May 23, 24, 25 and 26

It’s been raining solid for the past two days. We stay overnight in Shelby, Montana. Not much to report, but we’re impressed with the tourist information centre. Of all the stops we had at tourist information centres (and there were many), this was the only one that gave us each a thank you for visiting gift pack of travel toiletries!

Because of the weather, we decide not to go to Waterton Park and cross the border into Canada at Del Bonita. We head to Cardston to tour the Remington Museum. Thank goodness the displays are indoors, where we could stay dry and wander through the displays of over 240 carriages.

We continue on to Ft. McLeod, past rising waters and flooded farmers fields. No need for irrigation in this part of the province, at least at this time of year. I call Anita Oudshoorn, the owner of Fairwinds Farm, the producer of one of my favourite goat cheese products and agree to stop in the following day.

Fairwinds Farm has grown from its small beginnings 12 years ago. They have 400 goats to milk now and an expanding production facility. Currently, production includes goat milk, yogurt, chevre, feta and hard cheese and if all goes well, I may have convinced Anita to produce Greek goat yogurt under their banner! It was well worth the visit, to finally meet Anita and see their operation.

On to Lethbridge, still through pouring rain. At Anita’s suggestion, we stop for a late lunch at Miró in downtown Lethbridge. The restaurant is owned by chef Miro Kyjac, originally from Czechoslovakia, and is in it’s eighth year. It’s located off the downtown square, in an historic brick building, with warm red walls, contemporary artwork and a beautiful original pressed metal ceiling. Their wine list is recognized by the Wine Spectator since 2005.

I order the soup of the day, Lentil. It’s a very welcoming bowl of vegetable broth, whole lentils and lingering flavours of celery, carrots and onion. Soup is followed by an Eggplant and Goat Cheese Lasagne. It’s three layers of grilled eggplant with generous amounts of Fairwinds Farm goat cheese on two layers, topped with a fresh tomato sauce that’s a perfect balance for the dish. It`s an appetizer, but could easily be a light entree. I would go back just to have this dish again. Jon orders the Penne with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche. It’s a hit with al dente pasta, tossed with salmon that’s been freshly smoked. The flavour is sweet and strong but not overwhelming and balanced with the cream sauce. Our server, Tessa, convinces us to have one of the house made desserts and we settle on the White Chocolate Crème Brûlée. It’s lovely, and presented way that I prefer, in a wide dish that’s not deep, so there’s lots of burnt sugar covering the ½” thick creamy custard.

In Montana there are less than one million residents. Considering the area of the state, that works out to be just 6.2 people per square mile on average. As you can imagine people are not evenly distributed around the state; they tend to clump up in the bigger cities like Helena and Twin Falls. That means that businesses in the rural area and smaller centres find that their customers are pretty few and far between. If there is enough traffic for a particular type of business then it is unlikely that a competitor can find enough new customers to squeeze in. It also means that existing merchants sometimes have to expand their business beyond its initial offering to make ends meet.

That can lead to some pretty innovative retail combinations.

For years I have told the story about the business in rural Washington called Tony’s Towing and Tavern. That seemed like an unusual combination at the time. Now it seems more normal after witnessing the retail combinations evident in White Sulphur Springs MT. Now, I am not poking fun at the good people in WSS. Overall they are a very friendly type and it was one place on our trip where I didn’t feel the need to lock the car doors. This is more a tribute to the pioneer spirit that built the town and continues to fuel the creativity of members of the Chamber of Commerce.

The first business you find when you enter from the south is the local nursery. It sells the usual assortment of bedding plants, fertilizers and gardening supplies. Like many similar operations they sell some rustic home décor and decorative items. But to meet the needs of the coffee drinkers in WSS they also opened the first espresso bar. It’s as strange to see an espresso bar in a nursery as it is to see potting soil in a Starbucks.

On the search for a crucial ingredient for our daily gin and tonic, we had trouble locating the local liquor store. The grocery store (which is on Main Street but you have to enter from the alley) had wine and beer as usual in the US but no gin. The clerk’s directions did not resolve our search. Finally, a second set of directions got us to the ‘General Mercantile Store’ which clearly sold a whole range of family fashions and sewing notions. Once inside we also found a fully stocked Liquor Store. “Pick up a bottle of gin and a sweater for me at the store on your way home.” They also stocked ice fishing equipment but none of the clerks could explain how the strange rig was used.

We found that the local real estate broker also owned and operated the local deli/bistro and the recommended breakfast place sold a full range of ammunition to reflect the diverse interests of the owners.

