August 11, 2017- Trip Day #9
We bid adieu to the lovely Powell Campground and travel east to the summit of Lolo Pass on our way to the Bitterroot Valley.
We also say goodbye to Idaho at that point and enter Montana. The road on the east side of Lolo pass is much smoother, wider and a more gentle slope as it follows Lolo Creek down towards the town of Lolo. We pass numerous ranches and more than a few fire camps and fire drop points. We meet momma moose standing on one side of the highway looking towards the other. She’s waiting for her baby. The few motorists stop and wait for baby to catch up. Then they disappear into the woods. We are still on the path that Lewis and Clark took in 1805 but I think we have it much easier than they. No paved roads for them and no gigantor home on wheels either!
Speaking of the Nez Perce and the ongoing saga with the US Calvary……. the eastern slope of the Bitterroots down the highway 12 corridor is rich in the history of 1877. The peace loving Nez Perce attempted to evade the US Calvary, and they do a darned good job of it. The US forces determined that the Indians were headed down to the Bitterroot Valley via well worn Indian trails. In his infinite wisdom, the commander ordered his troops to build a fort/barricade in a rather large meadow. He intended to block the Nez Perce escape but the Indians got wind of it and just went around the fortress. ‘Nuf said!
At Lolo we turn north on US 93 skirting downtown Missoula. After several miles we turn west onto I-90 where we rejoin US 93. The road takes us through some hill country then to a large plain. We pass through quaint Arlee (600 souls), named after Salish Chief Alee. No the chief’s name is not misspelled as the Salish alphabet has no “r”. Native Salish is spoken in Arlee. The town hosts a popular Pow Wow and rodeo during the July 4th weekend.
Next comes St. Ignatius (840 souls). This town is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Not surprisingly, 40% of the population is Native American. St. Ignatius Mission, founded in 1854 by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet is located on the edge
of town. According to literature, the most exceptional feature is the 58 murals painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, an untrained artist who worked at the mission as a cook. We plan to visit the mission on our way back towards Missoula at a later date.
Above photos taken from same location; 2015 on left, 2017 on right
We now travel north through the beautiful (except for thick wildfire smoke) Mission Valley, the Mission Mountains to our right are all but invisible due to said smoke. Ronan (1800 souls) is also on the Flathead Indian Reservation, in the Mission Valley and 12 miles south of Flathead Lake. Native Americans make up 33% of its population. It serves as the agricultural hub of Mission Valley.
Our travel through the beautiful Mission Valley is disappointing and only because of the dense smoke. The beautiful views that we’ve seen in past travels are reduced to brown silhouettes of almost everything including the mountains. Crap! But as Jil says, “You get what you get when you travel”- or something like that.
Polson lies on the southern shore of immense Flathead Lake (4400 souls), also is located in the Mission Valley, is the seat of Lake County and yes, is on the Flathead Indian Reservation, phew! It’s interesting to note that the White Eyes outnumber the First People nearly 5 to 1 here. Could it be that the Flatheads have an aversion to White Man’s politics?
We skirt the western banks of the Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. It is the remnant of a massive glacial damned lake, Lake Missoula. To give one a comparison to LARGE lakes it is only slightly larger than Lake Tahoe and contains a significantly less volume of water.
The first town we come to Big Arm (131 souls), then Elmo, a small village (140 souls) comprised mainly of First Nation folks. It’s noted for its delicious Flathead cherries and hosting the Standing Arrow Pow Wow. Next is Dayton (pop. 95)- a wonderful place to launch one’s sailboat in order to explore Wildhorse Island State Park. Rollins (183 souls) is a few miles up the road. It offers wonderful beaches, the nice Rollins Restaurant and RV Park with Boat Docks (best burgers on the lake!). In front of the RV park is M&S Meats & Sausage. The shop is well known for its buffalo meats and sausage as well as more traditional products.
Lakeside, a resort community, is the largest on the west shore of Flathead Lake- and the most commercial. It has increased 600 folks since 2010, now with 2600 souls. It lies in Flathead County. The median family income here is more than four times greater than that of Elmo!
The last village on the lake on the way to Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Glacier National Park is Somers. Somers population has doubled in less than 20 years to 1100 souls. The downtown district consists of a hardware store and the Somers Bay Cafe…… period. A few blocks down in a mainly residential area is a small casino (looks like a converted corner market) and a couple of churches. Somers is a sleepy little community today but has not always been:
The nearest approach to hell on earth is at Somers, Mont. The principal industry at Somers is sawing railroad ties for Jim Hill. Jimmy owns everything around Somers including the water, docks, sawmills, county roads, and all the land that the town is situated on. Jimmy also owns the United States postoffice and nearly all the judges and lawyers in Flathead county.— F. W. Heslewood