Red Lodge Road Trip

Sarah Cairoli  |   Monday May. 2nd, 2016

Maybe you think of it as the gateway to the Beartooth Highway. Maybe it is one of your favorite skiing destinations. Maybe you like to wager a little money on the pigs. Maybe you first heard of Red Lodge, Montana, when you read Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls; the main character comes from Red Lodge, a place Hemingway loved to vacation. Red Lodge is a city with a rich history and vibrant future. In fact, the Montana Preservation Alliance (MPA) is working to give the city’s past a future by educating the public with fun events that highlight the area’s history. From June 1 through June 4, the MPA will host a Touring Historic Preservation Conference that invites participants to discover Red Lodge’s historic architecture and culture. Participants can also have a little fun playing poker and betting on Bear Creek Saloon’s famous pig races.

Getting There
The MPA recommends a few stops on your way from Bozeman to Red Lodge. On June 1, a ranger will be giving a guided tour of Pictograph Cave State Park at 10 a.m. To get there from Bozeman, travel east on I-90 until exit 452. Follow US 87 east until you reach Coburn Road. The state park is five miles down the road and well worth the trip. The park has three main caves that have over 100 pictographs left by generations of prehistoric hunters. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the oldest pictographs were drawn over 2,000 years ago. After the tour, enjoy a picnic lunch, then head to the next stop on this multi-day trip back in time.

At 1:30 p.m., a ranger will lead guests through Chief Plenty Coups State Park. Chief Plenty Coups was the last traditional tribal chief of the Crow Tribe. He eventually gave up his more traditional, nomadic lifestyle and settled in the area to farm. The log home, farmstead, and sacred spring he developed remain intact for visitors to explore. To get to the park from Pictograph Cave, travel south on US 87 until you reach Pryor.

After the tour at Chief Plenty Coups State Park, travel to Red Lodge by taking US-212. You should arrive just in time to take advantage of one of several concurrent tours offered on Wednesday evening. The entire city will be celebrating Founder’s Day through the weekend.

MPA Tours
Over the course of several days, the MPA will offer several tours that allow visitors to explore the Red Lodge area in several different ways. On Wednesday afternoon, you can choose to go by foot or horse-drawn wagon. On foot, a tour guide will describe all of downtown Red Lodge’s unique architectural features. By wagon, a tour guide will show you the working-class Finn Historic District and the more opulent Hi-Bug Historic District. The wagon tour concludes at Regis Grocery, a historic store that has been converted to a café and still serves produce from the gardens maintained on the property. Both tours run at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., so motivated visitors could do both. Conference participants will also have the opportunity to tour the garage that houses the antique fleet of Yellowstone buses on Wednesday afternoon.

The conference will officially start with an opening lecture from Kimber Craine, Director of Program Initiatives, President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Two dessert receptions will begin at 8 p.m., following Craine’s lecture. One will be held at the Carbon County Museum; volunteers will take small groups on behind-the-scenes tours of the museum’s storage areas. The Depot Arts Center will be displaying local artwork and serving dessert as well.

On Thursday, conference attendees can choose between three, full-day tours. One tour takes guests to see remnants of the Bozeman Trail and local homesteads, as well as the Red Lodge Cemetery. This tour also includes a traditional Finnish lunch served by Kaleva of Red Lodge. Another tour takes people to visit anthropological sites in the Pryor Mountains. Guides will discuss the lifestyles of all the indigenous people that have inhabited the area while touring the Red Buffalo and Weatherman Draw rock art sites. The third tour option will visit all sorts of historic barns in the area. Thursday will conclude with a delicious dinner and a lecture at the Rock Creek Resort ballroom. Barbara Pahl, Senior Vice President for Field Services of the National Trust for Historic Preservation will speak about the future of preservation efforts. Her lecture will be followed by a friendly game of Preservation Poker, complete with special playing cards created for the event.

Tours on Friday will be divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Too numerous to list here, they include exploring the woods, understanding industrial architecture, navigating the National Register, and learning to raise funds for preservation projects. Everyone is encouraged to end the evening at the Bear Creek Saloon where they can enjoy the Kentucky Derby of pig racing while dining on charbroiled steak.

On Saturday, the MPA has planned a couple of workshops available for an additional fee. One workshop will take participants to explore the influence of the Crow Tribe on the area, while the other takes guests to explore the scenic Beartooth Highway, a must-see for Red Lodge visitors. A day-long workshop on schoolhouse preservation will be available for free to conference participants.

For a complete conference schedule and registration information, contact the Montana Preservation Alliance at Attendees should know that participation will involve getting on and off a motor coach frequently. Dress for Montana’s fickle weather, wear sturdy shoes, and bring water and sunscreen. MPA members can attend the conference for $ 125, while non-members must pay $145.

Whether you typically visit Red Lodge to cruise the Beartooth, ski the mountain, or bet on the pigs, let Montana Preservation Alliance help you dig deeper and learn about all the cultures that shaped this area. As they say at the Carbon County Historical Society Museum, it is important to preserve historic places and “provide a future for our past.”    

About the Author(s)

Sarah Cairoli

Sarah Cairoli is a local writer, tutor, and mother who has been enjoying all Bozeman has to offer for the past decade. She can be reached at (at) hotmail [d0t] com,)

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