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Dave and Jan's travels, day 91:

8th March 2003: Thanks a million to Jane who sent us some updates about life in the area! Jane, if you ever look in here again, I'd love to reply to you, but I don't have your email address... send us another message with the address and I'll write.

18th August
After thirteen weeks pootling through the US, we have gained a lot of respect for the scenery and wildlife, but haven't had too much exposure to the culture. After all, everyone said that the "real" US away from New York was something else. Inspired by Phil and Alison, the four of us set off for a three day excursion through western Montana, in search of the soul of the US.

Driving north from Yellowstone, the scenery becomes immediately barren and dry. Then, we arrive in the town of Emigrant. Into the local bar, for a beer, a couple of frames of pool, and our first piece of local colour. To describe the barman as taciturn would be to wildly overestimate his conversation. He's wearing boots, jeans, shirt, waistcoat and stetson. All of these - especially the hat - appear to surgically attached. His legs are the same diameter as my wrist.  The wall is festooned with dead animals - a recurrent theme throughout the trip ahead. I suspect that the yellow pages is full of taxidermists.

Back in the car, and we head off for a few more hours through the wastelands, to the town of Ringling. We had hoped to find a motel there. As we turn off the highway into "town", it becomes apparent that there isn't going to be a motel.

The only place of business is "J.T's bar and supper club", and  fortunately it's open. In we go. It's 4.30 on Tuesday afternoon. At the bar are two women of around seventy, and two middle-aged guys, one wearing a giant stetson. Behind the bar is a man who appears to have given up shaving and washing for the foreseeable future.

A few moments' conversation establishes that all five are drunk. Mr. Stetson turns out to be J.T. in person. He is no longer the owner, and I can tell you that whoever bought the bar got a good deal: J.T's own custom is quite enough to make the place a going concern on its own. J.T. immediately embarks on a series of long-winded attempts to impress Alison. Judging by the reactions of both barman and J.T.'s buddy, these tales are short on factual accuracy: but this is counterbalanced because from where we're sitting, they're also short on comprehensibility. Meanwhile the barman is explaining to me how they help people from cities to hunt bears (you chase them (the bears, that is) around the landscape in a 4x4 until they're really tired, then you let your city man loose with rifle).

The general consensus is that there are no motels in Ringling (pop. 40. apparently) but that there might be a new one in White Sulphur Springs, around 25 miles up the line. Back in the cars, and, contrary to our fears, a splendid and brand-new motel. Into reception, where we meet Chelsea. I estimate Chelsea's age at 17, she is more bubbly than a jereboam of champagne, and keen to help. Eventually we check in, by which stage we know that Chelsea goes to school with J.T.'s daughter, that Chelsea has barely seen her Dad for four days (although he has managed to make her dinner and give her a new car!) and we are armed with information about the wealth of dining options available to us in White Sulphur Springs.

Eventually we head off to the Mint Bar and Grill. They serve a range of fine products, all cooked in the same grease (this information was provided by the staff, without any noticeable irony). Eventually I chose fried chicken, whereas Phil took fried fish. No noticeable difference in appearance or taste, and both not exactly yummy.

On to the Stockman's bar for beer and pool with some local fifteen-year-olds. Most entertaining. Keen teenage pub-goers and music fans who've never heard of Genesis or Phil Collins: now I do feel old.

The next day, we spring up at 8.30am for the Super 8 motel complimentary breakfast. Chelsea is still there, and along with the deputy manager, are keen to help us plan our day. Deputy Manager recommends the bear museum in Martinsdale, whereupon a strange conversation ensues:

David: so what do they have there?
DM: oh, furniture, decorations, a couple of paintings. Interesting stuff
David: hmmm, no bears then?
DM: No.
David: I'd have thought they might have stuffed bears, maybe a display about them? 
DM: Why would they have that?
David: well, it is called the bear museum...

Eventually the conversation tails off in confusion on all sides, DM wanders off and returns with a copy of a leaflet for the BAIR museum (named after the Bair family whose house it used to be).

Next, we espy a "Ghost town" on our map. 

David: what's that like then?
DM: Oh, it's not what it used to be...

General laughter, not least from the Californians at the next table. DM however is deadly serious and is apparently referring to recent vandalism. DM is clearly not much given to giggling.

Eventually we visit White Sulphur Springs Castle (large house) and then onto Martinsdale for the Bair Museum. This is a surprising treat. The house is exactly as it was left on the recent demise of two childless sisters, the daughters of one Charles Bair, self-made sheep millionaire. The place is decorated with loads of beautiful, mostly European, antique furniture, and we are shown round by a guide with an encyclopeadic memory. Obviously this is altogether too cultural for this trip, so we immediately head into the town of Martindale for lunch. In dismay, we find that even here things are against us: the salad is fresh and balsamic vinegar is on display. Still, as the photo shows, Martindale has not yet fallen victim to urban sprawl. For the record, the food at the Crazy Mountain Inn is excellent.

And so on to Twodot. Did I mention earlier that Ringling seemed small? Not any more.

From there we turned south, happy in the knowledge that the soul of the US is in safe hands.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Main St., Martinsdale