Manhattan, Montana 6/16 – 6/23

Manhattan, Montana:  Population =  1,631, elevation = 4,245 feet, Average January low temp = 14.1º, Average July high temp = 83.4º, Average snowfall = 86.1” (Climate data from nearby Bozeman, MT)

Once we pass Billings, we are mostly ascending into the Rocky Mountains.  We are skirting the big peaks by driving through the valleys between island ranges.  The first major range is the Crazy Mountains (Crazy Peak 11,214 feet).  There are a few fun legends as to why these mountains have this name.  My favorite, and probably most plausible, is the one involving Chief Plenty Coups.  He went to these mountains on a four day vision quest.  On his quest, he foresaw the coming of the white man and their cattle.  When the white men did arrive and asked about the mountains, members of Plenty Coups’ tribe tried to explain, using sign language, about the visions and the Great Spirit.  The white men thought they were crazy.

The Crazy Mountains

Summer can be a hard time to travel.  The weather up here in the Northern States is fine and everyone is having their town festival, fair, 5K, bike race, car show, or some other version of outdoor get-together and eat and drink and watch stuff.  So rentals are hard to come by.  The towns along Interstate 90 through Montana are no exception.  We couldn’t find a AirBnB for the right price in Bozeman or Belgrade.  But then we found a great home in Manhattan.  The owner, Joe, is an easygoing, affable, outdoorsy man’s man kinda guy who converted a simple house so it looks like a log cabin inside.  We shared a beer with him and heard the tale about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on a cliff.  If true, a good story, if not true, a good storyteller.

Cozy and interesting, nice wood, could maybe use a woman’s touch?

Manhattan is a nice quiet little town, except for the frequent trains, blatting off their whistles all hours of day and night.  It is about 9 miles from Belgrade and about 20 miles from Bozeman.  The food is OK, there are locally brewed craft beers in the bars, and the people are nice and friendly.  We stopped by for the first Farmer’s Market of the year and had snacks and chats with locals who said the Market gets bigger later in the year.

A fine day for a little farmer’s market with the good folk of Manhattan

From our base camp in Manhattan, we set off to explore the neighborhood.  Belgrade (population 8,254, elevation 4,459) is just a 10 minute drive down the Interstate.  They are a little bigger and have a lot more businesses, bars and restaurants.  There are a lot of steakhouses around here.  Montana is cattle country.  Frankly though, when the steaks are running north of $25 a copy, we prefer to just buy some and grill them up ourselves.  Ribs though, that is another matter.  It takes time, equipment, and lots of experience to put out good BBQ ribs.  We found the Bar 3 Bar-B-Q, hiding in the shadow of a grain elevator, serving up St. Louis ribs and brewing beers.

St. Louis ribs with dill potato salad, hopping John, and a fine amber ale

The next stop on the our trail was Bozeman (population 43,405, elevation 4,820).  Where Billings is a working man’s town, Bozeman is more of a college town.  The gentrified downtown is home to many fine shops, trendy and eclectic restaurants, and more than a few breweries.  The bicycles are many and fearless.  Tattoos and piercings are to be seen everywhere.  On everyone.  Just off the college campus, we found the Museum of the Rockies.  They have a planetarium and a few other exhibits, but my favorite exhibit was the dinosaurs.  Apparently, this was a great place for dinosaurs to come to to get fossilized.

 

Dinosaur shell fish
Even with feathers, these guys are pretty scary
One huge T-Rex skull

From Bozeman, if you get on highway 191 and head South, you are following the course of the Gallatin River all the way to Yellowstone National Park.  We decided to take a little drive on a nice day and see where the river went.  We saw tall grassy mounds, deep pine forests, and  sheer rocky cliffs along the river.  A few brave souls passed by clinging to big rafts bouncing over Class 2,3,and 4 rapids.

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Jagged sheer rock cliffs tower over the canyon
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The Gallatin River flows fast and cold from the melting snowcaps
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Guided rafting tours are available for the hearty and brave

Eventually we came to the Big Sky ski resort.  We had been seeing an impressive peak looming over all else above us.  Then the signs pointed the way to Big Sky.  The resort is a massive campus sprouting lifts all around.  There must be hundreds of named ski runs.  As an ex-skier, I squint at the jagged peaks way up there in double diamond territory and shudder just a little.  Not even on my best day…

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Are those ski trails?

 

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That is a LOT of ski runs!
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In just a few months, there will be powder again at the Big Sky

Next up: Missoula, Montana

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Billings, Montana 6/11 – 6/16

Billings, Montana:  Population =  157,048 (metropolitan area = 166,855), elevation = 3,123 feet, Average January low temp = 15.6º, Average July high temp = 89.4º, average rainfall = 33.08”, Average snowfall = 55”

We are doing the 80 MPH speed limit on Interstate 90 and still, people fly by us on their way to Somewhere.  I guess when the distances are so great between Here and There, the locals tend to grow a heavy right foot.  The landscape changes from flat to steep, plateau to valley, dotted with bushes to covered with pines.  We pass over a final ridge and there, off in the distance, I see tall buildings, stark against a backdrop of snow covered peaks.  Looks like an interesting shot so I grab my phone, turn it on, unlock it, bring up the camera app…  and the shot is gone.  In its place is a massive refinery.  Columns bristle from a maze of pipes.  Flames sprout from a thick dark pillar of steel.  A smell like burnt asphalt pervades the area.