When customers are scarce then you find a niche market and fill it as a way to maintain your cash flow. Clearly there are few rules in the County to restrict the range of goods offered in any particular business establishment. I guess you should expect that in the free-wheeling state of Montana.

That’s what I am thinking about.

Jon Hall

We arrived at the Connestoga campground yesterday and today we’re headed into town on our bicycles to do an historic tour. A highlight is the stone castle built by BR Sherman in the early 1890s of sandstone from the nearby Castle Mountain slopes. The house is now a museum, stocked with items of the era and some of them original to the Sherman family.

We stop in for a bite at The Corner Stone Deli and share two sandwich platters. Foods are prepared from scratch as much as possible and cooked fresh to order. The Reuben is served on thick sliced marble rye with loads of house cooked juicy corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and 1000 island dressing. A note about the corned beef: it’s slow roasted for 4 hours, wrapped overnight to rest and carved the next day. The result is very moist and tasty corned beef that’s not pumped with salt water or sulphates to make it moist. The Grilled Chicken is another generous sandwich topped with avocado, sliced tomato, romaine and red onion. I love the use of avocado on sandwiches in the states we’ve been to – this has been a great food discovery. Both sandwiches are served with a dill pickle spear and JoJo’s fries which are had cut chips (think kettle). These are scrumptious and addictive thin potato chips, light and crispy. You can hear these fries sizzling in the background. I was also intrigued by the Mexican coke on the beverage menu. It’s made in Mexico with cane sugar, not corn sugar and is served in an old-fashioned glass coke bottle with a metal lid that needs a bottle opener. I’ve got to have one (just wish they had some dark rum…). I don’t care what anyone says, coke made with cane sugar does taste better than what they are producing in Canada and the US.

Our meal included a lovely chat with Linda Pauley the owner, about local food versus processed food. Linda recommends that I read The Unhealthy Truth, which I’ll check out when I get home. If you’re ever in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, do stop by this restaurant it’s worth it for the food and conversation.

The rain has caused havoc with highway travel and we finally get to Jackson Hole after a major diversion due to a mud slide.

Jackson Hole is a western town indeed with a history of cowboys and gunslingers (Butch Cassidy passed through these parts). We stop in at the Wort Hotel for a bite to eat. The Wort family is well known as the family that started this town. Pa Wort arrived in the late 1890’s to homestead and in the 1900’s wanted to establish a town centre that included a restaurant, hotel, and community centre. While the hotel didn’t get finished in his lifetime, his sons completed it in the 1940’s. It was destroyed by fire and re-built. Dark wood lines the walls and the bar is solid wood as well. Pictures of stars from movies filmed in Jackson line the walls (the movie Shane was shot here).We dine in the hotel’s restaurant and order a Wort Blue Cheese Burger with Bacon, hand cut fries and signature coleslaw. It’s a big burger at 8 oz. and we decide to, share the meal (that was a good idea). This was a good choice – moist, thick burger, topped with blue cheese, thick cut bacon, tomato and lettuce. Jon wanted a burger and was not disappointed by the one we had here.

It’s time to leave and start our way through Teton National Park and then Yellowstone, stopping at Old Faithful, to see this well-known geyser. We arrive just before 7 and we’re in luck as the next eruption of the geyser is at 7:05 pm. We watch, wait and there she blows! Over 130 feet high and 204 F. The eruption lasts for about 5 minutes. Eruptions are approx. 93 minutes apart.

We walk over to the Old Faithful Lodge to check it out this historic building. These are original log structures built around WW1. I convince Jon that we should check out the overnight rates and we do. They are very reasonable and we take a budget cabin for $67 dollars, which overlooks a river, a ‘baby’ geyser and wildlife (bison). We walk back to the Old Faithful geyser viewing station and watch it erupt with the sun setting behind it. It is a beautiful sight. We then strolled to another lodge on the sight, called Old Faithful Inn. This was the first building on the property back in 1904. It is original log wood construction with four floors. We stop in for a night cap and enjoy our beverages from the mezzanine, overlooking the lobby and in the background live piano music. With stops like this one, it’s not hard to say that life is pretty darn good.

For any of you readers out there who have gone on a vacation in your own vehicle and have had vehicle problems, you’ll be able to relate to this day’s tale of woe. We’ve had a few problems with our 1986 VW Vanagan on this trip and luckily, we’ve landed in cities were there are VW experts. These shops are rare and are becoming harder and harder to locate. But luck was on our side when we encountered problems in April while in Berkeley, CA and today when we were in Ogen Utah. BC Automotive specializes in VW work and luckily they could take us in right away. With parts and work involved it could mean being in Ogden for the next 4 or 5 days. So we prepared ourselves for this. But, when the car was up on the hoist, Kerry, the mechanic, diagnosed another problem which meant less cost, but still the same length of time for the repair as parts needed to be ordered. The part would be ordered in the morning and shipped to the shop for Monday. We were able to drive the van that night, stopped for a bite to eat at Rancherito and then stayed in a hotel as it was raining pretty hard.

