Missoula, Montana

No, that’s not a burger joint. We tour the evocative Big Hole National Battlefield. Jonah blows out and the weather heats up.

After a brief final visit with Mildred we bid her adieu and traveled south through the Bitterroot Valley to the Idaho border. In the southern end of the valley, there is substantial evidence of recent fire with hundreds of acres burned. Long-term this is just part of nature’s cycle of renewal. Short-term it’s not nearly as attractive as seeing thousands of healthy, green pines. Even so, I found the landscape strangely alluring.

Just prior to the Idaho border we turned east and climbed the 7,400 feet of Chief Joseph Pass. About 15 miles in we came to the Big Hole National Battlefield. Here on August 9, 1877 at a camp site that the Indians call the Place of Ground Squirrels, the US Calvary launched a surprise attack on a sleeping band of Nez Perce, killing between 60 and 90 Indians, most of them women and children. After the initial assault, the Nez Perce warriors launched a counterattack that held the calvary at bay while the rest of the tribe gathered belongings, buried some of their dead, and escaped.

Traditionally, the US historical perspective on this was that of the White Man: The US Calvary bravely discharged its duties in the face of a hostile foe of superior numbers. There remains a large 1930s-era monument on the site with engraved words right along these lines. Only recently has the idea that slaughtering innocent women and children as they sleep raised any sort of moral qualms. The US National Park service does, I think, a good job of presenting the events of Big Hole as a clash of cultures and allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions. Now I don’t think it takes much brain power to conclude that the United States screwed Native Americans nine ways to Sunday—Big Hole being only one example—but certainly as trustees of historic sites such as these, the Park Service is right to try to walk a neutral line.

Jonah had his hardest day yet at the Big Hole. We changed him a couple times only to have a blowout (parents out there know what I mean when I say “blowout”; others should just imagine something hideous having to do with poopy diapers) down by the pathway to the siege area. After a change of attire and limited sponge bath, Jonah was set to go, so we loaded him in the stroller and took to the path.

The battle area is somber, haunting, and beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s also mosquito infested—at least in July—and we had to beat something of a retreat from the area a little more quickly than I would have preferred. Nonetheless, I got the experience I wanted, and like many things on this trip, I’m looking forward to the day when our kid is older and we return again.

After the delay of dealing with Jonah we decided to retrace our steps up the Bitterroot Valley to make the best possible time to our motel in Missoula. We entertained thoughts of heading toward Butte, but that would’ve made for a much longer day, and we were tired enough in the 106(!) degree weather. Jonah was a trooper through it all.

I booked a night at the Best Value Inn in Missoula via Travelocity. If you’ve every used Travelocity (or Expedia or any of the online booking services), you know that finding the motel that best suits your needs can occasionally be a bit of a challenge. In booking our stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Hamilton, I looked at the four available motels, weighed the costs versus the benefits, and booked the one I thought best. For Missoula, not only did I have a more limited time period in which to make the booking decision because we were already on the road, but the city contains a lot more than four possible overnight accommodations.

All which is to say that the Best Value Inn on 300 E Broadway in Missoula is a 1950s-era motel that was a little below expectations. I wouldn’t describe it as a dive, but it’s older and somewhat worn about the edges if you take my meaning. Also, the sign out front doesn’t even say Best Value Inn. According to the desk manager, the new sign hasn’t come in yet, so the sign out front still reads “The Bel-Aire.” Despite making locating the place more difficult than it should have been, that’s no tragedy. Of course, it’s not a recommendation either.