Friday, September 23, 2016

Whales astonish, amuse, delight on the whale trail from Seattle to Vancouver, to Alaska's Inside Passage

A juvenile orca learns how to swim next to his mother, south of Vancouver, near U.S. waters with Wild Whales Vancouver. 
Juneau Tours offers up close, personal opportunities to see
whales, with skilled drivers and guides to get you "there."



CAN ONE ever get enough of whale watching? I think not. It's sheer magic, eye-popping, time-stopping magic.
Each outing is different -- we've logged more than 100. Because of weather, waves, the boat's speed, ability of the naturalist and captain, mood and travel patterns of the whales, you'll always see something new.
We've watched these splendid creatures from Santa Barbara to Maui, Seattle to Iceland, Alaska to our winter base, San Diego.
The erect penis of an orca can reach more
than eight feet as this undersea image
. Art courtesy ChainedBirds
Our last five outings yielded spectacular sightings, although we didn't always have our cameras at precisely the right place and right time. We were so stunned to see orcas mating on a Wild Whales Vancouver outing, that we nearly forgot our mission.
I grew up in Montana and have spent time on ranches, but this was a new experience for me.  Accurate measurements of the erect orca penis are tough to make, because the whale's erect length can only be observed during mating.  We were lucky a few days ago, captain Michael said. There it was:  a huge penis above the water, waiting for action -- some passengers thought it was a squid or octopus.  But no, Michael assured us, as his crew Luke and Christopher smiled. It was the male's sex organ. When the thrashing began, a female orca had answered the call.
Our naturalist, Amila, shared scholarly insights on the ride from Vancouver. She, too, had never experienced mating whales.
About a 30-minute boat ride from Juneau, you'll be treated
 to diving whales -- here just a thrilling spot.
WE HAD just crossed into U.S. waters, south of Vancouver, B.C., after two and one-half hours of a beautiful boat ride along the island and into the sea. We saw a few humpbacks, and many orcas, including a family of four -- mother teaching baby orca and another older juvenile with papa bringing up the rear.
EARLIER IN THE trip we'd been thrilled with Puget Sound Express, which we boarded at Edmonds, Washington after a pleasant coach pick-up from the Hyatt in Seattle.
Aboard Juneau Tours, Alex and Luke provided lively
commentary and a successful afternoon of viewing whales. 
We've been fortunate to see whales off the coast of Maui a half-dozen times.
I've seen the sperm and the blue, but never the elusive narwhal, known for his spectacular tusk.
 So in Alaska's chilly waters, we were thrilled to hear "Thar they blowed" against the majestic backdrop of the Chilkat Mountains and Juneau's Ice Field. The pleasures of whale watching are enhanced by other wildlife sightings -- bald eagles, playful harbor seals and plump Stellar sea lions, sea otters and black-tailed deer.
To be yards away from something greater than you, something far more powerful and more spectacular, is a humbling experience.
The fine mist from the humpback's spout as he feeds off Alaska's coast.
  To think that man nearly brought this beautiful creature to extinction makes seeing a pod of seven humpbacks even more moving. To see 50 orcas, as we did on Puget Sound Express, is extraordinary.
 ON OUR VARIOUS outings, we saw whales from all five vessels on this trip -- aboard that small 15-passenger vehicle out of Juneau, the 30-passenger speed boat out of Vancouver,  our 3,000-plus Explorer of the Seas on Royal Caribbean, a small motor boat and the sleek Puget Sound Express vessel, Chilkat.
WHALES INHABIT all Earth's major oceans from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropical waters of the equator. Shamefully, man nearly destroyed them and sadly, several nations  still hunt them.
Cookie sets out on another whale-watching adventure.  This trip, we were lucky to have
five different experiences -- on vessels large and small -- all offering spectacular sightings.
Depending on species and migration patterns, some whales are abundant in some locations while absent in others. So look for other life, too. We watched sea lions lumber along the shores, and heave themselves on the buoys for sunshine and rest.
THE SMALLER harbor seals were abundant in calmer waters.
Out of Seattle, our Chilkat naturalist prepped us through Puget Sound Express for a thrilling week on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, witnessings humpbacks on a trip out of Juneau then again   as we exited the Tracy Fjords and headed back toward Victoria.
For all our our whale adventures -- from Seattle, to Juneau, to British Columbia -- we reveled in gorgeous weather and bountiful, close-up whale sightings, enhanced by expert crew curious and friendly fellow passengers from Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Japan and Brazil.
We recommend whale watching on vessels large and small for eye-popping thrills.
Shop around to find the vessel and tour that suits you best.
You'll be happy to join the humpback's song, singing the praises of "hunting" these magnificent creatures with cameras, not weapons of destruction.
Mesmerizing glasswork awaits at Dale Chihuly's Seattle museum.

