Podunk Meets Paradise

Musings from Central Idaho

Archive for the tag “Montana”

Hoot Owl Fishing

I made a mistake. Actually two mistakes that compounded into one humiliation. Earlier this summer, when Odd Number expressed his desire to catch the largest Tiger Trout on record in Idaho, I had to burst his bubble by informing him there was no such thing, so he might as well go on a trophy snipe hunt. Then, Odd presented me with this image:

Tiger Trout

Tiger trout is a sterile hybrid between a brook trout and a brown trout.

I stood corrected. Idaho Fish and Game stocked some of our area waters with these funky looking fish so they can munch on non-native fish. What do I know? So, you can imagine my confusion when I heard about the hoot owl fishing restrictions over in Montana’s Big Hole Valley. The Big Hole is having drought issues and their river temps are rising. I wasn’t sure why the hoot owl fishing was the only thing being restricted, so that’s when I made my second mistake. I asked Iron Chef. Unfortunately for me, a hoot owl fishing restriction does not mean you can’t angle for hoot owl fish, but rather you can’t fish between 2 p.m. and midnight. And now he’s sending me this photo:

Iron Chef's idea of funny.

Iron Chef’s idea of funny.

I hope a tiger trout takes out that freaky thing like a crazed piranha. I really do.

Room for Growth

We’re in Missoula for Her Royal Highness’s freshman orientation at University of Montana. We are clearly part of a generation of New Age Parenting, because I, too, am attending Families of Freshmen Orientation for 2.5 f—ing days. Here was my parents’ orientation: “Here is where your kid lives now, and here is a bill you can pay. Any questions? No? Well, consider yourself oriented.” Now, not so much. But that’s not what I’m really reporting. Fortunately, the college has the good sense to separate Families of Freshmen from the real incoming Freshmen themselves. So, we check HRH into the dorm room that will serve as her lodging for a few days and her primary dwelling for the upcoming school year. “It’s like the cells in Orange is the New Black!” HRH recoiled upon seeing the cinder block enclosure.

Orange is the New Black, campus style.

Orange is the New Black, campus style.

I concurred that the accommodations were, in fact, austere. I went to check myself in to the Missoula downtown Holiday Inn. It is a complete wonder that I am not sponsored by Holiday Inn because thanks to Iron Chef, I am completely a Preferred Member. This is very meaningful because when I check in, I get asked if because of my loyalty (which involves paying a home mortgage worth of visits), I would like a) water, b) $2 off a $10 drink, or c) a bejillion points for a point system I don’t understand. I always choose points because I understand the other two choices and they are not that preferential. But sometimes, at least theoretically, Preferred Members get insider perks. I experienced this one time in Billings, Montana, when the front desk randomly gave me salt and vinegar potato chips, which happen to be my favorite. That was cool. In Missoula on this stay, my Preferred Member status earned me a wink and an upgrade to the mega king suite.

Karma is good.

Karma is good.

To be clear, when I’m traveling with the rest of my family and/or half of the girls and/or boys’ hockey team, we do not get the upgrade. But when I am a solo unit, Holiday Inn cannot provide me with enough square footage. Is it a coincidence that HRH is sleeping in the equivalent of a packrat trap? Only if you are godless.

More Microbreweries Than Dollar Stores

After the tiniest reprieve from hockey travels, we have resumed a steady schedule of consuming the earth’s resources gallon by gallon. By that I mean I’ve located some of the most backwater Podunk breweries in the free world. Here is a roll call of three ruralasaurus places with more microbreweries than Family Dollar stores.


The Podunk sister city of Ferdinand boasts a new microbrewery.

Ferdinand , Idaho. Trestle Brewing Company aka the Halfway Bar.I am not even sure that it matters that the Jerry Garcia looking owner was not yet serving his own brew. He had swag like this:


Not only does Trestle have a great logo, this silicon pint bounces!

and was in Ferdinand. Nuff said.

Wolftrack Brewing Company, Cottonwood, Idaho.
Not only can you swig this at the famed Keuterville Pub and Grub,



Wolftrack Brewing Company tasting room in Cottonwood.

but now they have a “downtown” tasting room, too.

