Friday, August 29, 2014

Hunter Peak Lodge reminds of homesteading days, a trip back in time


The pristine wilderness area of the Hunter Peak Ranch is a delightful respite from the ravages of contemporary life.
Over supper, Louie told of a bear chasing a grasshopper.  The bear danced,
the hopper escaped.  His stories are part of the fun of a stay at Hunter Peak.
IF YOU want a get-away with room service, plenty of activity, and five-star spa treatment, Hunter Peak Ranch is not the place for you.
Cookie enters the spacious accommodation at Hunter Peak.
But if you desire serenity in a sublime setting, tasty home cooking, hiking out the door, wildlife out the window, and friendly folk when you want company,  Hunter Peak Ranch is tailor made for you!
The proprietors are characters! Louis ("Louie") and Shelley Cary are hardworking, down-home people with an obvious love of the land and what they do.
Autumn is in the air! Bees make the most
and there's snow on peaks near Hunter.
Louie was raised on the property, which has been in the family since the 1930s. Shelley came on board in 1969 and they raised a family here. Named for the spectacular peak, the ranch is nestled beneath the mountains on the Clarks Fork River in the Shoshone.
A corral houses horses and pack animals, with bear-proof garbage cans.
Imagine this picturesque scene years ago, when only a dirt road connected the ranch to Cody. "It took four or more hours to get there," Louie recalls, "and mail delivery came only once a week."
WE CHOSE a two-day retreat at this laid back Wyoming spot because we were tired. Nearing the end of an arduous remodeling project, we longed for a quiet place, surrounded by beauty.
Friends recommended Hunter Peak. It was perfect.
Louie and Shelley are the third generation to operate the ranch, and pride themselves in their old-fashioned work ethic and sense of hospitality.
Cookie, Nick and Nora enjoy the dog-friendly digs.
There's a corral with horses and donkeys, neat stacks of fire wood everywhere, and trails to take you across the road or by the river. Louie cleared and leveled a road while we were there.
Five minutes from our cabin, this lovely scene awaited!
The couple -- Louis and Shelley -- manage the guest ranch to honor the tradition established through the generations: a friendly welcome, good food, pretty environment.
Suites and rooms are named
after the nearby mountains.
"We're not babysitters," Shelley told me. "We want people to be self starters, but we're around if need be."
THE ROOMS range from  a grouping of bunkhouse-type cabins (where we stayed, because they are pet friendly), to individual cabins near the water, some with fireplaces.  If we return, we'd love to stay in one of those because having a private fireplace would have been icing on the tasty cake!
The scenery was called "a celestial paradise" by one writer, and it truly is.
Shelley and Louie Cary.
After a torrential rain, complete with rainbows, Louie leveled
the road early the next morning. 
WE FOUND our cabin comfy and roomy, with a kitchen suitable for fixing meals. We prepared a supper and breakfast here and enjoyed a meal with the Carys another evening. The food was wonderful: steaks cooked to order, quinoa side dish, fruit salad, homemade rolls and a delicious peach and pear pie baked by Shelley that afternoon.  Rates range from $150 a night to a couple thousand a week for the larger cabins which accommodate up to 10 or 12.
THERE ARE pet friendly rooms!
As mentioned, this is a must for us!
Keller enjoys a wade in the waters near our cabin at Hunter Peak Ranch.
The place attracts a mixed clientele -- from Europeans in love with the mountains and hiking, to American and Canadian tourists in search of change and dramatic scenery.
During our stay, we met neighboring summer people from Santa Barbara and Ashland, Oregon, and visited with a family spending several days at the ranch, and a three-generation group from Nebraska.  All of us enjoyed the dazzling peaks and lush mountain valleys northwest Wyoming provides.
THE BEAUTIFUL Chief Joseph Scenic Highway gets you there, or you can do what we did, weather permitting:  go in via the spectacular Beartooth Pass out of Red
Lodge, and you'll drop into the valley and Hunter Peak Ranch, just a few miles away. Then we went home to the Beartooths through Chief Joseph, stopping at the much photographed bridge to enjoy a picnic.
To book, call 307 587-3711.  Or go to
To our delight, there is no cell service in the area, but you may use a calling card on the ranch phone for emergencies.
COMING UP:  Why we enjoy "road tripping." The joys of short and long car journeys together. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Montana Jack's for fabulous food, entertainment and stunning views

Jack and Ann Mowell, right, contributed\ money, class and enthusiasm into putting Montana Jacks on the map!   


Gena Burghoff and Chris Lockhart team up at Jack's.