All this hardware turns crude oil into money

In a way, the refinery hints at what Billings is all about.  Billings is a working-man’s town; it is not pretty, but it has a job to do.  It lies along a river, but, more importantly, it lies along a railroad.  There are tracks right up snug to the downtown that carry endless cars full of oil and coal to caches near and far.  The downtown tapers off into small industrial businesses and warehouses to the East.  Older, drab residential neighborhoods lie South.  The newer housing and retail developments sprawl to the West.  To the North, high up on the ridge of Rimrock, is an eagle’s eye view of the whole city.

Looking East toward the city and refineries
Looking West toward the outer ‘burbs and the Front Range of the Rockies

There are a few interesting things to do in Billings.  TripAdvisor points out a mansion tour, art galleries, museums.  We visited the Western Heritage Center.  The building looks historic outside, but sadly, the displays inside were just kind of a jumble of various old stuff they collected.  The one high point was “The Real West” collection of quotes and photos from the pioneers.  These are a rare, often poignant, glimpses into another time.  (I hope you can read the text)

Another interesting thing we found to do was to visit the Pictograph Cave.  We learned that a pictograph is painted on a wall, a petroglyph is carved into it.  After a long drive to the outback and a fairly grueling (for us) climb up the side of the cliff to the cave, we found ourselves in a half bowl shaped indentation in the limestone cliff.  Close examination revealed just a few dots to me.  The drawings of what used to be there just make it all the more tragic that the paint has faded away and flaked off.

The trail to the Pictograph Cave is steep and winding
Details of the cave paintings, as seen long ago
Above the row of dots, there are a row of red rifles. Can you see them?

Running around town, we found a few good restaurants, some fun stores, and a LOT of breweries.  On the day before we left, there was the Alive After Five mini-festival.  Every week, all summer, they pick a downtown block to close off then they set up a stage for a band, and a row of food, beer, and drink tents.  The weather was fine and the band was good.  Great people watching.

The Scheels superstore has wildlife displays
Alive After Five celebrates summer in Billings

Montana is an outdoor tourism state.  If you are going hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing, or off-roading, Montana is probably going to be lots of fun for you.  If you are just passing through and don’t do any of the outdoorsy things, it is going to be a long trip.  Big, bustling towns are few and far between.  Rentals are scarce and expensive.  Sorry Montana, but I am looking forward to Washington.

Next up:  Manhattan, Montana

Crossing the Prairie 6/5 – 6/11

Crossing the Prairie  6/5 – 6/11

All too soon, our visit to MInnesota, to family and friends comes to an end.  It is time to pack up and roll on down the road.  But where to now?  The West Coast is calling to me again.  After all of our travels, I think the Eugene, Oregon area is still my favorite.  Marylu is not so sure yet.  So there are more cites left for us to see and even some to revisit.

Eugene, OR is lush green, blanketed in tall trees and fields of flowers. Just beyond the distant mountains, Mother Pacific rolls her pretty waves.

From Minneapolis, we take Interstate 94 North and West, heading for North Dakota.  We know from previous experience that North Dakota is, shall we say, “scenery challenged”, so our plan is a series of short stays in hotels as we hop across the state.

On the way to Fargo

Our first stop is Fargo.  Fargo is a busy, industrious city, with a population of over 120,000.  There are lots of great places to eat and drink.  This is also a city with a sense of humor about itself.  At the top of the list of weird things to do in Fargo is to go see the Wood Chipper.  You know the one… from the movie.  (Thanks to Rita and Dagan for a nice visit and some great tourist info!)

 

The Wurst Bier Hall offers a world of sausages and beers
A fine beer and a handsome logo
The world’s most famous wood chipper. Love the sock!

From Fargo, it is a short hop to Bismarck.  This is the capitol of the state, and the capitol building is unusual.  Most capitols have two wings and a dome in the middle.  This one has a round wing, divided into two halves, where the House and Senate meet.  Attached to the round wing is an 18 story office building where most of the state functionaries are located.  No dome but a nice observation deck on the top floor.

Early photo of the North Dakota capitol building shows the two wings
The House chamber features innovative lighting and fine woodwork.

Bismarck is also a great town for food and drink.  We found some very nice breweries who are cooking up some fine beers.  Our favorite place to eat was Sickie’s Garage, who are famous for their burgers.  In between beers and burgers, we visited the State Historical Society Museum and learned a few things.  North Dakota used to be covered by an inland sea and, apparently, dinosaurs came here to die in the mud and be preserved.

Tater Tot Hotdish Burger: tots, corn, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, hamburger. Genius!
Bisons were much larger, with bigger horns, way back when. This guy is fighting two saber tooth tigers.
This monster fish could easily swallow a fisherman whole.  And I would not mess with that turtle behind it either.

