Category Archives: Montana

Say No to Missoula

We got an early start and pulled out of Dick’s RV Park in Great Falls around 9am. Our plan for the day was to head over to the WalMart in Missoula. We could resupply there and spend the night.

We stayed on MT200, which took us west, then southwest to Missoula. We drove through the plains which became rolling hills with spacious cattle ranches. Donna snapped picture after picture, but it’s hard to capture the scenic beauty as you’re rolling along.

Windshield view as we head toward the Helena National Forest

Windshield view as we headed toward the Helena National Forest

The terrain changed when we entered the Helena National Forest. The hills became mountains and the open pasture became Lodgepole pine forest. We crossed the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass. The elevation was 5,610 feet above sea level. From the little town of Vaughn all the way over the pass, we saw very few cars on the road. We would drive for 15 minutes or so without seeing a car before one would pass by. This was an easier route than going down I-15 to Helena, then crossing MacDonald and Mullan Passes on US12.

MT200 followed the Blackfoot River as we descended. We stopped in a town called Lincoln to stretch our legs and grab a snack. Donna bought a huckleberry milkshake and declared it delicious.

From Lincoln, the road continued along the Blackfoot River. We saw bicyclists heading uphill toward Lincoln. It appeared to be some kind of bicycle tour group. We saw a couple of stations with water and whatnot on tables for the riders.

We hit I-90 and Nally (our Rand McNally RVND7720 GPS) directed us to the WalMart on Mullan Road. The store was very busy and the parking lot was nearly full. We had a problem. As we entered the parking lot, Donna saw a sign that read “No Overnight Parking Per City Ordinance.”

I have to vent. WalMart made a corporate decision to encourage business from RVers on the road. Their policy is to allow overnight RV parking in their parking lots. I don’t understand why a city government has to interfere with a marketing decision that doesn’t harm the community. I’m guessing that an RV park owner convinced someone on the city council to create such an ordinance. This is the last time I’ll spend any money in Missoula. End of rant.

This stymied our plans. Donna went into WalMart to stock up on groceries while I looked for an alternative place for the night and bought two six-inch Subway sandwiches for our lunch. It took over an hour for Donna to complete her shopping. We rolled west on I-90 around 2:30pm.

Montana allows overnight parking in rest areas. I thought we could stay at a rest area near St. Regis. We came to a rest area about 30 miles west of Missoula. This rest area had a campground alongside. It was posted “No Overnight Camping” in the parking area and the campground was not for big rigs. We pulled on through and continued west on I-90.

We saw several billboards for a tourist trap called Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $ Bar and Gift Shop. Donna happened to notice that one of the billboards also stated “Free RV Park.” It sounded interesting. We pulled off I-90 at exit 16 (16 miles east of the Idaho border). When we entered their large, open paved lot, there was a sign for RV parking behind the bar-restaurant.

It looked a little sketchy back there. It was unpaved and wooded. I parked on the pavement by a couple of semi tractor-trailer rigs to scope it out. Donna and I walked past the dirt lot behind the bar-restaurant and saw a small campground.

Free campsites

Free campsites

While we were walking back to the free campsite area, we saw a truck pull a fifth-wheel trailer into the site. The driver obviously had camped here before. He knew exactly where he wanted to park and pulled into a site from a dirt road at the back of the area. We were happy to discover that there were primitive pull-through sites that would easily fit our rig.

Donna picked out a fairly level site and claimed it. I walked back to our rig and drove around the back, following the route the fifth-wheel took and pulled into the site. While I was leveling the coach and putting the slides out, a guy from a site a few hundred feet away came over. He told Donna that some sites have 30-amp electrical service and we were in one of them! A free site with electrical service. This is what you call serendipity.

Free site!

Free site!

I was glad I had our Progressive Industries Portable Electrical Management System. I hooked up the 30-amp adapter and plugged it in. It cut off the power twice and threw a code for high voltage. I saw 127 volts on the display, but it must have surged even higher to cause the unit to interrupt power. Without the high voltage protection, it could have damaged the microwave oven, the TV or air conditioners. The voltage settled down to 122 volts and was fine for the rest of the stay. We were able to run the air conditioner and watch TV without burning fuel in the generator. Sweet!

The sites are intended for overnight use by customers of the bar-restaurant (which also has a casino – I think every bar in Montana is a casino). We walked to the bar and had a cold one shortly after arriving.

Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $ Bar originally opened in Alberton, Montana in 1951. Gerry and Marie Lincoln built a bar and named it Cherry Springs after the small creek on their property. At that time, silver dollars were common. In October of 1952, Gerry cut a hole in the bar top, hammered a silver dollar in the hole and inscribed his and Marie’s name below it.

