Day 37 – we’ve been in Montana now for almost two weeks now! Next stop is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
We left Columbia Falls and drove down on the east side of Flathead Lake and then started heading east. For both days I was taken by the beauty and diversity of the landscape. I we drove it became more prairie-like with vast green undulating hills with dramatic mountain ranges in the background.
Great Falls sits along the Missouri River and hosts a number of hydroelectric power plants. Like Butte, Great Falls was built up as evidenced by the drive through about 5 miles of fast food restaurants and gas stations with casinos (slot machines apparently) in them! Wild!
The KOA in Great Falls is amazing. It looked like someone inherited a bunch of money from a rich uncle and decided to built a resort-like RV park complete with a water park and live music. From all appearances- it worked!
The Jakester and I got up early and checked out the sunrise near one of the locations of the power plants. Breath-taking!
The drive from Great Falls to Billings was mostly through the plains with an occasional mountain pass to cross. I spotted my first wind farms in a while. A lot of motorcycles on this part of the trip.
Driving into Billings I thought to myself this must not be much of a city as I could not see much of anything ahead. Ha! To my surprise I reach the edge of a butte and see the city below in the trees! Quite a striking scene!
The KOA here is apparently the very first one – established in 1962. Like Great Falls it is more like a resort with a putt-putt golf course and permanent food truck on site! I met a young woman with her two young children in the hot tub (best Hot Tub so far on trip!) who told me they were waiting for Dad to come home working from working on cell towers (sunup to sundown!). They live in a tent out of their car. During the winter he manages a small ski resort. COVID changed their lives. I was struck at how happy they seemed – amazing!
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
On our last day eastward across Montana we stopped to see the Monument. What I did not expect to find was a National Cemetery! Up until the 1970s a veteran could still be buried there. It was a moving sight.
Movin’ to Montana soon
Gonna be a Dental Floss tycoon
– Frank Zappa
I was very interested in seeing Montana – it seems to have a bit of a mystique about it. I was right – very good vibes in Montana!
We headed out from Red Lodge early to partly back track on I-90 before passing Bozeman and into new territory. I had read a bit about Butte – our overnight – and that it was at one point a large city based on mining. And boy howdy do these like like to dig in the ground!
The history of Butte is interesting – it was one of the largest mining boomtowns in it’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A lot of history here including labor disputes, large-scale mine disasters and huge environmental impact in a town that once boasted 100,000 residents in a city full of saloons and brothels! My kind of place.
Now – like most places that have anything going for them in the west – it looks like an attractive place to live if you are an outdoor enthusiast or want to escape the big cities of the west coast (and elsewhere!).
That afternoon I checked out the Glacier website to see about tickets to drive the Road to the Sun (now required like the Fossil Gallery in Dinosaur). I needed to get on a 8AM and try and get tickets. So we stayed and I got skunked. Good news I found out later from a local in Columbia Falls you can go early (before 6AM) or late (after 5PM) with no ticket. So that is the plan.
We drove to the park we are staying at in Columbia Falls – essentially the gateway to the western entrance to the park and the famous Road to the Sun road – that morning. Once you leave I-90 and head north from Kalispell it becomes very scenic.
It also starts to look very expensive given the cars, homes and boats in the beautiful Flathead Lake. This is obviously a big-time outdoor recreation portal on a scale I have never quite seen before. Closer to the park entrance there must be a half dozen very large resorts offering everything from rafting to zip lines to putt-putt golf. America’s backyard for sure!
One Month on the Road
As we arrived in Columbia Falls we celebrated one month on the road! 5400 miles long we have come to the turning point in the trip and set our sights on heading back south and east. What an excellent adventure it has been so far!