"I CAN'T BELIEVE I'm sitting in the middle of the wilderness, in Dean, Montana, listening to fabulous live music, sipping vintage wine and dining like a queen. I could be in  Manhattan!"
Pianist Christene Meyers plays at Jack's
again Labor Day Eve, Sunday, Aug. 31. 

Chef Chris Lockhart's talents are honed in his
English background and world travels.
The recent New York visitor was among grateful diners and listeners at Montana Jack's this weekend, while Cookie took to the keyboard for two evenings of piano tunes.  Hostess and manager Gena Burghoff, and her husband, English born chef Chris Lockhart, are at the heart of Montana Jack's success.  Her genteel manner and efficient running of the operation complements his wizardry in the kitchen to make diners feel satisfied and pampered.
A handsome lab enjoys the view, too, at Montana Jack's.
JACK'S OWNER, international entrepreneur Jack Mowell, rescued the historic restaurant a few years ago, dipping deep into his pockets for extensive renovation. He hired a fine staff to carry out his goals.
Burghoff and Lockhart, who enjoy world travel, clicked with the beautiful Stillwater Valley and its eclectic residents. They recently purchased a home near the eatery, to enjoy the scenery when they're not working the Jack's crowds.
FABULOUS VIEWS and superb food and drink make Jack's a visual and culinary pleasure. Both chef and manager capitalize on the eatery's strong suits -- natural and man made.
Rex Anderson, left, plays an improvisational set while
Cookie (aka Christene Meyers) accompanies on piano.
THE TWO are proud that their artfully presented meals are made from scratch, using mostly local ingredients. "We pride ourselves in creating fun new dishes, and giving prompt and friendly service," says Gena, whose sharp eye for a good waiter has recruited personnel from New York and even other continents.
Montana Jack's offers a nightly "amuse bouche," (French for "treat your mouth"), a gift from the chefs to delight the taste buds.
BURGHOFF is known for her gracious greeting of guests, her attentive service, and
management capabilities. Lockhart, who stays mostly in the kitchen, clearly enjoys his backstage job. They started out their business partnership with a food cart in Red Lodge, The Local Yokel.
Gena Burthoff with her parents. Besides her Red Lodge mum,
& Florida dad (Gary Burghoff's Radar O'Reilly from M*A*S*H) 
Jack's menu expanded the "Yokel" concept, serving sliders, tasty specials and sides. Brunch specials range from seafood roll with tarragon mayonnaise, to English breakfast complete with mushrooms and beans.  My favorites, though, are the dinner appetizers -- a gorgeous foie gras with fig syrup, terrific salmon with buckwheat blini, tasty smoked trout salad with peaches.  Recent house guests raved about the 14-ounce ribeye with a skillet of blue-cheese creamed potatoes. Succulent lamb chops are served with mint and lemon quinoa, and the sea bass is melt-in-mouth, with kale, fennel and tiny Parisian potatoes.
Desserts change daily, including divine berry ice creams and a crusty creme brule.
JACK'S IS a treasure.  Let's continue to invest in it -- and reap the tasty, tuneful rewards!

Hunter Peak Lodge between Red Lodge and Cody offers a special get-away.
COMING UP:  We're heading to Sunlight Basin outside of Cody, and a new discovery: Hunter Peak Lodge in the wilderness. Elk out the window and bear stories over home-cooking.  Plus an all-female "Two Gentlemen of Verona" at the world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Plus more on and off-road fun from California to southern Europe as we continue to have fun in well known and offbeat places. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stillwater Valley folk turn out to celebrate 'Nye Mall' institution

Bill and Judy Henderson, above, thank several hundred well wishers who gathered at Nye's Fire Hall Sunday.
Both expressed bittersweet feelings about their return to Michigan. "You've touched our hearts," said Bill.


Cookie and Judy have a laugh before the festivities begin.

IT WAS A community affair, with lots of laughs and some tears, as several hundred Stillwater Valley residents gathered Sunday evening.
A tribute and pot-luck dinner honored Bill and Judy Henderson, who came from Detroit 43 years ago to open a small store in Nye that has taken on giant proportions.
They've sold Nye Trading Post and are returning to their Michigan roots.
Community folks chatted and supped, to honor Bill and Judy.
Through the years, everyone who lives within 40 or 50 miles has shopped at the store.  It is famous for providing everything from nails to birthday candles -- with food and drink and staples at the ready.
The road to Carter's Camp and the nearby Fire Hall, photographed Sunday.
I was asked to emcee the event, at Nye Fire Hall.  A host of volunteers engineered the lively evening, with Penny Keogh spearheading the effort to honor the longtime community pillars.
People visited and reminisced, enjoyed a bountiful potluck, and celebrated the passing of the gauntlet from one couple to another.
The new owners made a brief appearance, acknowledging the long shadow into which they walk as the Hendersons pack up decades of memories and head out.
Nye Fire Hall, photographed at twilight, as the cars began to pull out.
Through my 20-plus years on the West Fork of the Stillwater, my family has enjoyed shopping at "Nye Mall." It was there my sister Misha bought worms to catch her first fish! 
Countless times, we zipped to the store for a can of pineapple, a half-gallon of ice cream, cake decorations, a pound of hamburger and pickles, milk for a baby, dog food, even foam to drive nesting hornets from the eaves.
Countless quick tanks of gas! What a gift to have this treasure trove just "down the road." And always with a cheery greeting and a cat or dog to keep Judy company. 
Here, at request, is the poem I wrote to pay homage: 

