Updated with slight editing
I am writing this from outside Bozeman, Montana. My journey south has begun.
I had planned to leave Glacier for Helena, by way of Missoula. I could see friends there whom I have not visited in a few years, and do some photography along the way. I was especially interested in taking shots of some of the geologic features leftover from the Glacial Lake Missoula Flood, 10,000 years ago.
On the night I left Glacier, I got an email from the owner of the Izaak Walton Inn who asked me to do a photo shoot of the property, for his website and other promotions. Yes, of course. The Ice Age Flood will have to wait.
I drove the next morning to the Inn, and met Brian who walked me around and gave me the details of the assignment. The Inn was built originally for railroad workers. It is steeped in railroad lore and history, and cluttered with railroad paraphernalia. On the grounds of the Inn are three cabooses and one locomotive, renovated for rental, and I was to photograph those, as well as shots of the cabins, of the new deck and of the dining room.
The next morning after breakfast I showed off my work to Brian, who approved. Then I found out that David, the manager, had access to Photoshop. That meant he could turn the raw files into a usable form. I offered to either continue the process, at my rates, or just turn the files over to them. David said he could take it from there so I copied the files onto CDs, and completed the assignment.
Onward: on Highway Two, on the south of Glacier, past the Silver Stairs, now with more leaves than water.
On the way south, down the Front Range, the mountains rising abruptly to my right. I only made on stop, at the rock shop in Bynum, to buy two trilobites and take a picture of one.
The air was clear. I had left behind the smoke which filled the Flathead Valley. Or so I thought.
Highway 200 runs east to west, intersecting at right angles the road I drove, the mountains to my right. As I approached it I saw smoke pouring from upward from the pass into the Little Bitterrot. It broke in a tall, white, standing wave, with filaments rising, entangling, falling; then fell into a river of white.
By the time I crossed 200, the smoke enveloped me, all the way into Prickly Pear Canyon. When I came up and out of the canyon, I could see the entire Helena Valley, filled with smoke.
I spent a smokey week in Helena, touching base with old friends. My birthday was Sunday the 23rd of September, which I celebrated at Benny’s with Lynn and Tori. Benny’s was having a wine-tasting dinner, featuring six wines of France, and Margaret, the owner, bought me dinner for my birthday.
Of the several wines my clear favorite was the 2010 Chinon from Marc Bredif. it has lovely aromas of raspberry definitely, and cedar, maybe. The varietal was cabernet franc, which is seldom found under its own label in California.
After that, Lynn took me out to Sommelier’s, where we shared flights of Sirah / Shiraz. Later I shared a Ridge Zinfandel, the Ponzo 2009, with Steven and Megan. Steven and I have known each other 21 years, and on many anniversaries and birthdays of those two decades we have shared a Ridge together, as a marker in time. Having tasted six wines before I even got to these last four, the details of their flavors are lost to history.
I was able to see my six year old friend Liam several times. We had fun solving puzzles together. We set up his iPad so we can play chess together, and I worked out links between his browser and mine, and his email as well. He was proud to show off his reading and he got to play with a real camera for once.
I watched him play catch with his father, and better yet, play drums. He was an absolute hoot and did a very good job, jamming with dad. My heart soared like an eagle to see him laugh.
I miss him already.
I left Helena Wednesday morning, heading for Bozeman. to have dinner with my friend Johnnie, who took me to dinner at the Mint, in Belgrade. The drive from his ranch to Belgrade was a study in light and smoke and shadow. We were driving into the setting sun, the light slanting at a shallow angle into the wide valley. Everything was backlit by golden light. The smoke which hung in the air was a slightly lighter, horizontal stroke against the mountains. But beneath the backlit smoke was backlit dust, hanging low, another, brighter horizontal stroke. The smoke above was still, but the dust seethed, kicked up by tractors working the too-dry fields, and by cars and trucks criss-crossing the checker board of dirt, the roads which border and define the land.
It could have all been painted in shades of gold.
Dinner at the Mint was excellent. Johnnie ate lightly, a salad, but I indulged in buffalo tenderloin, rare, whose texture was stringier than that cut from a steer, but whose flavor was, well, meatier, more savory, a taste of earth and wood. We had the Black Slate Garnacha from the Priorat of Spain,
Outside of Spain, the grape is know as “Grenache,” and it is the most widely planted red grape in the world. But those planting include few in California. There, it is seldom found behind a label bearing its name, although it is frequently found in blends, just as it is in southeastern France, in the Cotes du Rhone.