Bandit Brewing, Darby, Montana.
I thought the tiny sign on Main Street Highway 93 was a joke because it led me to a dead end in sort of a meth lab looking neighborhood.


I followed the wee sign toward the railroad tracks in Darby, obviously lost.


Looking back toward the Highway, I remained convinced I was lost and that the Brewery sign was a joke, but at least I had a glimpse of the Bitterroots.

But then I saw a metal shed with kind of loud music coming from it and another tiny sign indicating the shed was a brewery, so I went in to await my death.


Wait a minute…

Incredibly, very good, very inventive craft beer and Darby chic design were being served up instead.


The outside of the Bandit Brewery warehouse might have connoted images of Breaking Bad, but inside was warehouse chic.







Iron Chef and I had the occasion to drive about 10 hours in an easterly direction from Podunk in search of some girls hockey action last weekend. Along the way, we made some exciting discoveries. Because round-trip tickets from Podunk to Gillette are such a hot item, I thought I would clue you in on some of the highlights.

The Western Cafe in Bozeman occupies an unassuming older building on Main Street, complete with slightly sloping floors, and a row of seating at the counter.

westerncafeThe place was packed elbow to elbow, cell phones were on the down low, and the official radio station was old school country (think Eddy Arnold and Patsy Cline).   Iron had the right idea with his chicken fried steak breakfast. This place is Podunk Approved.

Little Bighorn Battlefield, Beyond Billings, Montana. This was an outstanding locale to stop, stretch our legs, and enjoy some good old western global warming. Shirt sleeves in February in Wyoming? The tragedy of this battlefield, infamous as Custer’s Last Stand, is that you get the distinct feeling that the U.S. Cavalry should have simply installed artwork honoring the Native American people like the National Park Service has now done, perhaps avoiding the whole unfortunate affair.

Sculpture at the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

Sculpture at the Little Bighorn Battlefield.


Mounds of dirt posing as a town are NOT Podunk approved.

Prairie Dog Town, Montana-Wyomingish. OK this turned out not to be a town at all, despite signs to the contrary. No prairie dog post office, no prairie dog barber shop, no prairie dog gas station, and as far as we could tell, no prairie dogs.

Black Tooth Brewing Company, Sheridan, WY. All you need to know is that a brewery in Sheridan had a ginger infused saison they call Le Ging. Yum. Podunk approves.

Prairie Fire Brewing Company, Gillette, WY. Prairie Fire is making some stellar beers, but this roomy brewery earned double Podunk approval by having not only 4 flavors of hot wings for your beer pairing pleasure, but also a cameo appearance by random ex-pat Podunk residents. Upon entering, we found Jim and Mary, owners emeritus of Indian Creek Guest Ranch — possibly the County seat of Podunk — quenching their thirst with Prairie Fire. The hell you say! Podunk party approved.

Gillette Brewing Company, Gillette, WY. We knew this place would be a winner when we saw the brick oven pizza oven stationed next to an open window at this historic post office turned microbrewery. And we were wrong. The pizza really was quite good, but I knew when Chef asked if I thought his Pilsner tasted more like swamp gas or Chloraseptic that we had a problem. Chef did the unthinkable and sent the undrinkable beverage back, opting instead for the traditionally bullet proof Double IPA. This too tasted like a byproduct of fracking, dragging even a joint offering brick oven green chili chicken pizza firmly into Podunk disapprove territory.

Fortunately, Iron and I are Gumby resilient and we landed on our feet a couple of blocks down from Gillette Brewing Co. at the Big Lost Meadery.

Podunk approved rhinoplasty.

Podunk approved rhinoplasty.

The Big Lost building is beautifully and lovingly restored, but the real attraction here is getting to drink the provocatively named Crazy Woman mead out of a steer horn. Podunk Approved.

The final stop of our pillage before returning to Podunk was Neptune’s Brewery in Livingston, Montana. Neptune’s usually offers sushi, a somewhat unusual concept for a microbrewery in the Inland Northwest, but we were out of luck. Even so, the chocolate porter earned this funky little spot an enthusiastic Podunk seal of approval.