Misha Minesinger's worms -- purchased at Nye Trading
Post -- hooked this trout on her first try! (Catch/release.)

Folks came from miles around to enjoy a meal and thank Bill and Judy.

"There once from Detroit came a pair:
Bill and Judy in search of fresh air
A place in the quiet, away from race riots.
A small store they filled with their wares.

Through the years, Nye Mall’s been legendary
Because of the wonders they carry,
In need of some diapers?  Perhaps windshield wipers.
They’ll have it, or order, not tarry.

As I look around at their shelves,
I’m certain these landlords are elves
Through the years, what I’ve bought, it’s a wonderful lot!
A true work of art from themselves.

The cooler’s my favorite addition
Walk in -- milk, cheese, beer in position;
Goods are tidied each day, but besides the array,
Cures hot flashes and other conditions.

Nye Trading Post, aka "Nye Mall,"
is an institution in the small town.

Need some dog food, some Triscuits or ice cream?
Maybe fancy some biscuits or sun screen?
Pop into their store, there you’ll see “more is more”
Even unplug your john, get your bowl clean!

On our list Bill and Judy are tops
For stocking odd items like mops
Worms for fishing, you betcha?  Can’t stump them, they’ll getya.
Even ordered our workers Shock Top.

“Should I call them?” you  think “maybe not.”
Volunteers arranged a bountiful supper of casseroles, meats, and more
as Bill and Judy Henderson bid farewell to the Stillwater Valley, below.

What you need they most surely ain’t got.
But you’re wrong, they’ve got jello, red wine and marshmallows
By friends here, they ne’er be “forgot.”

One more thing now, the critters they’ve saved.
“Way too many,” Bill sometimes would rave.
They’ve a penchant for cats, there’s one now, as you chat --
And a doggie named Duchess, so brave.

Now we’re sad that they’re going away
But we notice we’ve turned their hair grey.
So a toast, raise a glass, job well done, lord and lass.
We salute you, good luck, happy days!"
The West Fork and Stillwater Valley won’t be the same without Bill and Judy.  Cookie and Keller and their Yorkies, Nick and Nora, are among their admirers and grateful friends in Montana and the greater world! Safe travels, Bill and Judy. We'll hold you in our hearts.
Cookie entertains at Montana Jack's piano bar, here
Saturday night with Rex Anderson, Absarokee veterinarian,
who plays whistles and flutes. Cookie's at Jack's Aug. 31

WE'LL BE BACK here at the blog and website, to our regular Wednesday and weekend posts at:
Here, we provide lively commentary and pretty photos of world travels and happenings in our two bases, the Beartooths of Montana and San Diego. We promise a sense of fun as we navigate the globe. Tell your friends and check us out for a novel approach to life, taking time to explore, learn and live. Wednesday's post takes a close-up look at another Beartooth institution, Montana Jack's, where Cookie plays piano, locals sit in to jam, and the food is world class! Check us out Wednesday and please share today's link with friends of "Nye Mall."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cruising tips: What size of ship, which line, which ports?


Bird's eye view for cruisers:  A circle of yachts, large cruise ships and pleasure boats at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Crystal's Serenity remains our
 favorite of 102 cruises on many lines.

