1900 kilometres with lots of river time and naps
Five days driving along the US-89 -- three days of leisure bookended by two big days behind the wheel. It was my first trip in the van without Kelly; a weird ball of emotions wrapped around a beautiful Montana landscape. It all felt like a bit of an extended cowboy acid trip.
The first day, I bombed down to Livingston which is about 7.5 hours in the van, parked on the street outside the laundromat just past the "historic city centre" and immediately went to the Murray Hotel, where I sat at the bar and got drunk for thirty bucks while a band played honky-tonk and people danced -- I went there because it was one of Anthony Bourdain's favourite hotels in the USA and it seemed like an appropriate "farewell" to a man that I admire. I keep a copy of Kitchen Confidential in my travelling backpack and read about a third of it every time I travel -- it's like Bourdain is always with me, narrating. Thrillist put together a list of every bar Bourdaine went to in the USA, for anyone interested.
Both nights in Livingston, I crashed in the van outside the laundromat; it's really the best spot to stay, what with the wifi and the great bathroom! That combo is sure to sound weird to a person who is unfamiliar with downtown camping in a van. But, easy access to creature comforts while being able to stay near the action, is one of the best situations you can draw up for van life. Day trips along the river, nights in the town drinking with locals, and tourists on their way to Yellowstone.
The city was abuzz with summer fun. The art walk, rodeo and opening parade were the day after I arrived. The parade is awesome because everyone heads downtown in the morning and drops off a chair so that they have a place to sit once the event starts many hours later -- for awhile around noon, it's a bit surreal as the entire downtown is barred for traffic and all you see is empty fold up chairs lining the city.
Everyone I met this trip seemed like they were on the back end of a four day bender that still needed to marinade for another 2 days until July fourth. I've been to Livingston twice and only at that time of the year, but both times it's been a blast. I highly recommend it if you're around the area.
More info from my first visit to Livingston is here.
Montana's terrific sign culture?! Part 2.0
Here's a quick collection of great signs from Livingston.
US-89 is amazing
The stretch between Great Falls and Livingston is one of my favourite roads to drive, particularly once you're in the Lewis & Clark National forest. I could spend days patrolling the little turn offs along the Belt Creek.
The White Sulfur hot springs in Meagher County are a must stop destination. The indoor facilities are a bit worn down, but the outdoor area is pretty nice, considering it's ringed by a motel. For eight bucks you get a fresh towel, access to three different natural hot spring pools, a change room, and private showers.
The evening I stopped in, it was an oddly cold outside and raining pretty hard. I had the two large outdoor pools completely to myself, with steam wafting all around like thick fog -- it was awesome. I sat in a corner that has "jacuzzi" jets and stared at the large mural along the far wall that depicts the early tribes from the region, enjoying the "hot pools" before there was ever a town. It's a pretty cool experience that transports you into an interesting place in the past, while also relaxing you to the max! Here's a good list of other hot springs in Montana in case you can't make it to White Sulfur.
I had a really good burger at the Branding Iron Cafe, and a disappointing pie from the Stageline Pizza (which kinda sucks because I hung around for a few extra hours just to eat there).
(the photo of the spa is pinched from google)
Sluice Box National Park
Another must stop along US-89 is Sluice Boxes National Park -- there's some nice low maintenance hiking trails, it's easy to get up both sides of the canyon, or camp offsite along the river. It's also the first spot that I get cell reception between White Sulfur and Sluice, which is nice when you're looking to get a little work done with a world class view. I spent the afternoon working in my van up on the edge of the cliffs and then in a fold up chair on the rocks of the river. Pretty sweet offices for the day. This is the one spot I probably wouldn't try and sleep in the van as I saw a lot of forest rangers in the area and the signs made it seem like you'd be waken up if you tried to spend the night in the parking lot.
There's a lot of great little roadside places along the river around 89 and 87 junction that seem like really easy for over-nighting in the van.