Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels in the Red Lands: Historic Hotels in Billings and Buffalo

Cody Wyoming is a gateway to Yellowstone
THE ORIGINAL PLAN

I had this idea to take a four day trip out to Cody Wyoming and back. Cody is a nice town, not far from Yellowstone. I went through there on my trip to Yellowstone, but didn't stop to check it out. I was thinking that 2 nights and a full day might be a good idea. They have both a yarn shop and a couple of breweries there, and the trip goes through the very scenic Big Horn Mountains.

I thought to make the bookends coming and going into nice stays too. I decided this would be a great time to go back and explore Buffalo as I had wanted to do last year. And then the way home....I looked for interesting hotels on the google machine and came up with one in Sheridan Wyoming and one in Billings Montana. I decided I'd go with Billings. It's been getting some press lately as a city worth checking out.

I started with the bookends reservations and found that in both Buffalo and Billings, the hotels I wanted were having end of season special pricing, but Billings was at the beginning of the week and Buffalo at the end. So I reversed the plan. Billings going out, Buffalo coming home. I got good deals on both places.

Then to hotels in Cody. Cody does not have any grand old hotels. It doesn't even have properties by either Marriot or Hilton. The bast was Holiday Inn Express. Ok, fine. But the price for 2 nights was over $600!!!!! Even places like Motel 6 were over $200 / night. Some event must have been taking place in Cody that week (wasn't even the weekend). I didn't check. I decided Cody can wait for another time.

But what now to do with these reservations at really lovely historic hotels that I got for really good prices? I decided what the heck, let's take two short overnight trips just to stay in the hotels. So I did.
Billings is close to the Wyoming border,
about 1/3 of the way from the eastern border

BILLINGS MONTANA

Billings is an easy drive from home. It's right on I-90. Took me about 4 hours to get there. It's the largest city in Montana. In 2016 Outside magazine named it their town of the year. The city has put up a billboard on our I-90 north of Rapid City to let us know about that. You can find my photo album for this trip here.

The city gives you a really horrid first impression though because the place is ringed with things like oil and gas refineries. All you see are these huge industrial buildings and places. Makes you just want to keep on driving, and also to wonder why would anyone want to live there, except maybe for the fact that you can find a "good job" or something.

But it is an nice city once you get into it. I started off in the section of town where all the useful chain stores are located .... Target, Starbucks, the shopping mall, big grocery stores, etc. (No Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, though. None in the whole state on Montana. But then we have none in either South or North Dakota or Wyoming either.) The yarn store was located in this part of town.
Off The Needles

And a great yarn store it is too. Now called Off the Needles, but still found on the elephant memory of the internet under the former name of Wild Purls. The owner was not in, but there were two totally charming employees who talked with me for quite some time. The place had all the parts a good yarn shop needs ... a whole wall o'color, a big round table, a group of people knitting for charity, plenty of sheepy, wooly props that I would have loved to have taken home, but were not for sale. My kind of place.
I would have taken this cardboard
sheep home if I could have!

The owner wants to emphasize products made by local or regional people, so I had plenty of things to choose from for my souvenir. I got some yarn made by Mountain Colors, a Montana company, to make a special maple leaf shawl I have been thinking about doing for some time.

I got directions from the yarn shop ladies for how to get downtown to the hotel by going through town. The directions were easy, but I did backtrack a bit to go to one of the Starbucks to see if "You Are Here" souvenir mugs exist for Montana. They don't. (AND neither do they exist for Idaho, South or North Dakota or Wyoming. Come on Starbucks! Tourists go to these places plenty.)

I got to drive past the university and to see some nice residential neighborhoods. Downtown was a bit difficult because it is full of one way streets. I saw the hotel much sooner than I could figure out how to get there.

Downtown Billings is alive and well. People live there. Events happen there. It's alive at night. There is not much shopping anymore, but there are plenty of restaurants. Quite close to the hotel are a couple of blocks filled with all kinds of locally owned restaurants that looked really interesting to explore.

But I was there for the hotel. The Northern Hotel to be exact. I did not make a mistake. In fact, this was an excellent decision about how to spend some pleasurable time. I loved staying at the Northern Hotel. 
Ahh, a fireplace in the lobby!

It was an historic hotel that like those things often do fell on hard times and ended up closed for many years. Then someone bought it and put some money into it and made it whole, new and probably better than it ever had been before. 
Our room. So well designed! So comfortable!

Everything was beautifully designed. They even seem to have their own font for all the printing and graphics. I'm a sucker for a nice big fireplace in the lobby, and they have one, a totally modern one, and people totally hung out there as they should. 
This tells you you are at the Northern Hotel

My room was small but designed as part of the whole and 100% comfortable. I imagine a lot of the rooms are small because of the historic nature of the property. Everything was quiet. My room view was overlooking railroad tracks, but you can't help that kind of thing because it IS downtown Billings, after all. I loved the bed and the bed linens. I slept very, very well.

There was a card in the room offering a free drink in the lounge which I took advantage of. A very high end restaurant is connected to the hotel. I decided not to eat there. It was a bit pricey, but I would love to try it for a special occasion.

