Monday, August 24, 2015

Great Falls, Montana

August 19 - 22, 2015:

One of our longer trips so far this year, 150 miles from East Glacier to Great Falls, Montana.  We took route 2 east to the town of Browning which is on the Blackfeet Indian reservation.  I stopped for fuel where everyone looked native indian, I felt a bit out of my element. We then went east on route 44 across vast rolling prairie land with nothing but cattle and horses where I again felt out of my element.  I was imagining the days when there would be huge herds of Buffalo running wild.  We then rode out of the reservation area and into a large wheat farming region with picturesque small towns with farm equipment and grain elevators.  Next it was I-15 south to Great Falls, Montana and our destination, Dick’s RV Park.

We are going to have an electric hookup tonight and a shower, something special to look forward to.  There are only a few RV Parks in Great Falls and Dick’s is the largest and is close to downtown.
I”m sitting here at Dick’s RV Park Park watching these monster sized RV rigs pull in with amazement, the situation is getting way out of control.  I see this guy with a big Volvo tractor with a custom  (most likely home built / engineered) bed that extends about 10-15 feet behind the rear axles of his tractor and the rear appears to be sagging low.  It sure looks unsafe to me !  We also keep seeing these seniors driving huge motor homes and fifth wheels with big trailers behind them, overall length about 60 feet minimum, no special drivers license needed, no testing, no standards, no inspection.  I don’t understand how the states are letting this situation continue ?  These guys fly with these rigs too, they pass me all the time, I try to stay away from them.  Just bitching, now I feel better.

The Greyhawk has been amazingly trouble free, but we had an issues last week while dry camping as I noticed that when running the generator the house batteries were not getting charged.  In order to charge them I had the run the RV chassis engine.  I was thinking the worst that the Converter was failing, but when checking it out this week, I found two back flow fuses on the Converter blown.  I replaced them and all seems well now.  I think I blew the fuses when I ran the generator with an external solar panel connected to the batteries ?  

I did the historical walking tour stuff starting with breakfast at the “Top Notch Lunch”.  The outside neon sign is super cool, the owner was super friendly, the place has much local character along with much Evil Knievel memorabilia. My omelet was huge but a little too greasy for my liking, not necessarily a bad thing.

Loved the sign, had to eat there

Great Falls was founded in 1883 by businessman Paris Gibson who saw the possibilities for a major industrial city near the falls powered with hydroelectric power. Great Falls was named for the series of five water falls on the Missouri River, but now uses the nickname of  “The Electric City” since the three dams were constructed on the river.  The Anaconda Copper smelter and processing plant and the Milwaukee Road and the Great Western railroads were the major industries in the early years.  Great Falls is now the third largest city in Montana, it was first in 1950 (it's slipping), has a air force base, the Montana State University and the most casinos and gentlemen clubs that I have seen in a long time.  It’s not exactly the Montana big sky image that’s promoted in the tourism books ?  
  There are several old victorian era buildings remaining and a few good signs in the downtown area.  The best building, the Pantages Theater, built in 1914, suffered a fire in 2009, the roof is gone, the windows are boarded up, it’s pretty far gone, will take lots of money to save it and there's no evidence that this is in the works.  The old Milwaukee Road train depot is the most impressive structure in town and has been converted into an office building.  The Great Northern train depot a couple of blocks away is also huge but not as spectacular as the Milwaukee Road.  It has also been saved and converted to a bank office building.  The Missouri river front area has a wonderful river walking trail that goes for 40 some miles.  

The Milwaukee Depot

The sign is original and made of ceramic tiles, it is illuminated at night

The Great Northern Depot

Exceptional Owl Cigar sign

The Civic Center

This is on a street corner for people to leave their thoughts on the subject,
I like the "Be Different" one in particular

The Pantages Theater, once the most elegant Theater around

A great entrance

This was most interesting and I believe the dumpster adds to it

The Court House

Nice trout mural on bridge

I visited the Cigar Club in the evening for some live music as they had a duo, Common Ground, performing.  They were quite good and playing a good mix of tunes, from Jefferson Airplanes “Somebody to Love” to Counting Crows “Mr. Jones and me” to Kris Kristofferson's  “Me and Bobby McGee”.  The bar is celebrating 100 years old this year and became a Cigar Club and most likely a bootleg liquor establishment during the prohibition era.  It has one of the best original bar backs I’ve seen anywhere and the interior is mostly original appearing also, I was pleasantly surprised.

