Red & Green Brazilian Steakhouse Has Great Food, Hold the X-Mas

Seems in summer months we get to do some traveling with the old daddy-man. Not so much because we must, but because we can. On a previous trip he’d had a chance to try out a place called the Red & Green Steakhouse, and he loved it so much he committed to taking us there as soon as we could join him. Based on the name I expected Christmas, but what I got was almost better.

Best we could to to make it look as artistic as it tasted.
Best we could to to make it look as artistic as it tasted.

See there’s this country called Brazil, and apparently they have, in addition to energy independence, a whole culture all their own. One big chunk of it is their famous rodizio-style buffet where guys and gals come wandering throughout the restaurant offering up slices of hot-off-the-grill meats, simply for the asking, and wholly for the enjoyment.

But dinner is always a tricky time around our Perplexing office. We’ve got the meat-centric me, the impossible eldest Patrick (whose autism lends him to exceptional difficulty, as sweet as he is,) and bird-appetite Dominic whose tastes change as often his overnight pull-ups.

So what amazed us most was the fact the place had, not only the great food our dad had promised, but the exceptional variety that allowed everyone in our party to find exactly the snacks we were after.

That’s only what amazed us “most.” There was plenty more that amazed us to other degrees.

First off was the waterfall that cascades from almost out of sight in the sky, swirling ever-downward, with such a lulling, creek-like effect that upon hearing it I immediately needed help finding a restroom. Perhaps not the grandest compliment, but it’s a really cool waterfall and like nothing myself or my dad had ever seen before.

Another amazing thing is that it’s so spacious inside you can get a table very quickly on all but the very busiest hours of the very busiest nights. When dining out with kids this is a huge benefit because you know how strangers get when junior-folk like us get all rambunctious in their grills.

The entertainment factor of the dinner was really great too. If you’re a big enough kid you can help yourself to the salad bar, but if you’re a smarter sort of youngster, like me, you can just sit at the table and wait for the Gauchos to do all the work for you.

Every few minutes another one swings by with a skewer of who-knows-what, carefully cooked to perfection, lovingly massaged with seasonings, constantly administered to my plate.

If you love meat, and there’s little lack of evidence I do, and you want people to bring it to you, then you can find no place better than this Red Green Brazilian doo-hicky place..

The dining room is large enough that raucous after-work parties don’t spill over onto quiet family parties, and the wait staff are patient and gracious with families like us, so whatever you seek, assuming you like good food, I believe you’ll find it at the Red & Green Steakhouse in Atlanta.

Oh, and it turns out the “Red and Green” thing has nothing to do with Christmas at all. It’s actually more like a stop light. See they give you these cards you put on your table, one side is red, the other side is green. If the card is red they just keep bringing you more and more and more food. Once you flip it over, as if by magic, they stop asking you if you need more. No Santa Clause types involved at all.

If you’re looking for a bit of fun, like I was, try turning it to red when your plate is full, then back to green when you want more, and then back to red.

It’s funny because they obey the card and they don’t even mind!

The Red & Green Steakhouse is located at 5979 Buford Highway NE, in Atlanta, Georgia. You can call them at 678.710.0888 or just check them out online at RedAndGreenSteakhouse.com.

 

Montana Natural History Center Less Pretty, More Pretty Interesting

If you’ve got some extra time in Missoula, Montana, or you want to learn the most about the natural history of the region, there are two great places in town to do it. One is the Elk County Visitor Center and the other is its less attractive cousin, the one that resides on the other side of the tracks, the Montana Natural History Center.

Knick knack, Patrick whacked me with a bone.
Knick knack, Patrick whacked me with a bone.

If you’re looking for a history exhibit that’s also a roller coaster, or a batch of dino-bones that come to life as if to eat you, this isn’t your place. Good thing too, because that place, as great as it sounds, would likely cost about fifty candy bars just for admission.

