The Beartooths

It is Sunday today, and it feels like it. We’ve been in living in Mammoth Hot Springs for three whole weeks now, and we’ve been busy.

Some highlights include:

Lydia playing with a million other little kiddos at our weekly playgroup.

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Having coffee in our backyard on weekend mornings.

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Lydia riding her horse while listening to records (daily).

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Hiking new trails! (Bunsen Peak, Beaver Ponds, Lost Lake, and more).

Going to the Montana Folk Festival with my friend Margo (and leaving Lydia at home).

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Attending yoga class, shopping in Bozeman, and regularly heading out to a coffee shop to write (like right now).

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This weekend was particularly sweet. This was the first time since we arrived that we didn’t have shopping and errands to do, so we decided to celebrate. We woke up early Friday morning and packed the car, then headed northeast.

We traveled through the Lamar Valley where a bison almost gored our car (he was probably just bluffing). Then we exited the park through the less-used northeast gate, and had breakfast at the Log Cabin in Silver Gate, Montana. (I wish I would have gotten a picture, because this place was adorable). Lydia had fallen asleep in the car on our way to Silver Gate, and she stayed asleep as we transferred her into her stroller, ate our breakfast, redeposited her back in the car, and kept driving. (When she finally woke up, she enjoyed pancakes and eggs in her car seat.)

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We traveled up the famous Beartooth Highway, an All-American Road that reaches nearly 11,000 feet at the pass. Because of heavy snowfall on the steep and winding road, this section of highway 212 is only open from late-May to mid-October. Neither of us had ever driven this road before.     

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We traveled down the other side of the Beartooth Mountain Range and entered the city of Red Lodge, Montana (population 2,125). We didn’t know (but quickly discovered) that there was a biker rally being held in Red Lodge this weekend (in anticipation of Sturgis, which is just weeks away). There were vendors and bikers everywhere, and it was a festive way to arrive. We walked around and browsed souvenirs, then Lydia and I wandered into a cafe while Rafal hit up the local barbershop.

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Honey’s Cafe and Espresso (located right across from the barber) could not have been more perfect. They were playing Bright Eyes. They served my iced americano in a mason jar. THEY HAD A PLAY AREA, complete with tutus and a rocking horse (Lydia’s two favorite toys). On one wall, they had books for sale, and on display was Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object, which I’d been meaning to buy! Seriously, this place gets five enthusiastic stars.

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After this, we made our way to the local farmer’s market, where Lydia ran wild and we bought a homemade apple pie. Then we piled ourselves back into the Subaru and kept driving.

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We made our way past the historical Smith Mine Disaster site and out into the farmland of Bridger, Montana. We followed the directions narrated by our GPS guide toward our destination for the night. As we turned down increasingly smaller and smaller dirt roads–with the GPS cutting in and out–Rafal and I exchanged quizzical glances. All of a sudden, our guide announced, “You have arrived at your destination.”

We were in the middle of a field.

Rafal stopped the car and we looked around. I jokingly pulled out the binoculars. We called our Airbnb host, but no answer.

Fortunately, once we turned the car around, Rafal saw a small turnoff he had missed. We drove down ¼ of mile and there we saw our lodging for the night.

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It was really hot when we first got there. Earlier that day we’d been at almost 11,000 feet elevation, but our tipi was deep in the valley at only 3,000. Plus, it was extremely sunny, so we were hot!

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Our tipi contained individual cots, there was water and a grill for us to use, and there was an adorable three-legged beagle dog who became my friend. All around us were animal sounds, with Lydia asking, “You heard the cow? You heard the owl?” Our host, Daniel, was a friendly guy that uncannily resembled Ray (Ricky’s dad) from Trailer Park Boys.

Once the sun started to hide behind the mountains, we got a bit of relief. We ate the veggie chili I prepared ahead of time, and devoured slices of apple pie. I put Lydia to bed in her little cot, and Rafal and I snuggled quietly in front of the fire.

The next morning was oatmeal and coffee. Then we packed up and headed back to Red Lodge, and back to Honey’s for a second breakfast. There, we enjoyed the most incredible burritos–with local eggs, local pulled pork, mozzarella, kale, chard, potatoes, and green chilis (mine was in a bowl and Rafal’s, minus the meat, was in a tortilla)–while Lydia played with the toy kitchen and built a tower with legos. (We overheard a whole string of leathered-out bikers ordering the burritos, “hold the kale and hold the chard.”)

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Then we made our way back over the pass, enjoying a totally different view. We drove all the way back through the Lamar Valley, as rain made a rhythmic pattern on our windshield and Lydia napped. We stopped in the Tower-Roosevelt area of the park just as the rain was letting up and hiked the 3-mile loop to Lost Lake and the Petrified Tree (which is weirdly behind a fence).

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The rain started back up just as we got into the car, and we drove the last stretch toward Mammoth Hot Springs, or in other words, home.

Truth be told, it’s a little too hot here for my taste. And I miss my old buddies in Grant. But so far, this side of the park is treating us well. So I think we’ll settle in for a minute.  

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