Dirty Shame Saloon - Yaak , Montana
out and about

Libby, Koocanusa, Yaak and Yaak River Tavern

I don’t usually write blogs about the first 6 days in a place, because normally we are working 5 of those days, but I used to live in Libby for a few years when I was a kid and it has a different meaning to me than most places we’ve been. I’m also mostly laid up in bed with my broken ankle/fibula  and have lots of time to blog (more news about that at the end of this blog).

The Road to Libby

We had a great drive from Missoula, through Polson and up Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater body of water in the western U.S.. The area was beautiful and it was tempting to just stay but Libby has been on my list since we started this whole traveling thing.

Once we got through Kalispell, it was a pretty straight run for Libby. It was a pretty annoying ride for my leg but I could put it up on the dashboard if necessary and had a couple ice packs around when I needed them.

Half way to Libby was a place my mom used to bar-tend called Happy’s Roadhouse Inn. Advertising itself as a biker bar, though it still appears to be moslty full of hunters, fishermen and recreational drinkers – I’m sure bikers love this place, that is, the ones willing to brave the highway’s horrible condition. We stopped here to use the bathroom which gave me a chance to take a look at how much it (has not) changed. I used to hang out in the bar from time to time when we lived in a cabin out back and the place looked about half the size I remember, inside and out, but I’ve noticed that every single place we’ve gone that I remember seems about half the size.


Once we arrived at Woodland RV Park, we set up (slower than normal) and were anxious to get out and see some of my old local favorites. The Kootenai river, which I remember being mostly a white water rafting heaven, was swollen and flooded, covering the lower halves of trees in some parts and with a surface almost void of directional indications. The water was so high that it was nearly flat where rapids normally were, and it was covered in tons of creepy looking swirls – must be a sign of how rough the terrain of the river is under the extra millions of gallons being released from the dam.

We drove along the river for a few miles to the Libby Dam, which we came to find closed off from humans and cars (like many dams after 9/11). When I was a kid it was both a bridge and somewhere you could walk and hang over the edge, imagining the giant fish living in the spill area feeding on the chopped up victims from the lake. I was a morbid kid.

We didn’t go to the visitor center, just stepped out and looked down as best we/I could. To get a really good look up, you now have to go all the way back to Libby to cross the river. North, the lake is 90+ miles long and it’s almost as far to the next bridge on the Canadian side of the lake.

Libby Dam July 2012
Libby Dam and flooded Kootenai River, July 2012

I thought this pic was funny too:
President Richard Nixon at Libby Dam
Nixon helping pour concrete for the Libby Dam.

Nixon looks like a small man next to that bear behind him.

Rumor has it my step dad helped build the dam as well, he must have been pretty young.

After the Dam, we decided to look for a place to put our feet in the water. What’s the difference between ice on my leg and ice cold water right? We found a swimming area just a little farther north at the Souse Gulch Recreation Area. I didn’t remember this swim spot, not by name or looks, but the docks looked pretty new really so who knows what it looked like 20 years ago. I only remember swimming in that lake once honestly and I know it was close to the dam because me and a friend were in her kayak when we got caught in the current going to the dam (where both fish and fisherman get chopped up apparently). She couldn’t get us out of the current and started to panic so I gave it a try and managed pretty quickly. After that, she told everyone that I saved her life, though I never felt we were in any danger at all. Maybe we were, who knows.

Souse Gulch Recreation Area Docks, Libby MT
Souse Gulch Recreation Area Docks, Libby MT

There really isn’t too many places for us to eat out around here so we called it a night with plans to go out and drive the Yaak the next day.

First I wanted to see where my parents’ shop had been when I was about 10-12 years old. It had the worst location of any shop I’ve ever seen and I remember thinking it was doomed from the beginning. The shop was on the highway west between Libby and Troy and just about the only thing between those two towns, aside from a couple cabins and a waterfall/rapids area that I used to play at (made famous by the movie A River Wild).

My job at the shop was sometimes the register but usually I had to go out and stand on the highway with a sign, warning people to slow down and stop for the shop. The building is set back from the road and from both sides the people on the highway have no warning at all that the shop is coming up. Since people are usually going about 60-70mph and there is rarely anywhere to turn around on that part of the road, we hardly ever had customers.

The shop was also next to the owners shop who was a taxidermist. He has started a Taxidermy Museum with a huge collection of morbid creatures, and a small collection of especially sadistic creations like a bear that peed on you and a moose that drooled on you in the doorway, and several fantasy creatures made out of the butts of other creatures. It was terrifying but since my step dad was a trapper and hunter in his off time, I was nearly desensitized from the bounty of bodies and skins scattered all over our house and garage.

The owner of the Taxidermy Museum did have a collection of living animals though, including a large man made pond with huge native fish, a large collection of doves and pigeons from all over the world, some turkeys and, for a while, emus.

The building was still impossible for me and Ross to find, even with GPS, and of course we passed it and had to turn around. It now appears to be just a large house.

The Yaak

The Yaak area is north of Troy and its “official” community center is about 50 miles into the wilderness (and the farthest north community in Montana). We had picked up a Subway sandwich in Libby for a picnic somewhere so after a quick peek at the Yaak River Falls, we found a camping area and put a blanket down as close to the river as I could possibly have walked/crutched.

