We leave Idaho in the rear-view, and head into Montana, called “Big Sky Country,” and is it any wonder why?
But I propose a name change to “Big Hat Country!”
All you need to know about Ennis, Montana is the fact that there are seven fly-fishing stores in a three-block town. Population: 840 people and 11 million trout.
We learned a lot about shiny shimmery flys that the trout favor, and sidenote, that would make cute earrings. Obviously, a trip to Ennis would not be complete without viewing the World’s Largest Hand-Tied Fly.
Of course, everything in Ennis is fish-themed. The local hotel is the “Lure Me Inn,” the bowling alley is the “Fish Bowl,” etc etc etc., including the painted fish scavenger hunt similar to those in other locales … painted bison in Custer, painted bears in Great Smoky Mountains, painted ice cream cones in Iowa.
They call themselves a “drinking town with a fishing problem,” but since we don’t fish, we are compelled to head straight to the drinking. Willie’s Distillery is a small craft distillery with quite a following around Montana.
They must follow Montana’s rule for distilleries: “One and Done,” meaning you can order exactly one thing with no more than 2 ounces of alcohol. On the flip side, you can stumble out the door and down the street clutching your 2 ounces, and you can buy as many full bottles as you wish. I don’t really get this logic, but my Huckleberry Russian (because everything in Montana is huckleberry) was made even more enjoyable by the live music in this charming, lively place.
And then, because drinking makes you hungry, we drop into Deemo’s Meats, known nationwide for their homemade jerky but also with an outstanding meat counter and Fred Flintstone sized cuts.
The views surrounding Ennis RV Campground were simply breathtaking.
Fifteen miles up the road, and over a mountain pass, are the twin cities of Virginia City, Montana … (not Virginia City, Virginia, nor Virginia City, Nevada) and Nevada City, Montana, (also not in Nevada, so confusing) …. which remain “frozen in time” since the gold rush days. “Resisting Change Since 1863” is the Virginia City town motto.
Here, visitors walk the same boardwalks that desperate vigilantes once clambered over. When the gold ran out, homes and businesses stayed occupied, but there was not enough wealth to remodel the buildings, do the entire historic city now represents the era.
A nifty way to digest a lil’ Virginia City history is on a narrated tour in a classic 1941 Peter Pirsch fire engine.
The Boot Hill Cemetery, overlooking town, is the final resting place of the perpetrators of the multitudes of violence and crime that befell Virginia City. They may look touristy (and they are), but they are also actual graves from actual events. Except the little mouse graves. I think those were probably fictional.
There was no train service in this area during the gold rush days, but that didn’t stop them from displaying antique trains and featuring a short train ride on a fully-refurbished (and tiny small) 1910 steam locomotive.
Don’t miss the Brewery Follies, a hilarious comedy music of the rowdy, bawdy sort. If you are easily offended, this is not the place for you! The show takes place inside an old, delapidated former brewery.
Of course, “when in Rome” … meaning, when in a brewery, even if it’s no longer in operation, you shall drink beer! In this case, made from the same Gilbert Brewery recipe that was produced here in the 1860’s, and it was darn delicious!
A mile down the road, Nevada City is comprised of a collection of 100+ buildings that have been carefully preserved from other locations all over Montana and moved here between 1945-1978. This entire town is an outdoor living museum, and has one of the largest collections of Old West artifacts outside the Smithsonian.
“Big John” (or “Big Bad John” on hot summer days when the wind is not blowing) is a tall, two-story outhouse behind the old Nevada City Hotel. You don’t wanna be down low, when something is happening up high!
North of town, the Ennis Lake area includes a local’s favorite beach for hot summer days, and access to the Bear Trap Canyon wilderness area, with great hiking.
We went fishin’ for some local flavor with a trip to Pony, Montana, and their sole establishment, the Pony Bar, in this little town that refuses to die.
We just happened to be there on Memorial Day, which made the armed services tribute on the front of the building all the more poignant.
Lastly, not wanting to be a fish outta water, we followed the locals’ lead and journeyed to Norris Hot Springs for a soak IN the water.
Norris is a funky little spot with a laid back crowd enjoying local food and music, whilst getting their soak on.
The 30×40 foot pool, built in the 1880’s, has a wooden bottom from which super-hot water seeps upward, but an occasional sprinkle from an overhead piping system keeps the water ahhhhhh-mazingly perfect!
Live bands play from the geodesic dome from time to time, and their poolside “No Loose Dogs” Saloon serves up wine, local microbrews, and locally-sourced food, some even made with veggies grown by the owner on-site!
If you can navigate the tight turns and steep entrance, you can even RV camp on-site. It’s not much to look at, but it’s great for maximum soaking potential, especially on cold rainy days, all the way up until their 10 pm closing time.
Philip REALLY wanted to buy a new boom box, but I talked him out of it. Whew! Old-school electronics take up so much room!
We really enjoyed our time in the Madison River Valley, and are next headed to Butte, Montana … once called the “Richest Hill on Earth”! You’ll find out why in our next post!