UP NEXT: Enchanting Chihuly -- We visit the master's museum in Seattle where Dale Chihuly's "Garden and Glass"  visionary artwork is dispayed.  The Northwesterner's creativity shines through in gorgeous glass exhibits both indoor and outdoors -- right next to Seattle's landmark Space Needle. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us weekends for more artful, nature-driven travel adventures.

Friday, September 16, 2016

On the trail of the whale, from Puget Sound, north to Alaska

A juvenile orca whale -- probably less than a year old -- was the star for passengers in Puget Sound Express.
Watching an orca breach was a thrill of a lifetime this week on Chilkat.
A family run enterprise shares 31 years of experience in Puget Sound Express.

The "L" Pod was photographed off Victoria.
Puget Sound Express shares its knowledge and love of
whales in extraordinary top-rated adventures. 



I FELL IN LOVE with whales when I was a kid. I was a young musician and vocalist when I first heard that whales could sing, too.  I asked my parents for a recording of their elaborate vocalizations. Ear-popping! It changed my life -- introducing me to the lyrical language of another species.
LATER, AS A  newlywed, my late husband and I honeymooned in Maui and heard whales off the shores of Lahaina, the same year Roger and Katherine Payne's wonderful "Songs  of the Humpback Whale" came out. That 1970 album from respected musicians and "bio- acousticians"  showed the world that my revered childhood whale tunes were indeed communication: my beloved whales' complex and haunting methods of sharing joy, fear, longing and  more.
Chilkat Express takes its name from the Tlingit native people of
Southeastern Alaska and pays homage to the peoples' reverence for whales.
 BRUCE KELLER AND I  have  followed the magical world of whales on seas, bays and oceans, and we are lucky lad and lass to follow them again in the U.S. and Canada, watching, photographing  -- and listening --with joy.
Thrilling sight: three humpbacks feed, frolic in Alaska's Stephen's Passage. 
We're reveling in  early autumn whale watching out of Edmonds, Washington, finding Orcas, which are frolicking in the Straits of Juan de Fuca -- as many as 50 surrounding our Chilkat boat,   one of three vessels run by the excellent Puget Sound Express.
 Three generations  of the marine-life loving Hanke family run the operation, which specializes in close-up whale encounters that leave shivers up the spine. Our trained naturalist, Justine, driver Brian and boat host Wendi took 60 of us into the Straits of Juan de Fuca,  up towards Victoria, where the orcas cavort, feed, feast on salmon and teach their young the whale ways. Our "preview" was a half-dozen humpback sightings.
Each humpback has a distinctive tail or fluke, allowing
Puget Sound Express to identify each and name each whale.   
 SINCE MY first spottings off the shores of Lahaina, I've watched    whales  off several continents -- and in our wintertime backyard of San Diego.  Never have I had a wealth of sightings to compare to our day on Chilkat with the Puget Sound folks.  The crew knows every whale by name -- thrilling in itself. And for this "Cookie," it was pure bliss to meet a whale who shares my nickname. She's a revered auntie who helps raise the young.  Whales operate much like a kibbutz or my big Irish and Norwegian clan. They help one another out, share child-rearing chores, feeding and babysitting to give one another a bit of down time.
SEEING THESE magnificent creatures in the wild gives one a whole new perspective on their imperiled life. And using radio communication with fellow "spotters," moving at more than 40 miles an hour, you cover the waterfront with Puget Sound Express, which also offers three-day excursions to the San Juans with expert instruction on whale watching and wildlife viewing around Friday Harbor and Port Townsend.
Our Chilkat naturalist  prepped us through Puget Sound Express for a thrilling two weeks week of whale watching. If you're staying in a Seattle hotel, Tours Northwest can book you for the Puget Sound trip and pick you up at your hotel.
LATER IN THE week, we had more whale thrills with Juneau Tours and Whale Watching. We set out in a 15-passenger smaller vessel, and  the whale revels continued (more next blog). They amped up aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, as we exited the Tracy Arm Fjords and headed back toward Victoria, through a sea of playful humpbacks. Listening to the humpback's haunting song, watching them move in ice as tall as three-story buildings is bound to  thrill. Spending time with three pods of salmon-feasting Orcas on their Puget Sound kibbutz is off the charts.
A well fed sea lion suns, snoozes. The sea lions are part
of the "extras" on whale watches off Seattle and in Alaska.
UP NEXT:  Watching three generations of orcas an  listening to the humpback's haunting song --  watching them navigate around ice bergs as tall as three-story buildings -- all this alters a person forever.  There simply is not enough room in a single story to do justice to the magical, intelligent and graceful whale, and to the wildlife one sees on the whale trail. We continue our marine watch with sea lions, otters, and bears aboard Juneau Tours with 15 other passengers, then with a cast of thousands aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us with a new post each weekend.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Red Lodge eatery, Old Piney Dell, delivers delightful meal in decades-old tradition