From there you can imagine what the concessions would cost. Probably like three candy bars just to buy a candy bar, if my math serves me correctly, and it sometimes does.

The Montana Natural History Center has its fair share of artifacts on display, like fossilized dinosaur bones, taxidermied monster birds and bears, and more placards than you could ever read. I know this because I tried to read them all, and since I can’t read, they were too many.

Admission rates are low, and you’ll almost surely spend under an hour wandereading about, but everything in there is native to the region, and if you can come up with a question that isn’t answered, I’m going to bet there’s somebody there that knows what it is.

They also run summer and weekend exploration camps for kids and grownups alike, and publish a top-notch glossy, monthly magazine if you don’t live in the area, but want to know more.

On a price-per-fun basis, this short trip was well worth the admission, and if you want at all to know about the past, present or future of wildlife in Montana, this is an exceptional place to start.

The Monana Natural History Center is located inconspicuously beside a Christmas Supply factory outlet, their address is 120 Hickory Street, Missoula, Montana. Before your visit, call them at 406-327-0405, or visit them online at www.MontanaNaturalist.org.

Finding hidden easter eggs, or rather squirrels, inside of a larger history exhibit
ABOVE: Out of all the interesting exhibits, none impressed us so much as the bears looking at the squirrel in the log. That’s comedy gold right there.

 

Pictograph Caves in Billings Barely Caves, Hardly Pictographic

Chalk it up to me being young, but I couldn’t find any interest in the chalking up of the sandstone overhangs in Montana’s pictograph caves. Maybe I was disappointed because they weren’t caves, or because “they” was a singular, or maybe it was the fact that it was scorching hot outside. I can recommend this attraction, but only if you have a longer attention span than me, and I warn you, mine is better than it’s ever been before.

Try as he might, nothing could make him tell us with accuracy what we were supposed to be seeing.
Try as he might, nothing could make him tell us with accuracy what we were supposed to be seeing.

I’ve seen some really amazing caves in Puerto Rico, and some not-so-amazing caves too. Out of all of them, this one takes the cake and leaves it outside in broad daylight with just a smidge of rocky overhang to protect it from the elements.

What I’m saying is that we expected caves, we brought our lantern, and what we saw was outside in the open, and from my low vantage, not much to look at.

There are plenty of reasons you should visit the Pictograph Caves State Park, though, so don’t get your diaper in a dogshank just yet.

 

  • It’s very close to Billings, and thus conveniently located.
  • The day-use fee to go is only $5 per car (for out-of-state plates) down to free (if you have in-state plates, even a rental car.)
  • There are some drawings you can still make out on the wall.
  • The path from the parking lot to the overhang is paved and very manageable on all but the toastiest of days.
  • You get to see how cavemen drew.

 

The real bummer is that these paintings, some dating back an estimated 65,000 years, were made on soft sandstone. Over the years weather, vandalism and naturally occurring settling have decimated the artwork (and I use decimated in the correct form, to reduce by some decimal value, rather than the more common misuse invented in the 1990s meaning “to destroy completely).

If you don’t mind a short walk (you can see where you’re going from where you park) and can accept that what you see might not blow your mind, the Pictograph Caves park is a good choice. At $0-$5 per car, you’re not going to find a cheaper slice of history unless you dig it up yourself.

Find the Pictograph Cave State Park at 2300 Lake Elmo Drive in Billings, Montana. Not the Elmo you’re thinking of, turns out he came about long after the lake of the same name was labeled. For more information go to www.PictographCave.org.

walking up the pavement from parking spot to place in history
ABOVE: Straight ahead you can see the cave… yes, the entire cave. Still, the weather was wonderful, the path was beaten, but unbeatable, and only the company could have stood improvement… what can I say, I’m with these guys all the time, would a little variety kill me?

