July 13 2009 by Jason Fogelson
No matter how unsociable you're feeling, take the time to talk to people during your travels.
I've learned that lesson over and over, as the most casual conversations have resulted in the most amazing travel experiences.
We were checking out of the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Inn, and chatting casually with Tammy the desk clerk while our receipt printed. She asked where we were headed next. When we told her that we were on our way to Whitefish, Montana, she instantly brightened. "Are you going through the Yaak?" she asked.
"Oh, you have to go through the Yaak. I used to live up there in a teepee, and I go up all the time now."
We looked at my map. "The Yaak" turns out to be the village of Yaak, Montana, about 10 miles over the Idaho border and 10 miles from British Columbia. My map showed it on a dirt road, but Tammy assured me that the road has been paved for over a decade.
"We're going to the Yaak," I told Robin.
We headed out of Coeur d'Alene on US 2, and as soon as we crossed the Montana border, turned north on Route 508. A beautiful ride instantly transformed into an unforgettable one, as a ribbon of smooth black tarmac led us along the Yaak River. We stopped at Yaak Falls to take in the scenery and take a few photographs, each of us grinning ear-to-ear at our fortunate turn.
We jumped back on Monty, and continued north toward Yaak. At the intersection of Routes 508 and 567, I felt compelled to stop and check our map. While Robin and I sat outside the Yaak General Store deciphering the cartography, we debated continuing on 508, or detouring onto 567. A local woman overheard our discussion, and kindly interjected. "I wouldn't go up 508 any further. It was single-track four-wheel drive last night, and they haven't broken through all the snow yet. Take 567, and it's dry all the way down."
We thanked her profusely, and thanked our luck again. Back on Monty, and down 567 we went.
Route 567 turned out to be a great country road that meandered through the backcountry, along creeks and around mountains. Little more than a single lane, it was rough and rutted, but paved and dry. We had to slow down for safety's sake, which turned out to be just the ticket to enjoy the scenery. We saw a small herd of deer skittering across the road. We saw countless beautiful clearings, gorgeous trees, and stunning mountain views. It was a challenging road to pilot, but a worthwhile ride.
At Libby, we joined back up with US 2. Instead of following US 2 directly into Kalispell and Whitefish, we chose to detour around the east side of Lake Koocanusa along Route 37. Along the way, we stopped and looked at the Libby Dam, a marvel of engineering. We finally paid heed to a sign that said "Best Burgers in Town" as we passed through the hamlet of Eureka. Following the sign's direction to a corner a few blocks off the main drag, we found Von's Diner, where we enjoyed a delicious late lunch while the locals chatted around us.
Monty was raring to go, so we climbed aboard and made the final push into Whitefish, our stopping point for the night.
After 291 miles on the road, we checked into the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge, found our room, peeled off our clothes and pulled on our bathing suits for our now-traditional hot tub soak. Refreshed and relaxed, we mounted back on Monty for the short ride to downtown Whitefish.
Whitefish's Old West feel is authentic and modern at the same time. A row of low, frontier-style buildings are fronted by covered sidewalks. If I squinted and ignored the modern automobiles, I could imagine how the town had looked in the early 20th century. Wide-eyed, I admired the chic stores and local merchants existing side-by-side. A Frank Lloyd Wright-designed office building, in the low Prairie style, anchors the border between commercial and residential Whitefish. The word "charming" cannot be over-applied to this delightful town.
We had the best meal of our trip in a gourmet Mexican restaurant in Whitefish called "Pescado Blanco." (http://www.pescadoblanco.com/) Ensconced in the lower floor of a house just off of main street, Pescado Blanco features fresh local ingredients and clever twists on traditional Mexican mountain cuisine. The menu would have been a success in any city. To discover it in the northwest corner of Montana was a particular pleasure.
Back to the hotel for another night of well deserved sleep.
Next: Day 4: Whitefish, Montana to Missoula, Montana via Glacier National Park