We started the morning in Western Washington, near Richland. On our way into town yesterday, we noticed that all signs seemed to point to Walla Walla. We loved saying this name and it made it fun to be the first one to find the sign and to shout out “Walla Walla!” Today started out the same. Seemingly every sign was pointing to Walla Walla. More fun! A few more miles down the road we noticed we were actually getting closer to Walla Walla (Walla Walla!).
Damn, we had missed our turn onto Route 395 and were now actually headed to Walla Walla. We found a place to turn around and then had a fun discussion as to who made the mistake, the pilot or the navigator. We’ll never tell!
We soon refound 395 and got back on track. We were now headed north through a desert area of Washington. Lots of grape vines and lava out-croppings. Yes, lots of lava flows in this part of the state. Remember, Mt. St. Helens is here in Washington, meaning this state has recently active volcanos! About 50 miles out of Spokane we start seeing pine trees. It’s not long before we are in dense pine forests again.
After Spokane comes the Idaho panhandle. This part of Idaho is very different from the southern part of the state. We’re steadily climbing up through dense pine forests and there are mountain peaks all around us. We round our northernmost part of our trip in Idaho, now our primary directions are east and south.
|Big Sky Country|
Idaho is only about 70 miles wide here and soon we go through a 4700 foot pass and enter Montana. More mountains and pine forests and after about 30 miles we’re joined by the Fork River which twists back and forth along our I-90 route. About an hour into the state, we start entering wide valleys with rounded green peaks and with lots of cattle. This is Big Sky country and it’s beautiful!
Butte, Montana is our destination and we arrive here early evening. Butte was a famous wild-west mining town, almost the stereotype for such towns. Thousands of men worked in the gold, copper and silver mines and the town did what it could to support them and to take their hard-earned money. Most businesses were open 24 hours, including the red-light district which didn’t close until 1982.
Much of the historic part of town was destroyed by a series of fires in the 1970s, but the old-west town flavor is still there. It’s accented by the mine head frames which dot the upper sides of the city’s mountain.
Headframes are the structures built above underground mines and which were the primary means of raising tools, men and mine products. Each headframe has a plaque with a bit of the mine’s history, including how many men died in that particular mine. These headframes are lit up at night and can be seen for miles.
Mona had done some research on where to eat, settling on The M&M Cigar Store. This restaurant received great online reviews and one review talked about Brian, the bartender and how he made the meal special. I was a bit skeptical, but hey, if it’s online it must be fine, right!?!
Outside the door of the M&M is a plaque denoting that this restaurant is on the National Historic Register! It dates back to 1870 when it was a saloon open 24 x 7 to support the miners. It was owned by several different men and each new owner had a ceremony where they broke the keys to the door because this saloon never closed. It was renamed from M&M Saloon to M&M Cigar Store during Prohibition. They didn’t stop serving alcohol, they just changed the name to conform with the law.
|Inside the M&M|
Inside, the bar is on the left and the diner is on the right. Both are long counters with stools. In the back is the casino…about 8 machines for playing Keno and Poker. We settle at the bar and soon meet Brian, the bartender. He grew up in this town and remembers coming to the M&M in the mornings when it was filled with beer drinking miners, waiting to go on shift. Brian has lots of stories about the town and himself…making this a truly fun meal! (The hamburgers we had were among the best we’ve ever had, especially since they had a fried egg on top!)
After dinner we decide to visit one of the many casinos in the city. Montana has a very different take on casinos. Unlike Illinois and Missouri, Montana doesn’t require a riverboat base for gambling. Here, casinos are everywhere and combined with the strangest things. You’ll see signs like: “Gas, tires, steaks and casino!” Or “Tobacco, Motel Casino and Gas!” Lots of interesting combinations.
We visited the casino at our “Gas, Tobacco, Casino and Hotel” and were warmly greeted by the two guys who ran the place. There was a poker table in the front with about ten cowboys playing Texas Hold Em. In the back were about 20 machines, each with different variations of Keno or Poker. No funny penguins nor chattering monkeys on these machines! We had never played Keno so we tried our hand at that…cost us about $3.50 in losses for our visit, but that was more than compensated for by the free chardonnay!
About 10:00 PM we decided to drive up through the mountain top to see the lit-up headframes. They are beautifully silhouetted in red lights above the twinkling lights of the city below. This is a must-do when visiting Butte!
Time for bed! Tomorrow….more Montana!