Still headed West, the prairie starts to get more interesting.  We start seeing rolling hills.  Those turn into peaks and wide valleys.  At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the landscape descends into the chaos that is the Painted Canyon.

Ruler straight lines of power cross the prairie grasses
The Painted Canyon shows off a palette of limestone, sandstone, trees, and grasses

At Glendive, Montana, we are, I hope, getting close to the end of the prairie.  The horizon is closer and lumpier.  Not a lot going on in Glendive, but they do have a new brewery.

good luck with the new brewery. So far. so good!

The road to Billings has even more prairie for us; miles and miles of flat grassy lands, broken occasionally by ridges and canyons of pale sandstone.  We are steadily gaining elevation as we cross the vast plateau.  Just as we start to see the signs and buildings and refineries of Billings we spot, far off in the distance, the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains.  We are at the end of the Great Prairie.

The ridges are getting higher, the road is getting steeper

Next up:  Billings, Montana

Plymouth, Minnesota 5/19 – 6/5

Plymouth, Minnesota:  Population =  75,907 (Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area = 3,520,000), elevation = 971 feet, Average January low temp = 3º, Average July high temp = 83º, average days below freezing =  76.2, average days over 90º = 15,  average precipitation = 29.4”, average snowfall = 56.3”

Plymouth is essentially a bedroom community to the West of Minneapolis.  Its big square outline encompasses homes, businesses, parks, theaters, and restaurants.  But mostly homes.  These are nice, well-landscaped middle class homes lining streets with tall canopies of trees.  It is a good place for home and family and, if you work nearby, an easy commute.  If you do not work nearby, Highway 494 is a slow grinding daily crawl into and out of the heart of the anthill.  494 is also the main route to the outstate getaways “up north”, so Summer Friday afternoons are a brutal slow moving traffic torture.

A big shiny office building in Plymouth
Driving through Plymouth. Not rush hour.

But it is not necessary to flee the Metro Area for a little R&R.  Right there in the heart of the city is Medicine Lake.  On the West side there is a small beach area with a playground, some trails, and benches from which to contemplate rippling water and roaring speedboats.  On the North end of the lake is French Regional Park, which has a full range of sports and games for all seasons.  (Closed due to road construction)

A little early for swimming, but there are plenty of hikers and bikers out enjoying Medicine Lake.
Big houses and fast toys abound on the lake

Otherwise, Plymouth is not a real exciting place to visit.  It is a good place to hang our hats for a while so we can meet up with the family and friends we have been missing for the past year.  Rather than sightseeing this time around, we are mostly people seeing.  Every day we are off to restaurants and homes to meet up with old friends.  You know who you are and we love you.  We also value your privacy so we won’t post photos of everyone here.

Just outside Plymouth, the Ridgedale Mall has kind of a dome
Part of an art display in the mall

There was one place in Plymouth the did get me a little excited: the post office.  We use a mailing service based in Sioux Falls, SD.  Every month or so we request our mail, which is then sent out to where we request it.  This month I chose General Delivery in Plymouth.  I slogged through the USPS web sites until I located the main Plymouth office and it said “General Delivery” under services, so I had the mail sent there.  I used the Tracking Number to see where my mail was until it got delivered to Plymouth.  Then I went to claim it…

“I am here to pick up some General Delivery mail”, I said, showing my ID.

“No General Delivery here”, the postal troll squawked.

“Your web site says General Delivery is here”, I pleaded.

“No General Delivery here.  You go downtown!”

“The web site said here.  The tracking number says it is here”, I moaned.

“No General Delivery here.  You go downtown!”  the troll gibbered.

Then he turned and walked over to a bin, reached in, and pulled out my envelope.  Handing it to me he says, ““No General Delivery here.  You go downtown!”

“OK”, I say, “I go downtown!”

You go downtown!

Enough to drive me to drink.  There are no breweries in Plymouth, but fortunately, there are several nearby.  We found some old favorites and some new places to explore the brewer’s art.  For some reason that escapes me, sours are more common now.  I still like beer flavored beer.

Besides seeing all of the friends and family, the most fun part of this visit was the Segway Tour.  We did the Magical History Tour, which starts in the historical St. Anthony Main district.  Our guides were fun and knowledgable and pointed out the many historic sites along the way.  Riding a Segway is amazing!  It takes just a few minutes to get the hang of it and then it seems natural and intuitive and effortless.  You get to pity the poor people who have to go about on foot.

St. Anthony Main historical district
Marylu leads the way
The Stone Arch Bridge with old flour mills in the background
Since 1940, the iconic Grain Belt Beer sign has been a part of the Minneapolis skyline

The past two weeks have been a blur.  While it was fun seeing the familiar sights again, it is really the people that make this area “home”.  Great to see everyone!  Whenever somebody asks us where we are from, Marylu and I always say, “Minnesota”.  Maybe after we have settled someplace for a while, home will be there, but today, and for a long time to come, this will be “Home”.

Next up:  Crossing the Plains