Bill Sniffin: Bountiful Butte, Ageless Joni Mitchell, Glacier Park, Etc.

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “We put in a whole lot of windshield time this past week covering four states and seeing some of the most beautiful places in America."

Bill Sniffin

June 15, 20235 min read

Bills travels 6 15 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Is Butte, Montana, the most interesting town in the Rocky Mountain West?

We have been through Butte a dozen times, but on our four-state trip last week, we spent the night and got a personal tour of this legendary place by our old friends John and Barb Burns, who both grew up there.

Cowboy State Daily reporter Mark Heinz also grew up there and always reminds us of what an amazing place it is.

Home of the richest hill on earth, Butte’s gigantic copper mine created billionaires (in today’s dollars) a century ago when it had more than 100,000 people living there. A great many were Irish immigrants looking to make new lives after escaping life back home.

Butte supplied a fourth of the world’s copper back then. The city has about 34,000 people today, but is a city full of spectacular mansions and huge stone public buildings.

If you got there and need to eat, stop by Casagranda’s — just about the best dining I have experienced for a while. Steaks are great, but be sure to have the bison chili.

Among the famous Butte mine sites includes the location of the worst mine disaster in American history when 168 men died when a fire started in one of the underground tunnels. Pretty sobering memorial there.

We left Butte and headed to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington, which both seemed amazingly prosperous. Amazon just built a colossal warehouse on the west edge of Spokane on Interstate 90.

Our destination was Warden, which is just south of Moses Lake in the center of the state. Our granddaughter Brooke Gibbons was graduating from high school, and she was president of her senior class. We are very proud of her.

Both Brooke and her mother, Lisa Sniffin, work at The Gorge, a huge outdoor venue for concerts along the banks of the Columbia River. While we were there, Joni Mitchell performed her first concert since suffering a stroke, and more than 22,000 attended.

We did not make it because of graduation activities, but it would have been a hoot.

A long line of parked jets.
A long line of parked jets. (Bill Sniffin)

Billions Of Dollars Of Parked Jets

Three and a half years ago, I did a column about the billions of dollars of Boeing jets that were stacked up around the airport in Moses Lake. They were the 737 Max models, which had a flaw that caused them to crash.

That flaw was fixed 18 months ago and we were stunned to see that most of those planes were still there. At a price tag of about $100 million per plane, there is still probably $6 billion worth of planes parked all over that airport. It is a stunning sight, and you wonder what a financial fiasco this has been for Boeing.

The plant where they build the planes is down the road in Seattle, so it made sense to store these planes in Moses Lake. They were to fix the computer flaw and then ship them off to their ultimate owners.

As an airplane buff, this was a sight to behold. Some three years ago, one of the security staff let me ride with him as he checked out all the planes. Just row after row of all these brand-new planes all decked out in their colors and logos from all over the world.

Road Warriors

We put in a whole lot of windshield time this past week covering four states and seeing some of the most beautiful places in America.

The quick way to make the trip was to bypass Yellowstone Park, but folks who know me know that is my favorite place on earth. Despite heavy rains, we toured the lower loop of the park seeing Yellowstone Lake, the Canyon, Norris Geyser Basin and then a quick exit out of West Yellowstone.

Earlier this year I predicted this could be a record year for Wyoming tourism, but based on traffic counts we personally experienced, my gut tells me that not so many people are on the road as expected. Not sure why.

The COVID-19 years created a desire in peoples’ minds to get out there into the wild country and avoid places like Disney World and Las Vegas. Perhaps those places are seeing a surge as folks head back to them, resulting in tourists going back to what might be considered normal traffic totals for the Rocky Mountain West.

We visited Lake McDonald in Glacier Park on the day that the Going to the Sun Road opened, but reservations were required to go farther.

This is probably a good idea for Glacier, but I sure hope Yellowstone does not have to use a reservation program. Despite some early smoke in the day from Canada fires, on this day the park experience was ideal. 

Yeah! Nuggets And Golden Knights

And I cannot finish this column without a cheer for my two favorite sports teams this time of year.

Monday and Tuesday nights were just about the best two sports nights,  with the Denver Nuggets winning the NBA title Monday and the Vegas Golden Knights winning the NHL title Tuesday.

We watched both games with our friends Dan and Cindy Whetstone at Happys Inn, between Libby and Kalispell, Montana. Happys is a unique bar that has its own ZIP code and shows up on all the maps.

Seems the original owner demanded that when Highway 2 was built back in 1905 — and it still stands out today. They serve great food, too.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.