Old Piney Dell grew from a mountain cabin to a world class restaurant with old world European service and offerings.



Rock Creek Resort grew up around  Old Piney Dell restaurant. 

The rustic charm of Old Piney Dell remains through the decades.
WHEN OLD PINEY DELL was becoming the legendary Carbon County eatery it is today, I was a youngster growing up in nearby Stillwater County -- just a pleasant drive through the hills, farmland and aspen groves to this rustic Red Lodge, Montana, area restaurant.
My family enjoyed the company of Piney Dell owner and Rock Creek Resort founder Pepi Gramshammer, who recently turned 84. They loved hearing him describe how the Beartooth Mountains recalled the mountain scenery of his childhood and how he designed the menu to feature satisfying fare of his native Austria.
Pepi and my Norwegian grandfather Gustav swapped tales of Alpine woods, fondue dinners and mountain hikes.
Pepi was an internationally known athlete -- and my dad and brothers were athletic, so daddy loved coming to the rustic restaurant to enjoy the bounty of the Alpine-style menu offerings and to chat with Pepi about their mutual love of nature, travel and sports.
Pepi Gramshammer drew from his European
roots and memories at Rock Creek Resort.
DECADES LATER, I wondered if Old Piney Dell could live up to my glorious childhood memories.  
We'd stayed several times through the years at Rock Creek Resort, but always on a Sunday or Monday, the two "dark" days when the restaurant is closed.
The resort still has allure, even if you can't make a dinner at Old Piney Dell.  Our favorite rooms on the creek are restful and nicely appointed, there are lovely grounds to stroll and a bounty of flowers to photograph. And there are many restaurants in nearby Red Lodge.
Recently, though, we timed our visit on Saturday, so we could dine at Old Piney Dell.  It was a trip down proverbial memory lane, with a delicious meal -- beautifully cooked and presented with the friendly flair I remembered.
An abundance of flowers awaits the photographer; bees and birds abound.
THE RESORT grew up around the restaurant after Pepi purchased the property in the 1960s, the time my memories of the place begin.
Cookie and Keller pay a visit to Piney Dell.
The small, welcoming restaurant evolved from a homesteader’s cabin built in the 1920s. Pepi put his touch on that as he was beginning development of the resort. He built the Grizzly Condos first, to house fellow ski racers. The resort grew, with Rock Creek Town Homes, Stoney Cabin, the Beartooth Lodge and the handsome log building Twin Elk. Pepi added a fishing pond, soccer field, playground, volleyball court, indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and gym. The night we were there, a wedding party was whooping it up. It's a popular place for private fetes. The place had a magical feeling to me as a child.  I remembered a woodsy setting, Rock Creek running by the window, mature trees, delicious aromas, pleasant conversation and a small, intimate restaurant which drew me in like the lure of a sorcerer.
THE MENU includes standards popular through a half-century. There's still an old-world sense of charm to the place, and our meal was leisurely and well served. We were happy with pretty salads and perfectly cooked steak, while Pepi's signature weiner schnitzel was enjoyed at the next table. A lovely smoked trout appetizer is our recommendation, and the fondue is popular especially in winter. The menu also features shrimp, ribs, scampi, crab, bratwurst with spaetzle (those delectable German dumplings), homemade soups and desserts and a nice children's menu.
Old Piney Dell recommends reservations, at 406 446-1196, open Tuesday through Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Call 1 800 667-1119 or go to 
A wonderful exhibition on the whale at San Diego's Natural History
Museum was the beginning of our two-week whale odyssey.

