Notes From the Road: Pine Creek Cafe

Sometimes the only way to ward off the chill of a fall Saturday is by adventuring in parts unfamiliar. So with my dog in tow, I set out toward Paradise Valley in a down jacket and went to Pine Creek.

The trail leading up to Pine Creek Lake is popular year-round for Livingston area residents, hikers and fishermen in the more pleasant seasons and backcountry snowriding enthusiasts in the winter. There’s no good reason to not explore the area, and I chided myself with those thoughts while the radio relayed the play-by-play action of Montana State University’s home football opener. It was late afternoon and the Bobcats had the game firmly in hand when I reached the trailhead. A couple fly fishermen were breaking down their gear. The lake was fishing well, they said. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks stocks the lake with Yellowstone cutthroat trout every three years. Fish of good size can be had for those willing to make the five-mile trek to the lake. “It’d fish best with a lightweight float to access the lunkers in the depths,” one of the men said, with a wistful grin of someone who knew what that entailed.

The dog and I meandered up the trail, stopping to play in the creek and scrambling around rock fields that bordered the trail. We had made it as far as Pine Creek Falls when time compelled us to turn around. Pine Creek Café was holding its final barbecue and outdoor concert of the season. I wanted to get there in time to watch the sun set and take in the music before my weak summer cold tolerance pushed us back to the car.

The Bobcats had let their foes back in the game in the time it took to cover the couple mile hike. As I drove, I eased up on the gas pedal on the dirt road winding away from the trailhead to listen as the team fended off the comeback.

We got to the café as the Scooter rown Band finished its sound check. A few tourists, bundled against the cold, mingled around the picnic tables with less heavily clad locals, most eating pulled pork and listening to the band’s Irish guitar player explain in his inflected English that, really, only one of the Texas country band’s members was actually from Texas.

The sun turned the valley’s eastern slopes red and then its western skies orange and pink, hues elevating the feelings of camaraderie among strangers brought about by the autumn hike and windy barbecue and guitar-based country Americana band.

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