OK, Where’d They Go?

Monday, August 9, 2021

OK, where DID they Go?

We’ve never been to Great Falls, Montana. We scheduled a stop at the Great Falls KOA for three nights. That will give us a nice layover after traveling 780 miles in six days.

Just north of Dillon is a place where William Clark stood on a 75’ rise on which to survey the area. It’s now a Montana State Park. We continue north on I-15 towards Butte. Last evening’s thunderstorm washed away some of the smoke from local wildfires. Arriving in Butte (34,000 souls) Miss Garmin leads us on to I-90 eastbound past Butte, then once again onto I-15 towards Helena,(32,000 souls) the Capitol of Montana. We’ve been to Helena but not Butte, the seat of Silver Bow County. We intend to visit Butte sometime in the future.

The interstate takes us through Wolf Creek Canyon. According to Southwestmontana.com “The Wolf Creek Canyon makes driving on Interstate 90 from Helena to Great Falls worth it. The twisting canyon walls that surround Little Prickly Pear Creek and the Missouri River make a beautiful path to follow as they cut through the Rocky Mountains. The community of Wolf Creek makes the perfect place to pause and take a deep breath before plunging into the many adventures the canyon offers”. The canyon has sheer volcanic rock cliffs and narrows that Wolf Creek has carved over millennia. The interstate follows the creek though those narrow gorges.

Great Falls has a population of nearly 59,000. Most of the buildings downtown are from early 20th century. The city center is located on the south bank of the Missouri River, between downtown and the Missouri are parks. The city was founded in 1883 by Paris Gibson who had the vision of turning the area into a major industrial city with power supplied by hydroelectricity. Houses, a store and a flour mill were established in 1884 as was its post office. A planing mill, lumber yard, bank, school and newspaper were established a year later. By 1887 the town had 1200 citizens and the arrival of the Great Northern Railway in October of that year helped cement the city’s future.

Milwauki Train Station

Excerpt from Wikipedia: Great Falls is named for a series of five waterfalls located on the Missouri River north and east of the city. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805–1806 was forced to portage around a 10-mile stretch of the river in order to bypass the falls; the company spent 31 days in the area, performing arduous labor to make the portage. Three of the waterfalls, known as Black Eagle, Rainbow and the Great Falls (or the Big Falls), are among the sites of five hydroelectric dams in the area, giving the city its moniker, “The Electric City”. Other nicknames for Great Falls include “The River City” and “Western Art Capital of the World”.[10] The city is also home to two military installations: Malmstrom Air Force Base east of the city, which is the community’s largest employer; and the Montana Air National Guard to the west, adjacent to Great Falls International Airport.

We were interested in touring the downtown historical district. We stop at the magnificent St. Ann’s Cathedral to snap some photos and tour a few of the residential districts, most of which are very nice and well kept. Downtown was hosting a farmers market. A building of particular interest is the old Milwaukee train depot with its impressing spire.

Top photo: Black Eagle Falls; Bottom photo: Rainbow Falls

We also took in some sights along the river. Where are the falls? Where did they go? The two falls we visited, the Black Eagle Falls and Rainbow Falls were both interrupted by hydroelectric dams built just upstream. Both diverted water from the fall so instead of an impressive amount of water going over them there was not much more than running water for a bath. Well, a lot more water than that but you get the idea. We one and maybe one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Great falls was to see “great falls”. Unfortunately Mr. Gibson and his hydroelectric pals got here first.

We didn’t visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center as it was too warm to leave Ollie in the car. With Megan gone we didn’t feel comfortable leaving him by himself in the RV at least until he adjusts to being alone. What did make our visit worthwhile was our visit to Giant Spring State Park. We entered the park looking for signs leading to the spring and there were none. We went too far and stumbled onto Rainbow Fall. Turning around we decided to visit the beautiful grounds of the fish hatchery and lo and behold there is Giant Spring and the shortest river in North America, the Rowe. The river originates at the spring and travels a whole 201 feet to its confluence with the Missouri.

201 foot long Rowe River confluence with the Missouri

Giant Spring is amazing. It bubbles up into a pool maybe 50 feet across and rushes 175 million gallons of water to the waiting Missouri River in just 24 hours. And the water is as clear as any we’ve seen- crystal clear! A trail that is 50 miles long runs through the grounds paralleling the Missouri.

Layer after Layer of Deposits- Sedimentary Rock

So the KOA’s we’ve stayed at thus far, I my humble opinion, have been well overpriced and have not lived up to their amenities as advertised. Neither had very good wifi if it existed at all and that amenity is very important to writing and posting this blog. The sites were very much overpriced compared to a few other parks that we have been to on this outing. Everyone’s prices have gone up considerably since COVID put a lot of families on the road, but their prices are rediculous.

View from Great Falls KOA

All in all we enjoyed our stay in Great Falls. Just a little disappointed that our research of the falls wasn’t up to snuff as we didn’t realize that they are not the falls Lewis and Clark had to portage back in 1805……..

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