Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why I Love Red Lodge

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2008 at 9:30 AM

I confess to having gushed about Red Lodge, Montana, during my annual “sanity break” these past two weeks. It happens every summer, but this year I’ve been more enamored of this quaint little mountain town than ever before.
For those who didn’t mind reading about mountain trout and/or the Cascade Fire, my sincerest thanks. Now, as I return the swamp that I’m proud to call home, and with apologies to David Letterman, I offer one last blast from Red Lodge: My Top 12 Reasons for Loving Red Lodge, Montana (Ten is Not Enough).

Reason No. 12 — There are no stoplights (and no traffic cameras) in Red Lodge.

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In a town where people understand the basic rules of civility, you don’t need stop lights — and you sure as hell don’t need traffic cameras. Actually, there is one camera downtown — but it’s a Webcam, not a traffic cam. It’s on top of Scoops Ice Cream on the corner of 13th Street and Broadway Avenue, the town’s main drag. Locals and visitors alike can stand in front of it and waive to friends and relatives elsewhere in real time via cell phones. It’s Red Lodge’s version of watching a Saints game while listening to Jim Henderson on WWL radio.
Reason No. 11 — Pedestrians always have the right of way.
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This applies even when — especially when — they are crossing the town’s busiest street, Broadway Avenue. If a pedestrian merely stops at the corner and looks as though he or she might be thinking about crossing the street, local traffic comes to a halt so that those on foot — or in a wheelchair — can cross. This also tells locals if a driver is not from Red Lodge: they drive too fast … and don’t stop (initially) for pedestrians. This rule also makes Red Lodge one of the nation’s most “walkable” towns.
Reason No. 10 — There’s a closeness to nature unlike anywhere else I know.
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These photos pretty much speak for themselves — deer and wild turkey roam the streets, parks and yards of Red Lodge all summer long. In fact, deer in Montana are like nutria in Jefferson Parish canals — they’re literally everywhere. No, it’s not a petting zoo; in fact, lots of folks up here are hunters. One thing to remember: When people in Red Lodge complain about the bears, they’re not talking about the stock market. In New Orleans, we are taught to put our household garbage outside every night so that we won’t get cockroaches in the house. In Red Lodge, you’re told to keep your garbage inside every night so that you won’t get black bears in the yard. Black bears in Red Lodge can become so prevalent and so familiar that they sometimes get nicknames — but they’re still bears. If a black bear breaks into your house (some have learned how to open doors), it typically goes straight to the kitchen, eats everything in sight and leaves one helluva mess. Then again, at least it doesn’t punch you in the stomach and steal your cell phone, then go down the street and order up a lap dance.
Reason No. 9 — Red Lodge has its own version of Lucky Dogs.
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They’re called G-Dawgs, and they’re served every Wednesday through Sunday by owner-operator Gary L. Kisthard, a transplanted Chicagoan. Gary’s been selling great dogs and sausages (the Polish sausages are excellent) for five summers now at the corner of 12th and Broadway. Two years ago, the City Council crafted a special ordinance so that he could get a license for his hot dog stand. Sound familiar? And just like our Lucky Dogs, they come with all the trimmin’s.
Reason No. 8 — Even when the annual Festival of Nations is canceled, musicians still show up and play.
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The Festival of Nations (held the first weekend of every August) salutes all the nationalities that settled the area of Red Lodge, which began as a coal-mining town in the 1880s. Unfortunately, this year the Cascade Fire, which threatened Red Lodge’s very existence for the past two weeks (but which appears to be largely “contained” by now), forced the cancellation of the festival for the first time in its 58-year history. Some of the musicians showed up anyway to play during the weekly Farmers Market on Saturday, Aug. 2. That pretty much sums up the kind of folks you find in and around Red Lodge.
Reason No. 7 — Montana really is The Big Sky State.
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No explanation needed for this one.
Reason No. 6 — Montana’s governor makes sense.

His name is Brian Schweitzer, and he's a moderate Democrat who reaches across the aisle to get things done. Heck, his running mate for lieutenant governor is a Republican. Now that's bi-partisanship.

Reason No. 5 — It's on the way to Yellowstone


The late Charles Kuralt of CBS “On the Road” fame knew a thing or two about America’s scenic highways. He dubbed the Beartooth Highway, which runs through the heart of Red Lodge, “the most beautiful roadway in America.” The highway serves as the town’s main street, Broadway Avenue, before arching into the Beartooth Mountains in a series of breathtaking “switchbacks” (zig-zags up the face of a steep mountain) topping out at just under 11,000 feet and then dumping you into Cooke City and Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast entrance. A friend of mine who lives in Vail said the views in Colorado were not this majestic.
Reason No. 4 — The fly-fishing is great.

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There are at least 100 places you can go fly-fishing within an hour’s drive, and some are less than 30 minutes from town. And if you want to drive up to two hours, there are nearly literally hundreds places to wet a line. Most of the fish here are not trophy-sized mountain trout, but the action is usually fast and furious, and that makes up for a lot. Then again, as some of these photos show, you can catch some awfully nice browns and rainbows on the Stillwater, Yellowstone and Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone rivers — and in some of the many alpine lakes in the Beartooth Mountains. There are also many smaller streams that are very fishable.
Reason No. 3 — A river runs through it.
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It’s called Rock Creek, and it actually runs alongside the eastern edge of Red Lodge toward the Yellowstone River, although there is now some development on both sides of the creek. Rock Creek is fishable, but there are more and bigger fish in other nearby streams. The best thing about Rock Creek is that, if you’re lucky enough to live in or rent a place alongside it, the constant din of fast-flowing water provides as soothing a sound as any on the planet — and it’s always a few degrees cooler next to the stream.
Reason No. 2 — When there’s a “heat wave,” the daily high barely reaches the low 90s.
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But only for about three hours in the afternoon. And the humidity tops out at 20 percent. Otherwise, the morning lows are in the high 40s or low 50s, with humidity in the teens, and highs are generally in the high 70s or low 80s. During the summer, the sun sets between 9:15 and 10 p.m. (depending on which month you’re here), and even during a “heat wave” the temperature dips into the 70s by 8 p.m. — and falls precipitously after that.
Reason No. 1 — There’s 1 of everything you really need.
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There’s one really good supermarket (the Beartooth Market, or “Milt’s Place,” as the locals know it). One bowling alley. One excellent microbrewery (Red Lodge Ales, which brews several wonderful beers, also operates the aptly named Sam’s Tap Room, where you can sample some of the excellent suds). One movie theatre (the Roman, where show time is always 7 p.m., no matter what’s playing, and a new movie every Friday). One gigantic candy store (Montana Candy Emporium — largest candy store in Montana). One fine golf course. One day ski area (owned by the same company that owns the golf course, and both are slated for big improvements). One day spa (I’ll be damned if I know what it’s called, but Margo knows it well). One hardware store (the True Value, where you can get just about anything, in addition to hardware and fishing/hunting licenses).
… Oh, yeah … and about 20 great bars, including one just for you PBR lovers.
Lagniappe Reason:  Willie Nelson loves Red Lodge
— so much so that he’s coming back for another concert on Aug. 22 … even though they named a fire after him in the wake of his last concert in 2000.

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