Detour to Babb.

Honestly, it sounded almost biblical. “And on the second day, we wandered the wilderness until we came to Babb.”

Our plan was to explore Many Glacier, but the road was temporarily closed for repairs. We waited and waited and waited, alternately giving plaintive looks to the road crew and scanning the landscape for wildflowers and bears, but our morning was unspooling and finally, we reluctantly turned back. And that took us back to Babb. Population: 174.

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Gail and I combed through the little vintage shop and Thronson’s General Store in search of souvenirs – Glacier-themed caps and tees are less expensive here than inside the park, so that right there was a reason to be in Babb.

Another reason is Two Sisters Café where there was a line outside the door twenty minutes before opening time. Where you can order “Trout and Waffles” (we didn’t) or a Huckleberry Shake (we did). Where one of the owners stopped by our booth to chat and told us about the time a bear wandered in the back door. She said she threw an avocado at the bear, which the bear picked up and took along with him as he ambled away.

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It’s not fancy but it’s fun, and judging from the way the place filled up, it might be the best (or only) bet near Babb. And if you’re looking for huckleberries, you’ve come to the right place.

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After lunch, we turned back toward St. Mary and headed for the boat launch. We had a reservation with Glacier Park Boat Company for a tour of St. Mary Lake. If you’re staying in East Glacier, this is a must-do!

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We got a coveted up-close view of Wild Goose Island,

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If it looks familiar, it’s because you may remember it from Stanley Kubrick’s opening scene in “The Shining”:

Our experience was far more placid than Jack Nicholson’s. Our guide gave us a historical and geological primer and explained the concept of “glacial flour”  that gives the lake its aquamarine hue.

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We moored up the lake a ways and took a brief hike in to see a lovely waterfall.

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Then it was time to head back to our little boat.

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The CE struck up a conversation with the boat concession operator about the maintenance of the boats, some of which date back to the 1920’s! (Glad we didn’t know that before we boarded…) He explained that they work on the boats all winter “back in town”. Town, I wondered? “You mean in Babb?” I asked, trying to imagine spending the winter in Babb. He shook his head. “Kalispell”, he explained. “Oh no, he said, definitively, “Not Babb.” And then, because he couldn’t resist “as we say here, from Babb to worse.” Maybe he doesn’t know about Two Sisters Café and all those huckleberry desserts.

I don’t know if we’ll ever make it back to Babb and I do kind of regret not having a taste of “trout and waffles” – served, by the way, with bacon and – wait for it – house-made huckleberry syrup. But our consolation prize was this bison stroganoff back at The Snowgoose Grille. No Babb to worse for us!

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Getting to Glacier.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve been to Yellowstone. I’ve been to Yosemite. But, like all the northwest, Glacier National Park had eluded me. From time to time I would trace it on a map but always it seemed too far off our beaten path.  So when we began planning the family visits to Sun Valley and Missoula  it came into clear focus – we would be in striking distance!

We headed north from Missoula, driving through the Flathead Indian Reservation and skirting the west edge of magnificent Flathead Lake. Passed through Kalispell, then stopped for lunch at the Buffalo Café in Whitefish, but couldn’t persuade my fellow travelers to dally in the cute shops there. Maybe next time…

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I started planning our visit back in November, but it wasn’t soon enough. No lodging available in West Glacier, which seemed the most popular place to stay. So we would arrive on the park’s west side but would then drive across its expanse along the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road to reach our lodgings in St. Mary on Glacier’s eastern edge.

It was a thrill to see this sign! We were there!

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I’d been told that Glacier is surprisingly accessible – much of it can even be seen out of a car window for us unfortunates who can’t do the vertical hikes. It was even better than I’d hoped – many, many places to pull off the road and gape at the views.

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Lovely Lake McDonald:

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I could have stood here all day:

We’d been told that the park would be crowded and that traffic could be bumper-to-bumper. Luckily, this turned out not to be the case, but there was a little gridlock around one of the park’s most popular hikes, Trail of the Cedars. It’s just a one-mile loop and it’s even wheelchair accessible, so anyone and everyone can enjoy it.

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We were grateful to have that leafy interlude, because soon we were creeping along Going-to-the-Sun Road with sheer rock face on one side and sheer drop off on the other. And yes, it was crowded. Going-to-the-Slow Road might have been a better name, but I’m not sure anyone would drive over twenty miles an hour on those steep curves anyway. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, and for us, probably only once. Amazing. And a little terrifying…

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We even saw a mountain goat, but too far away to get a good photo. Luckily, we found a willing stand-in:

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We were dusty, dizzy, tired and hungry by the time we arrived at the cheerful St. Mary Lodge late that afternoon and so relieved to find that our accommodations there were top notch.

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Loved the hanging flower baskets :

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Loved our cozy room:

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Loved the view of the stream from our balcony:

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And loved our dinners at the Lodge’s Snowgoose Grill:

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With the heavenly but harrowing Going-to-the-Sun Road in the rear view mirror, we quickly decided that “roughing it” wasn’t all that tough. We slept very, very well that night, looking forward to discovering Glacier on the morrow. So excited to have finally made it here!