I'VE NEVER MET a cruise ship I didn't like.
But there's a world of difference between the small, intimate vessels and the huge "city on water" mega-ships of the past years.
We've had a half-dozen requests recently from first-time and novice cruisers wanting help in narrowing the field.
This cave above Toulon, France, offered a gorgeous view for a small group.
We hope these hints do the trick.
YOUR OWN personality and preferences will play into your decision -- large or small, glitzy or low-key, dozens of activities or an atmosphere of "amuse yourself."
First, consider the ship size and number of passengers it carries.
These are useful barometers.
Large ships are often called "floating resorts" or "hotels on water."  If there are 2,500 or more people, expect plenty of activity and lots of hustle and bustle.
If you're traveling with only a few hundred others, the environment will be quieter and usually more intellectual. But we've met plenty of smart people on large vessels, too.
On a large ship, you can be anonymous and keep a low profile, seldom seeing the same people twice.
Ships pause in southern Spain before navigating the Straits of Gibraltar.
Small ships foster a more casual feeling.  Conversations, quiet games and making new friends are evening activities, rather than the lavish floor shows, a night in the casino or bar hopping. You might be dancing to a jazz trio instead of a 20-piece orchestra. Your choice!
Many small ships are modest.  Other small ships pride themselves on lavishness and upscale service.
PLUSES of a large ship:
*Mega-ships have lavish nightly entertainment and revues, many bars and restaurants, fully equipped fitness centers with personal trainers, many machines and TVs.
The beauty of harbors and the sea can be enjoyed on ships large and small.
*Large ships may offer a selection of in-room TV options, including movies, announcements, tour previews, even CD players plus a mix of music stations.
*You'll find a large cinema on most big ships, with first-run and recent films each day.
*Seminars, lectures, classes, dance lessons, bingo and other games are offered on large ships. You'll never be at a loss for an activity. If you're single or enjoy socializing, you'll be able to participate in theme parties and masquerades and socials inviting other like minded folk.
 *If you fear boredom, a large ship might be a better choice for your first cruise. With dozens of activities a day, only the most jaded person will depart the ship feeling unfulfilled.
*Shopping:  If you like to shop, head for big ships.  Many have floating versions of all the fine shops we have on land.  Large ships also offer extensive duty free shopping and daily bargains.
Smaller vessels offer a chance to explore smaller ports.
*24-hour room service and en-suite dining are usually a popular item on big ships. You will also find a florist shop and other specialty shops where you can surprise your partner with a gift or bouquet sent to your stateroom. 
SMALL SHIP advantages:
*I'm a reader. Small ships encourage reading and intimate conversation. No "casts of thousands."
*Tours are usually small and expertly run, with distinguished professors and guest lecturers describing the ports in a casual environment. (Head for a large ship if you want a huge auditorium with destination images on a large screen.)  But we've met lovely kindred spirits -- experts in history, the arts and archaeology -- on small vessels.
The glitz and beauty of large ships, here Royal Caribbean, are a big draw.

*Ports of call are generally more exotic and harder to reach in small ships.  Because they can maneuver in intimate ports and harbors, you'll see new villages and towns. If you cruise a lot, the itinerary is not important! Rome, Lisbon, Amsterdam. All great, multiple times. If you're just beginning your travels, ports play a larger role.
Smaller ships can get into more exotic places -- here Tenerife
in the Canary Islands, in a small, eight-person touring car.
*Barge and river cruising: These naturally call for smaller vessels.  We've barged the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Champagne in France, and on the Thames in England.  Once, on an eight-day tulip barge trip in Holland, we were with only one other couple, an older Argentine husband and wife.  We became friends and kept in touch.  But if you happen to book a small vessel with only one other couple -- and don't get along for some reason -- it could be a long eight days.  This has never happened to us.
A small port, such as this one in the south of France, may be more appealing
than a large, busy port in a major city.  But each has its advantages.
*Small vessels such as Seabourn and Silversea offer luxurious treatment and a fine passenger-staff ratio.  Crystal's Serenity offers two floors of Penthouses, gorgeous food and drink, great amenities and extras, and terrific, small tours. In the tradition of "you get what you pay for," the luxury lines cost more.
*Besides offering a cozier atmosphere, smaller-size ships tout their unique atmosphere, promising unusual experiences, both on board and ashore. Activities may include kayaking off a wilderness island in Mexico, trimming the sails and climbing the rigging, or island hopping in the Greek Islands.

Lisbon's delights include the Belem
Tower, which Cookie and Keller
visited before their Atlantic cruise.
BOTTOM LINE: What suits your fancy? Full circle to our earlier advice: consider your personality and private life. If you long for the
Cookie plays piano whenever and wherever
she's invited -- on cruise ships and, here,
at Montana Jack's. She'll be there tonight!
open ocean but can't stand the thought of an all-night disco,   dining with a thousand others, or queuing up to get off the ship in a congested Caribbean port, you'll probably want a smaller ship. But if you're a veteran cruiser -- and count me as a junkie -- you can have fun in the floating resort, too. You can learn to maneuver the crowds, read and take in the shows, and tailor the cruise to your own liking.
"Oh give me a home......" in Nye, MT

COMING UP:  Montana Jack's close-up (and Cookie is playing piano there again Saturday and Aug. 31, in Dean, Montana.) We're globe-trotting this month, with a request for a close-up on Barcelona. We've been there many times, and recently. Plus an all-female "Two Gentlemen of Verona" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, California's coastal gem hotels and home on the range in very rural Nye, Montana.  Remember to explore, learn and live and check us out weekends and Wednesdays at:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuscan treats: Lush landscape, fab food, art wonders delight the senses

Mama Mia!  Monuments,  cathedrals, fine food, cheap wine, friendly folk, gorgeous that's Italian via Tuscany!

