I love finding hidden gems while traveling. You know, those in-between places you are tipped off to in a local coffee paper or just appear along the side of the road. I think it takes a certain curiosity and confidence to follow these idyllic trails to their conclusion. With age and experience I've found that speeding from point A to point B is the quickest way to miss out on the true payoff of traveling. As you know, we found ourselves in a position this summer that demanded us to slow down. It took us on a muddled up journey that caused some hardship but also taught us a lot about going with the flow and finding the silver lining in all days. This post is dedicated to those in-between places and times I don't want to forget.
On our trip back to Montana to retrieve Eggie and our van, I was able to stop at a spot I enjoyed the first time we were there. The trees along the Yellowstone river were ablaze with fall color. Bright amber foliage lined the rocky banks. If you're ever in Stillwater County, stop for a picnic or free night camping at Itch-Kep-Pe Park. This is the spot where I took photos both in summer and fall. It's a gorgeous spot with shared water spouts, fire pits and a washroom facility (nothing fancy). There are no hook-ups but picnic tables are available and the location is breathtaking. Plus ... free! If you are only in for a short stay or have a full RV setup, it's really ideal.
Todd and I ended up staying one night in Columbus on our return trip due to a problem with the van's battery (yah, ridiculous) and a rodeo that was driving up motel prices in Billings. After settling in for the evening, we decided to make a date night of it and scouted out a couple heritage bars in town. I had tasty fish tacos at the 307 Bar which has roots back to 1941. There was live bluegrass music and we enjoyed drinks at a long, one piece log bar. After dark we moved on to The New Atlas Saloon, a century old tavern with over 50 animal mounts and original tin and wood details throughout. The tall backed booths charmed me and the whole place had such a pure historical feeling. As date nights go, it was pretty special.
Back when we were waiting for the van to be fixed in August, we visited the Museum of the Beartooths in Columbus. Having the place to ourselves, we took our time going through the thoughtful displays. The people in this area really care about their history. Donations from county residents even included a tiny log school house. It was touching to see stories being preserved in such a thoughtful way. I bought a handcrafted walking stick for $20 that blew my socks off with it's artistry, made by a Stillwater resident with all proceeds going to the museum.
It's fascinating how much we found to do in this area. A few days before we made our escape home in August, we rented a car and spent several days tooling around Stillwater. The in-between places are sometimes the most memorable. One day when we had a few hours to kill before returning to the garage, we drove down the road and ended up in Fishtail. This tiny community is genuinely sweet. We heard that the Fishtail General Store (founded in 1900) had a great deli counter which served cheap and delicious mexican food. It seemed worth a try. It was! We bought some huckleberry chocolate and coffee to bring home. Huckleberry everything in Montana, I tell you! There was also a yarn and pottery studio on the (only) main street. The front porch displayed handmade baskets and inside was a ceramic studio. It would have been nice to stay in that sunny studio and make something. Fishtail was a wonderful stop off of the quiet and scenic highway 78.
Billings is the capital city of Montana. It wasn't really my cup of tea honestly, but with limited time and research I don't think I can give a fair opinion of it. Plus, you can probably tell I was on a small town kick at this point. In Billings we visited a few vintage shops - Montana Vintage Clothing was particularly well curated. Seeking culture we found our way (thank you GPS) to the Moss Mansion. Built in 1906 by the prominent Moss family of Billings, it has been restored with much of the original furnishings and details true to the mansion. Another example of dedication to history, a volunteer at the museum dismantled and re-tiled the floor of the solarium below with the salvaged tile. It was a romantic walk back in time (albeit for the rare elite of that era).
My favourite day took us to Red Lodge and up into the Beartooth Mountains via the Beartooth Highway. I'll share my photos from on the mountain in another post. Red Lodge itself was the most charming of ski resort towns. A main street lined with independent boutiques, eateries, coffee shops, ice cream parlours and antique stores - I was in heaven. The quaint ski chalets and fences made of retired downhill skis hinted at the winter personality of this small town, despite the heat of that August afternoon. I wish I would have stopped to visit the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary here, but by the time we returned down the mountain it was closed. Next time maybe?
So maybe hidden gems were just as much a part of this adventure as hoodoo curses were.
At least, I like to think of it that way. I hope you enjoyed our in-between glimpses of this area. Maybe it'll encourage you to take that detour on your next road trip, even when all is right with the itinerary .