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Missoula.

I’ve been trying to get to Missoula for decades. It was worth the wait.

Now I will always remember the Clark Fork River. And the train whistle that sounds just often enough to remind you that it was the Northern Pacific Railroad that more or less put Missoula on the map back in the 1880’s. I will also remember the song sparrow outside our hotel room overlooking the river that woke me at dawn each morning and beckoned me to the terrace to listen to that rushing river flow. All day long, jubilant summer celebrants bobbed past on their river rafts. As well they should, because I hear the winters can be harsh.

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We were here to visit the CE’s sister, Gail, whose sweet house which had me humming Crosby, Stills & Nash “a very very very fine house, with two cats in the yard…”

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At least two cats. Rumors of several others, but only one, the regal Puck, deigned to make our acquaintance.

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One of our favorite evenings of the entire trip was whiled away perched on Gail’s back porch dining on chicken pesto and morels while the sun set on a perfect Missoula day. And then to top it all off, ice cream with fresh-picked huckleberries. If backyard dinners could be awarded Michelin stars, I’d give it three.

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If you go: You may not be able to score an invite to dinner on Gail’s back porch but we did have some other great meals: The Pearl Café and Scotty’s Table for dinner, lunch on the patio at The Iron Horse (dog friendly – we met a lovely Viszla there) Not to be missed: bar food on the patio of Finn & Porter overlooking the river, and the upstairs terrace at Plonk, where they serve a lovely cheese plate and a memorable butterscotch pudding (we all shared but you might want that pudding all to yourself!)

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You’ll also want to go to the Saturday Farmer’s Market next to the old train station where on some weekends a certain local rock star performs.

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Other must-sees include Rockin’ Rudy’s, billed as the “original hipster department store”,

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and a multitude of downtown galleries and shops. My favorites were Cloth & Crown and  the 4 Ravens Gallery which features a panoply of lovely treasures, corvid and otherwise.

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But go soon…summer is already on the wane.

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Thanks for a great time, guys!

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Sun Valley to Missoula

What I love about a road trip: the heart, already full from a place just discovered, quickens in anticipation of another place, new, just up the highway a bit.

We downed our morning coffee and headed north out of Sun Valley with a crystalline blue sky above and the Sawtooths to our left. At Challis we joined up with the Salmon River, which would be our companion, hanging convivially just to our right or our left all the way into Salmon, Idaho.

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I can see how, for climbers, the only way to conquer a peak is to claim it, step by step. But being fainter of heart and broken in body, I have to be satisfied with snapping photos from my shotgun seat in a car. In this country, even that is exhilarating!

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Salmon was our halfway point, and a welcome one after nearly three hours on the road. I’d picked out a place for lunch, highly lauded by online reviewers. We easily found a parking spot right on Main Street; Salmon, population 3,050, does not fit the definition of a tourist town. As we tumbled creakily out of the car, we encountered a local and asked about the restaurant.

“Just came from there,” he said, a bit grumpily.

“Was it good?” I asked.

“Not in my opinion,” he harrumphed. Something about his stance and the cowboy hat square on his head told me his opinion was to be respected, so I asked him if there was a place he could recommend. He pointed down to the next block to Bertram’s Brewery, which was packed with cheerful locals enjoying a burger and some Mt. Borah Brown Ale. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

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Thus sustained, we continued north on U.S. 93, crossing into Montana, trading out the Salmon River for the Bitterroot and then crossing paths somewhere around Sulah with the ghosts of Lewis and Clark’s 1805 expedition. In September of that year, they camped somewhere northwest of Sulah and recorded:

“…we set out at 2 oClock at the same time all the Indians Set out on ther way to meet the Snake Indians at the 3 forks of the Missouri.  nothing to eate but berries, our flour out, and but little corn, the hunters killed 2 pheasents only. ” 

We’d eaten far better than Lewis & Clark, and our road was easier, too. But it was comforting to know that some of the scenery we were seeing remains mostly unchanged from their days.

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All told, it was about six hours and some change from Sun Valley until we pulled into our hotel parking lot in Missoula. Some of the most beautiful country we’ve ever seen and a new pin in the travel map, besides. We were hardly as enterprising as Meriweather Lewis but I have a new appreciation for these words from his journal:

“Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

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Friends in high places: Sun Valley

I don’t know if it was the altitude or the company or something in the water. Whatever it was, I’ll have more, please: our week in Sun Valley positively glowed.

Maybe it was all the flowers. Everywhere we looked! Or perhaps the ghost of Hemingway

Or the iconic Sun Valley Lodge.

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Had the Gary Cooper suite. Katherine, this one is for you (should we call it a Cooper’s Hawk?)