UP NEXT: What is it about whales that sweeps us off our feet?  We just saw a magnificent exhibition on the whale in San Diego at the Natural History Museum. That was our preview for a two-week whale-watching odyssey we'll share in the next month.  There is something magical and inspiring about seeing a humpback frolick in his natural environment, watching an Orca breach, or a minke play. We're on the whale trail and will be out of range for a few days, but we hope by this time next week to have wondrous photos to share, from Edmonds, Washington, and Puget Sound on up to Juneau, Alaska. So stay tuned, and  catch us on weekends -- as we all explore, learn and live.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Stillwater summer: bittersweet time as the hollyhocks fade, birds flee

End of summer blue -- not blues -- as we embrace the autumn, and cherished friends and family around the globe. 
Fishing time was minimal this year on the West Fork, but catch-and-release
was popular with our friends who came from several states to enjoy.



AS AUGUST runs its sunny course, with Labor Day around the corner, we say au revoir to one venue, and bonjour to another.

Cookie is in her element -- saying so long to the Stillwater and hello 
to southern California, with beauty in both venues.

Whether we are relishing bird life and flowers along our favorite Stillwater River in Montana, or savoring the salty sea vapors at our southern California digs, we appreciate nature's gifts and our ability to enjoy them.
Our hearts are always heavy to leave one venue -- we cherish both our little corners of paradise, embracing
the future with eagerness and energy.
Sculptures -- some musically inspired -- are by world class artists. 
Tippet Rise brought international performers and audience to the
 unique art center near Fishtail, Montana.
NONE OF US knows what's around the corner -- or how long we have on this treasured Earth.  Thus we must continue to try, if we have any sense at all, to roll with the punches, be thankful, relish each day.
We're thankful to be surrounded by the wit, wisdom, music, good wishes.  We've had a wonderful summer -- albeit brief. The opening of Tippet Rise Art Center near us brought national attention to our little corner of Stillwater County, and provided great material for magazine features.
Keller had engaging work, using his architectural, engineering and construction skills to help friends and
Cookie's "60-something" is her new 50. Here's Keller's lemon birthday pie.
neighbors with projects in the valley.  Cookie gave five more readings on "Lilian's Last Dance," and we are plugging ahead on the musical.
 'Lilian's Last Dance' readings continue
We had wonderful gatherings and dinners with friends and family.  We read, walked, rode our bikes, harvested our first apples on the Honeycrisp and Harelson apple trees.
We hosted raccoons, squirrels, bears, deer and even an elk in the yard. And a record number of birds of many colors.
A beautiful fox gave birth near the artesian well, and raised her kits on the property. Such a gift.
High Chaparral is a beloved family gathering spot, with
 a wealth of bird life, dozens of mature trees,
 hiking trails and a chance to recharge in nature.

WITH LABOR Day just days away, the nights are getting shorter, temperatures dropping, and hummingbirds heading south.
We recall this wise quote from Dr. Seuss (who lived not far from our winter digs, in La Jolla, Calif.)
Theodor Seuss Geisel honored summer's end with this thought:
Keller and Cookie: 
the adventure continues. 
'DON'T CRY because it's over, smile because it happened."
And when you make your next birthday cake, or pie, don't worry about the number of candles.
Just open the candle drawer, put a couple on, call it a day and blow!


In the shadow of Montana's Beartooth Mountains in the Northern Rockies, a small, inviting restaurant beckons. Piney Dell holds dear childhood memories for Cookie, and she and Keller visit Red Lodge  to see if its wonders have been sustained. They sample the fare, tour the grounds of Rock Creek Resort and wonders and determine that Old Piney Dell still holds up! Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us with a new post each weekend


Friday, August 19, 2016

Inviting, multi-cultural Brazil provides visitors with fascinating opportunities -- dancing, included

A large statue of Christ is an internationally known landmark of Rio, with Sugar Loaf Mountain opposite it.

From Sugar Loaf to Ipanema,
Latin city serves up samba,
sports, scenery, scanty clothes

With Sugar Loaf in the background, and Guanabara Bay in front, Rio
offers mountains, water, beaches and splendid weather.

