Choose the Extreme Makeover House or $39,900 Special

Red Lodge Ales baked sandwich,
Baked sandwich at Red Lodge Ales, Red Lodge Montana.

We drove out of the airport after arriving in Billings and the first thing we saw were a giant wall of mountains, which we learned were called ‘The Rims,” dramatic brown bluffs rising up from the flat land.

The weather was bad and as we drove 65 miles to Red Lodge, our car was briefly pounded by hailstones. “I had my herb garden trashed by hail the other week,” said one of our guides.

Our tour of the small town of Red Lodge stayed mostly on the one main drag. It’s a town that hosts up to 10,000 motorcycles each July, and we saw plenty of riders tooling down the street with their free flags flying. No helmet laws here.

Our Red Lodge hosts told us about how the town almost died in the 1930s when the coal mine shut down and the economy collapsed. It took the building of the Beartooth Pass, in 1936, which created a road to Yellowstone, to the south, that transformed the town into what is now– a robust tourist-fueled economy.

That means that besides the bikers, there are the requisite cutesy shops like a former movie theater filled with candies and shops selling art and crafts. One shop sign said ‘open by 11’ and another advertised a little house for $39,900!

I also got a kick out of the giant Montana mansion offered for sale  as an “Extreme Makeover 2007 House.”  When the much-deserving residents found out how much the taxes were going to be on the house that Ty and his gang built, hey, I guess they decided to bail out.

At Red Lodge Ales, the brewmaster does quite a bit to keep green. The have Montana’s largest solar arrays on the roof, they use bio-diesel from restaurant waste oil  in their delivery trucks, and they give away their spent mash to Montana cattle.  Oh, and they put their sandwiches under the broiler and  call them ‘baked.’

Dancing Indians at the Red Lodge Cafe, Montana.