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Western Vacations Week Two – The White Bison

By Bennett Owen

Credit: Bryan McMorrow

Last week’s roadside adventure took us from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a gravity-defying grab bag of attractions that included a shoe tree, a beaver pelt top hat and the legendary Jackelope. Now, after the brief distractions offered by the Tetons and Yellowstone Park, we pick up the trail at West Yellowstone, Montana right on the 45th parallel.

Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana, Buffalo grazing. Credit: NARA 

Our first stop is the state capital, Helena, home of the White Bison.  Clorox had nothing to do with this freak of nature, born on the Flathead Indian reservation in 1933 and revered by the Blackfeet as “Big Medicine,” which became his nickname.  And Big Medicine fit the bill, measuring six feet from hoof to hump and weighing in at 19-hundred pounds. That’s a lot of Pemmican!

Credit: jimbowen0306

Not content with one freak of nature, we drive northeast towards Great Falls, and stop for a pick-me up at the American Bar in Stockett…home of a taxidermy trophy, the two-headed calf.

Credit: American Bar Stockett Montana

Credit: American Bar Stockett Montana

Credit: American Bar Stockett Montana

No, you’re not seeing double, at least not yet.

While you’re here you might also take a look at the world’s shortest river, the “Roe.” You can walk the whole 201 feet of it in about a minute.

Credit: OmanForum

But the true highlight of this tour is in Polson, at the Miracle of America Museum. Nicknamed the “Smithsonian of the West,”  it features a treasure trove of idiosyncratic junk including a Viking ship with hubcap shields!

Credit: Joyce Remy

They even have one of those winged monkeys from the Wizard of Oz that scared the crap outta me when I was a kid. And if you skipped Stockett, they have a two-headed calf here too.

Provided you can drag the kids away from here, you’ll soon be at East Glacier Park for a look at the world’s largest purple spoon…affectionately known as “Big Martha.”  After this, you’ve only got Glacier…

Credit: The Spiral Spoon

Next week we’ll be seeking curios in the desert southwest…stay tuned.  


WESTERN VACATIONS – Discover Your Routes

By Bennett Owen



4 Bucks a gallon be damned, Memorial Day is approaching at a speed that would surely merit a night in jail if Mother Earth were twirling up the turnpike in an SUV.  So with the family outing looming large, the My-West staff has assembled a series of helpful hints to enhance your vacation, entice Dad to stop for something other than gas, food and lodging and perhaps even keep the kids’ noses out of the play station for a few minutes.

In cooperation with my favorite website,, here are some quirky stop-offs to spice up vacation 2011.  Most are open 24/7 and as we all know, the best things in life…are free.

Our first route takes us from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone Park and our number one roadside attraction is located right in the Utah state capital:

1 - Gravity Hill - E. Capitol Blvd.

Credit: Wikimapia

Also known as “a cheap date” when I was going to school there, Gravity Hill is truly one of the most brain-twisting optical illusions I’ve ever experienced.  

Credit: Way Marketing

You will swear the road is pointing downhill and yet when you throw the jalopy into neutral it will actually roll upwards.  Try it at night and you will feel a strange and irresistible magnetic pull that will soon lead to some heavy necking with your wife. I mean, the view is phenomenal.

Credit: SheldonPhotography

2 – After defying gravity, it’s time to hit the road, and along the way you can admonish the kids that “money doesn’t grow on trees…but shoes do,” at least in Park City, Utah.  Yes, it’s the Shoe Tree at 780 Main St., a monument so moving it is immortalized in poem:

“Symbol of mystery, intrigue and fun...Body for free spirit deep in town's roots (or is that routes? Ed.)...You invite us this summer to throw off our shoes...We celebrate all that you stand for.“  -  Park City Magazine

Credit: Sheneng

Legends abound on the origin of the Shoe Tree and all involve one pair getting tossed up for some reason or another and everyone else following suit.  Say, as long as you’re in town, you might as well have lunch at the High West Distillery, an experience good for the ‘sole.’ But don’t make it the liquid variety or you’ll never get out of Park City!

3 – By mid-afternoon you’ll be driving through the Wyoming wilderness and perhaps wondering how the pioneers survived and thrived in such a forbidding landscape. Well, all the answers are waiting at the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale. It’s a touch off the beaten track but worth the visit for the Beaver Top Hat alone! 

