ROAD TRIP USA 2011: ONE NIGHT IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
I am going to warn you right at the beginning of this post that there is not going to be a lot of food discussion or many photographs of amazing meals to make you jealous and hungry in equal measure. The reason is, quite simply, that there was precious little good eating going of the next stage of the road trip, as we made our way from Portland, Oregon to Cottonwood, Idaho.
There was, however, lots of interesting stuff to see and I placed myself firmly in the hands of my travelling companion, Neal whose research had pinpointed plenty of potentially enticing stop offs on the long drive ahead.
First stop, after Portland, was at the lake side resort of Coeur D’Alene. We ate a meal in a brewpub that did not kill us and spent the night in a small motel that was situated at the unlikely location of Sunup and Sunshine. It didn’t kill us either. Before we arrived in Coeur D’Alene, however, we made a brief stop in Spokane, where we encountered one of our favourite people of the whole trip.
Marvin Carr had a long career as a switcher on the railroads. He saved his money and invested it in the stock market. He obviously did quite well and, at the age of seventy, he was able to cash in and fulfill his dream of opening a museum. He called it the “One Of A Kind In The World” Museum and began filling it with one of the oddest assortment of exhibits you are ever likely to come across. Fourteen years later and at the age of eighty four, he is still there every day giving tours to the occasional visitor who finds their way to this quirky little place houses in a small warehouse in industrial estate on the outskirts of the city.
After Coeur D’Alene, we made our way out of the state of Washington towards the vast expanses of Montana and Idaho. We were at an intersection between three states at this point which meant that we were able to dip out of Washington and make our first stop in the small and slightly decrepit town of Wallace.
There is no real reason to make a detour there, unless you are interested in seeing The Oasis Bordello Museum. The building was purchased in the early 1980’s by a man who found out afterwards that it was an abandoned brothel, with just about everything left as it had been just before the working girls fled from a police raid. He decided to keep it open as a museum and the insides are as dated and depressing as you might imagine.
Far more interesting was our next stop, The Miracle of America Museum in Polson, Montana. We reached it after a very long drive, by the end of which time we were both becoming a little cranky. The sheer lunacy of this huge vast museum, however, pirked us up a great deal. Like Marvin Carr’s effort back in Spokane, this was the work of a single man, Gil Mangles. Along with his wife, Joanne, he has dedicated much of his life since 1981, and over five acres of land to celebrating everything American.
There are over thirty buildings filled with a genuinely astounding collection of treasures and junk. I cannot think of any other place that might proudly display an entire school building from the 1870’s next to the nosecone of a rocket, next to a collection of 100 chainsaws, next to a collection of 1960’s arcade games, next to a collection of antique motorcycles, next to….well you get the picture.
It really is an astonishing place and had the potential to fill the entire day. We were, however on a schedule and set off a couple of hours later slightly shell shocked, but in much better spirits than when we arrived.
We spent the night in the pleasing University town of Missoula, Montana. Again, there is little to report, but we grabbed a couple of pints and a decent night’s sleep before the next long drive of the journey. It was pouring with rain the next morning, but fortunately it cleared before we reached our first stop of the day, the deserted ghost town of Garnet, Montana. In its heyday, it had a population of well over a thousand people consisting predominantly of miners and their families. By the 1920’s however, it was on the decline and by the 1930’s it was all but deserted. It made a fascinating stop, particularly as many of the buildings still contained the remnants of the former occupant’s belongings.
We did stop for lunch. Just in case anyone was wondering if there was going to be any food in this post at all. The drive from Garnet to Cottonwood, Idaho, was over four hours long, through some of the most astonishingly beautiful scenery of the entire trip.
Highway 12 is banked on one side by the Blackfoot River and, on the other side by the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. It twists and turns its way for well over one hundred miles offering fantastic views, but precious little in the way of refreshments. We finally found an unassuming motel & diner which offered up a surprisingly tasty (and huge) meal in the form of a double chili burger and a roast beef sandwich (which to Neal’s surprise and my amusement came drowned in a sea of dark brown gravy)
It was enough to see us to our final destination for this post and the main (in fact only) reason we had added Idaho to our itinerary. Anyone who has read Dave Gorman’s book “America Unchained” will be well aware of The Dog Bark Park Inn, a one bedroom B&B housed in a giant wooden beagle. We were fortunate enough that the owners of said beagle, Dennis & Frances were able to accommodate us for one night.
We arrived around 3pm and spent a good couple of hours chatting to them before they showed us to our rooms. I called “shotgun” and exiled Neal to the small sleeping area in the nose, while I took advantage of all the amenities in the main bedroom. It really is, as its lovely owners declare it, “A Noble and Absurd Undertaking”, but it was also provided one of the most comfortable and enjoyable nights I have spent anywhere in the US.
We walked down to the local town to pick up a six pack and sat drinking them on a small deck overlooking the local highway just as the sun began to set over the vast and flat Idaho landscape. We still had over four thousand miles to drive before Road Trip USA 2012 was finished. We had plenty of meals planned and lots of other quirky places to visit.
They would, however, have to work mighty hard, we both agreed, to beat our one night in the belly of the beast.