Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 30, 2016 We Visit Glacier National Park for the Day, Stop By the Hungry Horse Dam

July 30, 2016 We Visit Glacier National Park for the Day, Stop By the Hungry Horse Dam.

Today was a great day, today we drove up to Waterton - Glacier National Park. The park is Glacier in the US and Waterton on the Canadian side of the border. It is one of the few parks if maybe the only one that spans a border.

Glacier is on of the jewels of the National Park System. It is an amazing and beautiful place and should be on everyone's bucket list to see. With a million acres of unspoiled mountains, rivers, glaciers, forest and prairie it is a stunning place. The major feature that you experience first is the famous 50 mile drive across the park called Going to the Sun Road. It goes from west to east depending on where you enter. It is a stunning road that takes you up into the park and back out. It doesn't matter which side you enter on, it is beautiful either way. Traffic doesn't move fast and it twists and turns constantly but it is worth every mile.

We entered on the western side, by the Apgar Visitor Center, stopped for a hike at the Cedar Nature Trail and then stopped all along the road. Logan Pass was full so we couldn't stop there so we went on to the eastern exit. Along the way we saw a bear in the Rising Sun area and just enjoyed a spectacular day. Weather helped a lot, it didn't get into the 90s until late in the afternoon and we were on our way home. It was fun having our daughter Heather along with us, she enjoyed it a lot also.

This is one of those places you have to get to if you are a fan at all of the National Parks. Put is on your bucket list.

Standing at the East entrance to Glacier National Park

Jones family at Glacier National Park

Walking along the Cedar Nature Trail. Great little trail, easy to walk.

Bruce and Louise with some of the dramatic mountain skyline

Driving can be a challenge. The roads are twisty and not alot of room.

The views are majestic and beautiful
On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the Hungry Horse Dam which is a 564 foot hydroelectric dam on the south fork of the Flathead River, built in the 1950s. It is just down the road and about 4 miles in from Glacier. It is pretty amazing how we build these giant things.

Hungry Horse Dam, 10 minutes from Glacier on Route 2

Friday, July 29, 2016

July 27, 28, 29, 2016 Hanging Around Bigfork, Visiting Flathead Lake and Painting Watercolors

July 27, 28, 29, 2016 Hanging Around Bigfork, MT, Visiting Flathead Lake and the State Parks and Painting Watercolors

We are getting ready for Glacier National Park tomorrow but for the past two days we have been hanging around Bigfork, MT on the edge of Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Hard to believe. It is about 20 miles long and is one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen. Surrounded by mountains, cherry orchards on the eastern side and little resort towns all around. Driving Route 35 down the eastern side gets you to the waters edge. Montana also has several beautiful state parks on both sides. We visited Wayfarers, Finley Point and West Shore State Parks. What is nice about these parks is that they are small, few people and have fantastic views of the lake. Bigfork is a small resort town located on the top of the lake. There are some excellent restaurants in Bigfork such as When In Rome, and Pocketstone Cafe for breakfast. 

What was nice is that we were able to hang around. We have found that is has been nice to stop for a couple of days in between all the traveling. We were also able to spend some time by the water and doing some watercolors.

On Friday, July 29, our daughter Heather flew into Kalispell airport and will join us on our trip up to Glacier. Today we took her on a trip around the lake to see it and get a feel for Montana. This is our second trip to Montana and her first. We also changed hotels from Bigfork to Kalispell. Kalispell is the bigger town in this area.

View from the road around Flathead Lake, Montana

Finley State Park. A beautiful lake front setting

My watercolor of the the same view at Finley State Park

Stones along the waterfront, Wayfarers State Park.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July 27, 2016, Driving from Shelby, MT to Browning, Around Glacier NP to Bigfork, MT, Big Penguin

July 27, 2016, Driving from Shelby, MT Along Route 2 to Browning, Around Glacier NP to Bigfork, MT

Today was a driving day from Shelby, MT, which is basically a one street town and a lot of rail road tracks to Bigfork which is below Glacier National Park. The rail road is big in northern Montana. The rails run through all of the towns along Route 2 and we have followed them all across the state.

