Bozeman to Red Lodge, Montana and the Historic Pollard Hotel! Evening with the High Country Cowboys!

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Miles Driven Today:    160    Miles in Total:  2786

We had planned to go floating on the Madison River today but the weather wasn’t playing ball.  It was warm enough – 22C – but there were thundery clouds overhead and even the odd sprinkle of rain.  A pity, because yesterday’s weather would have been ideal for a slow drift down the river on a couple of big rings, with a floating cool box attached.  Perhaps somewhere else along the route….

Instead, we packed up and set off for Red Lodge our stop for the night, about 120 miles away.  We took the interstate for a while and then MT78 south to Red Lodge.  This was a most scenic road, very little traffic as usual.  We passed through a couple of cute small towns, particularly Absarokee.  Proper old Victorian brick fronts with boardwalk pavements, wooden houses with wraparound porches…. nice.   Between the towns was ranchland, not just cows but horses.  Some very large ranches indeed with big herds.

Backing all the pasture to the south were the high peaks of the mountains, some with pockets of snow.  The Beartooth Mountains and the Absaroka Mountains, with Yellowstone National Park in the distance.  We stopped for lunch in the back of beyond with a good view of the mountains.  In the winter this is a ski area with lifts going up to the runs on the top slopes.  We could see the slopes from the road, some straight, some curling, curved, cut through the forests.

We got to Red Lodge at about 2pm.  What an attractive little resort town!  Very historic again, lots of old buildings along the main street  (Broadway).  We are staying at the Pollard Hotel, a historic hotel set amidst Broadway Street. Pollard website  It was  Red Lodge’s first brick building in 1893. Originally named The Spofford Hotel, The Pollard was built between the train passenger depot and the booming town. Described by the Livingston Herald as “Handsomely furnished in hand-oiled pine, The Spofford Hotel cost close to $20,000. It was purchased by Thomas Pollard in 1902 and renamed The Pollard. He added twenty-five guest rooms, an ornate lobby, an intimate dining room, a lounge with a bar and card and billiard tables, one bowling alley, and full-service barbershop.

The Pollard’s telephone number in 1903 was “1”.  The story goes that when the Bell Telephone people were arranging the installation of telephones in Red Lodge, one of the “higher up” men got himself into a little trouble one night and found himself jailed. Thomas Pollard bailed him out and the “higher up” man was so grateful he gave the hotel the first telephone number in Red Lodge.  It is still 0001 today.

The Pollard Hotel quickly gained national attention and became the west’s gathering place for political, theatrical, cowboy, and business personalities. Famous names such as William Jennings Bryan, the famous silver-tongued orator, and William and Marcus Daly, the copper kings, signed the early registers. Buffalo Bill Cody spent many an evening in the lobby swapping tales with local old timers. Calamity Jane would occasionally interrupt the quietness of the hotel with her, well, calamity. And Liver Eatin’ Johnson, noted Indian scout who lived near Red Lodge, frequented the establishment.  And now… The Bolers!!!

The Pollards sold the hotel in the 1940s but it retains its historic nature and has featured in National Geographic.  It is a very plush, very comfortable, very Handsome hotel.  Yes, Handsome.  Not museum-like like some of the others but very lovely. Inside it reminds me very much of some of the older London hotels of the same era, like Browns.  Brass rails, dark wood, plushness without gaudiness.   We received a very good welcome from the front desk staff.  Our room is very comfortable.  Enormous king bed.  Dark wood furniture and chairs.  Bath and shower.

Spent the afternoon exploring the shops on Broadway Street.  There are lots of really unique ones, selling nice things and some antiques and bric a brac.  Some outdooring and ski shops too of course.  Lots of eateries, cafes, bakeries, an ice cream store.  We had a good walk around for a couple of hours.  Bought Black Lab Dexter a couple of early Xmas presents in a pet shop named Lewis & Bark Adventures.  It had to be.

Tonight we had just the greatest time.  There was live music in the Pollard Saloon: The High Country Cowboys.  They are quite a thing hereabouts and people were already arriving in the afternoon.  website We were lucky to get a table for dinner and to hear them.  Firstly, the dinner was amazing.  I had a ribeye steak that was one of the best I have ever eaten, mouth-wateringly tender and delicious.  Bob had jerk pork tenderloin and he said it was also fabulous.  The garlic whipped potato was outstanding.  I washed mine down with 2 glasses of Argentinian Malbec.  Bob stuck with a local Red Lodge amber ale.

Now for the High Country Cowboys… wow …. simply outstanding.  Three brothers who were all brilliant singers and musicians and who had a funny rapport with each other.  They came on at 630 and with a short break, played till 930.  Really good.  Lots of toe tapping fast ones, and slower sad ones.  It was old fashioned cowboy music, not really country and western.  The sort of music you heard on old cowboy films and tv shows.

We had a superb night and enjoyed ourselves so much.  Have loved the Pollard hotel.  The best all round experience we’ve had so far as regards a hotel stay in the west.  Heartily recommend.  It’s worth coming out of your way to stay here in Red Lodge.

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