Day Trips: Antler's Restaurant, Libby, MT

Antler's Restaurant
442 US Highway 2 W.
Libby, MT
406-293-6464

When the Spring rain finally lets up and the Summer sunshine takes control of the sky, there’s nothing better than getting out on a day trip and exploring the natural beauty of our area. One recent Sunday, with the iPod loaded with fresh music and plugged into the car stereo, Q and I headed up US 95, with no particular destination in mind.

We cruised through downtown Sandpoint and it was already a-bustle with eager tourists looking for an overpriced bottle of wine or a crystal healing experience. As we continued north, we noticed that we had pretty much crossed an invisible borderline: land as yet untouched by big developers. I'd only ever been to Bonners Ferry once, to the casino, at night. I'd never really had a chance to check out the town. On Sundays, they pretty much roll up the sidewalks and shut 'er down. The downtown area is time warp where seemingly nothing has changed since the Johnson era, and frankly, it could use a facelift. Literally the only people we saw down there were some totally un supervised orange-vesters from Boundary County Jail doing some light flower gardening in front of the police station. Spooky. We stopped at the only open gas station to fill up and got questioning looks that said "yer not from here, are ye?" as if we were some kind of wild riff-raff from the big city.

We decided to head east on US Highway 2 into Montana where we discovered a little campground that sits right on the gorgeous Yaak River. There were already a few spots occupied with hardcore campers. We pulled into a spot and parked for a while to enjoy the lush greenness of mother nature. The rush and babble of the river was so hypnotic we had to wander down to the shore. I put my toes in and the water was surprisingly warm for this time of year. I picked out a few pockets full of interesting rocks to go in the aquarium. We made a vow to come back and actually camp at this magnificent secret spot (which is probably not secret at all and is overflowing with obnoxious campers all summer long.)

We blinked as we passed through Troy and missed it, but right outside of town we came across a little parking area at the side of the highway with signs that said "Suspension Bridge" so we decided to check it out. A little cement pathway led down to an enormous enclosed footbridge over the railroad tracks and down five flights of dizzy-making stairs. These stairs were constructed of steel that had been cut full of holes, the edges turned up and spiky to prevent slipping, rendering the steps nearly transparent and giving the illusion that you're walking on air five flights up. It was an uneasy feeling to say the least. They were bad enough going down, but I knew that they were going to kill me on the way back up.

Years of desk jobs and lack of time to exercise have rendered me tragically out of shape. I do enjoy walking and hiking, but I tire easily and my lower back gets unbearably sore after a while. Anyway, we followed a rocky little path that just kept going and going, with no suspension bridge in sight. I started to huff and puff and sweat and thank god there were nice rocks to roost on every few hundred feet. I felt even worse when little old ladies began passing me on the trail, "Get outta my way!" By the time we made it to the actual bridge we must have covered at least a mile and a half of winding mountain path.

The suspension bridge was worth the trek, but even cooler was the Kootenai River and Falls: I sat catching my breath overlooking one of the most gorgeous tableaus I think I've ever witnessed. I sat rapt and Q continued on the path, but I needed to relax a while so I stayed and waited. I laid back in the sun on a nice flat rock and was intoxicated by the heady sounds of raw nature until some lame teenagers came along and shattered the peace by loudly trying to push each other of the bridge. We slowly made the trek back to the parking lot, one bit at a time, and when we made it back to the bench at the top, I was out of breath and dying but actually felt good that I'd gotten in some much-needed physical activity. Now that I know it won't kill me, maybe I'll do it again.

Back on the road, our sudden thirst and cottonmouth became a primary issue, so we decided to cruise over to Libby for a bite. A big '70s sign that said "Antlers Restaurant" caught our attention. The giant menu was huge and colorful, varied and vivid, like Denny's. Is "Antlers" a chain or do they just have a really well-designed menu? We begged the waitress for a pitcher of water, and it was the best water we'd ever tasted in our entire lives. I was so parched, I couldn't get enough. I ordered a burger with swiss cheese and tomato on sourdough bread, and it was absolutely one of the most perfect creations I'd ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Seriously, I'd drive all the way to Libby again just for one of these. The fries were crisp and plentiful, hell, even the dill pickle spear was exceedingly green and crisp. Q agreed his Bacon Burger was worth getting moisty-eyed about. Maybe Montana cows just taste better, I don't know.

We had asked our waitress if she knew a cool route back to Idaho and she recommended heading down Route 56, then back over through Hope to Sandpoint. Dubbed the "Highway to Heaven", Route 56 cuts right through the gorgeous peaks of the Cabinet Mountains and the entire stretch is untouched by homes and buildings, just ancient forests. Deer meandered in every clearing, we had to slow down a few times to avoid them in the road. Further on, the view of Lake Pend O'reille from the Hope area was breathtaking. Low purple clouds hung over the deep blue waters, making it nearly disorienting to drive due to the distraction of the natural beauty. I'd never been through here and always wondered what the hype about Hope was all about, now I understand.

We decided to make it a point this summer to get out and explore or own backyard a bit more. As long as I've lived in Coeur d'Alene, I'm ashamed and amazed that there are so many places right in the area that I have never really spent the time investigating. Look out, Loon Lake, Genesse, and Polson, here we come!

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