Eastward Ho, My Friends!


Choosing a title for this post made me nervous, but I can’t afford a headline writer so there we go. If you found this post doing an internet search you shouldn’t have been doing, your bad. I’m writing about Butte, Montana.

The thing is, Iron Chef and I travel to Butte on a fairly regular basis because our kids are hockey players and Butte has an ice rink. So we mostly see this feature of Butte:

The Ice Rink at Butte

The Ice Rink at Butte

But now that Her Royal Highness is 17, I drop her ass off at the rink and find a little fun for myself. For you overprotective parents, that’s not selfish, that’s good planning. Which is how I found the Maud Canyon loop and put the Butte back in Butteful.

Now I get to see a Butte that looks like this:

Hey, Butte looks pretty good from up here.

Hey, Butte looks pretty good from up here.

Better yet, this trail teased me with a sign estimating the Continental Divide Trail — Podunk’s soft spot — was just a mere 1.5 miles away. I checked the clock on my fablet, did some quick calculations, and decided I could make it, at least to put my baby toe on the CDT.

The trail was fabulous, the aspen had turned all kinds of crazy colors, and my spirits were soaring until the Fablet communicated a text from HRH. “Come get me in like 20 minutes.” Drat!

Maud Canyon trail in Butte.

Maud Canyon trail in Butte.

I had to break my “No Running” rule which complicated my “No Deodorant” rule, but I made it to the rink in time for Her Royal Highness to be 20 minutes late. Whew!

Havre, Here We Come

Havre, Montana is an 830-mile round trip from Podunk, so I thought I would go there for the weekend.


Besides, my kid was playing hockey there. So, aided by Snow-o-Rama 2014, I hit the road with two 9th grade boys — Odd and his buddy Goalie. Thanks to a technological mishap allegedly involving Her Royal Highness making off with my music infrastructure, I enjoyed listening to static on the radio and the chatter of adolescent boys. I won’t lie, some of what I heard was disturbing. For example:

“Wow, Idaho is 50th in the nation for the number of kids who go on to college!”
“I wonder who is 49th — Mexico?”

We had a layover in Great Falls.

Great Falls snow storm. www.startribune.com

Great Falls snow storm. http://www.startribune.com

When we arrived at the hotel, staff were unloading piles and piles of luggage from a gigantic bus. The bags were too small for hockey players, too many for a rock band. Mannheim Steamroller? I guessed. But no, the front desk informed me this was part of their steady supply of Canadian tour buses.

What are they doing here? I wondered aloud.

“They are getting a break from the cold,” front desker told me.

Criminy cripes, I thought — internally this time.

Perhaps the Siberian cold, chilled with an arctic wind we encountered was unusual, I considered.

photo(1)But no. So now I’m intrigued about what kind of deep freeze these poor Canadians escaped from. And if they think Great Falls is a nice getaway in the dead of winter, we just might have a new marketing angle for Podunk.

I’m not that great at ad copy, so these are early drafts, but I’m thinking….

“Podunk. 45 degrees north, but if you are in Canada, that’s really south, so you’re almost at the equator.”

“Visit the Salmon Riviera. Our winter temperatures are Fahrenheit.”

“Podunk. When your Canadian megaloads came through, we didn’t protest, just gawked. Tarsands are neat. See, we’re friendly, too.”

“Podunk. Take your tuque off and stay awhile.”

“Podunk. Warmer, on average, than Great Falls.”

Warming Up at the Ice Rink


Yeah I know — hockey doesn’t conjure visions of warmth. But this is seriously messed up. My loyal and faithless readers (hey mom and dad!) will think I am making this up, but it finally warmed up to single digits below zero Fahrenheit here in Bozeman, Montana.

As Her Royal Highness and I drove to her hockey tournament, I prepared her for the reality that we would perish of exposure if we got a flat tire or stopped for snacks or gas as temperatures registered in the 20 below range.

This is hard core people, and I have officially lost my marbles for the sake of a Canadian past time. Please send mittens.

