Skipping Yellowstone for Butte

Sunday, 17 October 2010 01:28 AM Written by 

MISSOULA, Mt. -- Holiday Inn

I decided not to drive 60 miles down to Yellowstone Park from Livingston, even though John Steinbeck did.

Instead, on Saturday morning I poked around the architecturally stunning storefronts of downtown Livingston.DSC_1974DSC_1979


and asked senior citizens I encountered which motel or "pretty auto court" Steinbeck might have stayed in on the two nights he was in town exactly 50 years ago.

I talked to four or five motel owners. I eliminated a few possible places like the Livingston Inn (not old enough) and put the Country Inn on the suspicious list.

I found this likely trailer court, but the owner was not around to be interrogated.DSC_2005

John Steinbeck says in "Travels With Charley" that he decided at the last minute to make his maiden visit to Yellowstone Park.

He was no fan of national parks because he felt they enclosed and featured the freaks of nature -- he felt Yellowstone was no more representative of America than Disneyland. But because he was worried his friends would deride him for being so close to the park and not going there, he went.

images-1His day-trip was a disaster because Charley went nuts every time he saw a bear -- which was every 30 seconds in the era when bears hung out on the side of the road waiting for handouts.

I could say I skipped Yellowstone because I didn't want to contribute to global warming, if I believed in global warming.

But I didn't go to Yellowstone because I didn't need to see Yellowstone for the fifth or sixth time. I've been there. I get it. It's way overcrowded now, but every human should go there once in their life before it's too late.

As anyone who watches the Disaster Channel knows, the caldera the park sits in is predestined to blow up again someday with such destructive power that it'll end life as we know it in a huge swath of the American heartland.

Since I wasn't able to pin anything down in Livingston, a small town blessed disproportionately with great buildings, art galleries and a community of big-time creative types like artist/editor Russell Chatham and authors Tom McGuane, I hit the road for Butte.DSC_2063_copy

Butte is a former copper boomtown that's been hollowed out of people and is suffering from the environmental damage done by mining operations that have been inside its city limits for over 100 years.

It's also where Steinbeck bought a gun in a sporting goods store -- a store I had no trouble locating Saturday afternoon on Butte's beautiful but spooky and desolate main street.


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