Instead I walked half a block to one of Billings older brewpubs, The Montana Brewing Company. It has an outdoor patio and is a repurposed office building which has people living in the upper floors. I had my usual fish and chips and a wheat beer which were excellent. Obviously the place was popular even on an ordinary weekday. On the way home I got a huge dish of award winning ice cream at a shop just kitty corner from the hotel. I was happy, happy, happy.
Montana Brewing Company inside the old ACME building. Really.

The next morning I had breakfast in the 50s style diner / coffee shop called Bennies, also part of the hotel. I had a eggs benedict dish, and I do have to say that I did not like it that much. I think it was the meat part that was just not right as far as I was concerned. But the coffee was strong, and the service excellent.

The service all round by everyone was excellent, for that matter. I really have to call out the valet who took care of my car and gave me al kinds of good advice about where to go and how to spend my time. I really hope I have the opportunity to go back some time and spend more time at the Northern Hotel. I will probably have to make a reason to go back because I don't know what would take me to Billings, but then, hey, that's what I just did. I need to think about doing that again some time.
Natural prairie and big sky with graves spread throughout.
Peaceful now.

On the way home, I took time to go back and explore the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. I had been  there before. Like most of those kinds of places, it's quite peaceful now. Rolling prairie land with the big sky vistas. A fair amount of native wildflowers were blooming, and a western meadowlark, my very favorite bird, landed quite close to me on the ground and sang his little heart out. It was worth the time. 

So Billings .... a national park, several brewpubs and local restaurants, a great yarn shop and a superb hotel. Nice places to live. Plenty of shopping places. Attractive natural setting. Good jobs of various kinds. Good health care. A university. An airport. Yeah, it's an all right place. I could live there if that's where life would take me. But I'd want to make sure I made occasions to stay at the Northern Hotel.

BUFFALO WYOMING

Along the highway some artistic people have spread out rocks like this.
Speeding along on the road, they really do look like resting buffalo.

So I drove home on Thursday, stayed here on Friday, and set out again on Saturday. I was glad, after al that I had not gone to Cody because early snow came through, and there was bad weather in the Big Horns where I would have had to drive. That would have frightened me a lot, so I was really glad I did not have to do that drive. Because Buffalo was not quite 3 hours away, I stayed home until after lunch, and arrived in the early afternoon.

The weather was crummy the whole time but not horrible. I wore my jacket the whole time and was not crazy about being outside, so I did not do much walking around. 
Oktoberfest in the park. As you can see, totally crummy weather.

Turns out there was an Oktoberfest celebration going on in the little community park. There was music by some excellent local musicians ... the younger woman was a particularly good multi-instrumentalist. They even had roller derby girls doing their thing in the parking lot. That looked dangerous to me, but they were enjoying it, and no one actually fell or got hurt. 

I paid $20 and got myself a sampling glass and a voting token. There were tents with local amatuer brewers all round the square. You could ask for as much as you wanted from anybody so that you could taste a lot of different beers. You were then supposed to give your token to your favorite. 

I tried about 5 different varieties including one with an interesting name, but which the brewer insisted that I did not have to finish if I didn't like it. He said more than once I could just pour it out if I didn't like it. I told him he was not doing a good job of selling this one and he shrugged to say that not al ideas turn out well  in the end. And, indeed, I did try it and ended up pouring it out. I voted for the only wheat beer. The winner was one that that was called something like coconut-pineapple lager which I had not tried because I thought it sounded horrid .... pina colada beer? No thanks.
The Occidental Hotel, where the novel The Virginian was written in the bar.
They didn't have Starbucks in those days.

This time the hotel really emphasized the historic part of the name. The Occidental was also a famous fancy hotel that fell on hard times and was eventually revived. The place is kind of museum like, stuffed with Victorian era western antiques or replicas. Everything is modern on the inside (good TVs, high speed internet), but all the decor and furnishings are in the 19th century western style. And every surface was covered with something or another. My room as comfortable, but not that great. The nicest thing about my room was that it was a little patio with a table and chair that was right beside Clear Creek which runs through the downtown. 
Clear Creek runs right beside the hotel,
 and my room had a little outside creekside patio.

This time I did eat at the fancy restaurant connected to the hotel, the Virginian. I could have also eaten in the bar which was open till much later than the restaurant. The menu was limited and did feature a surprising amount of seafood which I found odd considering where we were located. I had the special which was a beef dish, a kind of stew, which was very very flavorful. 
Our bed was comfortable, but nothing like at the Northern.

I slept fine and the next morning I had breakfast at the coffee shop attached to the hotel. I had the eggs, bacon, potato plate, the kind of thing that is hard to do poorly unless you mess up the eggs which the cook did not. Seating has difficult at the coffee shop. Obviously it is a very popular place where there were plenty of locals.

At both the restaurant and the coffee shop there was a young woman from Thailand working as a food runner & able busser. She noticed Sock Monkey and I at supper, and at breakfast she asked specifically where Sock Monkey was. I brought him out for the breakfast table as I had had him out for supper. She told me about a special pillow she had with her on her travels which she found was very comforting. 