One of the places we went through was the Marias Pass, elevation 5,213, near Glacier and the Continental Divide. The picture below shows the memorial for John Frank Stevens who was the principal engineer for the Great Northern Railway and charted this route in December of 1889. Also located here is the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Obelisk for William H. "Slippery Bill" Morrison who's land this all was. Just one of those monuments you see while traveling.

The Roosevelt and John Frank Stevens Memorials
Today we finished up with the prairie and wheat and moved into the mountains. We are just below Glacier National Park which we will visit in the next several days. We will stay two days here in Bigfork and then meet our daughter, who is flying in, and move to Kalispell for several more days. The weather has cooled a little and we are out of farm country.

The giant penguin in Cut Bank, MT. These are so cool.

Mountains along the bottom of Glacier National Park
Our Subaru Forrester is doing great

July 26, 2016, Big Sky Country is Really True in Montana, Wheat and Wheat and Wheat

We have all heard about the "Big Sky Country" in Montana. I didn't really understand it until came here and drove across the state. The state is huge, we have spent a number of days driving across and around it. Often on little back roads through miles of fields to reach some obscure Lewis & Clark site. In Ohio, Iowa, South Dakota it was all about corn and soybeans, miles and miles of it. And it was big.

But in Western Montana it is just bigger, and it is all about wheat. The wheat fields are massive especially along I-15 from Three Forks to Great Falls and up to Shelby. The sky's are also massive. I guess this is the wheat growing area, it is everywhere. I am not sure I can even really capture how much there is and how big it is in a picture. The fields just go on forever. As we worked our way north along I-15 they were also starting to harvest the wheat. What was really cool is that they were out there in the oncoming storm. It was kind of wild. It has been one of the most interesting things on this trip that I have seen. It is so simple, just wheat field but they are so big, and so many different colors. It has been great to see. We are a big nation and there are a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of the wheat comes from right here.

We are driving along I-15 going north along wheat fields

Three pictures to give you a sense of the size.
Wheat is out there but the general landscape is also huge.

Along I-15, we are trying to skirt an on coming storm, it is coming up on our left.
The wind was amazing going left to right

Some really big farm equipment, it is like three times higher than our car.
We will get caught in that rain that you can see on the
right side in a couple of minutes.

July 26, 2016, Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, Greate Falls of the Missouri, Ryan Dam, and Fort Benton

July 26, 2016, Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, Great Falls of the Missouri, Ryan Dam and Ryan Island, and Fort Benton, Traveled up to Shelby, MT.

We has some excellent touring today in the Great Falls area of Montana. Two very much worth visiting locations. The first is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center run by the US Forest Service. This is one of the better interpretive centers that we have visited. Excellent exhibits and demonstrations. The center is located in the Great Falls area and is the region of the Missouri River that has 5 falls. This area caused the Corps of Discovery to portage their canoes 13 miles and two week around the falls. When you see what they had to climb up with these huge wooden canoes it is amazing they just didn't turn around and go home. But these weren't go home kind of guys. The made wheels and carts and hauled and pulled their canoes up the walls of the Missouri River.

Lewis & Clark National Historical Trail Center.

We learned three different ways to make fire. Very cool.

Lewis & Clark's men were part of the army, they wore official jackets like this.
The Missouri River from the bluffs by the center

I got to see an excellent demonstration of how to make fire and how Lewis & Clark navigated and figured how their distances. This location is also the site of the Great Spring which we didn't see because it was so hot. But a great way to start the day.

