee cup and taking the picture.  I can't keep up with her anymore.  One of these days I will be turning in my camera.  Lately all I've been been reduced to taking pictures of signs.  Like shooting ducks in a barrel.  Talking about signs, we were quite hungry when we hit town and saw the sign for Ted's Montana Grill and Jackie thought it sounded like a great place for a burger.  It is in the historic Hotel Baxter and it looked perfect...

While we were checking out the menu, they put out out a ramekin full of these freshly made pickles that were indeed fresh and delicious.  Those are some coriander seeds on top.

Loved them so much that when we got home, I adapted my pickle recipe to recreate them,  nailed it, and everyone loved them.

Two quarts of water that has been boiled to remove the chlorine, let cool
Two tablespoons of kosher or sea salt added to water while still warm
Three tablespoons of white vinegar
One and a half tablespoons of coriander seeds
One tablespoon of mustard seeds
Two or three tablespoons of roughly cut fresh garlic
Ten or so medium sized pickling cucumbers

Place cucumbers whole in a bowl with the brine for two days.  Then cut them into one inch chunks and return them to the brine for 2 days or so.  Then refrigerate to stop the pickling and eat.  Didn't add dill here because the ones at Ted's had none, but you can if you want..

Everything about Ted's was great.  Great food, burgers were perfect, historic, rich, well maintained surroundings, a nice waitress, no complaints.  Thought we had stumbled onto a truly unique Montana experience.  We wondered if the Ted was as in Ted Turner, a big name, land holder, and buffalo rancher in these parts, so we googled it to find out, and that's where the disillusionment began.

Ted's Montana Grill is one of a chain of 44 restaurants which first opened in was first opened in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio by Ted and some entrepreneurs as a "for profit effort to stop the extinction of the American Bison".  While on the brink not so long ago, with the help of many including Ted Turner, bison have been back in reasonably large numbers for some time now, so at this point, I'm not sure how selling a few thousand bison burgers are needed to stop their extinction.  Also in the very short entry, Wikipedia also mentioned that  part of the restaurant's eco friendly approach was "the re-introduction of paper straws", wow!!!.  Now if Ted could just use the connections his billions bought at the UN to do something about all the raw coal smoke and toxic waste the Chinese and Indians are spewing into the air and pouring into the water every day to the extent that their citizens are literally choking to death, we would have something environment friendly.  It's true what they say, that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, although it didn't change our experience.  Great burgers, Ted.

But as always, I digress.   Ted's really was great in every respect, so much so that we made it a point to return there once more before heading to Helena, Montana.  The motel signs along Route 7 leading into town are a part of Americana that are also heading slowly toward extinction, so...

And if your name is Ellen, you are in luck in Bozman... 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Livingston Montana

After a while all small midwestern towns start morphing into one another.   A town more or less in the middle of nowhere,  with a more or less eviscerated main street full of abandoned, deteriorating buildings, broken windows, a pawn shop, consignment stores, a cafe or two, a bank, some bars, a beauty salon, maybe an art gallery,  sometimes a bit more, sometimes less, and always the question "Where did everyone go?".   So we weren't ready for the surprising vibrancy and sense of wholeness and relevance we found in Livingston.  There were stores to buy things, people in the street, theaters, hotels, a shoe store, fantastic art galleries.  No wonder Peter Fonda et al live here, so says Google!!!   As they say in Latin, re ipse loquator (it speaks for itself) so here are the pictures Jackie and I took there.

The first 6 photos were taken in the afternoon on the sunny side of Main Street, the last 3 were taken along  West Park Avenue which runs along side the railroad tracks.  This last photo is quite special.  An architectural gem, when function still determined form...

Built in 1946 when the station began to broadcast, it is now abandoned and in tenuous condition.  In spite of the fact that it is on the National Register of Historic Buildings, it is a mess inside and is receiving questionable attention at best as you can see from neglected look of the outside.  The station continues to broadcast from a "feed" out of Bozeman.  Someone's idea of progress, I'm sure.
Next stop, Bozman...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Big Timber Montana

In the service of continuity, I must mention Big Timber at this point.  Forgot we were even there till I looked at my memory chip while working on the somewhat unsatisfying Billings blog.  Wish I had taken a few more pictures there, but didn't.   Anyway, about 100 miles or so east of Billings, on our way to Bozeman, for some reason we stopped in this medium sized town of Big Timber that was a bit out of the way.  Given the paucity of big trees on the Montana plains, I'm not sure where they got the name, but so be it.

Anyway, the oddest thing happened.  While I was standing at the intersection of McLeod Street and 7th Ave, waiting for Jackie to do whatever it was she was doing that I was waiting for, I first saw a Coca Cola truck, and 3 minutes later, a Pepsi truck pulling onto McLeod.   Maybe it wasn't so odd, considering the vast amount of soft drinks consumed in the US.




