Mark and I made our great escape last week. I was almost afraid someone was going to send the dogs out after us! We had five days of freedom in which to do whatever we pleased. A rare treat!
Day one we headed west through the heart of oil country into Montana. I should have had pictures of all the trucks, tanks, man camps, rigs, etc., but they aren’t real pretty! Our goal was more western related. The first fun stop was at Miles City Saddlery.
Not only does Miles City Saddlery sell tack, clothing and all sorts of necessities for the Montana rancher, it has an amazing collection of saddles made at the Saddlery since 1900. The museum part of the store is the real pull! All of these saddles are well-worn and well used, which makes them real true artifacts of the old west. My mother has her grandfather’s Miles City saddle. Not in nearly in as good shape as these, but still pretty cool!
Next day brought us to Bozeman. I was hoping for some nice mountain photos, but the haze from all the forest fires restricted our view. Western Montana is extremely dry. It sprinkled a bit Friday night and we were surprised how excited everyone got. Unfortunately there was barely enough moisture to wet the streets.
A friend gave me some guidance as to where to find all the fun saddle shops, some antiques and a caramel shop. Of course, we had to stop and do some market research! It would have been nice to have some pictures from inside as they had glass between the sales area and the production space. Alas, no photos allowed. But it was still fun to see all the big copper pots and the mechanized wrapping machines. Those machines might wrap a lot faster than my wrappers, but I’m sure that the conversation isn’t nearly as titillating as it is around our tables!
Our ultimate goal was Helena and the Montana Wild West Fest. We have been wanting to go to a Chuck Wagon Cook-off for some time and this is the first time we found one that was fairly (700 miles) close to home and during a time of year we were able to attend.
There were just three teams competing this year. It was fascinating to watch all three take the same ingredients and put them together in different ways. Hard to believe that camp cooks fed cowboys from these three meals a day!
I doubt Cookie used a cell phone, though!
Swiss Steak. Yumm!
There were also mounted archery demonstrations, gold panning, re-enactments, western singers and more. My favorite part, besides the food, was sitting under the cottonwoods enjoying the music. It was perfect weather and oh-so peaceful. My idea of vacation!
This is Montana artist Larry Gibson.
Getting ready for a shoot-out!
Not sure if she qualifies as a re-enactor, but isn’t she precious!
We had some wonderful food (of course-saddle shops and food are always our traveling priorities) but the best two meals were our last two breakfasts. Steve’s Cafe in Helena served up homemade sausages, huckleberry pancakes and homemade corned beef hash. I’d drive the 700 miles back to Helena for that hash! Absolutely amazing!
Then, funny how, after a tip from a friend about the side pork at The 600 Cafe in Miles City, we somehow ended up back there on our last night on the road. And she was right. That side pork was like nothing I have ever had before. Extremely tender; Mark calls it candy. And the cafe itself was like stepping back in time. When I asked at the hotel how to get there, the clerk was a bit scornful. Obviously, the tourists usually aren’t sent there. The cafe has probably been in business since the 1940s or ’50s and had not been redecorated since.
I could see my grandpa sitting there, narrow brimmed Stetson on the seat (men don’t wear hats inside) and the top of his head white in stark contrast to the deep tan of his face and arms. You can see how the tables are worn from years of eating and coffee drinking. And the pictures are of local cowboys on local bucking horses. You know, from back in the day that the photographs were black and white and were colored in! Not only was the cafe entertaining and clean, but that side pork!
Can’t wait ’til then next great escape!