Last week my husband and I drove to West Yellowstone, Montana to meet members of my family (my brothers, father, and respective family members) for an adventure. We had a fantastic time, and learned all kinds of new things.
We only spent one day in Yellowstone (we did the Upper Loop of the park, including Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Falls), but we also traveled to Nevada City, MT to take check out the “Living History” weekend.
Nevada City is along Highway 287 in Alder Gulch, known for the greatest Montana placer gold rush starting in 1863. Within one year, almost 10,000 people had moved to the area to seek their fortune (which is pretty impressive considering it’s in the middle of the mountains, pretty cold 10 months of the year, and people traveled by foot and wagon!). By 1869 only about 100 people remained, and by 1876 it had turned into a virtual ghost town.
Between then and 1900, many of the town’s buildings were destroyed as mining continued and the highway was built (there are still gold and garnets in them thar hills though!).
Today, the town is owned by the State of Montana and has been restored as an outdoor historical museum (complete with artifacts and furnishings), with buildings donated by philanthropists that were relocated from around the state as well as some original Nevada City structures that were saved by the last family to stay in the area after the gold rush.
We visited during a “living history” weekend – volunteers from around the state show up in accurate period clothing (right down to their underwear!) to show you what life was like back then. Some speak in 3rd person (fun and informative) and some speak in 1st person (kinda creepy sometimes, but still fun).
They populate the town for the weekend and perform every day activities, like tending bar in the saloon (where you can play cards with Regulators – who were the “law” in those times), cobbling shoes, and cooking (my favorite part, of course!). It almost felt like you were walking into someone’s home, and we felt compelled to knock and ask if we could come in!
We take for granted the kinds of lives we live as “normal”. It wasn’t really that long ago that everyone ate locally and from scratch, because that was the way life was lived. Imagine having to build the correct kind of fire (slow and hot), inside your kitchen, in a small iron oven, with no way to tell accurately what the temperature was, and no oven light to check the progress!
When we entered one of the cabins that housed a working kitchen, a mother and her two young daughters were busy preparing biscuits and gravy (that visitors got to enjoy when they were finished) in this manner.
The other really cool food-related part of the town were the mercantile stores where miners could buy supplies. It was surprising how many recognizable brands of canned foods there were that are still around, and it was great to see the bulk bins of coffee and tea – some of the few things that were imported in that time.
All in all, it was a really fun place to visit, both for the adult and kid in you.
As for my direct baking experience over the vacation, we were all together for Father’s Day, and I wanted to bake a cake to mark the occasion. The hang-ups? Well, our campground was above 6500 feet, and I had a tiny RV oven to bake it in, but I was determined to succeed. I had brought a package of the Swan Bakery’s Gluten-free (and vegan) Chocolate cake mix and the fixin’s for my “Fluffy” berry sauce. I was pleasantly surprised that the cake turned out perfectly, with only a (very) small downward adjustment to the liquid ingredients and no change to the oven temperature or cooking time! Everyone really enjoyed the cake, and I think it was my dad’s best Father’s day ever.
I would highly recommend a trip to this area – not only is the drive beautiful and manageable (it is about a 14 hour trip from Bellingham to West Yellowstone, easily done in two days), but the area is rich in history and there are countless activities that the whole family will enjoy!