Reflections on Western Towns and Cities – Part II

In the last post, I talked about both my 2,700 mile solo road trip for ten days through Oregon, Idaho and Montana in 2004 and also the fifteen-day journey through six western states in the fall of 2019 – this one 3,700 miles.

The treasured time on the road, brings to mind a superb quote on the topic from novelist, Lee Child, in his book, Never Go Back:

There were cities and there was countryside. There were mountains and there were valleys.  There were rivers.  There were museums and music and motels and clubs and diners and bars and buses.  There were battlefields and birthplaces and legends and roads.  There was company if I wanted it and there was solitude if I didn’t.”

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And most notably in Montana, one can see a heck of a lot of scenery rolling along on the good roads – usually at the 80 mph speed limit although that can have some disadvantages from a highway safety perspective as shown in the photo below. 

Montana has a very high rate of traffic fatalities.  It’s a combination of a high speed limit especially in rural areas, bad weather and road conditions in many months of the year – that and a high rate of alcohol consumption.  

In my first few days in 2019, I kept seeing white crosses along the highways – both single and in some cases, groups of them – even in very remote areas and wondered about the background. 

According to a  2004 article in the Billings Gazettethis program started in 1953 by the American Legion and is done solely by volunteers. By 2015, there were more than 2,000 crosses erected. Each signifies a death from an auto accident.

Let’s examine some of the items mentioned in Lee Child’s quote above. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming exemplified these and as you can see from the above photo, each day offered additional perfect panoramas. 

As he stated and as exemplified in the gallery below, there were “Cities, countryside. valleys and rivers.”

And continuing: “There were museums and music and motels and clubs and diners and bars.”  Yes, we saw all of these on the trip both on my six-day solo portion and when Janet joined me in Billings.

I even stayed at Deffy’s Motel in Hamilton, Montana for which $45 got a suite of sorts with a king bed, refrigerator, microwave, couch, desk and a shower that most people would not want to try unless they were dirtier than the tiled shower wall….(I wouldn’t have asked Janet to stay there, but it did have a certain type of character!)

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It did, however, rate four out of five stars on Trip Advisor and as one reviewer stated “If you want Hilton finishes and amenities this is NOT your place.”  But I guess it depends on your benchmark because the next review asserted:

Yes, it was clean but in need of some attention. There was a hole in the wall where the door knob hit it, plastered over in spackle, neither primed nor painted. The throw rug in front of the futon and the carpet in the bedroom were spotted with who-knows-what and in need of a good shampooing.

The vinyl on both kitchen chairs was torn and there was a huge gap under the front door, letting in all the exhaust from the construction crew’s pick-ups warming up at 6:30 a.m. The soap holder in the shower was rusted and loose.”

By the way, for anyone interested in relocating to Montana, Deffy’s is for sale….

Now I don’t envision myself as a Jack Reacher type – Lee Child’s inimitable character of grit and integrity – after all, instead of hitchhiking and taking Greyhound buses, I cruised along in my Prius – but Child goes on with his itemization in the road-trip description which does a superb job of describing the variety:

“There were battlefields….and legends and roads.” 

And he finishes with the truism which I experienced.  That’s because I did part of this trip alone and enjoyed the solitude of the Big Sky open road, but then realized that I was missing something. 

So when my sweetheart of 41 years joined me after flying into Billings for the remaining nine days. “There was company if I wanted it and there was solitude if I didn’t.”

I mentioned in an earlier Beerchaser post, that there were some favorite cities and towns in those six western states. Those that captivated me and then us for the latter part of the trip with their charm, scenic beauty and character – oh yes, don’t forget the notable bars and breweries. Bozeman, Livingston and Hamilton, Montana; and Sheridan, Wyoming are highlighted below.

