Elk Lake Resort Brings The Past Into The Modern Era

Return to Part 7 or go back to the Beginning.
As in the Hank and Erlene's time, the road to Hidden Lake ran through the middle of the Resort. Their was an old gate and archway at the entry, and Mr. Bybee made the sign which hung above the gate. He also shot the Elk which provided the antlers for the archway. When, during the Miller's sojourn, the road was re-routed and a new entry created, the sign and antlers were moved to their current location.

Early Elk Lake Moose HuntOf course other changes have occurred over the years as well. In Mr. Bybee's time there used to be a door from the bar into the dining room - which was quite a bit smaller in his day. A huge set of Elk antlers hung in the bar, taken from an Elk Mr. Selby had shot years earlier. An old 45 jute box sat under the antlers.

Some things don't change, however, and so there were 'characters' back in his day as today. He recalled a couple of old-timers who used to come up every summer and hunt for the lost mine - when they weren't too drunk. He said legend had it that a man found a vein of gold in the area. Taking a sample of ore, he went to have it assayed. Finding it to be of a very high quality, he hurried back with big plans. But, low and behold, his fortune was about to change, for he soon realized he couldn't remember exactly where that vein of gold was. Search as he might, he never did find that mine again. However, the old-timers spent many a day looking in hopes their luck might be better than his. Alas, it wasn't.

Another visitor who not only bought 'character' but also beauty to the place was an old man known as Dan the Whittler. Story has it Dan would whittle to pay for his drinks. At the time Mr. Bybee sold the Resort there were several beautiful pieces Dan had created on display. The one Mr. Bybee remembers most distinctly was a stage coach done up in great detail with a full team of horses pulling it. Alas, it has gone into some later owner's private collection.

Lest you think Mr. Bybee led a quiet, possibly even boring, life at Elk Lake, I know he would beg to differ. In fact, he told me of one of the least boring nights he spent at Elk Lake. He said he woke to the sound of a freight train roaring up the canyon. By the time he woke enough to realize it couldn't possibly be a train, an earthquake hit. He said it shook him so good he thought the lodge might come down around his head. When he took stock the following morning, he found, except for a few broken bottles and plates, the lodge was in good shape. However, upon surveying the outbuildings and cabins he found the boat house had been rocked off its foundation, and the bathrooms on two of the cabins had separated from the cabins themselves.

All good things seem to come to an end, and so, in 1985 Mr. Bybee sold the Resort to Bill and Georgia Miller. Here, it seems, is where the focus of Elk Lake Resort really began to change. I've heard the Millers, particularly Mrs. Miller, were go-getters. Owners of a hot air balloon business in Arizona, they apparently had big plans for what Elk Lake could become.

As a result, the Millers went all out to improve the business aspects of the Resort. They brought in a phone system (via a transmitter on the hillside). They put in a well. They updated the generator setup a bit. They built an addition to the dining room and added the front porch. And, Mrs. Miller who is reputed to have been a friend of Julia Childs, completely renovated and rejuvenated the restaurant. Maximizing her ability, she proceeded to cook some incredibly good - and gourmet - food. During their sojourn, the restaurant was transformed from a standard meat and potatoes "family-style" kitchen to its current status as a country gourmet dining facility.

I have heard the restaurant did a hopping business, with as many as 45 - 50 guests being served on a normal night. Groups came from as far away as Bozeman and Billings to formal, black-tie affairs. And, of course, the year end celebration in the fall was the final touch. Everyone for miles around was invited to come. The Millers roasted a whole pig over a pit of hot coals. All the trimmings and fixings were included. To accompany the food, every open bottle in the bar was set out for the drinking pleasure of the guests. Needless to say, this party was remembered for days, weeks, and even months.

In addition to the changes in the restaurant and dining room, the Millers added a lot of character to the lodge. They are the ones responsible for the lovely rock fire place which graces the living room. They are also the ones who put down the oak floors. Apparently they also did a lot of the internal decor - adding character and personality to the interior of the lodge.

They are also responsible for the archway which graces the entryway into the resort as well as much of the fence around the perimeter. Howard Begin, a retired employee of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, told me of the challenges they faced in standing up the archway. Of course, way out here one doesn't have easy access to heavy equipment. So, after assembling the archway, the big question was: "How do we get it upright without killing someone or breaking something?" Always an industrious man, Howard figured a way to safely use an A-frame and the fruit of their labors still stands today.

There were several employees at the Resort in those days. I know of at least 5 people (including Mr. and Mrs. Miller) who worked part or full time. I believe it was during the Miller's sojourn that J.T. Johnson and his girlfriend, Janice Worble, were hired. These two employees were to stay with the resort until 1997 or 1998 - working for three different employers. Continue to the Conclusion.