Stardust Motel, Wallace, Idaho
So, here we were, all set for a great road trip through the West, from Bellingham, Washington, to Eastern Montana.
No, we weren’t camping out; we were staying in motels, and we found lots of great old-fashioned motels–many of them very spacious, often with refrigerator and microwave–costing $60 a night and under. Many of them also had wonderful nostalgic signs, like the one above.
On the road near Moses Coulee, Washington
Swell sign, but I wouldn't recommend this motel in Harlowton, Montana.
The only thing I was worried about was the food situation.
Sure, there were plenty of cute signs for cafes and burger joints — but not much that I could tolerate eating, certainly not day after day. Beyond burgers and fries, some cafes offered specialty foods such as fried “prairie oysters”– i.e., bull testicles. No thank you.
We split a milkshake here at Billy Burgers, Davenport, Wash.
Fortunately, I had packed my Honda Fit with the supplies needed for some basic food preparation on the road.
The basics: classic picnic basket and a small cooler
The little orange cooler I bought at Target was perfect for keeping a pint of milk, some cheese and a couple containers of salad, fruit or vegetables…. I had one of those little hard plastic freezer-packs that I used whenever our motel room had a refrigerator (a surprising number of them did), and a Ziploc bag for putting ice from a motel ice bucket when there wasn’t a fridge. Some silverware, a sharp knife and a small cutting board all fit into the cooler’s pockets….
We were ready for Montana!
Melon chunks were great for snack or breakfast
Since we didn’t take an airplane, we didn’t have to worry about taking a sharp knife along. That made it possible to cut melons and other in-season fruits and vegetables available (if not always in prime condition) in central and eastern Montana.
Cantaloupe and cottage cheese looked good in blue enamel dishes I bought in Harlowton, Montana, for a couple bucks each.
If you ever find a good bakery on the road (it's rare), snap up that bread! This delicious loaf was purchased at Le Petit Outre in Missoula and eaten in Helena, Mont.
You can "cook" some foods without a kitchenette if you bring an electric tea kettle....and you won't be breaking motel rules.
The brightest idea I had was to bring along our electric tea kettle. It’s the perfect choice for the do-it-yourself motel kitchen.
I also took a bag full of uncooked bulgur. When I wanted to make a salad, I put some in a glass container, poured about 1 1/2 times the amount of boiling water over it and covered the mixture for about 20 minutes. I also brought some olive oil, a lemon reamer and Microplane zester for ease of squeezing lemon juice and grating zest, some cans of organic garbanzo beans, salt and pepper.
That was the basis of the bulgur-bean salad with olive oil/lemon dressing. Then I just added chopped vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, red peppers, etc. In the above photo, I “cooked” broccoli by cutting it into small pieces and pouring boiling water over it in a glass container. It worked!
Thanks to that electric kettle and the ingredients brought from home, we had a pretty darn good dinner at the Big Sky Motel in Roundup.
The Ak-Mak crackers (I brought a big supply) made up for the lack of good bread at this point. Steve wants you to know that these crackers come from Sanger, California.
They filmed part of "The Horse Whisperer" at the Lazy J Motel in Big Timber, Montana.
There was a nice picnic table at the Lazy J, but too many mosquitoes to enjoy eating outside.
Altering the vegetables gave a little variety. The one pictured above had chopped fresh greens, green onions and tomatoes.
This is why they call it "Big Sky Country"
Honestly, this road trip wasn’t only about bulgur salads and motel signs….
Gates of the Mountains, on the Wild and Scenic Missouri, where Lewis and Clark came in July, 1806
Archie Bray Foundation ceramics center, Helena, Montana
4th of July rodeo, Harlowton, Montana
Badlands and grasslands between Circle and Fort Peck, Montana
Badlands, Makoshika State Park, Glendive, Montana
Western decor in the Kempton Hotel, Terry, Montana
Cemetery above Anaconda, Montana
Granite County jail (still used), Philipsburg, Montana
Near the end of the trip, we even ventured out for some meals.
Steve devours the "Middle Man breakfast" and a cup of mud at the Dizzy Diner, Terry, Montana
Steve was very content with his breakfast, but I wasn’t too happy with mine. They wouldn’t make a poached egg, so there was a greasy fried one; the hash browns came from the freezer, the decaf coffee was watery and tasteless, the toast was bland bread with icky margarine. Ugh. Steve says I’m too picky. I guess so.
Later, a woman in a shop in town informed us that we should try the omelets in the same cafe.
“They crack and stir the eggs themselves,” she said.
Huh? What did they usually do? Use powdered eggs or eggs in a carton?
The Badlands Cafe, Terry, Montana
We did enjoy The Badlands Cafe, though, where you could actually get a pretty nice salad with grilled chicken, along with a piece of garlic toast.
Another salad for the road
I was kind of glad to get back to the bulgur salads. A little tedious maybe, but at least I could count on them.
Palouse country, near Oakesdale, Washington
From Steptoe Butte, near Oakesdale, Washington
Salad again, picnic at Steptoe Battlefield, Rosalia, Washington -- no mosquitoes!
A very nice motel (and a bargain at $53.50) in Colfax, Washington
We spent our last motel night at the Siesta Motel. We’ve been home almost a week now, and I haven’t wanted to come near a bulgur salad yet. (The first day back, we had salmon, corn-on-the cob, and green beans for supper. Yum.)
But I have to say, I’m grateful to the bulgur and garbanzo beans and the motel cooking. It saved the day on this wonderful road trip, letting us appreciate everything that IS great about Eastern Montana .
Placemat in one of the historic rooms at the Upper Musselshell Museum, Harlowton, Montana.