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Dillon, Montana (Repost - January 1, 2011)

by Bennett Owen

Five thousand people, one for every foot above sea level. 

Welcome to Dillon. Photo by Raymond Hitchcock.

14 bars. 

Longhorn Saloon. Photo by Raymond Hitchcock.

Seat of a county larger than three US states.  Home to an all-round champion rodeo rider and endless supplies of talc. Home also to a cold blooded killer who used a pack of camel cigarettes as a blueprint to build a magnificent stone gate as a gift to his gal, Gracie. 

Gracie's New and Used Store. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

The hub of Montana’s livestock industry and a showcase of late 19th century western architecture that fits so well with the landscape and makes me homesick every time I see a picture of…the courthouse…

Looking Up Bannack Street to the Courthouse. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

the college…

University of Montana-Western Administration Building. Photo by Jimmy Emerson.

the train depot…

Old Depot Museum and Theatre. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

and the Carnegie Library, a precious architectural gem that has anchored downtown Dillon, Montana since 1902. 

Public Library. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

It’s a town where you take the snow tires off in May…and regret it in June. It’s a town with a lover’s leap that no one ever leapt from and a dead man’s curve with ne’er a casualty.  The landmark Metlen hotel

Historic Hotel Metlen. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

where Gary Cooper once spent the night...

it’s shuttered and decrepit now but somehow still stately. The fancy spots when I was young are faded memories… Skeets Café, The State Bar and Dining Room, Sage’s Barbershop, Eliel’s Department Store. The buildings they once inhabited still stand, inhabited by trendy establishments like the Blacktail Station and the Sweetwater Café.

Sweetwater Cafe. Photo by Jack Crossen.

As a kid I thought the Wheeler Inn was a play on words, an invitation for truckers to “wheel their rig in.”  Dad eventually shattered that illusion…it seems the owner’s name was Wheeler. No matter, it’s now a KFC. But on the outskirts of town the Lion’s Den stands the test of time, surviving and prospering thanks surely to slabs of prime rib so generous they droop down off the edge of the plate.

Dillon is surrounded on three sides by the continental divide, a town where locals will point you north or south rather than left or right. Long before the interstate came through, Dillon had its own four lane highway…two lanes and the borrow pits on both sides that saw plenty of alcohol-induced traffic.   Lewis and Clark passed through long before there was a Dillon. The Nez Perce led by the great Chief Joseph trailed through shortly after there was.  It was Sacajawea who pointed out an outcropping that looked like a “beaver’s head,” hence Beaverhead County and the Beaverhead River and Beaverhead just about everything else…and to this day local historians argue about which cliff Sacajawea was talking about.  And in case anyone forgets where they’re at, the locals have whitewashed a gigantic “M” (for Montana) and a “B”  (for Beaverhead) on the hill outside town. Most every county in the west most likely has a Rattlesnake Creek and many also have a Bald Mountain. But a drive out of Dillon might take you up the Blacktail towards the Centennial, or out past ten-mile to Horse Prairie or west over Badger Pass to the Grasshopper, the Pioneer Mountains, the Big Hole and beyond, to the very headwaters of the mighty Missouri. 

My hometown, Dillon, Montana. Not much. But then again, oh so much.


On the Shoulder of the Wind Rivers - Lander, Wyoming

By Jim Poulton

Lander – a little town on the eastern slope of the Wind River Mountains in central Wyoming – was founded in 1869 as an army post to provide protection for immigrants headed over South Pass (the main pass through the Rockies for the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails). The town that grew up around the camp was named Lander in 1875, after the explorer Frederick W. Lander.

Frederick West Lander. Credit: Cowan Auctions

In 1906, Lander became the last stop of the ‘Cowboy Line’ of the Chicago and North Western Railway. The railroad was intended to be a transcontinental mainline to Oregon and California, but it never went further than Lander. Lander is the home of the world’s first paid rodeo, which continues to this day. And for anyone looking for adventure and challenge – either as a camper, hiker or climber – in the Wind River Mountains, Lander is the closest town to get a good beer.

Credit: Wyoming’s Wind River Country

The Wind Rivers are not for the faint of heart. My brother and I were once having lunch under a tree in the Wind Rivers. When we were done, and continued on our way, a lightning bolt struck the tree – not 75 feet behind us – and blew it to bits. There was no place to hide and we were both standing in the middle of a river. Not exactly the place you want to be in a lightning storm …

Camping at the Wind River's Titcomb Lake, 1989. Credit: Jim Poulton. All rights reserved.

Fremont Crossing, Wind River Mountains, 1989. Credit: Jim Poulton. All rights reserved.

Lander, on the other hand, is a much safer place to be!

