Choteau, Montana where David Letterman married last week at the county courthouse is a gem of a town–the type of off-the beaten-track that beckons people who might be passing through to pull into a parking lot and stay awhile.
When we were on our Great American Road Trip to Montana and back last summer, we pulled into the parking lot of the Old Trail Museum for just “45 minutes” and stuck around for three hours with thoughts of returning some day. This was after staying with friends who live near the base of the Rockies twenty miles from town.
The Old Trail Museum is one of those types that tell unusual tales of western life. There’s the noose that was used for the last hanging in Choteau, for example. I hadn’t seen an actual noose used in an actual hanging before. It catches your attention. The noose is in a display with other artifacts and details about the murder that sent the guy to the gallows.
There are also exhibits about Native Americans, cattle ranching, medical care and whatever else you can think of that has to do with life in the west. One gallery is dedicated to the dinosaurs that once roamed the region.
Along with the main museum are other buildings with a variety of themes. There’s the taxidermy grizzly bear, the cabin dedicated to a Danish pioneer family and an art studio of a prominent Montana artist. I could have spent hours here poking around.
The museum also a great place to pick up books with a Montana theme. Fiction, non-fiction and kids’ fare fill shelves in the gift shop. Here you can buy items made by Blackfoot Indians who live in the state. I went a little nuts with the buying–a problem of mine. But, then again, anything one can do to keep the economy following.
We also helped the economy flow at Alpine Touch, across the street from the museum. Alpine Touch is a brand of specialty spices made in Choteau. While we were buying bottles of the Lite All-Purpose Seasoning, we tossed in several bottles of huckleberry body lotion and huckleberry jelly–also Montana-made.
Chances are, you won’t run into Letterman if you head to Choteau, although people have seen him there. The saucy older woman who is a volunteer at the visitor center mentioned giving him a chuckle when she let Letterman know that he is on too late for her to really know who he is. Who cares who Letterman is was her take, although she did offer that he has been very kind and generous to Choteau.
The great thing about places like Choteau is that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can have the same great glorious time whether you don’t have more than a few nickels to rub together, or you’re a millionaire.
That’s one of the things I thought of when we spent an afternoon wandering around in Sun River Canyon located in the Lewis and Clark National Forest with the brilliant blue sky overhead. Hiking along the trails is free. You can pick up trail maps at the Rocky Mountain Ranger District Trail office in town. We were lucky enough to come across a beaver just as it ducked into a stream to head to its dam.
Before we left Choteau, we would have shopped more, although we did have just enough time to grab some ice cream at the ice-cream shop that’s part of the museum complex. It cost more than a nickel, but it didn’t break the bank.
For anyone looking for a low key fun place to go with families, consider here. It’s only 50 miles from Great Falls, another Montana destination I’d like to have more time for one of these days. One place you might consider staying is the JJJ Wilderness Ranch. We walked around the grounds hoping to snag a horseback ride, but you have to be a paying guest. Next time we’re in Choteau, I’m finding a horse.