 

Smokejumper Center Honors History of Madmen Jumping into Fires

Just west of Missoula, Montana, along the Interstate-90 corridor, drivers may notice signs for the Smokejumper Visitor Center. The name is a bit puzzling until you learn that it’s exactly what it sounds like – people jumping from planes into flames – and then the whole profession itself becomes the puzzle. I know Smokey says “Only you can prevent forest fires,” but these people take that catch phrase WAY too seriously.

Even from five feet off the ground, I cannot imagine jumping out of any airplane.
Even from five feet off the ground, I cannot imagine jumping out of any airplane.

The visitor center is good, though great by “free” standards (which it is) and unremarkable by high-ticket admission standards (which it isn’t.) You can learn a bit about these escaped insane asylum anti-pyromaniacs in there, but the real fun comes with the tour.

I know I mentioned the visitor center is free, but what’s more remarkable is that the tour is free as well.

Me likey free, but there’s more to this attraction than value. It would be interesting at a thousand-fold the cost, and that’s more than just my poor math skills speaking volumes.

On the tour you get to see where parachutes are cleaned and hung to dry, where jumpers stitch their own clothes and bags in the fire-retarded down time, and even see the tricked out planes they jump from. You might even get to meet a real smokejumper, like we did, to ask questions and personally give thanks for this unusual job you’d never do yourself.

Part of me wouldn’t do it because you couldn’t knock me in the head enough times, and the rest of me wouldn’t because once you did knock me in the head that many times, I’d be incapable of walking, let alone packing out my 110-pound pack… yes, even the smaller people, men and women alike, end up with 100-plus pounds of gear to pack out of the woods on foot. No thanks. I don’t even like to pack myself around and I’m still under the 30-pound mark.

I still say I want to be a “fire fighter man” when I grow up, but not like this. As much as I respect and appreciate what these people do to keep civilization safe, I just can’t see this being the job for me. Hundreds apply each year, but only a handful are chosen, and many don’t make it through training, so they aren’t just crazy, but a special kind of crazy.

Everything is dependent on the fire season, of course. On the day you visit you may find it a ghost town with no one around, or you may find it stocked to the rafters with surplus forest firefighters, you just won’t know until you go, but even if it’s empty, it’s a story worth hearing about.

Tours are offered during peak summer months at 10:00 & 11:00 in the morning, and 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, but call ahead for latest hours and availability. The Smokejumpers Visitor Center is located at the Arial Fire Depot along the north side of the Missoula airport, or you can just check them out online at www.smokejumpers.com (or read about them on the Visit Montana site).

Fires are bad, but planes are just too good to jump out of especially into flames
ABOVE: This is apparently an airplane, and from what I gather, people jump out of it to fight fires. Sounds like madness to me. Maybe my leg feels a tad pulled on this one.

 

No Trip Complete Without Sleepover in the Slammer

Throughout our 5-plus weeks in Montana, we’ve stayed everywhere from mountain top resorts to the lows you scrape a rung below the Motel 6, and no place left an impression on us quite like the 1880s Ranch in Anaconda, Montana. It wasn’t just a neat location, it was handily the best lodging experience in all of Montana.

Even our bears and dogs can appreciate a stroll through the 1880s Dude Ranch, town Saloon is the backdrop.
Even our bears and dogs can appreciate a stroll through the 1880s Dude Ranch, town Saloon is the backdrop.

Anaconda is an old copper town founded by the famous Mr. Daly. Like all ore towns it was boom until it busted, and now the bustle is gone leaving wholesome outdoor fun in its place.

If you’re looking for an authentic old west experience, but without all the inconveniences of frontier life, you’ve found the place. The 1880s Ranch is only about fifteen minutes from Interstate 90, but it’s still far enough that all you’ll hear at night is the wild. Plumbing throughout, full heat and electricity and paved roads right up to the last half-mile or so make it a perfect balance of show versus function, past versus present.

animated picture of a jail breakLEFT: As far as jails go, this one leaves nothing to be desired. Sure the cells don’t have locks, and the bars are so widely spaced you can pretty much just climb out between them, but sometimes the honor system is the best way to keep people honest. Did you ever consider that?