This started something that quickly caught on. By December of 1953, more than 2,000 people had placed a silver dollar in the bar top and had their name inscribed. They changed the name of the bar to Lincoln’s 2,000 Silver $ Bar. The name changed many times as the collection grew. The bar relocated a couple of times over the years as interstate construction began. The present location at exit 16 was built in 1976. It has a gas station, motel, restaurant, gift shop, bar and casino on several acres of land.

Today, the are more than 64,000 silver dollars mounted in the bar – 10,623 of which are real silver dollars. The rest are Eisenhower “sandwich” dollars that have copper cores.

I took a couple of photos, but the lighting was poor and the shots aren’t clear. The entire bar top is filled with silver dollars. The walls are full of boards with silver dollars mounted in them.

Silver dollars mounted on boards

Silver dollars mounted on boards

Silver dollars through out the bar

Silver dollars throughout the bar

I don’t need fuel, but I think I’ll top up the tank at their station as a thank you for the free campsite. We’ll continue on to Coeur d’Alene this morning.

 

Up Early

Maybe it’s a case of wanderlust. I don’t know. I woke up at 4:30am. An hour and a half later, I got out of bed. This isn’t my usual routine. Lately I’ve been sleeping in. Donna is usually the first one up while I linger in bed.

Yesterday, while Donna went for a bike ride, I finished my clean-up job on the coach. I polished the wheels, replaced the lug nut covers and treated the tire sidewalls with 303 Aerospace. It’s looking good!

Looking good!

Looking good!

Later, I scootered Donna over to Barnes and Noble. She worked on her book project again at the Starbucks there, utilizing the free wifi and enjoying a latte. I intended to go to a self-serve car wash to wash the scooter. I forgot to bring microfiber cloths along to dry the scooter though, so I scrapped that plan.

I came back to the RV park and organized the trailer and loaded the scooter. The trailer is set to go. When Donna returned, I grilled a pork tenderloin that she had marinated earlier. Paired with a Lagunitas IPA, it was scrumptious.

Pork tenderloin with sweet potato and broccoli

Pork tenderloin with sweet potato and broccoli

This morning, I’ll dump and flush the tanks, then it will be time to kick the tires and light the fires. We’ll head west on MT200 to Missoula. I know there’s some road construction on MT200, but I think it’s the best route for us.

The alternative is I-15 to Helena, then I-90. I think MT200 will be more scenic and we won’t have to climb Mullan Pass and McDonald Pass. I’m ready to say goodbye to the ubiquitous prairie dogs and cottontail rabbits in Great Falls. It’s time to move on!

Summer Solstice

Yesterday was the summer solstice. It marks the day with the longest period of sunlight. It would be more correct to call it the northern solstice, as it’s the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere enjoys a summer solstice between December 20-23, depending on how the calendar falls in a given year.

We enjoyed a beautiful midsummer day. There were few clouds in the sky and the temperature reached a comfortable high of 74 degrees. More of the same is forecast for today and tomorrow.

Donna took advantage of the agreeable weather with a bike bike. She rode south on Fox Farm Road, along the Missouri River. She found a route she really enjoyed and put in 23 miles.

While Donna was out riding, I went to the office and paid $10 for the privilege of washing our rig. I started on the roof and then did the cargo trailer. I used Rain-X car wash with carnauba on the roof and trailer. I used NAPA (Mac’s) car wash on the rest of the coach. The Rain-X car wash left fewer water spots than the NAPA product. Next time I’ll use Rain-X on the entire coach. I spent over three hours washing the coach and cleaning all of the glass. It was 3pm by the time I finished and had some lunch. I was too whipped to do the wheels.

I scootered Donna over to Barnes and Noble, which is a mile from here. After being cooped up in our coach all week, she wanted to get some work done in fresh surroundings. She took advantage of the free wifi at the Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble. I came home and kicked back inside with the Formula One qualifying I recorded for Sunday’s race in Austria. It was great to see Filipe Massa take the pole position. Later, Donna walked home.

Last evening, a couple from Australia, Dave and Meredith, pulled into the site next to us. They flew from Australia to Washington State and bought a Ford truck and fifth wheel trailer. They plan to tour the USA and Canada over the next 12 months. What an adventuresome couple. This is their first RV experience and they’ve jumped into the deep end!

We chatted with them for a while. Dave wanted to buy beer, so I rode with him in his truck and showed him where the store was. I picked up a six-pack of IPA as well. Donna and I enjoyed happy hour snacks and drinks outdoors.

Donna enjoying happy hour

Donna enjoying happy hour

Today, after I watch the Formula One race, I’ll polish the wheels, put on the new lug nut covers and treat the rubber with 303 Aerospace Protectant. This is a great product to protect against UV degradation. I use it on the tire sidewalls and the lens covers on our coach. Some headlight lens covers can be damaged by UV rays and turn yellow.

New lug nut covers go on today

New lug nut covers go on today

I also need to organize the cargo trailer and prepare for travel. Tomorrow morning, we’ll pull out of Great Falls. We’re heading for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is nearly 400 miles away. We’ll break the trip into two days, stopping in Missoula, Montana. We’ll probably stay overnight at the WalMart there.