Next on our trip was to drive a little ways up Route 87 to the Great Falls. This is one of the falls that Lewis & Clark had to go around. It is now the home of the Ryan Dam and Power Station but before there was a dam it must have been spectacular. The falls themselves are 96 feet high and very wide. It is pretty cool, but what is really nice is just below the dam is an island called Ryan Island. You take a swaying suspension foot bridge over to the island. This is a little jewel. It is just beautiful, trees, nicely set up with the soaring walls of the canyon all around. We just loved it there. It would be a great place for a picnic.

To get to Ryan Island Park Picnic Area and the Ryan Dam you take Ryan Dam Road off of Route 87 and drive for nine miles through some amazing wheat fields on this small little road. This entire area of Montana is just filled with these huge wheat fields. They are amazing. Almost hard to comprehend how big they are. We have drive through miles of corn and soybean but the wheat fields are even bigger. We are not talking in square acres but in square miles. It is hard to image how much work it must take to deal with all of these. But every grocery store in America has a bread section and it has to come from somewhere. Western Montana is one of those places.

Walking across the suspension bridge to the island. It starts moving right away

Ryan Island Dam on the Great Falls, Missouri
Louise walking through the island park. A beautiful little park in the middle of the river

This is the point of the Missouri River that caused Lewis and Clark to portage the canoes 13 miles around the falls. The river bank walls are maybe 100 or more feet high, it is amazing how they did this. The interpretive center has a life size model of what they had to do.

Reenactment of how they hauled their canoes up the river bank. It is hard to believe
After the Great Falls and Ryan Dam we drove north to Fort Benton, Montana. Between 1860 and 1887 Fort Benton was the center of freight shipments for the Western United States and Canada. 600 steamships came up to this river port over those years and transferred their goods to oxen and horse. Today it is a small town with a bunch of museums but no really foot traffic. It takes a bit to get there, again miles of wheat fields and frankly I don't think it is worth it. Unless maybe a festival or something is going on there. It is interesting but we have already seen much of the history. There is though a really cool overlook just before you come to Fort Benton. You see a huge bend in the Missouri River that is really cool.

Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea, Fort Benton, MT

Driving north and west we started looking for a hotel for the night. While doing so we ran around the edge of a huge storm. The sky here is amazing and you really feel the "big sky country" saying. It is very flat and you can see for a zillion miles. Storm clouds are huge and powerful. For the night we are in Shelby, kind of a rail road town that is a jumping off point for Glacier National Park. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 25, 2016, Gates of the Mountain, Upper Holter Lake, Outside Helena, Driving Route I-15 North, Great Falls

July 25, 2016, Gates of the Mountain, Helena, Montana.

Today we traveled from Helena up to one of the highlights of this area and the Lewis & Clark trail and that is a tour through the Gates of the Mountain boat trip on Upper Holter Lake. This is a 6.5 mile tour that takes two hours. We had a great tour, the guide did a great job pointing out the history, geology, plants and wildlife along with answering questions. Lewis was very moved by the amazing cliff that were in this area and call a formation at the beginning of the canyon the "gates of the rocky mountains."

After the tour we drove up to Great Falls, MT

The tour boat for the Gate of the Mountain tour

Louise looking up the Canyon

The gate of the Rocky Mountain

One of the interesting sites located in this canyon is the Mann Gulch. Mann Gulch is famous for being the site of the worst smokejumper disaster in American history. On August 5, 1949 13 firefighters including 12 smokejumpers were overcome fighting a fire that they had jumped into at this location. This disaster became the the site that taught many of the lessons that the US Forest Service uses to this day to teach fire fighting techniques. Our guide did a great job explaining and talking about the fire. If you want to read more about the Mann Gulch fire click here

Mann Gulch, scene of the 1949 fire.
We say Bald Eagles, Mule Deer, Mountain Goats, Osprey nests. It was a great trip. Driving north we went through some beautiful canyons. One of the things that is odd about the Missouri River is that in this area of Montana it runs north instead of how most rivers go which is south.

