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Friday, July 26, 2013

Log Cabin Lodging & Dining in Montana

Montana was actually one of my favorite spots on the trip. I know! Who would have thought that. But I liked the mountains, the road that followed alongside a river. It had a nice peaceful feeling to it. Not lonely and creepy like parts of Minnesota or South Dakota or Wyoming. I'm hoping we can do a long weekend here again. 

Our stop at Big Sky was kind of like the luxury portion of our trip. We stayed at a lodge called Buck's T4, which, after 2 weeks of Motel 6 and camping, seemed like the most luxurious place in the world. We took Caly for a nice hike at Porcupine Creek down the street, and since it was empty, we let her off leash. She had so much fun chasing little animals around, but we had more fun watching her. She'd run into the deep brush, emerge in the air front paws first, like a dolphin, and disappear back legs last. 

Then we came back to the lodge, dropped the pup in the room, and went to the outdoor hot tub. Oh man! We turned on those jetsprays and felt like brand new people. It was as though tiny dirty particles from camping back in Pennsylvania were finally coming loose. Back to the room to dry off, get dressed and go to dinner! Like people do.

The on-site restaurant was supposed to be pretty good, and while it was on the pricey side -- for anywhere, not just Montana -- I'd say it was pretty worth it. We started at the bar with some local beers. No Big Sky Brewing Co beers, which we see all the time over here in Washington. Just small local breweries. I had the Bent Nail IPA from Red Lodge. (Yeah, I'm linking to Beer Advocate, I'm turning into that person, I'm sorry).

Then Dinner! OMG dinner. Take a look at this portion of the menu and tell me you aren't drooling.

We started with this sampler of house cured duck bacon, cherry chutney, Wagyu pastrami, huckleberry grain mustard and a trout cheesecake that was surprisingly delicious. We used up all the sourdough piling this stuff up. 

Rob got the duck 3 ways, where the duck bacon made another appearance, along with duck breast and confit. These "gingered baby carrots" were the most memorable for me. I don't know what they did to them to make them so carrot-y. and also, aren't they huge for baby carrots?

This red deer with truffled risotto was one of the best things I've eaten all year. And that's saying a lot! I asked for the deer cooked however the chef recommended, and it was so rare on the inside it was like really good sashimi. I haven't had meat that rare in a long time, and when its safe, its my favorite. It was so super tender and flavorful I feel like I can't even talk about it anymore because the craving will be too much.

Dessert was locally made mint fudge ice cream.  

The meal was so heavy that when we got back to the room, I turned around to say something to Rob and he was already passed out.

Buck's T-4, easily the best lodging of our trip!

A Drive Through Yellowstone

Man, we thought we'd seen some good wildlife on the trip thus far between deer and coyote, but in Yellowstone we got to see some real wild animals. Like bison and elk. Lots of 'em!

After we left Jackson we had to pay admission both to Teton and to Yellowstone. It wasn't much -- maybe $10 at each? -- but it gets you a week at both places. I guess we should have planned it out better, but when we checked from Jackson the night before, all the campgrounds were full. So we just made it a leisurely drive up through Wyoming and into Montana, where we spent the night. 

There were lots of spots to stop along the way. Most were just roadside pullovers where you could step off the beaten path a few steps to get a nice view of land or water.

It's funny, I dontt think we would have made this stop at Old Faithful, but we hurried on our way over there because Rob had to go to the bathroom. And we just barely made it on time! For the geyser, that is.

It seems like its always smoking, and then once every hour and a half or something, the mist gets higher, a trickle of water comes, and then its a full explosion into the air.

The pictures always make it seem like you're the only one there, but believe me, you're not.

Caly barked at the kids here, so we waited for the crowd to file away to take this picture with her. Note that the geyser always has a little somethin' smoky goin' on.


Anyway, our first animal stop was for this buffalo. I think he was getting tired of the people getting out of their cars to look at him because he started rocking back and forth to get up. It took a good five minutes for this poor heavy guy!