That about 1/3 of the bar, really a classic

The various western forest fires hundreds of miles away seem to be blowing this way and we are enveloped here in a blueish haze along with the faint odor of burning wood. The visibility and air quality is really bad, hoping the forecasted cold front and rain changes things tonight ?  

On Friday Twinkles and I did two of the excellent local museums and by the end our brains were smoking.  The first was the world class Lewis and Clark Trail National Interpretive Center.  It is located right on the Lewis and Clark trail on the Missouri River.  The exhibits trace the entire journey of Lewis and Clark who actually came through Great Falls where they had to portage around the Falls for about 14 miles which took them a full month.  They have a group of incredible museum volunteers who wander around and explain exhibits along with a theater with some sort of interesting story, movie or slide show about every 1/2 hour.

The Mandan Indians lived in these earth lodges, farmed and hunted.
Lewis and Clark wintered with them in 1805 and learned much.

There are days when I feel this way ?

The Lewis and Clark expedition was aided by native indians all the way
along it's journey.  They most likely wouldn't have survived without the
help of the indians. 

View from the museum window

Afterwards we went to the C.M. Russell Museum featuring the western art of C.M. Russell and several of his contemporaries.  C.M Russell 1864-1926 born in St. Louis, moved west to Montana, became a cowboy, and then an artist who became one of the most renown western artists and characters of his day.  The Museum is located in Great Falls on the site of his home and log cabin studio which are also open and equally great.  The cabin studio is ultra cool, made from Red Cedar telephone poles and also houses some personal indian artifacts that he collected.  We arrived late in the day and they told us we could get in for free the next day.  We returned and ended up staying about four hours more, one of the best museums ever, no photos allowed !

Statue of C.M. Russell in downtown Great Falls

The Sip & Dip Lounge is considered a major tourist attraction where you can sip your cocktail while you watch Mermaids swimming in a pool through the glass wall of the lounge.  It’s pretty tacky really, but one of those must see kind of things.  I didn’t go ?

On our final day here, a cold front came through overnight, the air is now fresh, the sun is out and the smoke is gone.  We went to the downtown farmers market which was another great one and finally good sweet corn and tomatoes.  In the afternoon Twinkles needed sewing time and I went back out to see the “Giant Spring”, the Black Eagle Falls and the Rainbow Falls.  The Giant Spring is weird, it is the largest natural water spring in the World.  It is next to the Missouri River and the spring was noted by Lewis and Clark in their diaries, amazing that it still runs.  It puts out an inconcievable quantity of water, 242 cubic feet per second, some of which flows directly into the Missouri River while the rest flows down a short channel called the Roe River that 200 feet long and is designated by the Guinness Book as the shortest river in the world.

The weekly Farmers Market is a good one

The Smallest River runs through it 

The Giant Spring exiting into the Missouri River

Roe River with it's lush green vegetation exiting into the Missouri River

The Black Eagle Falls were a landmark the Indians had told Lewis and Clark about, to go past the Falls where a black Eagle has a nest in a tree on an island in the river.  There is a dam and power plant there now, the tree is long gone but the Island remains.  There a total of five Waterfalls in which the Missouri River drops 612 feet over a 10 mile stretch.  If Lewis and Clark could see the Falls area today, that they so marveled about in their diaries, I don’t think they would be happy with the progress of the past two hundred years.

The story of the Black Eagle

View of the Black Eagle Falls

Close up view

View of the Rainbow Falls

Saturday night I went out to the “Cowboy Bar and Museum”, it’s an interesting log cabin building with a small museum area in display cases set into the  back wall. It’s mostly a bunch of dusty relics with faded name tags donated by local people.  There was a good crowd, but the Karaoke was so awful I couldn’t stay.  I then stopped at this bar/casino place called the Beacon Bar near the campground, it was filled as expected with mostly trailer trash types with more horrible karaoke. It was sobering !!!

The Beacon Bar is not a beacon of virtue !

Next stop is Lewistown, Montana
Twinkles and Slick

1 comment:

  1. Glad you are enjoying your Montana travels! Sorry you missed the Sip and Dip - it is definitely a tacky must-see, especially with 80-year-old Piano Pat still playing and singing pretty much any song you can think of!
    Your "out of place" thoughts along routes 2 and 44 brought to mind Ivan Doig's novels of Montana in earlier times. If you haven't read his work, I highly recommend anything he's written.
    Looking forward to your Lewistown perspective!