The story of the Mann Gulch put to music by James Keelaghan, Cold Missouri Waters

Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24, 2016, Reed Point, Sacajawea Park in Livingston, MT and the Missouri Headwaters State Park, Three Forks, Montana

July 24, 2016, Reed Point for some painting, Sacajawea Park in Livingston along the Yellowstone River, MT and then Missouri Headwaters State Park, in Three Forks, Montana. Helena for the night.

Temperature today was much nicer, we started out below 70 degrees, by the end of the day back up to the 90s but beautiful in the morning. We only had one stop on the agenda today so we traveled rather casually. Leaving Columbus we drove along I-90 and along the Yellowstone River. The Yellowstone is one of the premier rivers for fly fishing and all along it there are signs of where you can stop and go fishing. Being early and the weather beautiful we just got of the highway at Reed Point and headed down to the river. We ended up driving through a little town that looked like it came out of the 1860s. All these very old western buildings. Across the river we found a fishing and boat launch site and decided to hangout and enjoy the morning and do a watercolor. It was a beautiful spot.

Yellowstone River in Reed Point, we stopped here and spent some time
enjoying the river
Driving on we stopped in Livingston, MT for a coffee and discovered another beautiful town along the Yellowstone. At the edge of town is the Sacajawea Park where we went for a walk along the river. All and all a very nice and very picturesque morning.

Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana, beautiful spot along the river

Yellowstone River with mountains in the background, Livingston, MT

Bruce standing with a sculpture of Sacajawea and child

After lunch in Bozeman we headed up to Three Forks and the Missouri Headwaters State Park. This is where the Missouri River starts, and it is where William Clark arrived on July 25, 1805 with Lewis coming two days later. Kind of cool to be there around the same day. It might have been just as hot, around 90 degrees. The first thing you see are the ruins of the town of Gallatin City which attempted to get established here in the 1860. Moving down the road a little we come to the headwaters of the Missouri. The area joins three rivers, the Jefferson, the Madison which join and form the Missouri and then just down a little a third river, the Gallatin comes in and the Missouri River is off and running. The Missouri River is 2,341 miles long, winds through seven states and is the longest river in the US.

Entrance to the Missouri Headwaters State Park

What is really cool is that I was able to stand in the river at the point of the headwaters. Right there. Finding this spot was one of the three main objectives give to the Lewis & Clark expedition by President Jefferson. We moved up river a little to also see the Gallatin River. Heading out we drove up to Helena and through some massive wheat fields. They are huge along Route 287.

Bruce standing in the water at the headwaters of the Missouri River

Standing on the observation point looking at the Gallatin River, Montana

The country side around the headwaters wasn't what I expected. I thought from my readings that it would be more like mountains and lots of trees and little stream. But is isn't, it is flat, hot, empty land with mountains off in the distance. The Missouri moves north up into Montana and then over before heading south to the Mississippi. As you drive north along Route 287 you go back and forth over it as it goes back and forth. There are no trees at all, just giant empty space and then massive wheat fields. I guess that is why we come to look and learn. It was a cool day.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

July 23, 2016, Wyoming to Montana, Fort Phil Kearny Historic Site and the Little Bighorn Battlefield

July 23, 2016, Wyoming to Montana, Fort Phil Kearny Historic Site and the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana. Today was much nicer temperature wise, it started out at 77 degrees and didn't get into the 90s until we got into late afternoon. We has clear blue sky's and traveled across the norther part of Wyoming. Nothing much here, just grass and rolling hills and an occasional tree.

This area of the west is where a lot of the wars between the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians and the US Army took place. Today we visit Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site in Wyoming at exit 44 along I-90, and along the Bozeman Trail. Fort Phil Kearny, 1866-1868, was set up to provide protection for travelers on the trail and to prevent intertribal warfare between native Americans in the area. Almost immediately they were defending themselves from constant Indian attack. On December 21, 1866 a force of 81 men under the command of Captain William Fetterman were lured out of the fort, attacked and killed. Only the battle of the Little Big Horn was worse.  This was also the site of the Wagon Box Fight.