Last week I neglected to post a photo of a great meal Donna prepared. She has the convection oven down and is getting the induction cooking down as well.

Cornish hen and roasted potatoes

Cornish hen and roasted potatoes

I don’t know if I’ll post again before we reach Couer d’Alene.

Blow Out

Thursday’s weather was running behind schedule. The forecast called for clearing around midday. It rained all morning and well into the afternoon. The RV lifestyle isn’t all fun and games and sightseeing. We’ve been cooped up in roughly 300 square feet of living space for five days. We finally had a break around 3pm and rode the scooter over to the Holiday Inn to pick up Donna’s race packet.

A beak from the rain

A break from the rain

When we returned, I changed the inner tube in her rear tire, removed the aerobars (they’re not allowed in mass start races), and then I cleaned and lubed the chain. Everything looked good – she was all set for the Friday morning start.

On Friday morning, we were up at 7am. Donna had her pre-race meal while I had a cup of yogurt and coffee. I checked her tire pressures and set the front tire at 115psi and the rear at 120psi. We rode our bikes three miles to the Broadwater Bay Park to check in for the race. We arrived at the park at 8:30am, half an hour before the scheduled start.

We learned that the actual start/finish line was another mile upriver on Lower River Road. After a short riders’ briefing in the parking lot, everyone rode to the start/finish area. I was a feeling a little out of place, tagging along on my mountain bike. I wanted to see the start and see Donna off. The field for the 40k bicycle race was small – only eight riders. Three were women and Donna was the only woman in her age category. All she had to do was finish the race to win her age group and qualify for the National Senior Olympics next summer.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine and just a light wind though the race director warned of high winds up on top of the Eden climb. Right at the start of the race, the wind picked up along the river. I rode back to our coach, battling fierce wind across the Central Avenue Bridge and back up the trail to the RV park. I could only imagine how tough the wind would be on top of the hill.

Once I reached our coach, I locked up my bike in the trailer and got on the scooter. I was about a mile out of the park when I realized that I left the bike lock back at our site. Donna and I planned to have lunch after the race and I would need to lock up her bike. I turned around and retrieved the lock.

When I reached the start/finish line, it was already after 10am. I rode up the race course, expecting to find Donna riding back toward the finish line. After I made the climb up the first big hill on Eden Road, an oncoming pickup truck slowed and the driver frantically waved at me out the window. He stopped in the road. I turned around to see what he needed.

He said, “Do you have a tire pump?” I thought, why would you stop me and ask a question like that? I told him I didn’t have a pump. He said, “Your wife has a flat tire and no pump.” I told him we didn’t need a pump and asked how far away she was. He told me she was about four miles down the road.

I blasted off on the scooter, riding 70mph. Another oncoming pickup truck was waving at me as it approached. I blew on by without stopping. A few minutes later, I saw Donna on the side of the road. She said, “Did you get my message? My tire blew. I don’t know if it’s fixable.” I didn’t get the messages because I was riding the scooter.

Her front tire was flat and I could see part of the tire had come off the rim. I pulled the wheel off the bike and removed the inner tube. I installed a new tube and reseated the tire. I didn’t need a tire pump because we had an Innovations air chuck with CO2 cartridges to fill the tire in a situation like this. I filled the tire with a 16 gram CO2 cartridge. The tire inflated and then, after a few seconds, the tire bead blew off the rim. It blew off in the same place as before. I looked at the bead. It was damaged and wouldn’t seat in the groove of the rim. We were out of options. If I had received Donna’s message while I was still back at the coach, I could have brought the entire front wheel from my road bike.

That was it, race over. Donna was an official DNF (did not finish). One of the race staff volunteers put Donna’s bike in his truck – it was the same guy who flagged me down and asked if I had a pump. He gave her a ride back to the RV park.

Her race was over, but her goal of qualifying for the National Senior Olympics may still be attainable. We’re looking at a couple of options. Since our home state of South Dakota doesn’t offer a qualifying bicycle road race event, there are two ways for Donna to qualify. The Montana event would have qualified her without question. Now it seems we have to find another qualifier in another state (Washington is a possibility) or she has to complete two races and petition for inclusion. She’s already completed one of the two required by racing in the Tour de Mesa back in April.

After Donna returned to the park, we rode the scooter over to MacKenzie River Pizza for lunch. I think I was more bummed about the tire failure than Donna was. I should have changed her tires. They were old, but the modern tire compounds wear like iron. They looked decent, until the bead failed. I guess I need to treat them like RV tires – replace them based on age, not visual cues.

After lunch, we rode over to the Big Horn Outdoor store, which was recommended to us for high-end road bike gear. I bought new tires for Donna – Continental GP4000 S tires to be specific. These tires are hand-made in Germany and it’s reflected in the pricing!