Credit: Museum of the Mountain Man

4 – Of course we try to save the best for last…forget Sasquatch, the elusive Jackalope is the stuff of true western lore…a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope (I bet they met at Gravity Hill!). 

Credit: Wikipedia                                            

Well, Dubois, Wyoming has captured the creature and even saddled him up so the kids can have a ride.  Everything you ever wanted to know about Jackalopes is right here.

Credit: ChucksToyland

After driving through Jackalope Junction, ya gotta love it, you ONLY have the Tetons and Yellowstone Park to keep the kids occupied. So, happy traveling and next week’s offbeat tour takes us from Yellowstone to Glacier.  

Credit: dog on wheels

Credit: mcfa0773                                     


Winter 2010/2011 - ENOUGH ALREADY! 

By Bennett Owen

My Uncle Robert says this is the toughest winter he's ever experienced in southwest Montana and he's pretty tough himself.  Now we read that the Sylvan Pass road into Yellowstone Park has been re-opened to 'limited' traffic after being blocked by severe avalanches…

Credit: WyoFile

Credit: National Parks Traveler

The Cody Enterprise has the whole story.

Up at Lake Tahoe the first stage of the Tour of California was cancelled due to snow.

Credit: Lake Tahoe News

Credit: The Lake Side News

My sister reported dollar-sized snowflakes falling in Salt Lake mid May, even as I celebrated my 29th birthday (making me the same age as my mom and just as big a lia…err, exaggerator!). Come to think of it, I remember crying on my 10th birthday because I couldn't play baseball…the reason…it was snowing too hard.

“Montana is where you take your snow tires off in May…and regret it in June…”


The Mantle Ranch – Spring Roundup

By Bennett Owen

400 hundred head of horses that haven’t seen a human being in six months.

Credit: JeremyOK

Credit: jdwheaton

Credit: jdwheaton

Credit: JeremyOK

Headed up and herded down to the Mantle ranch near Three Forks, Montana.

Springtime on the high plains of Montana brings its own rituals…and the renewal of unique and valuable traditions.

Credit: Ed Yourdon

These animals will work through the summer for cattle ranches and outfitters. Kail Mantle says he looks for, “a good big-boned stout horse with a quiet disposition and the right attitude for this business.”  He adds, “Every horse has a name and we know it and love every horse on our place.”

Credit: bravofourthree

Sounds like horse sense to me.

For more information, visit

Three Forks, by the way, is where the Madison, Jefferson and Gallatin rivers merge to form the mighty Missouri.  Top that, Texas!

Credit: MichaelOnTheTrail

Credit: ScottSchrantz



By Bennett Owen

But don’t blink or you’ll miss a little Loving.

The Houston Chronicle reports Texas legislators are considering upping the speed limit to 85 MPH (136 KMH) in remote parts of the state. Read that, West Texas. 

The Lone Star State already boasts the fastest speed limits in the country and yet traffic fatalities are trending downward. Still, the article quotes a Sheriff who fears West Texans just can’t drive 85… “You put it up to 85, and they drive 5-10 mph faster they’ll be going close to 100.”  The piece also quotes a trucker who quips that, “out in West Texas or the Panhandle, they’re probably driving that speed anyway.” Read the article here.

Of course we all remember Montana’s short-lived experiment with “Reasonable and Prudent…” a speed limit that gave rise to The Montanabahn.  Am I reading in to this interview or is the Governor a bit wistful about its demise? 

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As for testosterone pumping, I once drove from Berlin, Germany to Innsbruck, Austria in 5 ½ hours. That’s the equivalent of doing the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.



Of course, what Montana and West Texas have in common besides the need for speed, are massive reserves of crude oil, very long distances to cover and very few people.  West Texas boasts an average eight persons per square mile and towns like the aptly named Notree …

In Montana about 212 highway patrolmen cover more than 50-thousand miles of highways and interstates … and one of the worst driving hazards is road kill frozen to the pavement. Having done away with reasonable and prudent, one Montana legislator is trying out UNREASONABLE and IMPRUDENT as he tries to outlaw DUIs laws …

He is a tavern owner by the way. And the New York Times reports that cell phones play a part in one third of traffic accidents … ”inattention blindness” is the new term.

Stories like that make me want to “Boogie Back to Texas …” Speaking of speed is it the rosin or is this fiddler’s bow on fire?