It’s tough appreciating any scenery after Glacier National Park or maybe it’s just that we’ve seen several towns with “historic main streets” that are just euphemisms for “lots of boarded up defunct shops in old buildings”..…..and just maybe all these towns would have still been thriving had the US promoted railroad passenger travel and freight, rather than the highway system, who knows?
We saw many exceptions however; Boise, Spokane, Walla Walla, Helena and Bozeman are thriving due to their enduring industries such as mining, agriculture, wine, hi-tech, universities, tourism and state capitols. But these are all good-sized cities, whereas the small towns are not surviving as well in our present economy.
Nevertheless, we’ve seen some great mining and railroad history since we left Glacier. Our first stop was Great Falls which, at one time, had two elaborate rival RR stations, BNSFRR and the Great Northern RR, almost next to each other on the Missouri River……..Missouri River?
Ah yes, we know it’s Montana, but the Missouri River’s headwaters are just outside of Butte at the confluence of the Gallatin, Jefferson & Madison Rivers, each so named by Lewis and Clark during their expedition. Great Falls, however, has THE Great Fall, also named by Lewis and Clark that is GF’s best kept secret. One needs specific driving instructions because there is very little signage for such an important historical marker. In spite of the fact that the falls (there are actually 5 falls but one BIG one!) are now a series of major dams and source of area electricity, they are still pretty spectacular and one can imagine the splendor and portage concerns that the expedition experienced at their first encounter. Great Falls also has a very comprehensive Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center that chronicles the whole expedition. What a great piece of history, and all because of the Louisiana Purchase!
Next stop was Butte, “The Richest Hill on Earth”, a most interesting old mining town. It is historic in that the entire town is dotted with old mining “headframes” that look like small oil field derricks, and they are all lit up red at night. These were erected in the early part of the 20th century to lower and raise the miners and buckets of ore into and out of the sub-terranean mine shafts and tunnels, some of them over 1,000 feet deep. Later an open pit mine was developed and when it shut down in the 70’s the ground water pumps were stopped and a crater-like lake has formed. In it’s “heyday” the town supported many bars and brothels. Many of the buildings still exist. The mining industry was started there by two friends, William Clark & Marcus Daly who then became adversaries when they became rich. Mr. Daly, the more successful, moved to Helena and lobbied for Helena as the capitol city it is today……had he stayed friends with Clark, Butte would be the state capitol! Mr. Clark had a sumptuous home and chateau in Butte that are now B&B’s……….and Helena is the Montana state capitol……….so goes it with history!
We did a quick stay in Bozeman, the home of Montana State U. and many historical mini-mansions, built mostly by rich railroad dignitaries and miners – as is the case in many places we’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest.
We’ve just arrived in Billings, MT after a stay in Miles City, just to see that side of Montana. Sybil will leave for Marin County on 8/1 from here and Peter will continue on to an Indian PowWow near Little Bighorn then on to an Escapee rally in Gillette, WY then to Teddy Roosevelt State Park in N. Dakota and then……..home. Hopefully, he will keep up the blog!
Panorama of Butte
William Clark's family chateau in Butte
Mr. Clark's family home in Butte
The Great Fall before the dam was built
The Great Fall today
BNSF Railroad Station, Great Falls
Headframe in Butte
Lots of headframes, Butte
Helena's State Capitol
Pit mine crater lake, Butte
Old miner cottage, still occupied, Butte
Our Lady (she is 90 feet tall!)
Peter at The Great Fall Park
Other falls in Great Falls
Sybil at The Great Fall Park