Highway 12 — What an Obvious Choice

As geography would have it, to get to my new vacation oasis in Cottonwood, Idaho, I have to go through Montana. I hadn’t been on Highway 12 over Lolo Pass for a number of years, but I remembered it as a lovely stretch of blacktop that paralleled the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River, was rich with Lewis and Clark lore, and gave me my first glimpse of cedars in Idaho.

Visions of tamarack and the Lochsa from Highway 12.

Since my last visit, there has been much talk of Megaloads traversing Highway 12 to get to tarsands in Alberta, Canada. The gigantically oversized truckloads didn’t seem like the most logical fit for the narrow, winding highway with mountains on one side and a pristine river on the other, so I originally assumed the plans were a prank. Canadians and large corporations have such a dry sense of humor.
I knew that many of the rural residents of Highway 12, including writer David James Duncan of The River Why fame, were not getting the joke. He was now more like, “The River? Why?”
Duncan is on the Montana side of 12, but my Idaho peeps took a new craftier tactic.

Megaloads — Keeping Idaho Green. Road sign near Syringa, Idaho.

Around the bend from the pro-megaload cheer was a sign for a towing company.

I’m certain they are working on more billboards that proclaim “Wreck Your Big Ass Load in Our River for a Robust Economy.”

Drastic Tactics

Our 15-year-old woman-child, Her Royal Highness, interrupts her beauty routine only to play hockey. Unless you count the aboriginal eyeliner visible beneath her face mask as a beauty routine. I personally find it frightening, but then again, I doll up with Chapstick.

Hockey is why, fat after Thanksgiving, I woke up in a hotel room in Butte, Montana. The princess had practice in Butte until 9 p.m. last night and then was slated to be back on the ice at 8:15 a.m. this morning. Waking HRH has never been a beautiful thing, but most especially not for early morning hockey practice.

My nice mom nudges at 7:30 were getting me nowhere. Lights on and covers off with loud cajoling were also ineffective to the point that I realized that Her Highness had bid me to transport her to Butte, Montana, put her up in a hotel room for the night, all so she could slumber through her morning practice. This did not please me.

It’s hard for me to admit that my rage was so sudden that I cannot tell you how the diabolical thought entered my mind, but the next thing I knew I was blaring the Wiggles “Wake Up Jeff” at the top of my computer speaker lungs.


She never saw it coming. She sprung from bed, her newly re-brunetted hair wild. But not  before the damage was done. “What’s that sound? Sounds like someone snoring…Wake up Jeff, everybody’s wiggling…” will be emblazoned in her mind for the rest of the day. As she shoots the puck, skates her lines, and rats …. as I drive back to Podunk. These tactics must be used sparingly.

Wiggles of Mass Destruction

Flathead in the Rearview Mirror — On To the Bitterroot

It seems that 4 times/year, the Bitter Root Brewing Company lets their mighty chef Dan out of his cage to create out of this world food pairings for the brewery’s mighty fine beers. As you know, Salmonites consider themselves to be extreme southwestern Montana residents whenever it suits us. Such as, when we find out that these special dinners have been going on behind our backs! Needless to say, Tim and Jason from the Bitter Root did not want an angry mob on their hands so they accommodated a special dinner for the Idahoans on Sunday, Feb 26.

Fortunately, the Iron Chef and I were heading south from Whitefish, and after a quick check-in on the Tamarack Brewery in Lakeside, MT (Old Stache Whiskey Barrel Porter…yum)…

we were delighted to meet up with 15 or so of Salmon’s finest for this special dinner.

I won’t try to act like I have the power to give out Michelin stars. All I’m going to say is Head Chef Dan put on a 5-course meal, including this habanero relish/beet-pancetta hash/orange goat cheese MARSHMALLOW item:

paired nicely with Bitter Root’s porter.

And then, all you really need to know about dessert is that Dan painted the plate with pistachio butter and drizzled single hop ganache around what happened to be toasted barley pudding and cherry compote …

The brew — the Red Dread Imperial Ale, a dessert in its own right.

The moral of this story is call the Bitter Root, find out when the next Brew Dinner is, and sign up immediately.

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