New hand-made tires

New hand-made tires

We stopped back at the park and dropped off her tires. Then we went to the grocery store to stock up. Did I mention the weather? It was a partly cloudy, but dry day. We had a load of groceries to scooter back to the park. I think it was the biggest load ever.

After we returned, I installed the new tires on Donna’s bike. No issues, the bead seated with no problem. I still can’t get my head around the tire failure. I put a new tube in that tire last Sunday. Donna rode over 40 miles since then. How does the bead suddenly fail and the tire blow off the rim? I’ve changed hundreds if not thousands of bicycle tires and tubes over the last 35 years. I don’t recall ever seeing a failure like this.

Last night, I grilled Jamaican jerk chicken. Donna served it over brown rice with mango salsa and broccoli on the side. We were able to dine al fresco at the picnic table. Hurray!

Jamaican jerk chicken with mango salsa

Jamaican jerk chicken with mango salsa

Today, we have blue skies and a fair weather forecast for the coming days. Donna is planning to go out for a bike ride. I want to wash the coach and polish the wheels. We’ll pull out of Great Falls on Monday.

 

Tamale Tuesday

This morning I awoke to the sound of raindrops drumming on the roof of our coach – the same sound I heard yesterday and the day before that. The north and east ends of Dick’s RV Park are giant mud puddles. I’m happy to be in the drier southwest corner, even though we’re closer to the road noise.

On Tuesday afternoon, we had a break in the rain. The forecast called for about an hour lull in the rain showers. Donna went for a walk while it was dry out. I checked our batteries and puttered around. We had about 60 or 70 gallons of fresh water on board. I dumped the tank and refilled it with 100 gallons of the city water here in the park. Great Falls has great water! Much better than the water we’ve been carrying from the desert. When Donna returned, she told me she saw a tamale vendor on the street corner across the 6th Street bridge.

The next bout of rain showers hadn’t arrived yet, so I hustled over to check out the tamales. There was a trailer set up as a kitchen in the church parking lot at 6th Street and 10th Avenue. It had a sign that said “Electric City Concessions” on the side. Electric City is the nickname given to Great Falls, due to having the first hydroelectric generating plant on the Missouri River here.

They offered homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks. Two dollars each, six for $8.50 or $16.00 for a dozen. Tamales are a traditional Mesoamerican dish made from masa ( a corn based starchy dough). In  Mexico, tamales are made with different fillings and can be eaten for breakfast (usually with a sweet filling) or dinner. The masa is wrapped with corn husks or leaves and steamed.

I bought half a dozen tamales. These were savory with a ground pork filling. I brought them back to the coach and split them with Donna. They were fairly small, so three each was about right for lunch. Electric City Concessions sets up every Tuesday at the church (Tamale Tuesday). We won’t have another opportunity to buy them as we’ll be leaving Great Falls next Monday.

Yesterday, it  rained all day with only a brief break in the evening. Donna and I took a short walk through the park during the break. We avoided the muddy north side. Last night, Donna prepared fish tacos for dinner – one of my favorites.

I’m trying to use the RV park’s wifi as much as possible. With the rain and the park fairly full, their wifi is unreliable. Being inside all day means we are burning through our data allotment. Eight days into our cycle, we’ve used 59% of our current plan. I can raise our allotment and probably will before the cycle ends.

The rain is supposed clear up around noon today. I need to change the rear inner tube on Donna’s bike. I’ll also clean and lube the chain in preparation for tomorrow’s race. At some point, we need to scooter over to the Holiday Inn to pick up her race packet. We may have a shower or two this evening, but we should have clear, blue skies for tomorrow’s race.

Giant Springs

Yesterday’s weather forecast called for a six-hour dry spell between 9am and 3pm. I took advantage of the break in the rainfall and got on my mountain bike at 11am.

After I crossed the Central Avenue bridge, I followed the River’s Edge Trail north, then east as the Missouri bends that direction. I rode at a steady pace until I passed under the 15th Street bridge and stopped at the Black Eagle Dam.

Black Eagle Dam and Falls

Black Eagle Dam and Falls

Below the dam are the Black Eagle Falls, the first of five falls that make up the Great Falls of the Missouri in Montana. The Black Eagle Dam was first constructed of wood in 1890. It was a timber and rock crib dam, the first to supply hydroelectric power on the Missouri River. In 1926, it was rebuilt with concrete, which still stands today. The original structure is still there, submerged behind the current dam.

The dam is 782 feet long and 34.5 feet high. It houses three turbines that can generate up to 18 megawatts of power. The dam can generate power from the flow of the river, without creating a storage reservoir behind it. Thus it’s called a “run of the river” dam.

The falls downriver from the dam drop over 26 feet. Meriweather Lewis was the first white man to see these falls. The name “Black Eagle” came from an eagle that Lewis saw nesting on a island below the falls.

