On the Road to The Rocky Mountain Front

By BOB ZIMORINO

Leaving Montana is not as easy as one might think.  Oh sure, there are roads in and out of the state, and regardless of popular local sentiment, there are no armed guards at the border. It took me twenty two years to get there and I wasn’t thrilled about leaving. The Bitterroot Valley is among the most beautiful places I have ever been.

The Bitterroot mountains aren’t as majestic as some mountain ranges but were glacially formed and rise above the valley floor in a series of jagged saw teeth separated by valleys that almost invite you to explore them. That may be the difference. They aren’t so majestic that they lookimpenetrable.

I was there well into spring. At a certain point I moved into a place in the middle of the valley that was out in the country and afforded me the full view of the mountains. When they call this the “big sky” they aren’t kidding. In the spring clouds rolled across the valley resembling ships sailing across a massive blue sea.

I almost had a job running a new restaurant at a hot springs. It was owned by an overly paranoid, machine gun toting, coke head, retired dentist which is why I passed on the job. Frank came out to live while preparing for the big tour.

Frank Angeloni and I were college roommates. He was an accomplished guitar player by the time we met and gracious enough to let me play his guitars when he wasn’t using them. When I lived in Jackson I bought my first guitar for thirty five dollars. The strings sat off of the neck a ways making it difficult to play but I played until my fingers were ready to split.

Before we left on the tour I flew to New York for my uncle’s funeral. He left me a thousand bucks which I used to buy a new guitar. When I got back to Montana I bought a 1963 Dodge van for seventy eight dollars to haul the gear and live in if necessary, while Frank drove a 56 Chevy. A few days later we were on the road.

Our first stop was the Top Hat for a Sunday evening performance. Frank with his acoustic six and twelve string guitars and a voice that could make an angel shed a tear. I did his sound. The crowd was small but appreciative. Next was The Zebra Lounge in Bozeman in an old hotel, then the Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone, then off to Jackson Hole.

In each of these places we had meals worked into our deal. Coming from an area where you could find all types of cuisine within thirty miles, the biggest culture shock was how generic the food seemed. I wasn’t eating in high end places most of the time, but they weren’t truck stops either.

There was just a certain sameness to it all. The menus rarely varied much and creativity was in the soup. Salads were iceberg lettuce, shaved carrots, cucumber slice, a tomato wedge and some bottled dressing. It seemed like they all had the same sandwiches and entrees, the same breakfasts and pie for dessert. It was good, just unvaried.

While in West Yellowstone we got offered a job in Warm River Idaho by Randy and Darla Miller, an attractive young couple that ran a bar in the middle of nowhere, but in the heart of Mormon country. To get to the Warm River Bar you drove about 8 miles northeast of Ashton Idaho.

You could see the back of the Tetons to the east but the land there was flat farming country. All of a sudden the road drops into a seam in the earth and at the bottom is a paradise with the Warm River running through its core. It was a wonderful place and I have often wondered what happened to Randy and Darla in the years since.

Well we had little expectation that we would draw a crowd to a bar in an area that was at the time 90+% Mormon and nine miles from the nearest town. However, much to our surprise, the place was packed. We did so well that we extended our stay to include an outdoor barbecue on Sunday afternoon.

We had a week off and then agreed to come back to Warm River. Frank and I went back to Missoula for a week. Randy had told me a back way that would save me about 40 miles coming from the north. I turned too early and ended up lost in the middle of the Targhee National Forest miles from any town. I ran out of gas the bottom of a hill and pulled off of the road. Even if cell phones had been invented there would not have been any reception because of the remoteness of the area.

I took stock of my life. I had thirty eight cents, three beers and a half of a joint, my guitar, my beat up old van, and the clothes on my back. I had never been so happy in my whole life. I knew then that I would never live in the east again. I was twenty two and having the time of my life in an area too beautiful to adequately describe. I knew I would be okay.

Next: The Sheepman Cometh and The Rocky Mountain Front. “Taste It” homepage , see the entire Taste it Blog Archive, or check out his recipes.

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Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in hislifetime.