Bozeman Montana

This beautiful city in the southwest corner of the state with a population of just under 50,000 is the fourth largest city in Montana  Now admittedly, the paragraph below is from the Montana Visitors’ Bureau, but I think it is an accurate depiction:

“Bozeman is called ‘the most livable place’ for good reason. Enjoy world-renowned fly fishing, dramatic mountains for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, hunting, and backcountry exploring, Yellowstone National Park and impressive wildlife.

When you are ready for a more city experience, dive into Bozeman’s thriving arts and culture communities, ranging from main street festivals, farmers markets, cultural centers and museums to symphonies, theaters, and art galleries.”

It’s also a university city – the home of Montana State University.  Now admittedly, visiting a city is different than living there and a reporter for the High Country News enumerated the Top Ten Reasons Not to Move to Bozeman in a 2013 article, but they are somewhat lame.   

For example, he asserts that the name of the town sucks, you’re isolated, the weather during much of the year is bad and there’s a nearby inactive super-volcano which “underlies Yellowstone National Park, generating the heat for all the geysers and hotpots, and….could erupt at any time and some experts say this is ‘overdue’ – it will obliterate Bozeman, along with ruining the whole planet’s atmosphere.”  

Of course, I’m a Pacific Northwest resident with an active volcano (St. Helens) in our “backyard” which killed fifty-seven people and thousands of animals when it erupted in 1980.  And in Oregon, we live on a major earthquake fault which is overdue for seismic pandemonium.

Don’t forget the wildfires this summer and our rainy season which lasts about eight months of the year.  We’re also named Portland rather than Boston because one of the two guys deciding, lost a coinflip in 1845.   And yet, I would not move anyplace else.

Livingston Montana

Livingston is a quaint and historical town sometimes known as the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park. As stated in a blog on Yellowstone:

The quaint town of Livingston, Mont., has attracted cowboys, ranchers, the rich and famous and artists enamored by the scenery for more than 100 years. It’s also been featured in ‘A River Runs Through It,’ ‘The Horse Whisperer’ and Marlboro advertisements.”

And I was almost not able to get a hotel reservation because they were filming an episode in Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone series. I absolutely loved staying at the Murray Hotel which not only has a great bar but as the photo below shows, one could just sit in the lobby for hours and drink up the ambiance.   

Given the size of the town, the bars and breweries are plentiful ranging from the historic Mint and Stockman (built in 1895 and recently sold for $595,000) bars to the Katabatic and Neptune Breweries.   The Livingston Bar and Grille offered what was one of the best dinners I had during the entire trip.

It also enhanced the mood of adventure remembering a fact from at least some reliable sources 

“Singer Jimmy Buffett also wrote the hit song ‘Livingston Saturday Night’ about this town’s raucous night-life. And judging by the number of bars, saloons, and casinos within a 3-block radius – more than a dozen in all – you can see why.  You could do your own kind of pub crawl, moving from the old timer’s cowboy clique at the Stockman, to the rowdy biker sanctum of the Hyatt House or to the sound of blues at the Murray.”
(Source: “Yellowstone and Grand Teton” by Brian Hurlbut) Google Books

And just walking through the neighborhoods, one block off the main drag, shows that Livingston has the feel of a town that would be nice to call home.

Hamilton Montana

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People from throughout the country are becoming aware of this small city on the eastern side of Montana.  For example, an article in The Oregonian in July 2014 “  aptly entitled, “Hamilton in Montana right up there among best small American mountain towns, with brewery, ballpark,” states:

“Hamilton, population 4,508,  is located near the center of the Bitterroot Valley, an 80-mile north-south valley tucked in on the east slope of the Bitterroot Mountains in far western Montana and about 50 miles south of Missoula. Blodgett Canyon, just five miles from the center of town, is nothing short of gorgeous.

Hamilton was a designed town, with planned street grids right from the beginning, unlike so many other Montana towns that grew up out of mining camps.”

My curiosity was also piqued by another April, 2019 article I read in the Washington Post entitled, Small towns are dying everywhere but here.”  Included in the article was a sentence about two local boys coming home from college and launching a microbrewery which now generates more than $1 million in annual sales.   (How could Thebeerchaser resist that lead….”)