A few hundred yards downstream, there’s an iron sculpture next to the path. It depicts Lewis and Clark with their guide, Sacajawea, looking at the falls.

Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea

Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea

View of Black Eagle Falls from the sculpture

View of Black Eagle Falls from the sculpture

There are many interpretive placards along the River’s Edge Trail, giving short history lessons. I photographed a couple of examples. Click on the placard photos to enlarge and read them if you’re interested.

Montana mining history

Montana mining history

Smelting operation

Smelting operation

Along this section, the bike trail is high above the river. I could see dirt trails below, near the banks of the river.

Dirt trails by the river

Dirt trails by the river

I came to a fork in the path. To the right, it passed under Giant Springs Road. To the left, it continued along the river. I stayed left. A short distance later, the trail forked again. To the right, it ended at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center parking lot. On the left, the trail made a rough descent to the river.

I took the left fork and rode down to the river. There was a mixture of dirt and paved trails along this section. I rode into the Giant Springs State Park. The Giant Springs are an amazing sight. Fresh water flows up to the surface into a large pool. It reminded me of Yellowstone in a way, but this water was cool, clear and pure.

The water temperature is 54 degrees Fahrenheit. It originates from snow melt in the Little Belt Mountains (where the Mumbro Park cabin is located). Giant Springs is formed by an opening in the Madison aquifer. The water comes to the surface and forms a pool, which drains 150 million gallons of pure, fresh water into the Missouri River daily. Some of the spring water is diverted and bottled for human consumption. It’s also used to supply fresh, cold water to Montana’s largest trout hatchery.

Placard at Giant Springs

Placard at Giant Springs

Look closely and you'll see three streams of water shooting to the surface

Look closely and you’ll see where streams of water shoot to the surface

Water shooting to the surface of the pool and flowing over the rocks to the Missouri

Water shooting to the surface of the pool and flowing over the rocks into the Missouri

The pool of water rushing over the rocks into the river is an amazing sight. I tried to capture the beauty of it.

Giant Springs

Giant Springs

A guy walking by asked if I wanted my picture taken at the springs. Why not? It didn’t add anything to the beauty factor though.

6_16GiantSprgme

On the way back I stopped at the Knicker Biker bike shop downtown. I bought spare inner tubes for our road bikes and a few energy bars.

I came back to the RV park at 1pm. It was an enjoyable two-hour ride. Donna and I had our lunch outside at the picnic table while the sun was shining. Donna went out for a walk and I walked a couple of laps around the park. I chatted with some folks. I found out both tour groups currently in the park are bound for Alaska. I think they will be pulling out this morning. Once the tour groups leave, the park wifi should become usable again. In the meantime, we’re burning through our Verizon data plan.

Donna walked for about 45 minutes, then went back to work on her laptop. The rain returned around 4pm and hasn’t let up since then. We may have a small window – maybe an hour – of sunshine this afternoon. The weather guessers have been right so far and they say the weather should start clearing up and warming up tomorrow.

 

 

Rain Falls in Great Falls

We were shut-ins for most of the weekend. Thundershowers and rain damped our enthusiasm. During a few of the breaks in the precipitation on Saturday, we walked laps of the park.

Adventure Caravans assembled another tour group here at Dick’s RV park. They’re joined by another tour group called Fantasy Adventures. This filled the RV park again. We had a couple of quiet days in between the groups. While the park was fairly empty, the wifi worked great. Now that it’s full, the wifi service is spotty. I don’t know the details of these tours.

Yesterday, we had a break in the rain showers. It looked like we would have dry conditions for a couple of hours before the next bout of thundershowers. I pulled Donna’s bicycle out of the trailer and pumped up her tires. While I was filling the tires, I found the front Presta valve was broken. I replaced the inner tube. After I pumped up the rear tire, the thumbscrew on the Presta valve broke off! I put a cap over it and Donna was able to ride. The valve will fail the next time I pump up the tire though.

Inner tube with Presta valve - Google Image

Inner tube with Presta valve – Google Image

Donna rode 3 miles out to Broadwater Bay Park where her bicycle race starts. She rode the race course which is 25 miles. The climb up Eden Road was tougher than she anticipated with several steep climbs and long uphill pulls. After the turnaround, though, coming back on Eden Road was faster than she thought it would be. It’s a grueling course, but her elapsed time overall was close to what she expects to do in the race.

The rain showers returned before Donna made it home. She rode in the rain from the Central Avenue bridge. While she was out, I caught the Moto GP race on Dish Network and squandered my chance for a bike ride.

Later, we had another break in the weather. I  rode the scooter to pick up a few groceries. While I was at it, I bought a six-pack of beer. It’s a beer from Bayern Brewing in Missoula, Montana, called Dump Truck Extra Pale Summer Bock. There are so many craft breweries nowadays and countless styles being brewed. It’s fun to try something new, but I would prefer to experiment at a brew pub where you can order a sampler flight. I had no idea what an extra pale summer bock would be like. It turned out to be a fairly strong (6% ABV) lager with the yeast contributing to a bitter finish.