Obviously, we had to stop to have a pic-a-nic at Jellystone park. The dog tried to hunt a crow the entire time. 

Each picnic table has this warning hammered into it. Imagine getting a bear citation for leaving out a bucket.

Anyway, I felt like we had to get a few pics with the animals so it doesn't look like we're just snapping buffalo pics in a zoo.

What a glorious place.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

24 Hrs in Jackson Wyoming

We took an Amazing Race-inspired 24 Hr Mandatory Rest Stop when we woke up in Jackson the next morning. I was just too tired to do any more traveling and I wanted to see what was around us. I had no expectations for Jackson and was very pleasantly surprised with the pretty mountain view I woke up to. I've never been to Aspen, but Jackson reminds me of a mix of what I imagine Aspen to be and a fancy beach town. High end retail stores, bustling coffee shops, and lots of retirees. 

We didn't do much in the town itself, but we did have burgers at MacPhails and started a Cafe Genevieve habit two mornings in a row for a fantastic bacon egg and cheese and some coffees. While I was waiting for our order one morning I was looking around the shelves and saw that they sold tea from Bellocq. I really wanted to tell someone that I used to live 2 blocks from the actual Bellocq store and that the guy that mixes the teas by hand is an awesome mellow dude with an awesome beard but I figured no one cared and I suddenly felt sadder for leaving Brooklyn for good.

But a trip to the Elk Refuge revived me.

Surprisingly, most of the trails in and around Teton and Yellowstone don't allow dogs, but at least we could take her down the main road here at the Elk Refuge. The elk only come in the winter, but we did get to see a coyote.

And Caly loved lunging at these squirrelly things that we had originally mistaken for prairie dogs. 

At least we got to enjoy some really spectacular views. 

Afterwards, we dropped the dog at the motel and headed out to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve for a humans-only hike. The land used to be used for the Rockefellers to camp or summer or whatever, and now its this gorgeous set of trails a few miles off the road in Grand Teton National Park. We didn't see any more coyotes, but we did see some cool ducks. 

And found a way to set the camera to take a picture of us at Lake Jenny.

The water was clear as glass, and you could see little frogs scrambling around the pebbles at the bottom.

The trails were really nice, especially as the sun was setting. It incorporated a quiet stroll through fields, bridges across streams and waterfall views. 

That night we treated ourselves to dinner and a beer sampler at Snake River Brewing. Great steak tacos, refreshing beers, and a nice chat with the bartender about making big life moves like ours. After going days talking to no one else but each other, it was nice to get some perspective from our local barkeep of the day.

The next day we had to get going to Yellowstone, but we had a nice, unexpected visit in Jackson Hole. Would I recommend going? Totally. Just, you know, look out for bears. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Badlands to Jackson Hole

When I think back to that day we packed up our tent in the Badlands and ended the night in the fourth motel we tried in Jackson, I can't believe it was all a single day. We (well, mostly Rob) got a little bit ambitious in the amount of things we'd get done. If every day was this fast-forwarded intense version of a road trip, we probably could have done the whole thing in like four days. But I'm glad we didn't, because it was exhausting.

First stop was Wall Drug for breakfast. Which is really just a manufactured town of fake old West decor (which became so apparent when we saw those REAL towns way off the i-90 beaten path). There were roadside signs for Wall Drug for literally 500 miles, so that gives you an idea as to how far away we were from anything worth stopping for. They had all kinds of weird things here, like an empty travelers' chapel, souvenier shops, a post office, big plastic dinosaurs, giant restaurants, and a million little kids running around.

Next came Mount Rushmore! Which was actually a good long ride off the highway. Isn't it magnificent?!

You wouldn't know it from that first picture, but we never made it into the actual park. They don't allow dogs for whatever reason. So I told the guy at the parking booth that was gonna charge us a boatload -- just to park! -- that we wanted to turn around. He said go in through the parking lot, since its the end of a long road up a hill, and exit that way. No stopping, no taking pictures.

No problem.

And now you get the real view. Real America, with an RV in the background. Turns out a lot of people in this country have RVs, but that's another discussion for another day. Or another blog post.

