Friday, July 13, 2012

The long way home, part 2

[Backdated post]

Hmm.  Friday the 13th.  Time to ignore my paraskevidekatriaphobia and get on with it.

Well, hello there, Bedford Idaho Falls!  Let's take a look around you this morning, shall we?

Falls still there?  Check.

There's a trail running along the riverbank, studded here and there with inventive decorative seating.  We both particularly liked this bench.

On the opposite bank of the Snake River is the Idaho Falls Temple.  There was a wedding party taking photos on the grounds this morning, so we didn't linger very long.

Here's a campground near our hotel.  At this point Captain Midnight was scouring the area for geocaches.  I was drawn to this particular deserted campground cabin because when we first entered the area, a whole family of marmots was playing on and around the picnic table.  One of them was standing sentinel; it piped a warning as soon as it saw us, and they all darted under the porch.

I promptly dubbed this structure the Chateau Marmot.

"I'm a yellow-bellied marmot, and I approve this message."

Having had our fill of Idaho Falls, we gassed up and headed for the great yonder.

Next in our series of Towns With No Stoplights: the bustling metropolis of Dubois, Idaho. Dubois has a comparable population to Downey, but it covers slightly more land and seemed much busier -- the biggest difference being that Dubois is right off the freeway, while Downey is set back a distance of several miles.

Here we see the Dubois Ranger District/Targhee National Forest ranger station. Ranger Rick had just stepped out to get lunch, so we missed taking his picture.  And calling him "Ranger Rick" to his face, for that matter.  (Captain Midnight mused, "I'm sure he'd reply with something like, 'You know, I do have a gun.'")

Instead I had to settle for cuddling up to Smokey Bear.

Warning: Red means EXTREME fire danger!  Or "Beef," if it's a bouillon cube.

From Dubois we drove steadily until we hit the Montana border.  There was no room to get out and cavort around the sign as in Idaho.  Instead we took Exit 0...

... toward the little border ghost town of Monida, Montana.

I suppose technically Monida isn't a true ghost town, as there are at least five inhabited structures in the place, but I think the town would be hard pressed to muster a population of 30, even counting pets and livestock.

It did offer some great opportunities for photographs, though.  Here's the old Monida Mercantile store, with its front windows shattered and its porch caved in, and other defunct businesses to whom time has not been as kind.

I stretched my legs for a bit, walking through the main road to the other side of town (which took all of three minutes).  Here's the barn on the far side of Monida.

A chocolate lab living across the street from the barn spotted me walking along and began barking enthusiastically.  She ran out into the street to sniff at me, and when I held still and spoke softly to her, she started wagging her tail and licking my hand.  The owner began swearing almost as enthusiastically at the dog.  "What did I tell you about barking at people?" he yelled, picking up a stick to administer some corporal punishment, and the dog -- knowing what was coming -- slunk away and hid under a truck.  I felt sorry for her.  There was no harm done, I was a stranger, and she was just doing her job.  But I didn't know what to say.

"Our work here is done," said Captain Midnight.  "I've found the cache.  Let's go find the other one."

"The other one" was a cache that had been placed on a nearby bridge.

In fact, we'd seen the bridge from the freeway just before we crossed the state line into Montana.

The bridge is part of the old Highway 91 route, which is so rarely traveled that the paving has mostly worn away and it has become, to all intents and purposes, a gravel road.

From Monida, you travel about a mile southwest, invisibly crossing back into Idaho territory...

... and passing the Bus Junkyard as you go.

Seriously, this is apparently Where School Buses Go to Die.  We also spied a fair number of chopped-up garbage trucks, dead ice cream vans, broken earth-moving equipment, two train boxcars, and a defunct Pinto in this random elephant graveyard of heavy machinery.  Who knows why this stuff is sitting and rusting here?  Maybe just because it can?

We shrugged and continued on our way.

Rounding the top of a hill, we first caught sight of our goal off in the distance.

It's obvious this bridge was built for much more traffic than it gets these days.  The guy who placed this cache reports, "The day I drove this route, I don't recall seeing any cars on this road other than myself, so it's definitely the road less traveled."  We saw just one truck and trailer combination pass over the bridge while we were here.  It's an all but abandoned spot.

