How Great is Great Falls, MT?

The short answer is,”Not so great; it used to be greater.” But then there are those who prefer baldness to a full head of hair. Allow me to explain:

To be fair, my perception of Great Falls is not how it originally presented to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark,

while they mapped the mighty Missouri on their epic expedition from Pittsburgh to Fort Clatsop, at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Lewis’s impression of Great Falls was, according to Paul Russell Cutright, in his book Lewis & Clark, Pioneering Naturalists, “the grandest sight he had ever beheld, the water of the Missouri here dropping over a precipice more than 80 feet high. He stood motionless for a long time, completely enchanted by the beauty of the scene.”

Photographed by F. Jay Haynes, Summer, 1880–Montana Historical Society

In fact, as Lewis slowly portaged the Great Falls in June 1805 (his greatest challenge to date), he was amazed to find not just one “great falls,” but a series of five falls of varying sizes that dropped the river level a total of 612 feet over a 10-mile stretch.

Then came the dams. By harnessing the power of five falls with five 20th century hydro-power plants, the industrial age awakened the West, and “The Electric City” became an important crossroad for future settlement, forsaking the beauty long admired by the Blackfeet and other tribes.

Leah and I set out to discover the “falls”, by racing to Ryan Dam before the last light of day.

The gorge was aglow,

while the sinking sun was offering up a shadowless palette of pastels.

I imagined the falls as it once was and what it’s become…

and wrestled with my first impression informed by mountain and machine.

There is no denying that nature has carved out something very special…

but the landscape has been inalterably changed.

Big skies are forever interrupted,

and prairies yield to bounty over beauty.

The following day, we set out by bicycle on the River’s Edge Trail to “find” the other falls.

Nearly 60 miles of paved and single-track trail along the Missouri River provided panoramic views of scenic river valleys;

engaged us with public art created by local artists…

as we rode through neighborhood parks.

The trail carried us to cliffside lookouts of Black Eagle Falls and Dam…

Rainbow Falls and Dam…

and Crooked Falls (still untouched by a dam);

while also connecting us to historic downtown, filled with numerous casino options and burgers to die for…

at the celebrated Roadhouse Diner.

Unfortunately, our search for Colter Falls (the final of five falls) would remain unfulfilled, as the reservoir created by the Rainbow Dam has permanently submerged Colter Falls (making this the perfect metaphor for Great Falls) to the extent that we are left to debate if commerce is a compromise or a sacrifice.

Oregon Potpourri

Leah and I had a lot of ground to cover during our brief visit to the Oregon Coast. With so much to see and do before we moved on, there was little time to waste. We immersed ourselves in seaside activities until we were Ore-goners.

We set up our first camp site at South Beach State Park, and made a beeline to the beach. After 10 weeks and 9,000 miles on the road, we were finally celebrating “sea to shining sea.”

The following morning, we visited Yaquina Head to play in the tidepools;

observe the seabirds,

study the sealions;

and visit Oregon’s tallest lighthouse (93 feet), projecting its light beam 19 miles out to sea since 1873.

And then we were off to Newport’s Historic Bayfront,

where we lunched with our safari buddies Brenda and Michael, who drove from Portland to join us for the afternoon.

On our last full day at South Beach, we played nature tourist. We gawked at Devil’s Punchbowl;

the Seal Rock;

and Cook’s Chasm.

We combed the black sand beaches, searching for sea glass gems;

and we were entertained by surfers braving frigid waters along Beverly Beach to round out our day.

Typically on moving day, it’s clean-up, hitch-up and safety check before moving on to our next destination. Once in a while we’ll break up the drive by stopping for lunch at a roadside dive, but mostly we’ll snack in the pickup. However on this particular day, on our way up the Oregon Coast Highway to Cannon Beach, we were eager to stop at Tillamook Creamery.

And we were not alone. Hundreds were passing through the overhead exhibition windows with us…

before earning a taste of Oregon’s finest ice cream.

Once situated at camp site #2, we were free to roam the shore to explore a different kind of scoop, but still a rocky road…

along Ecola State Park.

Our evening was reserved for clam chowder at Dooger’s in Seaside, and then a walk along their lively beach at dusk.

The area is also filled with history. Leah and I spent the next day time climbing through the gunnery emplacements at Fort Stevens,

intended to protect the mouth of the Columbia River.

We also discovered the Peter Iredale, or what was left of the four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran aground in 1906 en route to the Columbia River.

