Montana Americana

Having just spent 15 days in the great and beautiful state of Montana, I came away with my usual reverence for the astonishing grandeur of natural places.

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness where I visited deserves the over-used term “awesome” with 41 of the top 300 peaks in Montana’s Beartooth range there.  An amazing 244 of the 300 highest Montana mountains are over 10,000 feet elevation.  Every turn of my head brought a new breathtaking vista.

This summer I also took more notice of the pride Montanans feel for their country.  As my friend Joe Brancatelli reminded me, “Sometimes we forget that Americana happens because Americans are living it.”  Patriotism is quintessential Montana.  Such as these examples:

Haystack painted “God bless America” for Independence Day last Sunday. Note stars on side. Seen on highway 78 just outside Nye.

A friend ponders the Montanan ethos of one Red Lodge shopkeeper. 

I came across the sign outside one of many art shops while wandering down the touristy-tacky main drag of Red Lodge following a mediocre lunch served by the super-friendly wait staff at the Red Lodge Cafe.

The restaurant features a politically incorrect, but iconic, neon sign. So far no complaints seem to have been lodged regarding the sign with Red Lodge town fathers, but neither did I observe indigenous clientele chowing down inside. However, their absence might be because Native American palates are tuned to cuisine superior to what we experienced. 

Browsing a local real estate listing as we waited for our food, I noticed the Cafe is for sale either as a stand-alone for $650,000 or together with the adjacent bar and casino for $1.3 million. Anyone hankering for a business in Red Lodge?

The Rocking J gas station on the edge of the little burg of Absarokee announces they believe in “God bless the USA” and “America first” and doesn’t forget to praise the local Absarokee high school team, the Huskies.

An eccentric antique and flower shop in Absarokee wishes the police well (as do I).

The Five Spot Cafe & Casino in downtown Absarokee sports a “Proud American” sign (without elaboration), and it offers free mints in U.S. flag packaging with a stars-and-stripes “USA” printed on the back side to seal the deal of being a proud American.

From Red Lodge up, up, up on U.S. Highway 212 to the 10,947′ summit of Beartooth Pass just across the state line briefly into Wyoming for breathtaking views of the Beartooth range.  

Lots of hearty bikers cross the pass between Wyoming and Montana, including the owner of this gorgeous rebuild of a vintage BMW Motorsport.  A herd of mountain goats was spotted on a nearby peak below one of the lookouts near the sign.

Returning, I passed the landmark Grizzly Bar in tiny Rosco, Montana and our favorite old-time general store in Fishtail, Montana.  Americana everywhere.

A sign in Absarokee for “Bed and No Breakfast” with the explanation that such a deal is “Western Style Lodging.”  Sounds like an invented term to justify the meal-free lodging, which appears to be located directly over the town’s sole coin laundromat.  Not sure how they can be certain of offering the “most comfortable beds in town” but it did make me curious to try one.  Note the phone number lacks an area code because Montana has just one (406), so not necessary as a prefix when dialing

Wildfires in the American far west often lead to smoke in the Stillwater Valley from hundreds of miles away. But it was clear and sunny at the top of the Woodbine Falls Trail in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, a long hike. Note my politically incorrect hat in the selfie: “Gypsy” is now a no-no word.

Interior of the Rosebud Cafe in Absarokee at lunch one day was another archetypal small town American experience. They served a good French dip roast beef sandwich. Note the old codger wearing a cowboy hat at the table. Lots of Stetson-type hats seen thereabouts. Also note the bearded young man near the front window. He was seated with a gang of buddies I took to be from the platinum-palladium mine in the Stillwater Valley, the only one in the USA.

This is all normal and routine Montana. It’s easy to lose touch with rural America living in Raleigh.

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