When you drive into Lander for the first time, it won’t take long for you to recognize that the Coalter Block is the hot spot in town. It’s a good sign when the locals and the tourists frequent the same watering hole.  The Lander Brewing Company, the Lander Bar, the Gannett Grill and the Cowfish restaurant sit side by side and you can walk though all four without going back out the front door.

Credit: All rights reserved.

The old neon sign that once hung outside the hotel is now preserved inside the Gannett Grill

Lander Hotel c. 1930s. Credit: Lander Bar

Credit: All rights reserved.

The Lander Bar is a hangout for local ranchers and it also hosts functions for the International Climber’s Festival each year.

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Credit: All rights reserved.

The Jack Mormon Pale Ale and the organic hamburger were delicious.

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Credit: All rights reserved.

The Cowfish restaurant features locally raised beef, free of hormones and antibiotics, and fish flown in regularly from the northwest (hence Cow-Fish) – and it boasts its own garden vegetables and herbs in the summer and fall.

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Outdoor dining at the Gannett Grill, a popular spot for bicyclists.

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The Lander Brewing Company.

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Landmark Purina silo in Lander.

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The bookstore, organic market, and coffee shop are a signal the independent spirit is thriving in Lander.

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Old Town Coffee shop, Lander, Wyoming. Credit: All rights reserved.

“Over The Top” Commissioned by Jim and Wendy Gibson. 1992. Artist: Danny D. Edwards of Twin Falls, Idaho. Casting by Eagle Bronze Foundry & Gallery, Lander, WY. Photo credit: All rights reserved.


Off the Beaten Track - Dell, Montana

By Donna Poulton

Credit: All rights reserved.

If you find yourself between Idaho Falls, Idaho and Butte, Montana on I-15 and you’re looking for a good place to eat, don’t wait for the big city. Stop in Dell, Montana, population 35. Every time we drive north to visit family we stop in Dell and they’ve never disappointed us yet. This little town is trying hard and they’re doing a great job of making sure that you’ll want to return next time. 

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The main attraction is the Calf-A, situated in an old one-room schoolhouse. The Calf-A serves basic fare, their motto being “Good Cookin, Lotsa Lookin.” 

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The menu is written on the blackboard, offering home-cooking, deliciously prepared—including their famous homemade pies.

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Credit: All rights reserved.

They've served 30,000 people a year, which doesn't surprise us because when we arrived the place was packed. People come from all over the country - and the world.

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Credit: All rights reserved.

Other points of interest in Dell include the beautifully renovated Bed and Breakfast at the Stockyard Inn.  The Inn boasts seven themed guest rooms and their gourmet dining experience must be ordered in advance.

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The bar is open most days during the summer and winter. On a cold winter night, you might want to call ahead!

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For gas, food and the post office there is the Dell Merc just off I-15. ...

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Credit: All rights reserved.

Credit: All rights reserved.

They even have an airport!

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Dell is a little place. If you blink you can miss it. But stop and support them. You'll be glad you did.


That Loving Feeling

by Bennett Owen

Not the Middle of Nowhere – But You Can See it from Here ...

Loving County, Texas is most famous for what it doesn’t have – namely people. And it looks set to retain the title of least populated county in the US for another 10 years. 

Photo: Sonya N. Hebert/Staff Photograph Dallas News

Although the Dallas Morning News reports things are looking up. The latest census shows the warm body count gaining a whopping 18% over the past 10 years…15 newcomers pushing the population to 82.   That’s in the same decade Texas added 4.5 million people.  Read the full article here.

Photo: Sonya N. Hebert/Staff Photograph Dallas News

The county seat, Mentone, is unincorporated.  This description of the town, courtesy of

“Besides no newspaper, no grocery, no doctor and no school children (they do have a school but it’s been closed since the 70s)…..

Photo courtesy of vphill

…they also have to haul in drinking water. They even rely on nearby Kermit or Pecos for the use of their cemeteries.”  

Photo courtesy of Matthew Rutledge

Service is occasional at the Boot Track Café. A reader reports he spotted a coyote three blocks from the courthouse in mid-afternoon. Speculation was that the coyote was leaving town after a messy divorce.

Texascapes also has a list of top slogans for Mentone. Among them:

  • East of the Pecos, West of France
  • The Rodney Dangerfield of West Texas
  • If everybody’s got to be somewhere, why isn’t anybody here?
  • You can buy a stamp at the Post Office but you’ve got to get the spit to lick it in Kermit.

What Loving County does have is Sheriff Billy Burt Hopper who patrols in a pickup with two shotguns and an AK-47.

Photo: Sonya N. Hebert/Staff Photograph Dallas News

The story of his election is nothing short of amazing. The New York Times has it here.

And I thought Petroleum County, Montana was empty. If you want to see some wide-open spaces, I’d say Mentone, Texas is at the absolute center of it.