The Black Slate was delicious! Rich on the tongue, and neither harsh or laced with tannins. The flavors were deep and rich and jammy as well. Blueberry perhaps? No, not quite that bright. Plum? Yes, I like plum. There was also a floral note, perhaps of violets, which wafted coyly away as soon as I noticed.
Johnnie is a wonderful friend. Over dinner I told Johnnie less of my adventures this summer–not needed, he reads this blog–than of my plans for the winter and years to come.
I stayed that night in the Great White Land whale, on Johnnie’s ranch.
While Johnnie made breakfast for us, I sat on his porch, with Ross Peak dominating the Bridgers off to my left. Als in my field of view: a coyote, a wolf, a turkey. all bronze, all life size, skirting the edge of the manicured lawn. Beyond that, taller unkempt dry grasses. Beyond that, bushes skirt the edge of a very small creek. There were no other houses visible. The morning sun, coming through the notches of the mountains to my left, creates crepuscular rays which illuminate and define the smoke which fills the valley, from fires in Idaho.
Now I am writing from downtown Bozeman, from the brand spanking new downtown Santa Fe Red’s sidewalk section. I am drinking Madison River Salmon Fly, a light, well- flavored beer, not too hoppy, perfect for a hot end-of-summer day.
My server wears purple sunglasses and a white flower in her hair. The door has a poster for a toga party here, tomorrow night. I think that tells you much of what you need to know about Santa Fe Reds.
Bozeman has a much livelier street scene than when I left 6 years ago. There is a sculpture garden now; the utility boxes on the streets are brightly painted; there are more interesting restaurants and a new wine shop, every single bottle individually annotated. That’s a lot of loving work, right there.
Salmon Fly is it? Ok, I will cast for people.
Directly ahead of me at one outside table is a burly guy with wraparound insectoid sunglasses, unsmilingly intent on his phone. He looks vaguely imposing but he drinks a foo-foo cocktail, undercutting the image.
At the table to my left is a reed of a girl in a blue sleeveless shirt, with a tweed baseball cap. She is scrolling her iPhone, while picking at her iSalad. When she lifts her finger from the phone, the finger’s tip describes a little curlycue, a grace note to the gesture, which is somehow consonant with the delicacy with which she dissects the salad.
Two shirtless guys jog down the shady side of the street, one in red trunks, one in blue. Hey, wheres the guy in white?
A Subaru glides by, the guy driving it in cowboy hat and tanktop.
A young man saunters along the sidewalk. He has a backpack, a blue yellowstone t-shirt, trendy upside down eyeglasses on an Asian face topped by a mohawk which is growing back, which gives him the look of an under-fertilized Chia. He is smiling at the sun.
A trim lady approaches. She has a very designer blouse, oversize dragonfly-eyed sunglasses, earrings approaching hulahoops, and a shopping bag which reads “contain yourself.” I think that would be a very good idea.
I stole that line, by the way. That was Ghandi’s reply when, on his first visit to England, he was asked his opinion of Western civilization.
It is now evening, 7:30. I am at Plonk, a wine bar, which attracts the terminally trendy like moths to a flame. i just know I am gonna spot some good specimens here.
But no: they keep the lights too low. It is hard to people-watch in here without infrared goggles.
Given the size of everyone’s sunglasses, infra-goggles would fit right in.
Now I am at what was once the Robin, but now is just another of Ted Turner’s holdings, as he tries to buy all of western Montana.
I am at the bar, immediately next to the server’s station. Yes this will do.
The servers congregate over to my left, around the two computers by which they place their orders, print their checks, etc. The ‘puter is the modern equivalent of the water cooler. The servers are trading tales of insane customers. God, I wish I could hear the details, but they are just out of range. This may have been planned.
The servers include:
An older guy, his goatee and sideburns going gray. He’s the pro. He will always have a “that-reminds-me” tale to tell. So do I.
One thin guy, with a fu manchu blonde mustache, who seems faintly gay. Not the strongest signal on the gaydar, but a blip here, a blip there.
OMG! Another guy looks like a young version of the butler-slash-caretaker in Kubirck’s The Shining! “When my girls misbehaved, I corrrrrrrected them…”
Heres a guy with a pencil thin mustache, of which Jimmy Buffet would be proud.
What’s going on here? Does whoever does the staffing here have a stereotype checklist he marks off with each new hire? Got a gay on staff? Check. Latino? Check. Old guy? Check. Cute blond girl with ponytail, straight out of Archie comics? Check. Tall anorexic brunette, her ponytail about 1/3 the width of her shoulders? Checkarino. Kubrick archetype? Corrrrrect.