On Ipanema Beach, a pair of sunbathers stop for a cold drink, eyed from above.

The beaches of Rio are always crowded but, for the most part, peaceful.

WHILE ALL EYES are on Rio, Brazil and the Olympics, we're weighing in with our most recent trip to this teeming, colorful city.
Rio de Janeiro is a city of contrasts and diversity. Nuns and the nearly naked stroll side by side on the beaches, oblivious to one another's excesses or modesties.
Extraordinary opulence and poverty co-exist in many parts of town.
We last approached this huge seaside city from the ocean, having transited the Atlantic from Lisbon, Portugal.
Lisboa, as it is known in the Portuguese, has long and deep ties to Brazil, where the same language is spoken.
OUR FRIENDS in Lisbon had just returned from Rio's famed "Carnival," the world's largest. 
The festival -- held before Lent every year -- attracts two million people per day to the streets, where dancing, singing and parading attract both the sacred and the profane.
Copacabana is considered less touristy.
The first carnival festival in Rio dates back to 1723. The raucous Carnival festival captures world wide attention with its flamboyant costumes and dancing.
The Sugar Loaf cable car gives a splendid view of the city and bay below.
WHERE THERE'S water, there are water sports and people watchers.  The Olympians of this year's competition participated in events on both of Rio's famed beaches.   Copacabana and Ipanema are the two best known -- both have songs written about them -- and tourists and locals love them. We saw scantily clad sun worshippers, families on segways,  volleyball players and plenty of gawkers -- which we were.
Drinks were not cheap -- $12 for a local beer -- but many people brought coolers and made their own cocktails.
Samba is an art form in Rio; the dancers are elaborately clad.
TOWERING about the city are two  stunning landmarks -- one man made and one crafted by nature. Many memorable Olympics shots featured the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mt. Corcovado.
The famed Art Deco statue of Jesus was created by Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by a collaborative effort between two lauded engineers -- Brazilian Heitor da Silva Costa, and Frenchman Albert Caquot.
SUGARLOAF Mountain is the other noteable"must see", a granite monolith with cable cars to its summit. I conquered my vertigo and climbed aboard one of the 65-person cars, happy to be a recovering sissy as we zipped over the mouth of Guanabara Bay with a terrific view of the peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic.

Favellas are a colorful part of the landscape of Rio.
Again, in the spirit of contrast, Rio is known for its sprawling favelas.  These shanty town shacks stretch up into the mountains, while at the top of the hills are mansions.  Rio is also home to more than two dozen five-star hotels, among the world's most opulent. The Fasano is famous. Ditto the Miramar Hotel by Windsor., and Belmond Copacabana Palace. The Grand Hyatt is also a places to see and be seen -- or samba to the band.-THE NATIONAL dance, samba, must be tried, and we did.  The Brazilian dance of African origin has a basic pattern of step-close-step-close and is characterized by a dip and spring upward at each beat of the music. One gets into the rhythm after a few tries and the locals love to help with the steps and jumps.
Explorers called the now Acari river "Janeiro" or January, thus the name. It was at a gas station near a club on the river that swimmer Ryan Lochte, drunk with his pals,  disgraced the spirit of the Olympics and embarrassed the United States with hooligan acts.

As we say so-long to another glorious "Stillwater Summer," we share photos from the nature-driven environment that blesses us each year. Here's a favorite sunflower near the West Fork of the Stillwater River.  The bears share the apples on the tree in the background and other flowers are in their glory with warm sunny days and cool evenings. Join us in a summer, sunflower swan song! Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Museum of the Rockies -- cultural gem glitters in Bozeman

The people of Oplontis, near Pompeii, lived well in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, until 79 AD, when they were buried
by tons of falling ash. We viewed art and artifacts of leisure and luxury detailing the life of Rome's privileged citizens. 

One of the most opulent of Rome's luxury villas was Oplontis, the summer home
 of Emperor Nero's second wife. Parts of it are on view through Dec. 31,

Museum of the Rockies has an intriguing related  show in the
Planetarium, exploring  possibilities of the lost Atlantis.