We returned to the shop at 9 am Friday and got some great news. Colton, parts guy extraordinaire, had already ordered the part we needed the night before (not realizing it was the part we needed, but just filling in inventory of parts that had been used recently). The van would be ready by 10:30 am Friday and we could continue on our journey north. A very big thank you to Kirk the owner of BC Automotive and to his staff Colton and Kerry. This is the type of shop that people with VW from miles around, other States, and yes even Canada, come to for service. I can understand why indeed!

We’re on the road heading to Lava Hot Springs for two reasons – the hot springs and a Thai restaurant that gets good ratings. We arrive at the Riverwalk Thai Café mid-afternoon and decide to go for a late lunch/early dinner.

The food is good, but I admit, we have better Thai in Edmonton. The Spring Rolls are large deep fried rice paper rolls filled with bean thread noodles and vegetables served with a homemade sweet chili dipping sauce. Tasty, not greasy and quite filling.

We share the Stir Fried Broccoli and Chicken. It’s a lightly seasoned dish and could have used a bit more oomph. I will admit that the dish was plentiful, lots of thinly sliced chicken medallions and fresh broccoli that’s not overcooked. We decide to order the Thai Chicken with Cashew Nuts as take out for dinner later that evening. This was an outstanding dish with loads of chicken, cashews, celery, carrots, onions and bell pepper.

Next it’s over to the State owned hot springs for a dip in the pools. Something I need, as it’s been raining and on the cool side.

We’re back on the road to head to Star Mountain RV Resort in Thayne Montana.

We depart Vegas on May 17 and head north overnighting in an RV campground in Beaver Utah (at over 6,000 ft above sea level). It's late and we're hungry, so I fix up a quinoa jambolaya -- not bad for a one pot camping dish. How can you go wrong with lots of sauteed onions, peppers, bacon, fresh sausages and chopped tomatoes all stewed and tossed with cooked quinoa? We settle in for the evening.

Low and behold, we wake up to a load of heavy snow!

Breakfast at the Timberline Café, in Beaver (it’s too cold to put anything together in the campervan) and I experience my first order of ‘biscuits and gravy’. This is a common breakfast item in these and southern parts. Do I want a full order (two biscuits) or a half order (one biscuit)? I ask, "Does it come with any protein?" It doesn't, so I order a half order of bacon (in my world, bacon is protein when on vacation...). Well, as you can see from the picture below, a half order is pretty big and pretty beige (except for the itty bitty piece of kale in the corner). Carboydrates aside (and yes, I got enough for the rest of the week), this was very tasty. A homemade baking powder biscuit (scone) that's flaky and high, thick gravy mixed with pieces of chicken and hash browns that are awesome, more like a rosti or latke of freshly grated potatoes fried up to order. On a cold morning, the carbohydrates did the trick of keeping me warm. Hmmm, hmmm good!

We head to Salt Lake City and thank goodness leave the snow behind for pouring rain and tour the Mormon Temple Square. Non-members can’t go into the temple, but we did tour the church, tabernacle and welcome centres.

It’s still raining when we get back to the van. With time on the meter, we stop at a coffee shop that also houses Utah artists crafts, called Utah Artists Hands (at 61 West 100 South, SLC). Thanks Pamela, for preparing a superb Americano for me, latte for Jon and convincing me to buy two Magic Cookie Bars for our afternoon snack break as well as suggesting some places to stop on our travels. Personal testimonials for places to see always seem to result in great experiences.

It’s still pouring as we head to our campground for the evening. We try out our camper indoor stove for the first time since we have owned our VW. We don't want the van to get too infused with cooking odours so we usually cook outside at a picnic table using our Coleman stove. It’s too cold and wet tonight. The indoor stove works really well as I pan fry up some steaks purchased at Whole Foods and prepare a fresh guacamole, using an avocado given to us by a camping neighbour in Carpinteria (the avocado was grown in his own backyard back home). Simple good food for a simple day. Let’s hope for better weather tomorrow. This campground has some natural hot springs that we need to try out before we depart.

Gail and I have visited half a dozen outlet malls in our travels through two provinces and six states. The only outlet I’ve seen that was of even remote interest to me was the Bose sound system store. Oh sure, I’ve picked up some shoes, pants, socks and shirts but that’s out of necessity not shopping. In desperation I’ve browsed the Sunglasses Hut and Samsonite stores but with clip-ons and new luggage that we bought in Italy last year I am already set. I suppose some men would find interest in a Tag Heuer store but if a watch is in the same price range as a Prius it better get the outstanding gas mileage.