The most important thing to think about it is the sheer coolness of the place. Every building is a handsomely crafted, well appointed replica of real frontier buildings. Cars aren’t allowed on Main Street, so the only traffic you’ll find is a few people and sometimes a grazing horsey or twenty. If you can look at the town and not feel like you’re a cowboy, then you’re crazy.

The town buildings are mostly used as accommodations, so here’s a rundown on some of them:

TOWN JAIL – By far our favorite building, it’s got two queen beds plus a twin-sized loft, not to mention two full bathrooms and bars across them, in case you’re an outlaw. They don’t have locks on them, and as you can see in our animation above, you can pretty easily break out if you need to. This is where we stayed, and we got the best night of sleep of our entire trip. Also, on a side note just for those of you who are outlaws, this town’s prison has much better sleeping accomodations than lets say, Alcatraz.

BOARDING HOUSE – This is a nice, big, two-story building with two queen and two twin beds, and all kinds of roaming room inside for a quiet afternoon in. We’re not experts on being quiet, but I hear it’s nice.

SALOON and BORDELLO – Upstairs you’ve got two separate units with a pair of queen beds each, plus your own private bathroom. Downstairs is the saloon, and that’s a nice place to hang out, maybe do some reading (another thing I’m not very good at) as well as where meals are served.

INDIAN BARK LODGE – Is a great big place with a huge number of authentic pelts. It was actually built by real tribal natives at the request of the 1880s Ranch. It does have an earth floor, so beware if that’s a bit too rustic for you.

CORDWOOD HOUSE – This is a very cool one, it’s an actual cordwood house, made kind of like a brick house, with the bricks and the cement, except instead of bricks they used wood and a bunch of glass bottles and jars to let in bits of colored light.

SOD HOUSE – This one is made out of grass. It’s a strange thing to think about, but if you lived in one of these you’d have to actually weed your walls.

outfitters and tack at the 1880's Dude RanchRIGHT: As if you needed another reason to know how cool this place is, from time to time they let the semi-wild (technically tame) horses wander through town on a grazing/work-release program.

DUGOUT HOUSE – A true pioneer concept, forget about chopping down dozens of trees, just start by digging into the hillside and use that as your starting point. Very good for cowboys and miners to weather cold winters.

CHINESE LAUNDRY – If you have laundry you need to wash, don’t sweat it, there’s a solution just down Main Street. Coin operated even, so it’s not quite as authentic, but then again, your clothes actually get clean, so that makes it okay.

SHEEPHERDER WAGON – If you’re looking for something a bit more unique, the wagon is unbeatable. It doesn’t look very big from the outside, but you’ll be surprised how big it actually is.

BIG OL’ TIPI – One of the rarest of all old west accommodations is the tipi (or teepee). This one is big enough to enjoy, but authentic enough (dirt floor and all) to give you the taste of roughing it you might crave.

Forget about bringing your own chamber pot or hunting for the honey bucket because even the sheepherders wagon and the tipi have private bathrooms with running water and full electricity (GFI plugs in the bathrooms and all). I’ve been told seeing is believing so if you don’t believe me and my sweet toddler face take a look at the accommodations available for viewing at their website.

Before I wrap up what’s already become a very long article, I have to tell you about the horseback riding. If you’re an experienced rider, a cowboy in training, or just want to tool around the ranch, seasoned outfitter Pat has the horses, tack and experience to make your gallop, saunter or trot unforgettable. You can go up high in the hills, request a carriage ride in to town, or customize the trip almost anyhow you like, so long as you let them know in advance what you have in mind.

view down main street of ghost town hotel
ABOVE: From the saloon you can see all the way down main street. Past the laundry, cordwood cabin, sweat lodge and other assorted buildings, and you’ll see the church on the hill.