Those nice straight-ahead pics are over-rated, anyway. When does anyone ever take this just-as-breathtaking comin'-round-the-mountain shot?

Or this oft-forgotten Washington profile shot?

After we got back in the car and outsped the parking guard on a golf cart, we had this nice little drive through the trees to Crazy Horse.

Someday, it will be a big magnificent rock carving that will look something like this: 

But right now, it only looks like this:

There's a lot more work to be done here than I thought. Oh well. "History in the making," as my mom says.

Leaving Crazy Horse and navigating to Jackson was the turning point in our trip, as we veered really far from the highway. We stopped outside a motel nearby to grab enough wifi to guide us over towards Casper, Wyoming. It was a really long ride along one or two very long roads. And this is when we got away from the touristy cute things and into actual old midwest towns that with really low population signs. One actually said Population:10! There was also a sign on a gas station that said "Enjoy the Redneck Rally," but I didn't want to stick around long enough to find out what that was.

Here's one of the larger towns in Wyoming. Note the covered wagon on the motel.

The land sloping out of South Dakota and into Wyoming got really flat really quickly. One moment we're at Rushmore with tons of trees, and then treeless farmland. And a storm you could see coming in for miles. It was really pretty, and one of those things that I think you just have to see with your own eyes to really understand the vastness. 

When the rain cleared, there was just the hint of a rainbow in our rear view mirror. 

We should have stopped for the night in Casper, but Rob wanted to push ahead to Jackson. So another quick wifi stop outside a town hall or something, and we grabbed directions to get us there. Which were really hard to follow with the limited amount of street signs, and we took a wrong turn here in this little town of Shoshani.

As the sun was setting, I worried about getting lost in the dark in the middle of nowhere. It was a very valid fear. And as we moved along, and saw dozens of deer darting across the street, we realized we had even more to be afraid of. But we forged ahead.

We reached Jackson at about 12:30 that night. The first four motels we checked were completely full.

We finally snuck the dog into a smelly smoking room at a lodge-y motel. It was all they had. 

I slept as though a deer had just run me over.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sioux Falls to the Badlands

Once we left Sioux Falls, we didn't have cell service again until Jackson, Wyoming! That was about 2 days of travel and made it a bit difficult to navigate, since we were dependent primarily on our cell phone maps to get around.

Luckily, it was easy getting from Sioux Falls to the Badlands. We just took 90 West the entire way. Which means a whole lot of nothing except the Corn Palace! The next best roadside attraction since Wall Drug (which was saw after the Badlands). We had to take turns going in, with the dog and all. It just looks like a high school gymnasium with lots of corn deco and souveniers. Weird stuff. Glad we stopped?

Anyway, the Badlands were really a highlight of the trip. It's unlike anything either of us have ever seen. Miles and miles of caked mud piled high into crazy formations that look like rocks. When you get up high enough, you can see so many miles of nothingness you feel like the only person in the world.

Even though it rained and was buggy both times we'd camped so far, I decided to give it another go while we were in the Badlands. There was no rain, but we were subjected to to new extreme elements: heat and wind. When we got at our site, it was 103 degrees outside. Add a panting dog to the mix and it's easy to worry about dehydration.

As the sun set, it began to cool off and I felt a lot better about sleeping outside. We had a few beers from Wisconsin on our picnic table and enjoyed a nice cool breeze.

Until we woke up in the middle of the night with the wind blowing our tent in from all sides. Amazingly, the tent didn't rip and it stayed grounded, but the frying pan we stuck in the corner might have something to do with it.

It was intense, but don't take my word for it. Let's hear from our guest blogger, Calyer the dog:

Ramping in the Radlands was rarry!! The rind was rippin' reary roudry! I was rupposed to ray on my roggy bed, rut it was roo rarry!! I rawled onto the rair rattress in retreen Rob and Rauren! I was ro rared I was raking! Whooaaa!

And there you have it, folks. The Badlands. I'd totally recommend going. Just, you know, look out for rattlesnakes.