Yaak River Falls - Montana

We passed several (tons of), dirt roads before finally choosing one to drive up and had an awesome drive around the side of a mountain with a big drop down on one side and up or forested on the other. Once we finally decided to turn around, because the road would practically go to Canada if we stayed on it, it took us another mile to find a place to turn around.

Yaak NF-591
Yaak NF-591

When we came down we were out of water, a little hungry after our veggie and break sandwich and looked forward to finding out what exactly was in Yaak, Montana (town of?).

I was pretty excited to see a saloon and mercantile, open and fairly busy on a Sunday afternoon, and convinced Ross that we should have a beer and snack before we bought some drinks and got back on the road. The bar  is called Yaak River Tavern. A sort of biker/mountain man bar (because bikers love destination bars to drive on cool roads to) and features wood counters, walls, decor and stools upholstered in camouflage.  They were out of everything on tap except Bud Light and  Kokanee but had bottles of Moose Drool and Obsidian Stout, and we ordered a huge plate of fries to share. It was about 93 degrees out but their deck was so huge and void of other people that we sat out there in the shade. The back yard of the Saloon has a creek, stage, outdoor cooking area and a volleyball net just begging for outdoor concerts, parties, whatever they use it for. A lodge down the road probably means the area can get pretty busy at times. The whole area is a playground for ATV and snowmobile tourists, outdoorsmen, hikers, and no doubt hunters.

When I was a kid I don’t remember ever going to this area but I do remember being told horror stories from kids at school about strange animal attacks from cougars and black bears in the Yaak area, which at the time I didn’t care to investigate. Now, I’m curious and want to find proof of these stories and as many as I can find.

Yaak River Tavern - Yaak , Montana

Yaak River Tavern, Yaak, Montana

The road back to Libby, because it’s a loop, was hugely different than the one into the Yaak. It’s a narrow, rough, lane free road nearly all the way into town, and for nearly 40 miles it stays like this. It was a little rough on my leg after a while but we managed and spent the rest of the evening recovering from our day trip in our chairs outside the trailer.

It’s amazing what changes and what doesn’t change in 20 years of being gone.


The Week Alone

Ross had to leave early Sunday morning, around 2:30am, to get a plane 90 miles away in Kalispell. I had an appointment on Tuesday in town, just a mile and a half away but still way too far to crutch it to. Luckily the people working at the RV park were more than willing to give me a ride so everything worked out.

I had spent much of  last week and all weekend ( I found out it was broken last Wednesday morning 7/4) keeping all weight off the leg until I could see an orthopedic surgeon and have it properly diagnosed. In Missoula I went to a walk in clinic with my mom and they didn’t seem very prepared or used to broken limbs walking in, probably more flu shots and medications given out than air casts at a place like that.  The doctor had taken x-rays and told me my fibula was broken, clean, but broken. She didn’t show me the x-rays or give me any details, just “make an appointment with a specialist in Libby”.  The earliest I could get in to see someone in Libby was this Tuesday.

I didn’t really know what to do with the info the first doctor gave me and had been too in shock about being told I had a broken leg to ask any questions. I even forgot to pay my deductible and just left with my mom to get crutches somewhere.

When Ross left I knew I could manage but since I was basically jumping around on one leg, and already had bruises on the palms of my hands and tender armpits from the crutches, I had him move everything I needed into the living room for easy access, cat food, soda, bread etc, and half expected to be crawling around on my hands and knees at least part of the time for convenience (and watching lots and lots of crappy TV).

I spent Monday doing these things, except for the crawling, I just hopped instead. On Tuesday the owner’s daughter drove me to the appointment. Everything went pretty well there at first till I had to crutch it across the street and up to the hospital to get some new x-rays – a hospital with no ramp so I had to go to the end of their driveway and hope an ambulance didn’t run me over while I hobbled up. It’s especially awkward on a steep surface with crutches because they end up higher than your feet and jamming even harder into your pits.

After that whole ordeal I was back to the doctor to see what he had to say and the news was better than before though still not perfect. My fibula is broken but only the very end of it, more like a chip than a break. Basically I pulled a tendon in my foot and the tendon literally broke off a piece of bone trying to hold on. So, I was happy to hear that I didn’t need a cast but the healing time is still about 6 weeks. He also said I can walk on it a little, as long as it feels ok to walk on, which was a bad thing to tell me because I keep hobbling around the trailer on it and it gets really pissed at me and I have to elevate it with an ice pack for a while. I took Susa for a couple walks the last 2 days but it ends up that I can go faster and hurt less by just using the one good leg than trying to half step lightly and slowly with the bad leg, After just one week I started to see muscle loss in the leg though so I really want to exercise it as much as I can, but I don’t want to be in the air brace longer because of that either.. In general, even without full use of it, it is still so so nice to be able to put that foot down once in a while. Both knees were getting sore from all the strange new jobs they had. I am definitely getting stronger with the crutches though. Hopefully I’ll at least get buff arms out of this.


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