Now I am writing from the Madison Crossing Lounge in West Yellowstone.
I had my Medicare-paid full physical this morning.
Liver ok, heart ok, lungs ok, cholesterol ok, blood sugar slightly elevated but nothing dangerous or actionable, as long as I do not try to live on pasta.
There is a hint from the lab work of possible colon cancer, not a strong signal, not life-endangering, but enough to move up the colonoscopy I had scheduled, from next spring to this fall.
And my blood pressure was really high, dangerously so, for the first time ever. This surprised me since it was checked less than a month ago at the clinic in West Glacier, when I went in for the foot wound. Dr Benda immediately prescribed medication to bring it down, since otherwise, I am at serious risk for stroke.
This also means nobody can yell at me ever again. Doctor’s orders.
Before I left I filled the prescription at WalMart, and stocked my pantry. I won’t have to pay for food for about two weeks.
Then off to Yellowstone.
Bozeman is built on an alluvial fan, or a series of them, outwash from the Gallatin Range to the south. The road out of Bozeman to Yellowstone heads west, then intersects 191, which goes straight south, into the V-shaped valley of the Gallatin.
That V means no glacier made it from the Yellowstone Plateau to the mouth of the canyon; otherwise the glacier would have carved their signature U shaped valley.
Autumn is here. The banks of the Gallatin were lined with the yellow of aspen and birch, mostly on the near side, set against the dark green of the conifers on the far bank of the blue-green, rushing water. Low brush contributed orange and red to the palette. A particularly striking island in the fast-flowing stream had bright yellow brush accented by a single wine-red bush. That island would have been under water in the spring melt, so that riot of color was born of the rush to life, to take quick advantage of the sun, soon to be lost.
In the valley, the stone has changed. It is no longer a conglomerate, a muddle and mashup. This is Precambrian basement rock. There is an outcropping in a road cut which has been measured at 2 billion years old, older than any in Glacier. I am not yet to the stone left by the many eruptions of the Yellowstone volcano.
A new thing! A zipline, or set of them. wooden ziggurats, strung together, through the trees, across the river and back again. Riding the lines is a school of children, screaming in delight as they dropped into their high-strung gravity wells.
Now the yellow cliffs of the Madison Limestone are bright against the afternoon sun. I am in the Park.
The river no longer rushes, it meanders in wide but braided streams, the barely dry land between the braids covered in grasses which grow in brushstrokes of orange and red. Fronds of kelp-like plants undulate lazily under the surface of the barely moving water, their rich green a sign they have not yet given up on photosynthesis, not yet sacrificed their chlorophyl to the coming winter. They still need every photon they can get.
Speaking of photons: Lightning! A single stroke slices the sky to the east of me. The thunder arrives several seconds later, arrives as a rumble not a crack. I imagine it rolling down the canyon, chasing Indiana Jones.
I am out of the Park. The highway cuts a corner of the Park, runs to its west, then turns and runs through the Park, as I will do tomorrow.
Meanwhile the road rises toward the plateau of the Park, leaving the river behind. I arrive at the entrance, West Yellowstone, check at the visitor center to make sure nome of the roads I am planning to drive tomorrow are closed by either fire or ice. No. The path is clear.
I am writing this final stretch from the bar at the Madison Crossing Lounge. The long room has space for tables against its brick-red walls, with six four-tops down the center, and another eight deuces against the plate glass windows which face to the south. The handsome wooden cabinet behind the bar has an antique look, but it is instead a modular, modern system, only a few years old. Exposed beams tilt down toward the stone fireplace in the center of the outside wall. They are original to the building, which was the first West Yellowstone School, built in 1918. The lounge itself is on the site of the first grade classroom.
There are now eight tables dining. Some are regulars, greeted by name by the owner or his hostess. Others are obvious tourists. A couple silhouetted against the window are a good example. She is slender, he is overweight, both in their fifties, probably. They wear cowboy hats unworn by weather. His looks to be of plastic covered straw which will melt in either heat or rain. Hers is leather, but sits on her head precariously perched atop her bouffantish do, upheld by gel.
And that brings you up to the present moment. I am going to publish this post and head to the Land Whale. I will be up by dawn and into and out of Yellowstone by noon. Then I am going to visit half the wineries in Wyoming, the Irvin Cellar Winery in Riverton.
Miles on Moby Ree-shard, the Great White Land Whale: 18,553