west yellowstone

Postcards from Snagglepuss: Big Sky Country Ahoy!

After quite the day in Yellowstone Park, even recognising that it wasn’t quite Jellystone, you’ll recall that I spent the night after in West Yellowstone, Montana (of all places) just trying to rest things off. And kill time among the inevitable tourist-trap haunts of tacky T-shirt and souvenir shops before calling it a night at a local motel. Old-school, even!

Well … the night turned out rather refreshing and at once comfortable, even leaving the window open a crack … and for breakfast–luckily, they had the Continental sort. Rolls and coffee, if you need to know what is so meant. Never mind the rolls coming wrapped from the Costco in Bozeman, and the coffee from the local supermarket. Slightly oily-tasting; perhaps put it down to bad roasting.

So … some gas, some more coffee for the travel mug, and back on the way from West Yellowstone via US 191 .. and boy, they don’t call Montana “Big Sky Country” for nothing! What depravities of panoramic splendour to be had throughout, interspersed by long stretches of beautiful desolation … and even then, you want to take a look around the resort development of Big Sky, which is between West Yellowstone and Bozeman. Think of it as Vail, Colorado with 1970’s moderne. One particular highlight: The Werner Muller Civic Center, as in all those hyper-spectacular skiing and snowboarding films that you somehow can’t get enough of, even with the rather dynamic visuals and music as would make Jet Screamer look like the Cattanooga Cats, methinks. Certainly enough to take you away.

(And speaking of Montana skiing … wasn’t there that one time in Whitefish at The Big Mountain where I was on the slopes with Lori and Gator as sunset was approaching, and we were debating just what kind of a last trip it would be down the slopes, followed by the inevitable aprés-ski supper? Things like this seem to come up when you least expect it. And was it FUNNY(!!) when Gator came a little clumsy, made even more absurd by the fact of Inch High, Private Eye, being in an inner pocket of his ski jacket just to keep warm … and yet, meeting all three at the aprés-ski tapas bar, we couldn’t help but laugh it off over wedges of Serrano ham and crackers, complemented with Montana vintages. It just seems that pretty much all the Western states have this debate over who has the best skiing, to begin with.)

Oh yes–maybe some hiking is in order; the day is still young … get some advice at the information centre, learn about some easy/intermediate hiking trails out by the Mountain Village area. And am able to find a group hike just getting underway. Somewhat chilly, but the other members of the party can’t help but make note of my presence, and on several occasions even ask for autographs, don’t you know. So does the guide, come to think of it, whose narration easily gets on the witty side, tossing in anecdotes from back in the skiing season. Yeahhhh, isn’t it living … and have some lunch buffet back in the village. Not to mention an opportunity to get at least one Big Sky logo sweater in the gift shop … and a coffee refill. So back on 191 I go northerly … and stumble upon another unlikely hot-spring resort. As in Bozeman Hot Springs.

Which is a little unusual: Given its Seventh-Day Adventist associations, the resort is closed between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, in deference to their Sabbath. Just be lucky it wasn’t Saturday … which meant an opportunity to take in some serious soak time there. And the vapours of the mineral-spring waters … what could be more seductive to rest? (That is, until a bath attendant gently tapped me on the shoulder and advised that I needed to get out of the baths, having spent the recommended maximum of 15 minutes or so. Still, those were the most relaxing 15 minutes of my entire career…..)

Find some supper in Bozeman proper … as well as some tortilla chips, some Dr. Pepper even, for the journey ahead along I-90, joined at Montana Exit 319 … and as for all those stories about want of a speed limit in Montana, you may want to be warned that the recommended speed limit is one “reasonable and prudent” consistent with driving conditions, type of pavement and time of day. Night, in case you didn’t know, calls for a lower speed, even allowing for being on an Interstate and (except, say, around Billings, where I latch on to I-94 for the onward journey) the somewhat sparse presence of civilisation. But still, between Billings and Miles City, I pull into a rest area, and can’t help but remain amazed at the skies above.

They don’t call Montana “Big Sky Country” for nothing … still, some more coffee just to stay alert, driving all the way down I-94  until sunrise hits me at Glendive. Find me someplace decent for breakfast, none of that McDonald’s or Subway crap … and it’s one of those cafes which tend to be populated by the same local ranchers coming in every morning for coffee and a game of Horse to decide who pays for the round. Order me an omlette, ham and cheese, side of hash browns, whole wheat toast–and decaffeinated coffee. All in all, natural Montana hospitality … and get some fresh hot coffee to fill the travel mug as I continue into North Dakota, of all places … Next time around, my experiences through what some must regard as the most boring of states, yet its tourism slogan sells themselves as “Legendary.”