THE KAERU KID: Northwest USA road trip

bioline_KaeruKidEditor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

The goal for this road trip was to meet George Kubota Jr., who I wrote about in my preceding column (in the June 9, 2016 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly), but the route also gave me an excuse to stay with friends and also to stop to see unique places. As my sister can attest, I am a sucker for any roadside attraction. If you wonder how I find these places, I use http://www.roadsideamerica.com among other sources.

My travel companion and I started out from Las Vegas and our first stop was in Jackpot, Nev. Unfortunately, the video poker pay schedules had decreased to the point where there was little incentive to play and even the dining offerings weren’t up to average Vegas standards.

I have many friends who live or have vacation homes in Sun Valley, Idaho and that was our next destination. We were guests in a beautiful home alongside a gurgling stream.

After lunch, they took us on a tour, and I was amazed at the changes since my last visit some time before. There was a huge outdoor amphitheater as well as indoor and outdoor skating rinks. My companion is an Ernest Hemingway fan, so our hosts took us on a tour to visit the lodge where the last letter he wrote was displayed, to Hemingway’s memorial near Trail Creek Restaurant, to Hemingway’s home, which was made of concrete to appear to be of wood and the Hemingway family grave. Our guests used to hire the then teenage Hemingway girls, Margaux and Mariel, as babysitters.

We were treated to a delicious dinner at Vintage Restaurant. The next day after a hearty breakfast made by our hosts, we departed toward Missoula, Mont. There are CDs that narrate the history and natural landmarks along the drive that are available for a security deposit from the ranger station. Unfortunately, the one we obtained in Ketchum skipped. The next CD from the Challis Ranger Station was even of poorer quality (good ideas, but poorly executed).

Friends who have a vacation home in Montana suggested meeting in Missoula to attend the Testicle Festival (http://tinyurl.com/7vn2wkv). It is held the week before the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is about a 10-hour drive away, so there were many bikers there as well. We were going to stay with an Affordable Travel Club, but after they asked what we planned to do in Missoula, they suddenly discovered that the wife had an illness and had to cancel. We were fortunate to get an AirBnB stay at the last minute. Don’t mention plans to attend the Testy Fest to potential hosts because they might make bad assumptions about your character.

After paying a hefty entrance fee of $17 each and $5 for parking, we entered the grounds and tasted the deep fried Rocky Mountain oysters that the festival is named for. The bikers in attendance naturally loved the wet T-shirt contest and their enthusiastic hollering led to all the contestants stripping completely after being wet. My friends and I had dinner at the nearby Ekstrom’s Stage Station Restaurant, which had lots of rustic atmosphere, but just average food.

The plan the next day was to go through Glacier National Park from the east entrance of the town of St. Mary. It is a gorgeous drive, and one can understand why Montana has earned the label of Big Sky country. A poor quality lunch at the Indian Casino in Browning, Mont. confirmed that gaming chances would be equally poor, but we stopped there because our friends recommended visiting the Plains Indian Museum next door. It is an excellent museum, but not easy to find. The tribe also has a gift and art store across from the parking lot that is worthy of a visit.

Park Cafe in the town of Saint Mary, Mont. has the reputation of having delicious pies. The parking lot was completely filled with customers waiting outside to get a seat. The pecan pie we ordered was good. However, slow and unfriendly service had many longtime visitors commenting that prices have increased while the food quality and service have gone down.

The beautiful view on the Going to the Sun Road. photo by The Kaeru Kid

The beautiful view on the Going to the Sun Road. photo by The Kaeru Kid

The Glacier National Park visitors center was disappointing in lacking informative or interesting displays. Years ago I visited this park from the Canadian side and was impressed with the Prince of Wales lodge overlooking a beautiful lake. We took the USA-side drive via the “Going to the Sun” Road with deep canyons and many waterfalls that rival Yosemite.

We could see fly fishermen in many of the streams, as well as deer and mountain goats grazing. Lake McDonald Lodge next to McDonald Lake gave us an opportunity for a refreshing taste of dark Moose Drool beer and hibiscus rum with Coke. Boat tours and open air bus tours are available here.

Our Montana friends welcomed us to their palatial vacation home on Flathead Lake. We were treated like royalty with sumptuous meals, given a lake tour on their boat, taken to the Bigfork Festival of the Arts, as well as to the town of Whitefish to attend the Festival Amadeus, a celebration of classical music that’s held outdoors. A pleasant dinner at Casey’s Restaurant on their outdoor rooftop before the festival began was yet another treat. We also had a late night snack on the way back to Flathead Lake at Moose’s in Kalispell. It was a real dive (in a good way) where we washed down delicious thin crust pizza with Moose Drool on tap.

GLIMPSES OF AMERICA'S PAST — Wartime propaganda about the Japanese at the Miracle of America Museum. photo by the Kaeru Kid

GLIMPSES OF AMERICA’S PAST — Wartime propaganda about the Japanese at the Miracle of America Museum. photo by The Kaeru Kid

Montana is said to lack racial diversity, and indeed, we saw no black people and only a handful of Asians.

Reluctantly, we left for our next destination of Spokane, Wash. Flathead Lake cherries were in season and we purchased some from a roadside stand. Unfortunately, our taste buds preferred Bing cherries over these. Next, we paused in Polson, Mont. to visit the Miracle of America Museum, discovering an incredible collection of military history, including uniforms, weapons, cars, motorcycles, armored carriers, helicopters, medals (even a Medal of Honor), posters and more than one can imagine. There is a large section devoted to World War II propaganda about the Japanese enemy. I don’t think the owner ever threw anything away.

Among other junk (or treasures, depending on your view) are old cars, a one room school house, a doctor’s office, dental office, old jail and other similar buildings forming a regular village and old farm equipment, too. We spent two hours here and the cashier said many visitors spend more than five hours.

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