Bruce Keller at Pisa, enjoying a light rain to make the place glisten!
(who cares if the bathroom is tiny?)


Tuscany's unique
green countryside.


Tuscany has something for all.


IF YOU CAN'T agree on a vacation destination -- one person wants scenery, another great food and wine, another monuments and history -- give Tuscany a try.
It's "one stop shopping" in the tourist lexicon, where all the major wants, desires and yearnings can be satisfied no matter how diverse the group, or how different a couple's tastes.
Many easy day trips can take you from the Chianti region to ancient wonders.
From the glories of Renaissance Firenze (that's Florence in English), with its glut of of artistic treasures, to the golden landscape and hilltop towns of the Tuscan countryside, Tuscany is a wonder.
Gaze at the beautiful cypress and terraces of the Chianti and Montepulciano vineyards, stroll through Pisa and investigate its famous Leaning Tower.
Rent a car and drive south to lovely Siena with its scallop-shaped piazza.
TRY SOME squid and pasta in tomato sauce -- you can smell the basil, garlic and oregano blocks away from the restaurant.
Cookie and Keller had morning caffe
for less than five Euros in Greve!
Stop in to some of the galleries and see why this region has fed the imagination and delighted the senses of countless visitors for many years.
For several years, we rented a villa in Chianti near the alluring market town of Greve.
Each day, we set off from our 12th Century digs, to explore the countryside with its beautifully restored farmhouses and inviting tiny villages.
Greve is a picturesque Tuscan town, with wonderful rentals, inviting piazzas and dozens of fine, reasonably priced cafes. 
WE'D FIND a new cathedral or small museum to while away a couple morning hours, then have lunch at a new restaurant -- always with a half-carafe of the house wine -- about 3 Euros, or $5 and always delicious.

The coffee in this part of the world is also delicious -- small jump-charging "piccolo caffe nero" was my favorite morning wake-up, but the grande caffe con panna was Keller's favorite, warm cream in black coffee and yummy with a couple sugars.
Squid in tomato sauce over a small bed of linguini (not much! The chef let
the squid and tomatoes be the stars!) A Tuscan taste treat.

GREVE IS well known to Italians as the market town of the Chianti Classico wine zone.  It's occupies a lovely cypress covered niche in the hilly region between Florence and Sienna. We liked Chianti because of the reasonably priced villa, the privacy of our own digs with a small but adequate kitchen, and the opportunity to explore.
Besides quick drives into Greve, we took day trips to Florence, Siena, Lucca and Pisa.
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  of places to stay range from single rooms to lavish apartments, rustic or luxurious farm houses, and villas fit for a prince.
Our villa was redone with terracotta tiled floors and beamed ceilings, furnished in country style with authentic antiques and fine copies of paintings by the Italian masters: Giotto, Botticelli, Donatello, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Piero Della and more.
You can visit a different cathedral, plaza, museum, cafe each day, and
Tuscans like to mark their monuments and statues with plaques and dates.
Our bathroom gave us plenty of laughs -- there was no indoor plumbing 800 years ago -- and the kitchen was tiny, improvised from the day when kitchens were located in separate buildings.
We had access to a large, modern swimming pool and a perfect view of vineyards and cypress trees for relaxing, Scrabble, drinking wine and reading.
MANY OF our friends claim to pay less for villas than for modest hotels -- figuring two or three couples, each with a private bedroom.  So consider this option if you're traveling with others.
We dined like kings and queens and if we returned to a restaurant, it wasn't for lack of choice.  It was because we loved the food. The most memorable meal -- the aforementioned sauteed squid and garlic in a tomato sauce over just a little linguini!

Pam and Kitsy ham it up in their vintage hats,
at the Nye Firehall, where exercise took a time out.

                                                               COMING UP: A Mad Hatter
party at the Nye Firehall, honoring the exercise class in which Cookie participates. Those alluring California coastal hotels, romantic travel by train, a couple lazy days in Red Lodge, two-stepping out at the Cowboy Bar in Fishtail, a trip to exciting Barcelona. For fun, frolic and off-the-track enticements,  visit us Wednesdays and weekends at:
And remember to explore, learn and live!