Nearby, the Lewis and Clark Historical Park offered a replica of Fort Clatsup,

and a glimpse of early 19th century housing for Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lieut. William Clark,

and their guide Sacagawea and son, Baptiste.

Finally, a day of walking through Astoria gave us wonderful examples of coastal living…

and coastal culture,

But a hike up 164 steps to the tower of the hand-painted Astoria Column…

offered us a scenic perspective…

that prepared us…

for our crossing to Washington’s Olympic National Park.

to be continued…

Eating Crow

We missed it by one day. The Battle of Little Bighorn lasted for two days, from June 25 to June 26, 1876, but the reenactment only lasted for one day, June 25, 2017. Unfortunately, we arrived in Hardin, MT on June 26. Our neighbors–a retired couple from Illinois living aboard a 2004 Classic Airstream–witnessed the battle scene reenacted with the cooperation and support of Montana’s seven Nation Tribes and a team of 7th Calvary portrayers. Marty and Lil were overwhelmed by the presentation and all the dust. Of course, we would visit the National Monument, but it would seem anti-climatic compared to warplay.

The sky was dark, and rain was in the forecast. It had been two weeks since this area had seen rain, but for us, it’s been dry for five weeks through seven states, so the threat of rain was a welcome way to tame the dust.

The drive to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument through Crow Reservation was brief, but insightful. Scores of train cars topped with coal sat idly on the easterly tracks parallel to the the road, while the west side of the road revealed worn trailers and abandoned buildings littered with rusted car chassis. The metaphor was so apropos.

The Crow Nation sits atop one of the largest coal reserves in the country–an estimated 9 billion tons. Yet, according to a report written by PERC  (Property and Environment Research Center),

The tribe’s 13,000 members have little to show for their massive energy reserves. Although half of the tribe’s revenue comes from coal, most of it remains underground. Where development does occur, the process is slow and cumbersome. Unemployment approaches 50 percent on the reservation, and tribal members suffer from high rates of homelessness, crime, and inadequate housing.

Nevertheless, a modern medical center and a requisite casino border the National Monument.

holy rollers

Once inside the Visitor Center’s auditorium, adorned by a 40-foot mural across the entrance,

battle mural

a sobering 20-minute orientation film of the battle was introduced by a 65 year-old retired teacher-turned-ranger who asked a provocative question. “This is a very typical crowd who has come to pay their respects to the fallen on this battlefield–both warrior and soldier alike who had risked everything to preserve their way of life. This was a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, that teaches us so much about our values and ourselves, but when I scan the crowd as I do today, I always ask myself, ‘Where are the young people, and how will we manage to archive this remembrance without them?'”

As we walked through the national cemetery,


and along the interpretive trail to Last Stand Hill,

LS Hill

the heavy sky befitted the solemness of the scenery.


sculpture CU

The 5-mile drive between Custer Battlefield and Reno-Benteen Battlefield was a time for reflection about triumph and tragedy, victory and defeat, heroism and humiliation. Yet, lighter moments came from a herd of horses who openly grazed by the road,

horses at restgrazing3 horses

at times defying traffic by staring down cars from the pavement. And when the skies could no longer hold on, it started to rain.

We found shelter at a nearby Crow trading post where Leah and I enjoyed a Crow taco made of frybread. Delicious!


The rain abated by the time we finished our meal. Looking west, we saw blue sunny skies which gave us a green light to further explore our surroundings.

Less than one hour away via Fly Creek Road–a gravel pass connecting I-90 and I-94–we passed rolling ranches of grazing cattle and hay field harvests…

hay field

on our way to Pompeys Pillar National Monument,

Pompey Pillar

a massive sandstone butte on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Regarded as holy ground by the Crow people, the rock also represents the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark engraved the wall amidst Indian pictographs on his return trip to St. Louis, and chronicled his 150-foot ascent to the top in his expedition journals.

Clark signature

Clark originally named the rock Pomp’s Tower, after a nickname he had given to Sacajawea’s infant son, whom she carried as she guided the famed expedition to the Pacific. It was later renamed Pompey’s Pillar, and dedicated as a National Monument by Bill Clinton in 2001.

pillar plaque

The hungry and persistent mosquitoes we experienced on the trails were worthy descendants of the “misquitor” that so bothered Clark that he couldn’t see to aim his rifle straight.

Our day of American history ended with another downpour on the drive back to Hardin. But we celebrated the brief moment the windshield was free of bugs, and the chassis was free of dust.

via Daily Prompt: Sunny