The partially reconstructed fort is located in a beautiful spot and it is an interesting exhibit. I had never heard of these battles so it was very interested to learn about them. They also have a pretty good center. The location is in the middle of nowhere and from reading the material they give you life sounded pretty miserable. Something I didn't know is that 40% of the makeup of the soldiers that were here and with Custer were immigrants from Europe. To think these guys came all the way from Europe in the 1860s and ended up here in the middle of Wyoming is kind of amazing.

Fort Phil Kearny in Banner Wyoming
Bruce standing in the gate for the fort. This is a stockade type fort.
The parade ground inside the fort. The fort was burned to the ground in 1868

After leaving the fort we continued up I-90 a few miles to Montana and the Little Bighorn Battlefield. This is where Lt Col. George Armstrong Custer had one of the most famous battles in US history with his Last Stand in June of 1876.  The site is a National Monument and includes the battle sites, the graveyard and also a graveyard for many of other soldiers who died in other western battles. They have all been moved here.

The site has the Little Bighorn battle field plus the Reno-Benteen Battlefield. There were actually 3 Army companies involved in this battle but is was Custer's that got wiped out. This is a somber place on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Also included here is a very nice Indian Memorial. If you are into any of this history then this site. There is a large monument and then below it grave markers for where the soldiers fell. These markers are scattered over the battle site. They also include some Indian grave markers also. There is also a pretty good interpretative center.

Below the monument are grave markers for the fallen soldiers.
The memorial to the fallen soldiers
Standing inside the Indian memorial looking out.

Leaving here we drove further up I-90 to Columbus, MT for the night. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

July 22, 2016, SD Air & Space Museum, Into the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial

July 22, 2016, back on the road today, a smidge cooler, in the 90s, so a little better. We left Wall, SD and headed west.

First stop is the South Dakota Air & Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base and Box Elder. The museum is free and is excellent if you like Air Forces fighters and bombers. The museum is in a rebuilding mode and the exhibits look pretty good. Out side are all kinds of fighters and bombers from F-86 Saber up to a B52 bomber and a B-1B bomber. The B-1 is huge. They are all very close to each other and easy to walk up to. They also have a building with exhibits on the history of some of these planes and how they are used. The also have a missile launch capsule for the Minute Man missiles that were housed here at Ellsworth in the Cold War. If you are an aviation buff this is a must stop. Also excellent coffer at Gizzi's right next door

Aircraft all spread out for viewing

Layout of the planes
Minute Man Missile
Bruce standing in front of a A-26 Invader
Next is Mount Rushmore in the lower corner of South Dakota below Rapid City and in the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore is iconic and pretty amazing. Lots and lots of people. Started in 1923 and finished in 1941 though not really completed the monument is pretty impressive. It is worth going to just to see the 60 foot heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. What was interesting is that Jefferson was suppose to be where Washington is now but because of cracks they had to move him. The workshops and museum are also pretty interesting. It is very interesting how they took a small 1/12 size model and transferred it up on the mountain.

Mount Rushmore from the viewing area
The original model for the monument, they used this to make measurements
Bruce and Louise at the Avenue of Flags leading up to Rushmore
A short way down the road on Route 385 between Hill City and Custer South Dakota is the Crazy Horse Memorial sculpture. Started in 1948 by the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and then now continued by his family the monument is about half way along. The memorial also has a huge learning and exhibit center. If you are interested in American Indian artifacts and cultural this is a place to come. It is amazing that this all started with one guy and a jack hammer and some dynamite. They also have an excellent and very large restaurant for lunch. Both Louise and myself were hot, tired and hungry and we both had excellent lunches. 

The model in the front and the mountain behind, it is actually way bigger than Mt. Rushmore

After our touring we headed off to Wyoming and a hotel for the night. We ended up in Gillette, WY. Known as the energy capital of the Nation. They have a huge open pit coal mine on the outskirts of the town. We had dinner at Humphrey's, it was excellent.