Sunday, October 27, 2013

Billings Montana

The travel gods must have been watching over us after that heroic escape from the searing heat and potentially mind numbing tedium that was awaiting us had we had prolonged our Miles City stay.  We initially scoffed, but  Bob Coronato, artist in residence in Hulett, Wyoming was right about how much time we needed to spend in vast eternity of emptiness that is eastern Montana, and Billings promised to offer the big city remedy that we needed about now.   After consulting her AAA guide, Jackie determined that the Crowne Plaza Hotel was where we should stay, but upon calling, she was told they were booked solid.   Since we seemed to have stayed at a bunch of Best Westerns lately she called and got us a room at the Clock Tower Best Western.

The above photo was taken from outside out room at the Clock Tower Best Western in the center of downtown Billings, and in the distance is the cold and foreboding maximum security facility that is the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  As I said, we dodged a bullet, and ended up in downtown and feeling like we were in Fort Lauderdale or something, and with the temps hovering around 100, a couple of scotch and sodas and a dip in the pool before it closed at 10pm was a transcendent experience.  Next time you are in Billings, check out and into the Clock Tower, you won't be sorry.

After such a wonderful and fortunate start to our stay, things just kept getting better.  Attached to the Clock Tower if Stella's Bakery/Restaurant, considered by many to be the best place to eat breakfast and/or lunch, and they are right.  Included in our room rate was breakfast and everything there was big and more than just good.  The pancakes, french toast, oatmeal, cinnamon buns, bacon and eggs, potatoes,  on and on...Better than it needed to be and it was packed.  Sat outside, so got a quick table.  No pictures but rave reviews from Jackie who is very particular.  After breakfast spent the day walking around.

First Ave. and North Broadway, gives you a good feel for the size and scale of the city...

This is the building to the left in the above photo.  Like its name, it exudes power.

The ticket booth at the Babcock...They put more thought into the design of a ticket booth back then, then people put into the design of entire buildings these days!!!

The Babcock Theater on 2nd Ave facing 27th St was built in 1907 according to their web page and it appears to have been in operation more or less ever since from what I can gather.  The present owners state that they are only the 3rd owner of the place in all those years.  That tent like structure is a permanent installation over the intersection of 2nd and 27th and really ties things together.   Plastered around the city were posters for and upcoming film festival a the Babcock  as big as Montana itself...

Down on Montana street, the first road that runs along the railroad tracks, was the Rex Hotel, no longer a hotel, but it did have a nice restaurant with outdoor seating, but being a vegetarian there was not much for me to eat...

So we ended up having dinner at the Ciao Mambo,  a really good Italian restaurant on Montana Street that I would highly recommend.
This is hardly an exhaustive overview of Billings, but I hope is shows it to be a nice city that did not disappoint.  Wish I had another day or two.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Miles City...

I know I have failed to mention it until now, being that it just seemed like a fact of life out there, but during our entire time out west, the temps rarely went below 94 or 95 during the day, and it was not uncommon for it to be in the low 100's for much of the afternoon for all of our Idaho/Montana/Wyoming trip, which may explain the seriousness of the wildfire situation out here.  It was never supposed to be in the 100's in Montana of all places, but it didn't bother us till we got to Miles City where the thermometer hit 109.  Took this picture because I knew you wouldn't believe me.

Somehow, based on the AAA description of Miles City, I let my imagination run wild with east coast cowboy fantasies and was once again disappointed by having set the bar too high.  I know that the heat didn't add anything to the ambience of this kind of mundane, utilitarian, not particularly enticing place, but it didn't take long for us to realize that at any rate, it didn't seem like a good place to spend the night, even at the kind of creepy historic Olive Hotel, so after walking the empty streets for an hour or so, we bit the bullet and hopped on the Interstate Highway 94 and made the 150 mile run to Billings.  With the 75 mph speed limit, it wasn't as bad as it seems at that point in the day.  So here is a quick tour of Miles City along Main Street (really) before moving on...

Beside the oppressive heat, the lack of activity on Main Street could be attributed to the large number of empty store fronts and lack of meaningful commercial activity to draw people down town.  Not a shoe store in sight.  If you need anything, it can be found on the access roads leading into the city there the box stores have it all, China cheap, Chinese slave labor making the cheap shit we think we want.   Why pay Americans when Chinese prisoners do it free, driving our workers to the bread lines and strangling yet another once vibrant, prosperous, busy little American city.  A drama being played out in every small town in America.  One day we will all "owe our souls to the company store", Walmart, and their primary supplier, China.  No matter how many American flags they drape around the store, the only thing made in America at Walmart is the havoc they reap and the suffering they sow.  Who cares if Chinese dry wall is toxic and corrosive, if Chinese drug additives are poison, if Chinese lead painted children's toys are toxic, if the Chinese are killing our dogs by the hundreds with toxic foods,  if their toxic unfiltered coal fired air is poisoning the world and killing their own expendable population by the hundreds of thousands,  what do they care, there are billions of them, and for that matter, what do we care.  We no longer have air pollution, because we no longer have factories making anything.  Take a look at where your iPhone is made.   But hey, $299 plasma TVs, $5 tee shirts, BOGO cheap everything!!!  Hope we don't do anything to offend them.  If we do, and they lay siege to our country, our shelves will be empty and we will be walking around barefoot naked, and bewildered.  That's why there's no one on Main Street anywhere in this blog. 

