Thursday, July 31, 2014
What's New in the New West

Getaways

Old School Skiing, Low Pricing at Idaho’s Soldier Mountain

Skiing Soldier Mountain near Fairfield, Idaho, feels sort of like a guilty pleasure. The economy in the tank, it’s no doubt wrong to celebrate parking next to the lodge and zero lift-line wait time. But great snow, meticulously groomed runs and bright sunshine are reasons to celebrate any ski experience, and Soldier delivers in spades. Situated less than an hour southwest of Sun Valley, Soldier has all of the famous resort’s Central Idaho scenery, but none of Sun Valley’s shi-shi-la-la. No reason to hurt yourself rubber-necking at glamorous movie stars – the Humvee limos don’t bother traveling through the countryside to get to this modest resort. Instead, the mountain that opened in 1948 draws mainly from the small surrounding agricultural communities and residents of nearby Mountain Home and Mountain Home Air Force Base, thanks to a deep discount for military members. Even without a military discount, Peggy Freisinger is gripping her credit card receipt with a big grin. A resident of Albuquerque, Freisinger is visiting Idaho relatives for the holidays. “I just bought lift tickets for all three kids for 57 bucks,” she beams, marveling at the half-day youth prices. The Freisingers typically ski at Taos, where the bill for the family tops $400, she says. Read More »

Christmas in Montana’s Choteau County Is an Old Tradition Not to be Missed

ChoteauChristmas2010_200x160

Choteau County Christmas happens the first weekend in December in the heart of Montana's farm and ranch country, between Fort Benton and Big Sandy. Along that 37-mile stretch of Highway 87 are the towns of Loma, population 93, which is near Decision Point, where the Marias & Missouri Rivers converge, and where Lewis and Clark nearly took the wrong fork. Also there: Virgelle, official population 2, a remote and tiny town consisting of the General Mercantile and an abandoned grain elevator. These communities, as well as Geraldine, Montana, celebrate Choteau County Country Christmas with craft fairs, bake sales, parades, dances and food bizarres. Shoppers flock from Great Falls and Havre and lots of other places to be a part of an old-fashioned welcoming of the holiday. Santa's there too, of course, along with the Parade of Lights, the Christmas Church Tour, a live nativity scene and the White Christmas Dance in an old community hall in Loma. Read More »

Cheap Thrills in Las Vegas

I’m not a big Vegas guy. The soul-sucking bombast of the Strip leaves me cold, and the only gambling I do these days is when I sit on the toilet to drop a deuce before I check to see if there’s paper. But on a recent trip to visit family in Sin City, I discovered an attraction that got me as excited as a martial arts fan who opens the front door to find Jean-Claude Van Damme delivering his pizza. It’s the Pinball Hall of Fame, the world’s biggest collection of classic, fully functional pinball machines. Read More »

The Muskies of Minaki

Beware of Muskie Fever. It can ruin the life of a perfectly normal fishaholic. And contagious? You betcha. I caught it even before I went anywhere near water where the mighty muskellunge lurks. Then, last year, I finally had my first chance at a muskie, and what an introduction! Six long days and 8,600 casts without a single hook-up. (Click here to read the gory details.) But even such a royal butt kicking can't come close to curing Muskie Fever. Instead of giving up and going back to trout, I couldn't wait to go back for another beating. Catching a muskie was high on my life list, so it had to happen. All I needed was a better time and place, eh? Read More »

A Gem at the Foot of the Bighorn Mountains

It was 1866 when Samuel W. Hyatt moved to a scattered settlement at the confluence of Paint Rock Creek and Medicine Lodge Creek. But what he and other early settlers of what is now Hyattville didn’t know was that people had been living in that same area for the last 10,000 years. For the ranchers and others who now make Hyattville home, it’s easy to see why. Tucked away amid the red, rolling foothills of the Bighorn Mountains in north central Wyoming, Hyattville is only six miles from Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site, home to numerous petroglyphs and pictograms. Over the years, Hyattville has had a doctor, newspaper, hotel, mercantile and grocery stores — even an opera house — that served a thriving ranching economy. Today, there’s a post office and two cafés, each with a bar. Groceries or gas are 17 miles or more away, in Basin, Worland and Ten Sleep. Read More »

Christo’s Plan for Arkansas River Wrapped in Controversy

In a repurposed garage in Denver’s trendy Lower Downtown neighborhood, the artist Christo stepped up onto the makeshift stage. Across the street in the museum of contemporary art hung sketches from his latest proposed project, Over the River, an ambitious – and highly controversial – work that, if approved, would suspend industrial-strength fabric over Colorado’s Arkansas River. The plan is loved by some and despised by others, but among this crowd of art enthusiasts, Christo, with his mane of untamed silver hair and a rumpled khaki vest and jeans, received a standing ovation before his first slide wheeled around on the carousel projector. Read More »

Selwyn Lake Lodge: Remote Island Paradise Surrounded by Trophy Fish

I've had all kinds of fishing experiences, and some of them--perhaps too many of them--have been in somewhat primitive, if not brutal, conditions. Roughin' it is okay, I guess. I've done plenty of it, but now, as I get older every year, I've discovered that a little relaxation and indulgence goes just fine with fishing. Which is one reason I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Selwyn Lake Lodge. Read More »

How To Do Yellowstone in Winter

In winter, Yellowstone National Park is nature's crystal cathedral. The landscape transforms into a marvel of textures and shapes all sparkling with an icy diamond allure. It's why ski-touring or snowshoeing here is a completely unique experience. Imagine skiing near thermal features that exist nowhere else as herd of bison moves across the distance. I'm reminiscing about a trail I ski-toured at Yellowstone not too far from the snow lodge where I stayed. It led to "white" water crossing, not the fast-river running type of crossing we're used to. The scenery was stunning. Diamond icy crystals dripped from rocks forming icefalls, pristine white snow blanketed the landscape offering up tracks of the elusive snow hare. I completed a round of turns and the overlook gave way to the valley below with puffing geysers sending off signals that filled the sky. It took my breath away, literally and figuratively. Truly, a winter vacation in Yellowstone is an overwhelmingly beautiful experience. That is, if you can stand the cold. Here's a tip if you plan on going: Layer, layer, layer. Packing a few toe- and hand-warmers are key, as well. Read More »

Ena Lake Lodge: Secluded Luxury and Good Fishing, Too

Way up north in northern Saskatchewan on the 60th Parallel within sight of Northwest Territories is a massive body of almost-virgin fishing water called Ena Lake. The owners describe it--and the overall experience--as "unspoiled, uncrowded, and unforgettable." Since I was fortunate enough to spend a few days this year, I know that slogan isn't merely marketing hype. It's more like an understatement. Ena Lake Lodge is the only speck of civilization on the enormous lake and many miles of trackless wilderness in every direction, so you not only get that feeling of remoteness, you know Ena Lake and several other smaller lakes lodge guests can fish have incredibly low fishing pressure. Read More »