Then after breakfast, pack up and go home. I was home by lunchtime. As I said last year, I find that Buffalo as a place to live is just too far away from things like shopping, and airport and health care for me at this time of my life. But my thoughts were confirmed in that I still think it is a really nice little community in which to live. I really think I would like a day to day life there, and it certainly is a place well worth spending a bit of time in.

Sock Monkey made a friend here at supper.


These two little trips mad me reflect on the whole idea of staying in hotels. As I have been driving around this part of the world these past few months, I have been noticing how many RV's and travel homes of various sizes are out on the move right now. One reason owners cite for deciding to own and use a travel home to so that you do not have to stay in hotels. 

But I decided I LIKE staying in hotels. And I really like staying in special hotels. I had the best time at these tow places and the hotels were the main reason for it all. The hotel is the center of the trip. I decided this is going to be something I want to do more of .. seek out and try out special places to stay overnight. Watch for it!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels in the Red Lands: North Dakota, Because it is There

September turned out to be a month a lot like April-May of this year. I started doing some short trips and just kept going. And I'm not done yet because I'll be heading home to Illinois in a few days while it is still September.

One of my water exercise lady friends found a great cat sitter for me. Ms Jean is a retired school teacher who lives in town, has several pets herself and was up for the gig. She has lived here all her life and drives a Jeep. She told me not to worry at all if the weather should turn bad while I am away (which I'm sure it will some days); she's on it and has a lifetime of experience, plus that Jeep, that will get her out and about no matter what. OK then.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels in the Red Lands: South Dakota and Beyond

Smokey Rose knew right away how to get comfy in our
Black Hills home.
Smokey Rose and I are now living in our home in the Black Hills. We no longer have a place in Salt lake, just this little condo of ours. We arrived here around July 1 and spent most of July "moving in." Of course this place was fully furnished and all, but I brought with a carload and a pickup truck load of boxes of things that had to be integrated with everything that was already here. A lot of it was clothes, books and craft supplies. There were also some kitchen things, a bit of artwork and some misc things plus stuff like food, cleaning supplies, other consumables such as office supplies. We are mostly done except for the boxes with papers in them. That can wait to be sorted through until a rainy or snowy day comes along.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels "Home" to Chicago

So many interesting buildings in Chicago!
You tell me what we have here. I don't know.
My last two short trips before I left Utah were to big cities, Chicago and Denver. I went to both for kind of business reasons, but did my best to enjoy each. I didn't succeed in doing everything that I had in mind, but both trips had real highlights.

Chicago was first, in order to attend the annual meeting of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, my professional tribe for my lifetime. I became a lifetime member this year even because they put in a special category for us retired folks. Several people have asked why do I want to keep going to work related things now that I'm retired? Well, midwifery is, for me anyway, am identity or a calling, not just work that I did. I'll probably never practice midwifery again, but I am a midwife until the day I die.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels in the Red Lands: Le Tour d'Idaho

Idaho is a good place to visit!
Idaho is an underrated state, I think. I mean what does anybody know about it besides famous potatoes and white supremacists, if you're old enough? It's shaped funnily what with that real skinny part at the top which seems like all it does is to separate Montana from Washington for no apparent reason. I imagine that if you drive it through the pan handle from Montana to Washington, Idaho must be a big yawn. Or a tiny blink. "Oh, did we just go through another state? I guess we did. Oh well."

But Idaho is right on top of Utah, and people from Utah go there from time to time, not just when they are driving through to Oregon or Washington. Fly fisher people know it as a kind of paradise. It has more natural hot springs than any other state (who knew?).

And they say that Boise is "the new Asheville".... or that Boise is a trendy place to live now that all the other places are "filled up" and maybe even "spoiled." Like Prescott Arizona, Boise shows up regularly now on lists of good places to live for a variety of reasons.

So a visit to Boise and therefore surrounding areas in Idaho has been on my list for some time now. Time was getting short in Utah for me, and I just decided to do it NOW. I told my knitting friends of my plans. Two originally signed on to go with, but one cancelled, so it ended up being my friend J and I taking this trip. J drove her car which was fine with me.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels to a Blue Land

This time we did not see any orange groves.
California! Yes! I love California!

It began years ago when my friend at Red Butte Garden who used to  live in southern California told me about The Huntington Gardens and Museums. L. lyrically described the gardens and insisted that I must go there and see for myself. I was convinced; the only question was when.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Blue Lady Travels to Meet Some of Her Tribe at The March For Science

The president was in residence on Earth Day.
He tweeted something about loving our wonderful rivers and things like that,
and went to Walter Reed to present a Purple Heart to someone.
BTW, the garden is protected. It's under the care of the
National Park Service.
As soon as I heard it was going to happen, I knew I wanted to go. A March FOR Science on Earth Day in Washington DC. I did not make arrangements to go to the Women's March the day after the inauguration. I would have liked that, so I felt the need to do something similar at some other time. Bingo! Let's go to DC in April. I got a plane ticket and a hotel immediately.