Last week my parents came to visit, and we road tripped to Maverick Mountain, outside of Dillon, Montana. On the way, we stopped at Beaverhead Rock, on the Jefferson River, a prominent marker on the Lewis and Clark trail.
We had lunch at Fiesta Mexicana, “the best restaurant in Dillon,” which is owned by Alejandro Pelayo. His brother owns a similar bus/restaurant in West Yellowstone. Alex is in Dillon because when he drove from Idaho, this is where he ran out of money. Now, the place is so popular it’s sometimes hard to get a seat.
Then we stopped at Bannack, a preserved ghost town named for the Bannock Indians who frequented the area (they now share a reservation with the Northern and Lemhi Shoshone at Fort Hall, Idaho). In its heyday, the gold mining town was the territorial capitol of Montana. Tucked between dry hills along Grasshopper Creek, scattered old buildings and tailings made it easy to imagine the people who lived here in the late 19th century. As we walked the boardwalks alone on the cloudy winter afternoon, we caught a glimpse of the gallows, just above town — a poignant note in a town famous for hanging the sheriff.
We spent the night at the Grasshopper Lodge, which had an oak bar with lion carvings, and a Budweiser player piano. The place was originally called “the Bedspread,” and had crushed red velvet everywhere. Further up the Grasshopper Valley, we swam in Elkhorn Hot Springs, where snow fell from a dark night sky. The next morning, I hung out with the coffee club, a group of men who meet every morning to solve the world’s problems.
At Maverick Mountain, a little ski area nearby, the base lodge had carpeted floors, walls and ceilings. Four inches of fresh snow had fallen, and our first run through the untracked powder was magic, the Pioneer Mountains shining around us in the morning sun. Maverick’s chairlift, The White Thunder, was a relaxing 15 minute ride uphill. Pat raced in a community downhill, and didn’t even have to sign a waiver. Back in the lodge, the bartender said she’d been skiing at Mav forever. She gossiped about the area’s past owners and about the upcoming Bartender’s Cup race, in which teams compete in pounding beer, slalom, shots of liquor and a bikini contest.