LIFE WAS GOOD for the people of Oplontis. Running water, prolific crops, lovely architecture and artwork, the comforts of civilized life. Even the servants seemed content.
That is, until Vesuvius erupted, spewing tons of molten lava, burying the prosperous little village beneath 50 feet of ash.
When ruins of the 79AD disaster were discovered recently during preparation for building of a gymnasium, scholars determined that the public would benefit from an exhibit sharing the remarkably preserved discovery.
Dining salons which seated 100 people, private chambers with spectacular frescos, marble columns rising from elaborate mosaic floor were uncovered.

The Museum's Living History Farm offers a unique opportunity to experience
life as it existed decades ago in rural Montana. Volunteers dress in perios
costumes to discuss gardening, homemaking, cooking and crafts.
THE MUSEUM of the Rockies is one of three fortunate venues to host a remarkable new traveling exhibit, "The Villas of Oplontis." It details the splendid, privileged life of the aristocratic Roman enclave which lived well and happily in a lavish villa -- until Mount Vesuvius' catastrophic eruption.
To warm us up for that, we spent a wonderful afternoon at the museum's other components, starting first at the Living History Farm, where a docent greeted us in a garden of raspberries, squash and lettuce, and invited us into the restored vintage farmhouse.
Beautiful jewels, here bracelets with asp heads, were found
clutched in the hands of the long buried dead.
There, another volunteer in period dress crafted potholders from scraps of coats and dresses, explaining how homesteaders cooked and sewed and survived a century or two ago.
WE'D PLANNED our afternoon to take in the Planetarium show, which ties in nicely with the Oplontis exhibit.
It explores the possibilities of the location of the lost Atlantis.
Sitting back in the comfy chairs and gazing to the heavens, we discovered anew why this wonderful place is an internationally respected planetarium.
A creative bison -- made of car parts,musical instruments and more, is
part of a children's area upstairs. It combines whimsy with education.
Then a stroll through the homage to the West, and a look at researchers working on artifacts behind a glass screen.
WE  WATCHED a short, well crafted "overview" video narrated by Dr. Regina Gee, an expert on frescoes and one of three primary researchers involved in the Oplontis excavation.  Based at MSU in Bozeman, Gee was instrumental in getting the exhibit to Montana.
"Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompei" is the elaborate handle of this fine show. Many talents helped make it a reality.
Watching the careful process of working on fossils and other  finds 
is part of the fun and education of a visit to the Museum of the Rockies.

MSU STUDENTS assisted in recreating elaborate frescoes which adorned the walls of the luxury homes. Jewelry was discovered, taken hurriedly along with money by citizens as they fled for hoped for safety and rescue in vaults which were not discovered until recent times. The lavish dining rooms and private chambers were destroyed, along with their spectacular mosaic floors and grand marble columns.  The people left behind wines, oils, strong boxes of coins and artwork of a sophisticated civilization. The wealthy took their prized objects with them to the vault, hoping for a rescue that never came. The servants were found with their tools of trade, hoping to rebuild a life, should they be found before they perished.
MSU and Dr. Gee deserve kudos for bringing this impressive exhibit from Italy. It remains on view through Dec. 31.
We found it both moving and enlightening to share the life of these sophisticated but doomed citizens.
We ended our day upstairs in less ponderous surroundings. Above Oplontis, we watched children romp in the museum's cleverly designed play area with whimsical animals of the forest -- assembled artistically with found household and garage items.
Come with us next to Rio, with a look at this exciting city of the current
 Olympics. We share photos and insights into lively Brazilian culture.

UP NEXT: With all eyes on Rio, we share a recent trip to Brazil.  Come with us up Sugar Loaf, to Ipanema Beach, a rock-folk concert and a spectacular spice, fruit and vegetable market. Then while we're enjoying time in Montana and a particularly beautiful summer, we take a trip down Memory Lane to a fabulous restaurant in the shadow of the Beartooths above Red Lodge.  Old Piney Dell still delivers a superb meal, at Rock Creek Resort.  Remember to explore, learn and live and check us out Friday afternoons when we post for each weekend.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Rootin' tootin' Virginia City delivers the goods with a step back in time, Montana style

If you're looking for authentic, old-fashioned fun, a vintage restored town and beautiful scenery, head for Virginia City, Mt.

A little train trip awaits, just a few miles between 
Virginia City and Nevada City, by a narrow-gauge railroad.