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Let it be known that we did not starve in the wilds of Idaho.  There was the signature Poitrine de Poulet Aux Morilles (that’s chicken breast with morels for us philistines) at Michel’s; one lovely lunch at The Vintage, another with the stunning views up the hill at The Roundhouse and a perfect evening on the deck at the Ketchum Grill. I know, I know, the list is not complete without the Pioneer Saloon which we’ll have to save until the next visit, but we did have dinner at Enoteca one evening with Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest seated nearby.

Mark and Jean were consummate tour guides, treating us to highlights like the gondola run up Mt. Baldy (I know there’s a joke re baldies atop Mt. Baldy but I just can’t come up with it…)

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They took us to a rousing performance by Irish rock band Swagger in Ketchum Park and to a not-to-be-missed Dockdogs competition:

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Best of all, we were there for the 4th of July Sun Valley On Ice performance. Mark, being that in-the-know guy, made sure we were at the rink for the noon rehearsal, where we saw all the performers, including Olympic bronze winners Alex and Maia Shibutani rehearse for the evening performance.

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That night, they put on a terrific show, and of course, fireworks after!

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We checked out some art galleries and found a favorite theme:

And then suddenly it was time to move on down the road. Many many thanks to Mark and Jean for a fabulous week!

Pencil us in for a return visit!

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Paying respects.

I haven’t read every word Ernest Hemingway wrote, but I’ve read enough to know that he was the real deal. A king among knaves, on the page at least.

In my flippant teens and twenties, I fatuously waved him aside as Fitzgerald’s lesser rival. But I was an idiot. I reconsidered after revisiting his work in advance of our visit to Hemingway House in Key West  and again when we tracked him down to his boyhood haunt of Petoskey, Michigan. There, we peered longingly into the windows of the Hemingway museum which, unfortunately, was shuttered on a Sunday afternoon.

He was what some called “complex”. Or maybe he was just brutish, pompous, boorish, narcissistic…pick one or all of the above.

But the writing!

One of my favorite Hemingway quotes: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. And this he did, over and over again. If, like me, you’re not enamored of A Farewell to Arms, move on to The Sun Also Rises or discover To Have and Have Not. Still unimpressed? Listen to Donald Sutherland  reading The Old Man and the SeaAnd, should you remain unmoved by that, go directly to For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is, unquestionably, a masterpiece of American literature.

Perhaps he bled too much at that typewriter. Or had one too many concussions (CTE?) along with far too much booze and oh so many personal demons. After 1960 he found he could no longer write, and in July of 1961, he blew his brains out with a shotgun.

I wasn’t sure I felt his presence in Key West, or in Petoskey, but I felt it this week in Sun Valley where we visited his memorial next to Trail Creek. As literary pilgrimages go, this one is an A+.

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Looks like many others have celebrated communion with Papa at his Ketchum Cemetery gravesite:

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When we arrived at the Hemingway Memorial we encountered one other pilgrim, a young man lost in thought in this lovely, silent place. I asked him if he was a fan and he nodded, affirmatively. “What’s your favorite?”, I asked. He didn’t miss a beat. “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Definitely the right answer.

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Not exactly a spring chicken.

I’ll be honest. Every morning I go out to open up the coop and half hold my breath wondering if she’ll still be there. She looks a little weary around the eyes these days and she’s slower to come down from her sleeping shelf, preferring to doze a bit while the others fuss and cackle come the morning light.

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But then, perky as ever, she fluffs her mille-fleur feathers and struts out into the pen with her snowshoe feet and finds a choice spot from which to preside over another day. In all the trauma of recent milestones, we completely forgot to mark Pippa’s SEVENTH birthday. Today I will honor her, not with cake and ice cream, but with her idea of a perfect celebration: shredded cheese and dried mealworms.

“How long do chickens live?” I am frequently asked. The conventional answer is 5-7 years but many flock keepers demur at that, having seen far too many hens perish at just under or just over a year old. I had one die suddenly just after point-of-lay, and a few at eighteen months to two years – these were most likely related to egg-binding/internal laying issues, which are a rampant problem in hens.

Pippa hasn’t laid an egg in years, which may be the key to her longevity. “Matilda”, a hen that lived to be sixteen years of age and was once certified as the World’s Oldest Chicken by Guinness World Records, was thought to owe her ripe old age to the fact that she never produced eggs. The current title for oldest living chicken, according to the Guinness site, is held by “Muffy”, who died in 2011 at age twenty-two. Matilda and Muffy may have been older, but I think Pippa is prettier.

Pippa has had a full life, including motherhood when she went stubbornly broody and we indulged her with three baby chicks. She is a bantam and her babies were standard-size, so things got interesting as they grew. Especially when they were the same size as her and still trying to burrow beneath her to sleep at night!

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Pippa leads chicks august 2014

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As the designated old lady of the flock, Pippa is accorded extra treats here there and everywhere and she is allowed the odd peck at June, the youngest hen and the only one Pippa dares to bully. Her advanced age also entitles her to afternoon naps tucked into the CE’s jacket.

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Not a bad life! I hope she has many more years ahead of her. Happy birthday, Pippa, and please don’t kick the bucket!

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