After Coeur D’Alene we didn’t have far to go to reach Missoula, Montana. I’ve never been to Montana, so I was excited to cross another state off my list. I was also excited to visit Missoula because Monica has been raving about Missoula since I met her. Seems her ex-boyfriend was from Missoula. I was openly hoping we’d run in to him. (Spoiler: we didn’t.)
Missoula is indeed a cool town, comprised of cleverly named bike shops, book stores, breweries, outdoor stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and beard wax purveyors – all supported by the presence of the University of Montana. Oh, and everyone in town drives food trucks instead of regular cars. The day we got there, they had their weekly “Downtown Tonight” street party with live music, lots of food trucks (or was that just the parking lot?), and food tents (which spin a cocoon and eventually become food trucks). They do this every Thursday for all six weeks of summer before the glacier returns.
The music was great – a lively bluegrass band with a woman who could belt. I had a plate of “Tatanka Tacos” (bison tacos) that were out of this world.
Visiting Missoula in July will give you the impression that it’s an inviting place to live. Then you find out that their summer starts around the 4th of July and ends around Labor Day. The Clark Fork River features a standing wave, where surfers don’t have to wait for the next set. We look so happy because the kids spent an hour rolling down the hills – not bothering us.
The next day Monica booked us a rafting trip. I was a little nervous, because she has a tendency to get ambitious and I kept hearing about Class III and IV rapids. I absolutely love whitewater rafting, and took on some big rapids in Costa Rica when I was younger and didn’t have an artificial aorta.
I was relieved to learn that we’d booked a leisurely float. Our guide, Andy, was equally pleased to have a laid back family who wanted to hear stories of being a young dude with a beard in Missoula. Perhaps the coldest water of the summer – but so refreshing.
We had to leave Missoula reluctantly after two nights, because the town was booked up for their annual marathon. (Next year, Monica, next year.) But what we found next took away the pain. We went back 150 years when we hit Nevada City and Virginia City. The thing about these rebuilt ghost-towns is that they are still just two towns trying to survive on the frontier.
Nevada City and Virginia City are about a mile from each other. They are wonderfully restored – sometimes moved and reassembled. It was like walking on the set of my favorite movie (Tombstone). We went to a bonafide Old West theatre where we enjoyed a humorous version of Cinderella, followed by an hour of Vaudeville vignettes. We finished it, sleeping in a cabin built in the late 1800s. (Monica: Do you have a better pic from inside the cabin?)
The next morning we jumped into the tourist activities with both feet. Monica wasn’t just eager – she would not be denied the opportunity to pose in Old West costumes. Then we took a stage-coach ride into the hills where gold was discovered in the 1860s.
Left: “I’m you’re Huckleberry.” Right: Replica 1880s Wells Fargo stage coach. The driver – I think his name was Dan – gave a great history of the area and (to the kids’ delight) his dog followed on the entire route.
Our time in the Old West ended on a sour note as I was suddenly stricken with a massive dizzy spell that had me clinging to a 150 year-old hitching post for dear life. We spent twenty minutes meandering along a canyon road while the family listened as my breakfast came back up. I took a nap in the van while the family panned for gold in a nearby stream. More than once, as I passed in and out of consciousness, I heard people walk past our ride, spot our license plate, and exclaim, “Whoa! Florida!”
Damn right, we drove from Florida.
If you go:
- I hear you can fly to Missoula pretty easily – particularly if you’re brave and fly on Allegiant (and don’t plan on bringing luggage). We’ve added the city to the list of many places we’d like to return to without driving 9,000 miles.
- The marquee at the Wilma Theatre featured a who’s who of touring musicians. If they’re playing in Montana, they’re playing in Missoula. Next time I’m getting tickets to a show.
- Eat at Catalyst – breakfast to die for.
- Nevada and Virginia City are a great stop north of Yellowstone. Not too cheesy and adults and kids can enjoy it.
- Alberton Gorge is a stunning setting for rafting – big or small. Rather than canyon carved by water, the Clark Fork River flows through fault line. The river can be 100 feet deep in places where it’s only forty to fifty feet across.
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“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Check out Jon’s periodic column, “So How’s That New Book Coming?” at Creative Loafing – Tampa. His 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and connoisseur of 70s rock lyrics.