Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Round Trip

Deer Lodge

I really miss visiting Hub's hometown.  We get there on occasion for business issues but no where nearly as often as when his folks were living. That's one reason I was looking forward to his reunion as much as he was.

We had barely hit the exit when we burst out laughing.  This display of palm trees, of which there is an entire forest, greeted us as it does every visitor.  Well, times are tough and I guess businesses under duress will do just about anything to attract attention.  One wouldn't ordinarily think of palm trees as a draw for a Chinese restaurant, but what the heck.  What ever works.

Deer Lodge is typical of small towns across Montana.  With the demise of the railroad and the ever shrinking timber industry it is struggling. It's main "industry" is,  unfortunately, a growth industry - the prison.

Adding some sustenance is the old territorial prison and museum complex at one end of town and the Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site at the other. 

Not usually a gregarious sort, Hub had a great time telling the volunteers-in-training, a delightful couple from Chicago,  more stories about the ranch and it's early days than they could possibly remember. The advantage of being a native and growing up with the kids who lived there!

For those of you who have heard of the Montana Meth project, I spotted a powerful example on the edge of town and another done by a girls' club with the obvious blessing of the building's owner.

The Reunion

Wow. The Class of '58. Fifty years. It hardly seems possible. The class was small, only 60 some kids. The organizers found all but two. Pretty good detective work. I knew many of Hub's buddies but hadn't seem most since the last reunion some twenty years ago. It could have been yesterday.

I think the thing that struck me most was what good shape everyone was in. And the successes they have had.  There were ranchers and forest rangers, lawyers and judges and stockbrokers and artists. A mix one could expect anywhere.  And not exceptional for this little Montana town from 50 years back. Maybe it's their good Montana upbringing. They were encouraged to spread their wings and they did.  Oh, my, they did.

It was a rather bittersweet gathering, knowing it's unlikely we'll see most of them again but enjoying to the hilt the memories of those days long gone and the accomplishments that have come since. As one of the organizers commented, "I think we're a lot more interesting group now than we  thought we were then." Amen to that. Cocktail parties now every two years. That may be doable.

Zoo Montana, Red Lodge and the Beartooth

We had driven Hub's little 914 to the reunion. His reasoning is that we'd head toward the Beartooth, an 11,000 foot pass replete with hairpin turns galore. He's always wanted to take the Porsche over it so now was an opportune time.

Knowing there wouldn't be a lot to do during our stop in Red Lodge, we decided to visit Zoo Montana in Billings - the only zoo in the state. They've done quite a bit - their star attraction is a new bear, but they have a Siberian Tiger and a Red Panda to give a sense of the exotic to it. In time I'm sure they'll be adding more to flesh out the exhibits which now are comprised mostly of species native to Montana.

On down the road to Red Lodge. It was hot. We had a beer then wandered the shops. Low and behold, hanging in front of one of the many T-shirt shops we spotted this one and immediately decided it should be the official T-shirt for the openCDA bunch. Who'd have thought!

The next morning we rose with the sun to get an early start across the Beartooth. At 10,000 feet we found snow berms still deep enough I could easily sit on them.   As we climbed the last 1000 feet they became bigger and higher - July 14th! The snow melt will continue until it begins to fall once again, I'm sure.

If you like winding mountain passes with spectacular vistas, put this on your list. If you're lucky you may be able to share your coffee with the grazing mountain goats as we did.

Across the northern tier of Yellowstone, a gallery hop in Bozeman, dinner and the night in Missoula and the R &R is over.

We hit the prairie around nine this morning and the yard resuscitation began. We're home. Business as usual. Ho hum.

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