The 1880s Ranch is not really meant for a one-night stay, because it takes a full day just to decompress from city life. There was a group there we talked to who had been out for a week, sometimes relaxing, other times using it as their base camp for trips out to nearby Deer Lodge, Discovery Ski Basin, the Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, fly fishing and who knows what else.

Of all the places we stayed, this was the most unique, the quietest, the most authentically old west, the most fun, the most educational and the one that provided us with the best night of sleep we had in all of Montana.

The 1880s Ranch is good with large groups, company retreats, or just a couple or family looking to take some time together. At the 1880s ranch, you don’t spend time, you invest it.

The 1880s Ranch is located at 1600 Cable Road in Anaconda, Montana, about five minutes south of town. You can call them at (877) 287-2208, or visit them online at www.1880sRanchForSale.com to see all kinds of pictures, information, and almost anything else you could want. And just as a personal thanks for reading this far, here is a spectacular downtown ranch photo for you guys to enjoy, you know, just for fun.

Dude Ranch in Anaconda Montana
ABOVE: Proving once again you don’t have to be an old man to waggle your fist and shout “get off my porch!”

old fashioned cowboy town where you can rent rooms
ABOVE: You probably didn’t need any more pictures of this super cool place, but I did, so here’s one more shot of it to keep us both happy.

 

Zoo Montana Best In, If Not By, 500 Miles

Our editorial board has seen zoos in Shanghai, San Francisco, Seattle, and probably other places for all I can be bothered to recall, so it takes a bit to impress us. The zoo in Billings, Montana did impress us, even if it didn’t knock our collective socks off. It’s a nice place, and a good value, but don’t get too giddy just yet.

Apparently Exxon was not allowed to sponsor the Alaskan Wildlife portion of the zoo. Something about the irony being too intense.
Apparently Exxon was not allowed to sponsor the Alaskan Wildlife portion of the zoo. Something about the irony being too intense.

They boast the best zoo within a 500-mile radius, but they fail to throw in a footnote pointing out that there aren’t any big cities within 500 miles. In fact, according to Google Maps, Billings is 13+ hours either way to Minneapolis or Seattle, and still 7:46 minutes from Denver.

Does that mean they have a lackluster zoo? Not at all, it just depends on what you’re going there looking for.

For example, if you’re looking for fun, excitement, random animals, furry cuddlies and assorted critters you’ll rarely see in your everyday life, you’ve found a great place for it.

If you’re looking for elephants, rhinos, buffalo, hippos, monkeys, jaguars, snow leopards or any of the more exotic fare, well, let’s just say you need to go to a more exotic place.

glass walls at the Billings Montana Zoo
ABOVE: As if you didn’t already know, this picture should settle your mind that this is in fact a top-quality zoo. Please to observe the costly glass walls fronting this river otter exhibit.

Does that mean the offerings aren’t good? Not at all! Does that mean you won’t have fun? I can swear everyone in my group had a blast.

They have the very rare red panda (lesser panda, kind of look like raccoons, but they’re red) and an exceptional (very new) grizzly exhibit, not to mention eagles, otters, and the biggest number of free-ranging peacocks I’ve seen anywhere, and believe me when I tell you this because I have seen zoos almost everywhere.

If you’re not a zoo person, this is not a zoo for you because you’ve probably seen everything they have, and even if you hadn’t, you’re not easily impressed, so why bother with the heat and all. If you are a kid like me, however, or are responsible for the fun times of a kid like me, you may want to consider it.

elephant fountain garden at the Montana Zoo
ABOVE: If you just need a minute to take a load off, there is a fine garden complete with fountains for you to slow down, assuming you’re actually able. We tossed some coins in the fountain (not sure we were supposed to, but it just felt right) and enjoy the slick replica elephant that forever spouts water from his snouty-mouth-nose-trunk thingy.

The rates are very reasonable, you can easily spend a few hours inside (wear sun block if it’s summer, pretty please) and you won’t likely feel cheated for your time or your money, even if you’re a big cheapskate like my accountant here at the office… and I’m not naming any names or anything, dad.

