North Yellowstone and Livingston, MT
I was sad to bid Jackson and the grandma-chic hotel farewell. I really liked the town and the surrounding area. When I got back home someone told me that that one of the ski lifts will take you to the top of one of the runs in the off season to get a great view. I had no idea! I didn’t see that advertised anywhere and no one mentioned it when we were chatting people up in town. I’d like to believe they didn’t tell me because it wasn’t worth it.
We had a date with Livingston, Montana later in the day, but had plenty of time to get through the northern part of Yellowstone. Mammoth Hot Springs is up there and since Yellowstone does the geothermal thing better than anyone, I was probably as pumped to see this as I was Old Faithful. Most of that drive was much prettier than the southern part. Tower Fall was particularly beautiful. It’s no Multnomah Falls, but it was a lot less touristy. At one point we were navigating some steep switchback-esque roads and had to come to a complete stop to let a bison pass. He was just moseying along as if cars weren’t even there. He passed by me at the steering wheel, his head at my height, but body towering over the car. It was intimidating
and I totally locked the door. I wanted to do nothing more than stare, but with all of the morons getting gored by bison bison in the news lately, I didn’t want to join that club.
Mammoth Hot Springs is known for their limestone terraces. Talk about stunning. They don’t even look real or make any sense to my feeble brain. Perfectly chiseled blocks of limestone made into natural terraces can be found all over. Bacteria and algae contribute the colors. They change often, and were particularly dry and less colorful when we were there. A lot of grey and white, but stunning none-the-less. There is a walking tour you can take to see all of them. Fort Yellowstone, built in 1886, is nearby to get in a little history coupled with your nature. If you hadn’t guessed by now with all of this geothermal activity, there is a heavy sulfur odor when you’re walking along the wooden walkways. It’s not for the weary. I actually like the smell a lot, but there are plenty of people who don’t.
We left the area through the Roosevelt Arch and crossed over into Montana with little fanfare. It wasn’t until we got out of the border town that I started to see what the whole “big sky” thing was all about. Montana has a lot of it. The sky. It’s everywhere. Big wide open spaces surround you. I haven’t felt that insignificant and surrounded by such untouched beauty in a long, long time. Speed limits are kind of a joke — 80mph. Who needs to drive that fast when there is so much beauty to see? It’s really not that surprising that Montana has one of the the highest number of car fatalities per mile. People drive fast. We were passed. A lot. Couple that with curvy roads and wildlife crossings and there were a lot of little white crosses littering the sides of the roads. Sometimes it was distracting. Other times you’d just get so lost in the landscape that they would disappear.
Livingston had been the inspiration for the trip, thanks to Anthony Bourdain. It’s a town of about 7,000 and 80% of the buildings are on the national register of historic places. If you haven’t gathered, it’s small and has a lot of history. We stayed at The Murray Hotel [where Bourdain did, of course], which is a charming as hell old Western hotel that’s preserved in all the right ways. The elevator has to be operated by the front desk staff, and the lobby is full of western kitsch. The rooms were updated with modern amenities while maintaining the charm that comes from a historical building like that. Celebrities roll through a lot. We didn’t see any, of course, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
The town houses a large artist/writer/actor community so there are a lot of galleries, shows, and movies filmed in the area. Since a lot of celebrities come through, the food scene isn’t a slouch. We ate and drank really well during the 24 hours or so we were there. The beer at Katabatic Brewing was some of the best I’ve ever had. Sorry Oregon beer! The brewery had only been open nine months and can barely keep up with the demand of the town. If they didn’t constantly keep brewing, they would run out of beer in two weeks. As such, they aren’t in any position to start exporting out of Livingston, which is so unfortunate. We also became acquainted with Montana’s brewery laws. They’re interesting — the gist being you can only have three pints per brewery and they have to close at 8pm. The restaurant/bar industries are feeling threatened by the brewery concept. I imagine it’ll eventually change just like most other places. But really, I don’t really need to be drinking more than three pints anyway. Places we ate included Fiesta En Jalisco for huge plates of solid Mexican food and Gil’s Goods in the morning for great coffee and farm to table breakfasts [cheese grits!]. We didn’t get a chance to check out the infamous 2nd Street Bistro for some fine dining because they were closed the one night we were there, but we considered driving back.
Another highlight in Livingston was the Livingston Depot Center for all things railroad history. The old train depot has been turned into a museum. There is a ton of information on the walls and in display cases for even the most uneducated of train n00bs. What really made the whole experience though was the guy manning the front desk when we were there. He is a true train aficionado and he had so much great insight and personal experience with trains that he really brought the museum to life. It was nearly a guided tour. We spent a lot of time in there reading over every last detail. The upstairs area did have a small exhibit dedicated to movies shot in the area, but that wasn’t nearly as cool as all of the train information. Trains were such a huge part of the area, so to brush up on my history was welcome.
We rounded out the little time left in Livingston with a trip to Sacajawea Park to walk along the river before heading back onto the highway towards Bozeman.