While I wasn’t there long enough to interview co-owners, Fenn Nelson and Jasper Miller, I had one of their thirst quenching IPAs. The two, who after graduating from the University of Montana, returned to their hometown and took a big risk. Employing used equipment – including some scavenged from an aircraft carrier – they leased a former natural foods emporium and converted it into Higherground Brewing,” 

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The good beer was consumed while I had a great conversation with a teacher on summer vacation who was bartending and told me the story of the enterprise, before I went to dinner at the town’s other memorable brewery – Bitterroot Brewing – another impressive watering hole. 

Right next to Bitterroot was a baseball diamond in which I watched several innings of American Legion Baseball and saw the first-place hometown Bitter Root Red Sox in the process of thrashing the Kalispell Lakers.

I finished with the evening with a delightful, long walk along the Bitterroot River, through a beautiful park and the neighborhoods before returning to Deffy’s Motel – for a restful night’s sleep – I woke up before the exhaust fumes were noticeable.

Sheridan Wyoming

This northern Wyoming city with a population of 17,500 and founded in 1882, is halfway between Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park.  Named for the legendary General Phil Sheridan, my attachment to this berg, may have been, in part, based on some family roots.

My dad’s father Floyd Williams, was a US Postal Service Inspector and while traveling by train which stopped in Sheridan in 1912, he spotted young Clara Sarah Willey on the platform at the station.

Clara’s family ranched cattle (the Diamond Bar T brand) there for three quarters of a century.  Kings Saddlery, (see photo below) one of the largest tack stores (equestrian outfitting) in the US, also had a museum (through the rope store in back of the main saddlery) in addition to countless saddles and western gear and there were historic pictures from the Willey spread.

Sheridan has some sprawl along the highways, but a picturesque and historic and thriving main street with fascinating shops and one of our favorite breweries – Smith Alley Brewing.  There are numerous and scenic walking paths through the city, nice parks and notable outdoor art sculptures on almost every corner.  It is a picturesque and charming village.

Well, as you can tell by this and previous posts (and a few more to come) I’m enamored with the western frontier states – especially Montana and could continue writing about them. That said, since this is a blog primarily about bars and breweries, some of you may be impatient with the digression although for the last year, it was due to a global pandemic.

So I am pleased to report that on Wednesday, March 31st for our 41st wedding anniversary, we traveled from Portland up the Columbia River Gorge to another outstanding western city – Hood River, Oregon and had our first beer (sitting outside) at a brewery or bar in over one year.

We had been to the Pfriem Brewery once before, but this was our first encounter with Ferment Brewing where we had first-rate cheeseburgers and beer worth making a return trip. Stay tuned!

Cheers and Be Safe!

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Western Towns and Cities – Part II

  1. Forwarding this to Michael who is from South Dakota and also lived in Wyoming. A question came to me – how far east has the Beerchaser gone and written about? There are some great places in Maine if you’re ever going there, although I think the legendary Gritty McDuff’s in Portland may now be closed. But I think the Great Lost Bear is still up and brewing and cooking great burgers. Just curious…My territory ranges from Portland to Portland as I think you already know!

    Moll

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yes. In 2018, after flying into New York City, spending a few days there and then taking the train up to Maine and then a short road trip ending in Boston. We hit bars and breweries all along the way including some in Portland which you can see at this post: https://thebeerchaser.com/2018/10/30/beerchasing-in-maine-continued-boston-and-then-home/

    And Thebeerchaser and his spouse have been farther east taking in new establishments on our 21-day Rick Steve’s Best of Europe Tour where one of the highlights was visiting the Schilthorn Tavern almost to the summit of 9,744 foot Mt. Schilthorn in Switzerland. https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/09/01/a-brewski-at-9744-feet-thebeerchaser-goes-international-part-v/

    Liked by 1 person

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