Last night, I was able to fire up the grill and grill fajita-spiced chicken thighs before the rain started up again.

Today’s forecast calls for about a six-hour window of sunshine before we hunker down for another 48 hours of thunderstorms and rain. When we looked into Donna doing the race here, I remember reading that the average rainfall for Great Falls in June is two inches. It’s their rainiest month of the year. So it’s not like we didn’t expect to have some rain. But it looks like this rainy weather will clear up later in the week.

After I dump and flush our holding tanks this morning, I want to ride my bike east on the River’s Edge Trail. While I’m out, I’ll buy spare inner tubes for our road bikes.

River’s Edge Trail

I studied a street map to get a better idea of how Great Falls is laid out.

The Missouri River bends through town. The river flows north, then east. The downtown area and much of the city lies south and east of the river. This part of town is fairly easy to navigate – it’s mostly a grid with numbered avenues running east-west and numbered streets running north-south.

The river throws a monkey wrench into the scheme though. North and west of the river, some of the roads follow the river’s contour. There are only four bridges crossing the Missouri. On the west end, the Sun River flows into the Missouri from the west and only has two crossings. You have to know where you can cross the river or you’ll find yourself at dead ends.

Yesterday, Donna and I went out on  our bicycles. We rode separately though – Donna on her road bike and me on my mountain bike. We both crossed the Sun River on 6th Street and followed the bike path to Central Avenue West. We crossed the Missouri on a bridge constructed for pedestrians and bicyclists. The bridge is made of wood. It’s wide and well maintained.

Map of the Rivers Edge Trail system

Map of the River’s Edge Trail system

Bridge on bike path across the Missouri River

Bridge on bike path across the Missouri River

Donna headed north and then east on the River’s Edge Trail. I rode south. Although most of the trail is dedicated to cyclists, walkers and runners, there are a few areas that are on roadways or through parking lots. It can be confusing at times as the trail runs into a large parking lot with no clear direction of where to pick up the trail again.

At one point on my ride, the trail crossed a train track next to the police station. I rode through the police parking lot and guessed at the direction to take. I rode down a street, across the tracks again toward the river. I found the trail at the end of the Broadwater Bay Park.

The bike path took me along River Road. I climbed the hill at Overlook, past the Visitor Center and found a gazebo in a park, overlooking the city. You can see for miles from this overlook.

Gazebo overlooking Great Falls

Gazebo overlooking Great Falls

View to the north west from the gazebo

View to the northwest from the gazebo

I rode down the hill to the Visitor Center. There’s a sculpture and placard there that I took pictures of.

Sculpture of the explorers

Sculpture – Explorers at the Portage

Placard with excerpt from Meriwether Lweis' journal

Placard with excerpt from Meriweather Lewis’ journal

On the ride back, I stopped and took a picture of a striking building on the east side of the Central Avenue bridge. It’s called the Milwaukee Station. It has a sign on it that says “Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Ry.” It’s not a train station anymore. It’s occupied by various businesses and office space.

Milwaukee Station

Milwaukee Station

As the name implies, much of the River’s Edge Trail runs along the Missouri River. The scenery was beautiful, but some areas of the trail had excessive amounts of goose droppings.

Missouri River

Missouri River

I rode past the Milwaukee Station, north to Gibson Park. There’s a large pond and fountain there and also a small amphitheater. I saw a man setting up equipment. He told me there would be an event later called “Live at Five.” His band would be performing original compositions.

Setting up for "live at Five"

Setting up for “Live at Five”

As I retraced my route back to the RV park, I stopped at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway yard. There was a rail snow plow on a track there. Removing snow from the train tracks is a formidable task in the Rocky Mountains and across the great plains. Most of the time, a simple wedge or blade plow is pushed by a locomotive. Sometimes though, there’s too much snow for this method. In extreme conditions, they use a rotary snowthrower that chops up the snow and throws it clear of the track. Rotary rail snowthrowers are expensive and require much maintenance, which is why they are only used in extreme conditions.

The old plow I looked at was made in the 1940s. It’s weight is stenciled on the side: 280,000 pounds. It appears to be in service still as it had recent inspection stickers.

Rail snow plow

Rail snow plow

After my ride, I had lunch and showered. Then I rode the scooter back to the Visitor Center and picked up a couple of maps. The lady there gave me directions to the Parks and Recreation office and also showed me where I could find more convenient shopping.

From the Visitor Center, I went to the Parks and Recreation office to obtain more information about Donna’s bike race. They gave me a map of the course. Then I crossed the river at 9th Street and stopped at Albertson’s. The woman at the Visitor Center was right – this is an easier store to access from Dick’s RV Park.