Zoo Montana is located in Billings, Montana, at 2100 South Shiloh Road. It’s easy to find from I-90 as you’ll take exit 443, which is clearly marked as the Zoo Drive exit. For seasonal rates and hours, check them out online at www.ZooMontana.org.

Raccoon in the garbage can at the Montana Zoo
ABOVE: One of the most memorable animal exhibits by far was the ‘Coon in Trash Can’ enclosure, where we were able to get up-close and much-too-personal with a real life, wild, not-part-of-the-zoo raccoon that had taken up residence in a trash can, as if to wait and avail himself as the designated community garbage recycler. What resource!

Young Boy Toddler Preschooler chasing ducks and peacocks
ABOVE: There is so much automatic fun to be had when a person of keen interest gives pursuit (for free) to flighted creatures of this Earth. Here is a composite of such images. For a larger version of the “duck chasing” picture, see the following paragraph.

If you want to, you can check out a huge shot of Dominic chasing a duck as well.

 

Poultry-Themed Baseball All the Rage at Osprey Park

If you live in a city with a wide selection of professional sports, you may think of minor league games as little more than events that make parking difficult at unpredictable times for no good reason, but in pro-sports deprived cities, it can be a lot of fun. Businesses get behind it to do promotions and giveaways and attendance is strong. The people are there for the fun of it, not because they’re obsessive about baseball, but they do cheer for well-turned plays.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a chicken.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a chicken.

We went for the convenience, stayed for the festivities, and lingered a bit longer for the late inning cheering.

Unlike full-tilt baseball games, you get to go right down to the bullpen and see the pitchers griping about calls, even ones made in favor of that particular team. If you’ve ever had a chance to get up close and personal with a player, this may not mean much, but as someone who has always tried without success, it was awfully exciting to get close to players with a modest likelihood of making it just as big someday. When you find them young you get all the attention you could want (in fact they love it!) and without all the ego involved.

We stayed because this particular stadium had the good sense to add what all young baseball fans really want… a bouncy house. I think sometimes they call them moon bounces or jumpy rooms, but however you slice that invention it’s the best thing since some kind of bread… I think sliced, not sure.

Another selling point was that, even though we had really good seats down the first-base line, we were free to head to the sloped lawn along the third base line where energy-abundant juniors like us could run for hours without bothering anybody.

But the real clincher to the deal was the giant chicken. I’ll grant you that it didn’t look quite like a chicken, but more like some other kind of bird. My brother said it looked to him like an eagle, but that wasn’t quite right either. The Missoula Osprey have a mascot, and he wears an animal themed costume, but I can’t figure out what sort of bird the osprey was meant to represent.

Call me new-fashioned if you like, but if it isn’t in my food chain, I can’t be expected to know what it is.

fun at minor league baseball game
ABOVE: Score is something to something, and I think our team is winning, or at least in second place, but all I know is there’s a jumpy-bouncy house somewhere nearby and I’d be crazy not to get over there and give it my hardest, double-footed stomping… Peanuts might be nice too.

If you’re traveling through Missoula and your dates fall along the minor league schedule, try to take in a ballgame. The parking is great, the fans are better than you might even believe, and the concessions are priced on a scale in keeping with “people who want to eat food” rather than “rich people who hate their money and think they should buy something,”

And if I can add one more thing, they’ve got an awful lot of second-duty police on-hand for security, as all places do in the almost indiscernible wake of 9/11, but these police folk are actually kind, reasonable and accommodating. I guess when they saw my stuffed dog they didn’t think I was smuggling in explosives, and with history as my witness, their common sense approach was correct!

Missoula Osprey Baseball game
ABOVE: No idea what’s going on here, but pretty sure it happened either at the baseball game, or sometime somewhere surrounding it somehow. The sport is secondary to the experience after all.