MY AFFECTION for Virginia City and Nevada City dates a half century back to my childhood.
The old-fashioned fire truck run by Scott McClintic
will give you history and a pleasant tour of Virginia City.
Hiking in the nearby woods
is another benefit to a road trip.
As I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, our family made an annual pilgrimage to this old-time treasure in southwest Montana.  It's historical beginnings go back to the gold rush days of the mid 1800s. Much of the place has retained the flavor of that rich, sometimes rowdy time when Montana was discovered by seekers of fortune and the accompanying riff-raff.
The Virginia City Players have been around  for 67 seasons,
with the talents of Bill Koch, present artistic director.
Thanks to philanthropists Charles and Sue Bovey, today's Virginia City recaptures the times. Bovey began restoring the town with vintage buildings and goods shortly after World War II.  He was fascinated by the period, when sluices lined the gulch and "cities" blossomed as trading and amusement centers. Miners flooded in, and others followed, in the tradition of supply and demand: ladies of the evening, criminals, cooks, vigilantes, shop keepers, bar tenders, cleaners, and grocers who could command as much as $2 for a single egg. Virginia City was the best known of towns that sprung up along the gulch.  It is sole survivor.
NO WONDER so many Montanans revere Virginia City and like to show it off. It's wonderfully "frozen in time," fun to share with visitors who might enjoy strolling a colorfully restored pioneer mining camp.
The Brewery Follies under the gifted direction of Mike Verdon are a must,
with a fast-paced, racy show sure to entertain. A fine cast, talented
musical director and the brewery environment guarantee a good time.
We traveled back in time -- pre-cell phones, pre-computers, pre-television and telephone to celebrate the Boveys, of the General Mills fortune. They bought up old buildings and repaired failing existing structures to preserve the spirit of the 1865 capital of the Montana Territory.
Virginia City had declined to ghost town status when Bovey and his wife began to pursue their passion. By the early 1950s, people were visiting Virginia City, with its iconic Bale of Hay Saloon, the Virginia City Players in the Opera House, and the venerable Fairweather Inn.
Lodging in Nevada City is rustic, but comfortable.
WE NEVER miss Bill Koch's Virginia City Players, a must for theater lovers and a time honored part of the lore and lure of Virginia City. The Players' show in the old Opera House includes a spirited vaudeville act -- cameos in the style of the Victorian music hall. Their ambitious three-part season continues to September, with good old-fashioned family fun.
For adults, the Brewery Follies offers cutting-edge comedy, lively music and a tour de force of comedy and satire featuring well acted sketches and songs by a diverse cast with "guest appearances" courtesy the talented Mike Verdon, delightful and right-on as both Donald Trump and Elvis.
Carefully restored Victorians are part of the
allure of Virginia City. Most are B&Bs.
The Follies offers a sophisticated, smartly written comedy cabaret in the 1863 brewery. There, H.S. Gilbert made his mark and money after immigrating from Germany to quench the boom town's thirst.
NOW ON the historic register, the towns are owned by the state of Montana.  Showing off an entire town as a National Historic Landmark is unique, so give your guests a treat.
We were thrilled to discover the Wells Fargo Steakhouse serves a tasty steak and wonderful appetizers, a nice Caesar salad and several fish and Italian offerings. There's also a pizza parlor, candy store, ice cream place, a couple other bars and cafes. Pop in Rank's Mercantile, which has the feeling of an old-fashioned, artfully arranged sundries shop, with unique souvenirs, clothing, toys, books, gifts and specialty groceries.
Rome, Greece, Bozeman? A wonderful show is up at Museum of the Rockies.
"The Villas of Oplontis" brings us to Bozeman and the Museum, with  a look
at a thriving villa destroyed by the Mount Vesuvius eruption. An imaginative
show of artifacts and antiquities awaits through December 31. 
One strolls the main street and peeks into the past: an old barbershop, a clothing store, a blacksmith's shop, drug store, mostly built before 1900.
Heritage markers give insights and information about the period displays, and you can dress up in period costumes to create a special holiday card, or souvenir.
THERE'S ALSO a Boothill, a cemetery where criminals and lawmen take their final rest.

UP NEXT: "The Villas of Oplontis" is a wonderful exhibit at Museum of the Rockies, which we visit next.  The wonderful Museum has a stunning planetarium and living history farm, internationally recognized fossil and dinosaur exhibit, plus much more.  The terrific new show about the life of a village near Pompeii is fascinating. Remember to explore, learn and live.