I came back to our site and picked up Donna. We rode the scooter over the bicycle race course. It starts out at Broadwater Bay Park, then goes south along River Road. This is fairly flat and very scenic. After about four and half miles, Lower River Road becomes Eden Road. The course climbs up Eden for nearly a mile, then it continues to gain elevation through a series of rolling hills. The short climbs are followed by short descents, but overall, it continues to gain elevation to the turnaround point. The rolling hills mean there are some climbs on the way back, but it should be fast coming back down Eden. The total distance is 40 kilometers or about 25 miles.

Last night, I grilled bacon-wrapped filet mignons and sweet potato fries for dinner and we ate outside at our picnic table – a great way to end a great day.

Bacon wrapped filets and sweet potato fries

Bacon-wrapped filets and sweet potato fries

RV Caravans

The day started off cold with light drizzle yesterday. We had to run the heat pumps – it was 58 degrees in the coach when I got up. It remained overcast and breezy for most of the day. The sun came out in the late afternoon, but the thermometer never rose much above 60.

Donna spent most of the day working at her laptop. I puttered around, handled a few tasks online and wrote the government a check for my second quarter estimated taxes. Grrr.

Around 2pm, Donna and I went for a walk. We walked on the bike path and crossed the 6th St. Bridge over the Sun River. Today I want to get my bike out and ride the bike path down River Drive. I’ve been gaining weight since I hurt my neck in Mesa. I need to ramp up my physical activity. I don’t believe there’s any magic or mystery when it comes to weight loss. The equation is simple – increase your activity and decrease your intake. It works every time.

When we arrived at Dick’s RV Park, it was almost full. There are two caravan groups here. They are both run by a company called Adventure Caravans. RVers enroll and pay a fee to join the caravan.

One of the caravan groups is following the Lewis and Clark Trail. They started in St. Louis, Missouri. They arrived here on Monday, their 26th day on the road, and pulled out yesterday. Adventure Caravans organizes the route. They make all of the campground reservations. They have tour buses that take the group from the campground to various points of interest along the way. They have social gatherings most evenings and some meals are included. This caravan tour finishes in Warrenton, Oregon after 46 days on the road.

The other caravan is just starting out. Dick’s RV Park was their meet-up location. They spent a couple of days here, going through orientation and preparing their rigs for travel through the Canadian Rockies to Alaska. They’re pulling out as I type this. This caravan lasts 59 days. Adventure Caravans provides staff in two motorhomes – one that leads the group and another that follows. If anyone has a problem or mechanical breakdown, the following staff stops and helps them. The cost of this tour for two people with a motorhome is $8,895.00.

I think we’ll continue to see the sights on our own. Donna and I don’t get too excited about guided tours. We prefer to move at our own pace.

Yesterday, I rode the scooter over to Albertson’s grocery store and bought a fresh wild Copper River sockeye salmon filet. Donna topped it with a mixture of mayonnaise and fresh-dried dill from her mother’s garden and I grilled it on foil. Donna sauteed vegetables and pierogies on the side. It was a great combination!

Sauteed veggies and pierogies

Sauteed veggies and pierogies

Copper River sockeye salmon with dill

Copper River sockeye salmon with dill-mayo

Today, the weather guessers are calling for high temperature of 80 degrees with a chance of a thunder shower this afternoon. Other than getting out on  my bicycle, I don’t have any plans for the day.

Mumbro Park

My last post left off with us arriving at Mumbro Park on Saturday afternoon. We took a tour of the compound. Bob added another bunkhouse since the last time I was here. Presumably, it’s for the grandkids as it had a sign proclaiming it as the Kid’s Cubby.

I was filled with memories of the magical times I’ve had here. We walked around and I told Donna stories. I was so preoccupied, I didn’t take many pictures. We looked for the keys to the cabin, but couldn’t find them. I found the back window unlatched and climbed in. Once inside, I read the cabin instruction manual (for visitors) and realized we didn’t search the right area. After I unlocked the cabin from the inside, Donna found the keys!

Main cabin at Mumbro Park

Main cabin at Mumbro Park

Once inside, I retrieved the keys for the outbuildings. Shirley asked me to check all of the buildings. We walked over to The Annex, which is the bunkhouse I always slept in during hunting season here.

The Annex

The Annex

Bob added a wood-burning stove to heat the place. Back in the ’90s, we had to rely on long johns and a good down sleeping bag.

Behind the cabin is a wood-fired sauna. Bob built it the second or third year I came here. I did some of the work helping him frame the door – Bob always had a task for us. I wish I had more pictures of the place. To use the sauna, you build a fire in the special stove. After an hour or so, the sauna is very warm. Lava rock sits on top of the stove. You ladle water on the lava rock and the sauna fills with steam. After a long day hiking in the woods, the sauna is heaven.

