Yellowstone vacation: Seattle to Big Sky (Days 1-2)
As a kid, I can remember being cooped up in the family station wagon with my brother and sister, touring Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, and Montana. So when an Olson Family Reunion was planned for Big Sky, Montana, I knew we'd be driving -- instead of flying (in a station wagon, no less).
Day 1 (July 27) - Seattle to Spokane: 420 miles
After spending Thursday and Friday in Vancouver B.C. for a Rush show with Cameron, we drove home on Saturday (141 miles). In Seattle, we picked up Brenda and Drew (and stopped for a little while) then got back on the road. After 5-1/2 hours of driving, we stopped for the night in Spokane (279 miles).
Photo: Ryegrass rest stop (looking West), about halfway between Seattle and Spokane
Day 2 (July 28) - Spokane, WA, to Big Sky, MO: 431 miles
Unfortunately all of my driving and lack of sleep started to catch up with me. I felt foggy as we headed out of Spokane at 12:30 p.m. But the incredible mountain scenery seemed to wake me up.
On this day, we would cross no fewer than three states on our way to Big Sky: Washington, Idaho, and Montana. In Idaho, the speed limit increased to 75 mph. Driving became easier, with people staying out of the left lane except to pass. For some reason, the farther we drove toward Montana the less we saw motorcyclists wearing helmets.
My parents, who were driving about four hours ahead of us on I-90, called about a billboard for a "Testicle Festival," so we were on the lookout.
Photo: Driving in Montana
Around 2:00 p.m., we crossed the Montana state line. Because Montana is on Mountain Time, we lost an hour. So it was really 3:00 p.m. (I would feel the loss of this hour as the day wore on.)
And then we saw it: A billboard for the Testicle Festival in Clinton. (No, I didn't get a photo.) But I started wondering who might go to something like this. Later, I found this on the website:
The Testy Fest is neither about balls or breast, it's about having a good time. One might say it's an odd family reunion, you usually see the same people every year and new people are always welcome. You don't have to earn your beads, or anything of the sort, but you can always have fun & find something to do. Everyone is always welcoming.
The deeper I investigated this event, the more I saw that the Testicle Festival was about "balls and breasts." There are also beads involved. Here's a list of the contests for those who dare to look.
As we continued driving, the scenery changed from mountains to flat desert scrub, similar to what you see in Eastern Washington. All day we'd seen wildfires burning in the distance, and as we drove through Montana the brilliant blue sky started turning a hazy gray. It also seemed to affect Brenda's allergies.
Around 4:30, we rolled into Missoula. This was supposed to be our lunch stop, but the lost hour made it a dinner stop. After driving around town looking for a restaurant (a lot of places were closed on a Sunday), we found the Iron Horse Bar and Grill. It was exactly what we were looking for.
Photo: Downtown Missoula
Cameron and Drew noticed the slot machines in the bar as we walked to our table. One difference from Washington State is that children can be in the bar. I promised the boys we'd play the $1 slot machine after our dinner. I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to show them how quickly you lose, but we ended up winning on the first pull. It took five minutes to burn through that dollar!
Photo: Cameron and Drew love the slot machine
Then we were back on the road. Around Butte, the sky grew purple, and fat raindrops started splattering the windshield (cleaning off those bugs!). Brenda slept through most of it.
I saw a billboard advertising Evel Knievel Days, which I probably would have stopped at if I had time. (Like most kids who grew up in the 70s, I was a huge fan of Evel.) Here's a description from the website:
Evel Knievel's hometown of Butte, MT plays host to the worlds greatest celebration for the Worlds Greatest Daredevil in the finest fashion.
Started in 2002, the three-day event draws thousands of visitors from all over the world to the Mining City. Evel Knievel Days is held annually the fourth weekend of July. The 2013 festival will be July 25, 26, 27 with subsequent dates as follows
Photo: Outside Butte
Before our final push to Big Sky, we stopped at the Town Pump in Three Forks (also a Casino!). While the Town Pump was a great rest stop, it did have the distinction of having the worst smelling bathroom on the entire trip.
I also noticed how the gas prices were shockingly low: $3.88 for Premium unleaded, compared to more than $4.00 in Seattle.
It was after our turnoff at Belgrade when I really started to feel the loss of that hour from crossing into Mountain time. Darkness closed in quickly, and fog and mist hung eerily above the road. Passing trucks blasted spray at us from the wet road, reducing visibility even more. Finally we lost our cell signal, which we were using to navigate to the 320 Ranch near Big Sky.
As we headed into the Gallatin Gateway, the darkness became absolute. It was at this point I turned to Brenda and said, "I'm not sure I can keep going." I'd been driving for close to 6 hours, and my ability to concentrate was depleted. Brenda offered to drive, but I thought I could keep going with her help. Brenda finally remembered the mile marker for the 320 Ranch, which we checked when we got a tiny cell signal.
We arrived at the 320 Ranch after 10:00 p.m. The front desk was closed, but they'd left our key and paperwork for us. Only there was no key. Thinking the doors might just be unlocked, we drove through more darkness to our cabin on the Gallatin River. It was indeed locked up, so we headed back to the office. Fortunately, a staff person at the restaurant was able to get us a key.
We got into our cabin and unloaded under one of the most brilliant night skies I've ever seen -- second only to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
And then I collapsed on the bed.