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The Old Saloon

June 26, 2017  •  Leave a Comment
Emigrant, Montana sits in the Paradise Valley, about half way between Livingston and Gardner. There's really nothing there except an everything called The Old Saloon. The fishing shop and cafe don't count. At the Old Saloon the omelets are as big as footballs and if you can eat an entire cinnamon roll they'll have to take you out in a wheelbarrow. The beer is near freezing and nine different rums line the backbar. Rum seems a bit out of place, but that's the kind of place it is. The pool table still leans to the southwest after 40+ years. I borrowed the bar and "moved" it about 200 miles to a spot between Great Falls and Helena on the Missouri River in my first novel, OLD MUSIC. It's dark, usually crowded, and the ATM and video machines are SO out of place. Is nothing sacred any more?

The Yellowstone River jumps out of Yellowstone Park at Gardner, and just north is about a three mile stretch called Yankee Jim Canyon. "Yankee Jim" refers to a grizzled old prospector and legendary bullshit artist named James George, who claimed ownership of a toll road into the park. He charged wagon and horse fees and when the railroad sucked up everything in its path, including the road, he sued. He lost. Anyway, for a few short weeks in late spring, if there's been a good enough winter snow in the mountains above, Yankee Jim Canyon is home to a great stretch of legitimate Class IV whitewater. Run it till you nearly drop, then drive north to the Old Saloon, lick your wounds, create your tall tales for the day, and take some of the weight out of the beer coolers.

Leave the Old Saloon and cross Hwy 89 on the East River Road. It leads past Chico Hot Springs, where the owners dedicated an entire wing to the memory of their friend, the actor Warren Oates. Well worth the trip in itself. Great articles, movie stills and other photos of Warren, friends and family.

The East River Road meanders north past the ranch Dennis Quaid wants to sell for a mere $14.2M, and past the little road that leads back into the woods to Peter and Becky Fonda's home. Marian Hjortsberg, William's ex-wife, lives across the road a bit farther up--she is elegant and engaging; I met her one summer morning when Beef Torrey and I did the breakfast thing at the Old Saloon. Beef drives up every summer from Crete, Nebraska, to see his friends Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison. The Paradise Valley is a very heady area (McGuane lives near McLeod these days).

This is the location for the filming of "Rancho Deluxe," as fine a "Montana" film as was ever made. The East River Road wanders past homes that can be all glass on the sides that look at the mountains. An amazing 1/2 hour or so ride past an eclectic little "resort" at Pine Creek--the store has one each of everything ever made and if they don't have it you don't need it. The road finally butts back into Hwy 89 and you turn north back to Livingston, an entirely other reality, home to Dan Bailey's Fly Shop and, once, Russell Chatham's gallery.

So yesterday was St. Patrick's Day, 2012, and Pat, Molly 1.0 (the world's most spoiled rotten dog) and I stuffed the Nikons and Canon into the car, and went to breakfast. Nothing green in sight except the trash barrel, the screen door frame, and the Explorer that was in the way. Sorry 'bout that.

Richard Hugo wrote of another place, "You might come here Sunday on a whim..." in his great poem, "Degrees of Grey in Phillipsburg." The Old Saloon, whether you go there on a whim or not, is part of our collective soul. Enjoy.


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