Signs of the times

As we have been traveling, we have read a lot of billboards. For most of the trip, it seemed to us that there were a lot of places selling fireworks. In some states, such as Missouri, there are giant warehouse-sized fireworks stores. Another type of business that seems to go in for billboard advertising along the Interstate highways is erotica and sex toy shops. We didn’t stop at any fireworks stores. We didn’t stop at the other places, either.

I suspect that some of the billboards exaggerate a bit. For example, approaching Three Forks, Montana from the east there is a sign that reads, “Voted Montana’s favorite small town.” I’m wondering who got to vote. I’m pretty sure that the people who living in neighboring towns such as Manhattan and Townsend, wouldn’t agree that it is their favorite small town. I know for a fact that the folks who live in Big Timber and Red Lodge and Malta and Fort Benton and Libby and Polson would disagree with great passion. So I don’t know exactly what makes Three Forks Montana’s favorite small town. I guess it is the favorite of whoever paid to have the billboard put up.

But there are some signs that are worth heeding. There is a stretch from about Missoula to St. Regis heading west and from the Idaho line to St. Regis heading east where you will see several billboards that have a picture of a milkshake and simply say, “Best. Shake. Ever.” If you aren’t into huckleberries you should probably put the billboards in the category of the “Montana’s Favorite Small Town” sign. But, if you have a notion about wild mountain huckleberries, you probably ought to check it out.

I’m not sure I can vouch completely for the claim of best. shake. ever. After all I’ve had quite a few milkshakes in my life. I have made quite a few myself. I make a really, really good huckleberry milkshake with Tillamook Huckleberry ice cream and Huckleberry ice cream sauce that we get at the St. Regis Travel Plaza. Furthermore, I have stopped at the St. Regis Travel Plaza many times in the past to have a huckleberry milkshake. It is hard to compare what I’ve tasted in the past with what they are serving right now, but I have to say that they are very consistent with their huckleberry milkshakes - consistently very, very good.

There are more than a few places that serve milkshakes that could hardly be described as a beverage. If it is too thick to draw up a straw, it is a concrete mixer, or flavored ice cream, but it doesn’t really qualify as a milkshake? And what is with all of the whipped cream these days? If you are proud of your milkshake, why do you have to doctor it with whipped cream? The whipped cream isn’t flavored and it just takes up space in the cup that should be filled with the cold creamy beverage.

So is a huckleberry milkshake at the St. Regis Travel Plaza really the Best. Milkshake. Ever.? I’m thinking that you will have to judge for yourself. If you do decide to give it a try, St. Regis is about 35 miles from the border between Montana and Idaho on Interstate 90. It’s a tourist town, so be prepared to wait for a little while in line. Be sure to order a large milkshake. The small will leave you wanting more. Trust me on that one.

The miles are going by and our grand expedition for the summer of 2021 is nearing our home base. We are taking the last couple of days slowly. We didn’t come very far yesterday and we are going to stop short of home today so that we will have an easy half day drive over the Cascades and home on Friday. We’ll be home by noon. Tomorrow we’ll stay at another of our favorite campgrounds, the Icicle River Campground near Leavenworth, WA. We should be past the worst of the smoke by then. It is pretty smoky here in St. Regis and we’ve been driving in thick smoke since Rapid City. The smoke puts a scratch in your throat and it makes your eyes tired.

Temperatures, however, are a bit more mild. The day before yesterday the high we saw was 106 degrees. Yesterday’s high was 90. It was 88 the we arrived at the campground. To be clear, summer highs in the the mountain country are normally in the 70’s, so 88 is warm for the area. But is is better than the 100+ temperatures that we saw when we were heading east in early July. Still, August is generally warmer than July so there is a good month more of high temperatures ahead for the mountain west. We are expecting temperatures to be more moderate once we get over the Cascades. Furthermore, there will be much less smoke there as most of the fires are east of our little corner of Washington State.

88 degrees, however, is plenty warm enough to boost sales of milkshakes at St. Regis. I saw a gentleman walking out of the Travel Center with a tray of six large milkshakes and I had to wait in line while a dozen or so people got their milkshakes before we got ours. Whether or not it was the Best. Milkshake. Ever., it was pretty darn good. I recommend it.

Huckleberries are wild berries similar to blueberries, but with a more intense burst of flavor. They grow in the high country. When I was a kid we knew of several huckleberry picking spots and headed for them each time we were up in the mountains. The only problem is that bears really like huckleberries and so you have to be bear smart and pay attention when you are picking them. As good as they are, they don’t warrant an argument with a hungry bear. The location of the best patches is a well guarded secret and not something one shares on the Internet. So if you want huckleberries, I recommend stopping at one of the many stores that sell huckleberry items all across Western Montana. You might even want to sample the Best. Shake. Ever. Then, I’d like your opinion. Perhaps St. Regis is really Montana’s Favorite Small Town.

Made in RapidWeaver