What happened next was one of the loveliest moments of our trip, and something that I suspect will stick in my head for many years to come.

As Captain Midnight and I parked the car and walked slowly across the bridge, searching for the cache...

... hundreds of little birds, who live beneath the bridge, were roused from their nests and began to fly out and around us.  We don't know what kinds of birds they were, but they had soft peeping chirps and they seemed singularly unafraid of us, flying as close as five feet away and using the prevailing air currents to float and hover nearby.  I'm not sure how often they see human beings up close.

Captain Midnight pulled out his phone and took some video footage, but it's impossible to get the full feel of it: the airborne flock of little birds floating and darting about everywhere, the soft irregular sound of cars and trucks sliding by on the freeway in the distance, and the gentle soughing of the wind.

It was a magical moment, perhaps impossible to repeat.  And that's why we geocache.

The other side of the bridge. (Waymarking geeks: let's play a quick game of Spot the Benchmark.)

Eventually we did discover the cache, though by then it was largely superfluous as far as I was concerned.  Nonetheless we signed, logged, and drove away.  We paused at a rest stop in Lima (where I didn't have the presence of mind to take any pictures), but then pressed on without stopping again until we reached Butte.

And welcome to Butte.  Ain't it a beaut.

In fact, uptown Butte turned out to be oddly camera-shy, as we took a lot of pictures that didn't show up when we downloaded them from the camera.  But we have a few -- some miners' shanties next to the big black mine derricks at the pinnacle of uptown...

...the historic Scott Bed & Breakfast, still in beautiful condition...

...the street bands jamming for the folk festival crowds.

Also, I've never seen so many Irish pubs in a town of this size.  I mean EVER.  This town's got more fighting Irish than Notre Dame.

One of the pubs even has a huge evil drunken leprechaun statue, leering down at passersby from the top of the building.  Some Saint Patrick's Day no doubt he'll lose his balance and tumble down to crush the hapless revelers below.

By this time we were getting peckish, so we found a place to eat: Pork Chop John's, your basic local lunch counter with a walk-up window, round red swiveling seats at the bar, and and a whole array of artery-hardening goodness on the menu.  It's the kind of place everybody in town goes for lunch, and the cook and waitresses tease each other and gently harass the customers.  Worth the stop.

Also, I gotta show you this: all that's left of Butte Miners' #1 Union Hall.  It's been preserved as a monument to what might be the world's nastiest labor dispute.

See, back in June 1914 the local miners had an altercation which led to, um, strong differences of opinion.  Strong enough, in fact, that there was a gunfight.  When that didn't solve things, one faction took sticks of dynamite from a local mine and started tossing them through the windows of the hall.  After they'd blasted the place fifteen times (!!!), the building finally blew up.

This is all that's left, and you know what?  I'd save it for posterity too.  That's one awesome building.  "Planned obsolescence," my butt.  Let's see you build something that can survive fourteen sticks of dynamite.

By the way, Captain Midnight was busy looking for geocaches here.  But I actually found this one.  No, I'm not going to tell you where it is.  You're just going to have to go to Butte and look for it yourself.  Clever hiding place, though.

We spent a lot more time in Butte than we'd planned, so after refreshing CM's 44-ounce cornucopia of Mountain Dew (aka Bloomberg's Contraband), we headed east toward Bozeman.  On the way out of Butte we noticed the most fantastic rock formations -- huge, rounded slivers of balancing stone, like a giants' graveyard, on the mountainsides.  CM noted that the area just east of Butte would make a fantastic setting for a fantasy film.

On the way in, we stopped in another Town With No Stoplight: Manhattan, Montana, which turned out to be an adorable little place.  We hit every cache in town.  (That would be all three, for those counting.)  Incidentally, Manhattan has one of the nicest travel bug hotels I've ever seen, located on private property and openable only with a combination lock.  Spiffy!

We arrived in Bozeman too late to explore the famed Bozeman Hot Springs, more's the pity.  But we did settle down in the Bozeman Inn for the night.  For the record -- uh -- well, my immediate family will understand when I say that, despite some glowing reviews online, it turned out to be a Slavyanska Besseda.  And the free Internet access seems to have been dipped in molasses and rolled in the hair of two thousand sloths.  But at least it was private and we were tired.  So we hit the hay, all the better to cache again the next day.

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