My interest was peaked when I noticed that one store carried Caterpillar (tractor company) branded goods but they turned out to be steel toed stilettos and lace trimmed denim shirts. The Harley Davidson store didn’t have a single motorcycle part or accessory and I there were no Montreal biker gang members picking up pink hoodies for their Breast Cancer Bike Tour on the day I was there.

Where are the outlet stores that feature designers like Stanley, Black & Decker and Delta? Does Mike Holmes buy his Makita tools at full retail? I want to see brands like Lowes, Ace, Home Depot and Revy. Sony, Yamaha, Toshiba and Samsung should join Bose at the discount end of the retail market.

I overheard a couple of women already loaded down with bags planning to meet at the food court “as close as possible to the window in two hours from now.” I was finished shopping and had eaten lunch in just 30 minutes and left with a full belly but empty handed. I’d be planning a return trip if the store selection contained Lee Valley, Best Buy, Magic Palace, Weber Grills or John Deere. A Chapters book store or an automobile showroom would at least give me somewhere to go while Gail shopped for shoes.

Perhaps if I was richer I could shop like the guy in the two-car convoy. His black chauffeured Cadillac pulled up in front of the Cartier store and he dashed inside. His body guard stepped down from the black Escalade that followed and took a stance on the sidewalk looking into the store. At six foot four and 240 pounds I am considered overweight but this guy at 300 pounds would be considered trim. He cast a shadow that provided shade for a whole busload of Chinese visitors. If he had hinges he could have been used as a barn door. His boss exited the store within minutes, his driver opened the trunk and stowed his packages while the mountain man held the car door open. Everyone climbed aboard in a well rehearsed routine and the convoy drove around to the Moms and Tots Store. The tableau repeated itself while the boss dashed inside. He must have phoned in his order and had it ready for pick up because he was out again in seconds with an armload of bags. Then they moved along to park in the fire lane with flashers on outside another store while the boss finished shopping. His credit card hardly had time to cool before they exited the mall and headed for home.

Meanwhile, I am still sitting in the husband chair outside Jimmy Chou’s watching the endless stream of people that seem to think that outlet malls make for an afternoon of good entertainment. I would be pleased to join them again when the product mix includes stuff that doesn’t have to be tried on before purchase.

That’s what I’m thinking about.

Jon Hall

My favourite strawberries are locally grown ones. Their flavour and richness just doesn't compare to the store bought ones that are so large, white and flavourless. Once you taste a local strawberry (at room temperature preferably), there's no turning back. Yes, you have to wait each year until they are available to truly appreciate what a real strawberry tastes like. If you have a freezer, buy lots of them, quick freeze them individually on cookie sheets and then store in airtight bags or containers. While fresh is still the best, frozen strawberries are the next best.

Las Vegas may be the stupidest town in America. Nothing is real and every public location wants to be a representation of some other place. You can be in Paris and step across the street into New York or Hollywood. Down the street is Egypt and Venice and ancient Rome. Yet there is history here: the Beatles at the Sahara, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. There is an obvious attraction for hundreds of thousands of people half of whom are sitting in a casino and the other half walking up and down the strip. We are walkers today.

Yes, walking up and down Las Vegas Blvd can be exhausting, so we stop at the Hard Rock café for a drink and early dinner (didn’t we have a Hard Rock café at WEM? – is it gone now?). I order a mojito and Jon orders the strawberry lemonade. We share a 10 oz burger topped with mushrooms and swiss (sharing is ample at this time of day…) and drink refills are reasonable. We manage to spend $20 on food and $50 on drinks….c’est la vie in Las Vegas…

It’s time to head back to our RV site and we restock at Whole Foods…..

Yes, even a blog about food can sometimes substitute gorgeous scenery for gorgeous food and so it is for today. Jon and I flew out on a 19-seater de Havilland plane for a tour of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Once I got over my nervousness, I let the scenery take over and it really was beautiful. The Grand Canyon is a wonder and so is the Hoover Dam and Mead Lake (the largest manmade lake in the world). Did you know that it took two years of continuous concrete pouring day and night to complete the Dam (with enough concrete to pave a road from one coast to the other)? Now, apparently, no one was buried during its construction, although men did die while making it over four years.

Boulder City is the only community in Nevada without a casino. There is life without gambling.

Supper was a delightful salad and salmon salad in wraps back at the campsite. All life in the road is not spent in restaurants.