The Capital and Capitol of Montana- Helena

Thursday, August 17, 2017- Trip Days 14&15

Yesterday, August 16th was a pleasant trip day. We took our time and really didn’t travel that far. I-90 follows the Clark Fork River for a long way. It was in our view quite often except when the canyons broadened out into valleys. We passed many ranches on the way. Most didn’t look too large, more like family operations.


We drove past Drummond, a town of 300 souls, and stop in Gold Creek or Goldcreek. I’ve seen it spelled both ways. Interesting fact-the community Gold Creek (Goldcreek?) doesn’t exist on the internet even though it has a post office- but the creek there is historical. The first recorded gold found in Montana was found here in 1862 but not enough to make it commercially viable. What the creek lacks in gold the community makes up with the Dinnerbell, a combination deli and bakery, store and restaurant. Popular at the Dinnerbell is the Mennonite family style dinner  that starts off with a prayer on Thursdays. To partake in the fried chicken or meat loaf, vegetable, salad, fresh homemade rolls and homemade pies one must have a reservation!

On the advice of a friend we overshoot the turnoff to Helena in order to visit Grant-Kohrs Ranch located in Deer Lodge (3100 souls). The working cattle ranch is run 24/7 by National Park Service employees, Rangers and volunteers. Johnny Grant first owned the ranch and lived in what he called a leather lodge (teepee) that he got from an Indian in exchange for a horse. P1040024Conrad Kohrs opened a butcher shop. Grant build a 4000 square foot house in 1862 and 5000 square feet was added to that home by Kohrs in 1890. Augusta Kohrs salvaged the bug ridden house in a “war of extermination”. Over time she acquired the finest things in life, luxurious furnishings, Pershian rugs, the finest china. P1040030The ranch house is open to the public as are the grounds. When we visited a volunteer fella had a chuck wagon on display and offered us cowboy coffee he had made over the campfire. A blacksmith was busy making andirons in the blacksmith shop. And Miles, a volunteer cowboy was mounted on Fox, a quarter horse who lives on the ranch. We enjoyed the information that the knowledgeable volunteers and Rangers shared, and the ranch is beautiful.

We backtrack to Garrison and turn towards Helena on highway 12 this time following the Little Blackfoot River. Eventually we leave the river and go over 6100′ McDonald Pass  which is on the continental divide. Great views would have been had looking down towards Helena Valley but again- thick smoke!

Helena Valley From McDonald Pass- Ugh, the Smoke!

We are staying at Lincoln Road RV Park just north of town. Not the prettiest park but it has full hookups, a laundry and is fairly quiet. We took the rest of the afternoon off, taking time to run down to Hauser Lake and Lake Helena.

Megan snuck in a few dunks in Hauser and fetched a couple of sticks. She is definitely on report as mutzos are allowed “on leash” only!

Today, August 17th, we headed into town to visit the Montana State Capital, downtown Helena and the Cathedral of St. Helena. Helena (28,000 souls) doubles as the state capital and the seat of Lewis and Clark County. It was established as a very successful gold camp in the 1860’s. Over 3.6 billion dollars worth of gold were mined in 20 years. Helena became one of the richest cities in the U.S. and that wealth contributed to the city’s prominent abundant Victorian architecture.

The capitol building is as magnificent as any you will see. Walking through the hallways it was fairly obvious that the legislature was out of session as there were no security folks around. The colorful history of the Helena Valley and the city are a good read.

Next we visit the magnificent Cathedral of St. Helena. She was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. It is fashioned after the Votive Church of the Sacred Heart in Vienna, Austria. The statues and altars are carved from the purist Carrara marble, and genuine gold leaf decorates the sanctuary.

The pews are hand carved oak. The special lighting fixtures are hand-forged bronze. The spires outside soar 230 feet above street level. We are in awe of this beautiful cathedral.

Downtown Helena is interesting. Some of the streets follow the original layout of the old gold mining days where the roads meandered around mining claims and followed the gulch. The downtown area has a two block long pedestrian mall in amongst the old stone and brick multistory buildings.

It’s a pretty downtown as downtowns go. The surrounding residential neighborhoods are tree lined beauties. Many of the Victorian era homes still survive. The strangest building architecturally is the Community Civic Center building.

Construction began in 1919 as the Western District Algeria Shrine Temple. The building, which resembles a mosque is the Moorish Revival style, was purchased by the city after the 1935 earthquake. Today civic events are held in the auditorium as well as housing county offices.

The Historic Watchman Fire Watchtower


1800’s One Room School House/ Modern Man’s Attempt to Build Same

Tomorrow we saddle up and head towards Billings.





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