But so far we can still go downtown to drink our own whiskey and watch Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwartzeneger save the world, for now anyway.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Heading into Montana...

Our Devil's Tower moment in the books, with Jackie getting the best picture of it that I've ever seen, we were more than ready for the Big Sky experience, which would be the 46th state on our lower 48 quest.  Bob Coronato, artist in residence in Hulett, told us we would be wasting our time spending too much time in eastern Montana, there was nothing much to see.  How could he say such a thing to a couple of sky deprived New Yorkers who were planning to spend at least 2 or 3 days soaking up that vast expanse of mind numbing emptiness into our cluttered, over wrought souls.   When we reached Montana the sign was better than many, but 25 feet off the ground which made for a disappointing start, photographically.

Picked up Highway 212 in Alzada, a gas station/minimart and 4 or 5 abandoned buildings along the highway a few miles north of the Wyoming border that provided no reason to stop other than to record our location with the intention of making our way to Miles City, the "Cow Capital of the West", where we expected to spend the night feeling the cowboy spirit we longed for, hitching up our Chevy Cruz in front of some authentic watering hole, bellying up to the bar and knocking back some red eye...

Once we left "town", there were no signs of life of any sort for the next 20 or 30 miles until, I mean not a coherent structure until...

This custom made photo op on the side of the road.  Jammed on the brakes, hopped out of the car like a jackalope through brush and thistle, pens and glasses flying here and there, hat blowing off, to get the shot.  I know I looked like an idiot, but when you see a good thing...  Got into position and as I was lining up the shot, the driver looked at me with the well deserved distain reserved for idiots with cameras and cargo shorts, and began to pull out in spite of knowing I wanted the shot.  Luckily, I have become quicker on the trigger, and I got it, but Jackie and I both agreed that he was a real prick for not  waiting for me to get the shot.  
While there were a couple of towns indicated on the map along the 212, we didn't see much to report home about until we reached Broadus, Montana at the intersection where we were to pick up the 59 north to Miles City.
Broadus turned out to be a real town with a variety of services and activities, including the Copper Moon antiques and gift shop which advertised the best shakes west of the Continental Divide.

In Broadus, you can gamble, drink, and bowl in addition to filling up the car and buying groceries.  Still don't have any idea where the people living in and around these isolated small towns by their shoes, but Jackie keeps telling me to stop obsessing about these things.  Wish I could have taken a picture of the sheer pleasure we got over sharing the vanilla shake at the Copper Moon, because they were right.  I was great.  On to the 59 north to Miles City...


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sundance Wyoming

Here we are in Sundance.  If you are looking for Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Brad Pitt, or any of those kids, you are in the wrong Sundance.  This is just a small old little town that runs along the side of the 116 where just about all the services are situated.  Gas, groceries, small mall, restaurants, etc, making the old main street kind of irrelevant and not that interesting, photographically, anyway.  But as a collector of old and interesting buildings, I did find these two.

As you can probably tell from the first picture to the last, it was starting to cloud over.  That just about covers our time in Wyoming, except for this wonderful building on the 116 a few miles north of Sundance and south of Devil's Tower.  It appears to have been part of an old motor court (you can see the word cabins faintly on the front arch) and possible gas station, and is the only structure left of what seems to have been a larger complex.

 This was our last stop before Devil's Tower which was already covered.  So if you double back to the Devil's Tower posting you'll be ready to cross over into Montana.


Black Thunder Mine...

Mystery solved!!!

Traveling through Nebraska as much as Jackie and I do, we are continually seeing long trains full of coal heading east, and equally long freight trains heading west, empty.  Knowing that there is no coal mining that we were aware of in western Nebraska, we always just figured the coal was coming from Wyoming, and never thought much more about it.  Well, it was true, and while heading east on the 450 to meet up with the 116, there it was, Black Thunder mine, "The Largest Surface Coal Mine in North America".   Didn't know whether to applaud or cry.  But here we were...

Along side of the road, was the machinery by which they fill each of the coal cars with just the right amount of coal.

In as much as I have never been inside of a Walmart or a sausage factory, I decided not to opt for a tour of the facility, but from what I could tell from the side of the road, the strip mined coal is somehow transported to a station at the bottom end of the long white tube which contains a conveyor belt carrying the coal to the silo, and one by one, the coal cars stop in a little tunnel under the silo where just the right amount of coal is dispensed and so on ad infinitum/naseum, depending on your politics.  Not rocket science, but we never really gave any thought as to how the process worked.  Quite efficient.  On to the 116 to Hulett and the Devil's Tower, our last stop in Wyoming.....