Let’s say you have a day you don’t know how to fill. I have a solution. Drive on Highway 41 from Whitehall to Dillon. Sure it’s only a 50 mile drive, but the best kind of road trip involves a luxuriously late morning, and spending as much time out of the car as in it, and if it happens to start with an early morning root beer float from A&W, well, who am I to judge?
Start your day with a quick drive around Whitehall to look at the Lewis and Clark Murals. Painted in 2002 in celebration of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, the 10 murals highlight experiences of the Expedition as they passed through the Jefferson Valley. Then head south out of town on Highway 41 to Twin Bridges.
Everyone knows that a cowboy isn’t complete without his hat, and Montana Mad Hatters in Twin Bridges makes the best hats you can find. Shelia Kirkpatrick has made hats for the likes of George H.W. Bush and Hank Williams, Jr. Each hat is handmade and customized to meet the wearer’s needs, whether it’s a special occasion hat or an everyday work hat. Even if you’re not in the market for a piece of custom built, high quality, affordable headgear, it is still worth the time to stop at the store and take a look around.
Twin Bridges sits where the Big Hole, the Beaverhead, and the Ruby come together to form the Jefferson-an epicenter of blue ribbon fly fishing. Didn’t come prepared? Fortunately the tiny town of Twin Bridges had not one, but two shops specializing in top-grade custom fly rods. For over 85 years, R.L. Winston Fly Co. has stayed on the cutting edge of fly fishing innovation. From old-fashioned bamboo to boron/graphite high-tech masterpieces, Winston has always stayed on top. In the mid-2000s, a few men, infused with the Winston tradition, started their own company, Sweetgrass Rods, with the intention of focusing only on old-fashioned bamboo rods. Over the past 10 years, Sweetgrass Rods has emerged as one the finest shops specializing in craft bamboo rods.
Once you’ve had your fill of the surprising amount of custom luxury in Twin Bridges, it’s time to head to Dillon. On the way, stop at Beaverhead Rock State Park. By now, it’s got to be close to lunch, so your first stop should be Fiesta Mexicana Taco Bus. People have been known to drive from as far away as Missoula and Bozeman, just to eat at this converted school bus. This is authentic Mexican food served in a unique setting and, let’s face it, the other activities in this post are just window dressing-Fiesta Mexicana, that’s the real reason for this trip. The Beaverhead River flows right through town, and after lunch you might want to try out your new fly rod. Of course even non-fisherpeople know that fish don’t bite in the afternoon (except when they do) so, you should wait until evening. First stop, the Patagonia Outlet. What with the tacos, cowboy hat, fly rod, and Patagonia, you may well have spent all of your money. If not, downtown Dillon features a number of unique stores. If you have, while away the time by wandering around the University of Montana Western, poke your head into the UMW Art Gallery, and the Beaverhead County Museum, look around Clark’s Lookout State Park, or drive 25 miles west to wander Bannack State Park, one Montana’s most famous ghost towns. After you’re all nice and rested (and it’s been 30 minutes since your last meal, just in case), you have my permission to hit the river, for some of the best fishing you can imagine.