While we stood outside the sauna and I described to Donna how it works, we had a visitor. A long-tailed weasel came out from under the sauna. He stood upright on his hind legs and looked at us as if to inquire, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He scurried over to some building material nearby and ducked into a section of three-inch pipe. The opposite end of the pipe was next to where we stood. He poked his head out of the pipe, confident in his safe position of cover and looked us over again. Then he ran off, under The Annex and down into the aspen patch behind the cabin.

Long tailed weasel - Google file photo

Long tailed weasel – Google file photo

Bob has a number of bird houses on the property. There were tree swallows and bluebirds flying in and out of the houses. A few of them seemed curious about our coach and flew up to the window, hovering briefly before turning away.

Coach from in front of the cabin

Coach viewed from the front of the cabin

On Sunday morning, Donna and I hiked up the ridge on the south side of the cabin. It was a steep climb and we felt the 5,900-foot altitude. We followed game trails created by elk and deer criss-crossing the ridge. Eventually we made it to the knob on top and came to a small clearing. We talked quietly while hiking, hoping to spot deer or elk. I told Donna to look for a shape or color that looks out of place, or movement. That’s how you spot game animals in the woods. You’re not likely to find a deer or elk standing in the open. But you might see a part of the animal. When you see something unusual, stop and study it. It might be a leg or a flickering ear or an antler. Then you realize there’s an animal concealed, waiting for you to pass.

As we began to hike back down, Donna spotted something. She found an antler shed by a buck mule deer.

Donna's mule deer antler find

Donna’s mule deer antler find

We continued down the steep ridge. We didn’t see any deer or elk. At one point I thought I heard a cow elk calling, but we weren’t able to locate the animal in the woods.

At the bottom, near a spring, Donna grabbed my arm and stopped me. She said look at that bird. It was a ruffed grouse, right on our path. Donna has a good eye for this stuff.

Ruffed grouse near a spring

Ruffed grouse in center of photo, near a spring

The hike up and down the ridge took about two hours. We had lunch back at the coach, then walked down to the pond and fished. The pond is called Maude’s Pond – I don’t remember the story behind the name. The pond is stocked with trout. The last time I fished there, I had to hide behind a tree to bait my hook to keep the fish at bay. We didn’t have that problem this time around. Donna and I were skunked without a bite.

View of Mumbro Park from Maude's Pond

View of Mumbro Park from Maude’s Pond

At first, Donna wanted to keep the antler she found. Later, she decided to add it to the pile of antler finds at the fence corner.

Pile of shed antlers

Pile of shed antlers

As incongruent as it may seem, on Sunday afternoon I fired up the generator, dialed in the Dish satellite receiver and watched the Formula One race. As nice as it was to be off the grid, I can still enjoy my race programming!

On Monday morning, before we we left Mumbro Park, Donna saw a yellow-bellied marmot cross by The Annex and climb on the fence post to sun himself. He relaxed there for awhile, totally unaware of us watching him from the coach. Later, Donna walked to the highway (about one and three-quarters of a mile). There’s a narrow gate at the end of the road and a sharp left turn which could be a tricky exit for a 40-foot coach. She came up with a plan for how to get out without any mishaps. It worked out fine and we were soon on our way up US89. I expected an easy drive of 80 miles or so to Great Falls. I knew we had to make a tough climb up King’s Hill, but other than that it should’ve been easy.

After we descended from Kings Hill, the terrain changed. We left the forest behind and were driving through rolling hills. This is cattle ranch country. The wind picked up and became a fierce cross wind. It was a tiring drive.

When we finally made it to the junction of US87, there was a rest area across the two-lane highway. I needed a stop. Directly in front of us, the parking area had a sign that read “exit only.” I thought I had to go right to enter the rest area. I turned right and found out I was wrong. Now we were heading east when we wanted to go west to Great Falls.

Some of the two-lane highways in Montana stretch for many miles between towns or side roads. I wasn’t happy about heading east toward Lewistown, many miles away. After 10 miles, we found a truck repair shop with a large dirt lot. I pulled in and turned around. All the while, I was fighting wind gusts and the added 20 miles was a real downer. But Donna and I agreed that the best thing to do in these situations is to remain calm and patient until the right opportunity to correct things appears.

We made our way west on US87 and Nally (our Rand-McNally GPS) guided us to Dick’s RV Park where we’ll spend the next two weeks.

Dick’s RV park is situated on the west side of Great Falls, next to the Sun River. The Sun River joins the Missouri River less than a mile from here. Outside of the park entrance there’s a paved bike path. The path becomes the River’s Edge bike trail. It follows the Missouri River for 26 miles east through half a dozen parks, ending at the Rainbow Dam.

Yesterday, Donna rode the bike trail. While she was out bicycling, I rode the scooter to town. I made a stop at a grocery store (Albertson’s) and an auto parts store. I needed cleaning supplies as I intend to wash the coach while we’re here.

Clouds formed in the afternoon and we had brief thunder showers. This morning, it’s drizzling rain. The forecast calls for a cloudy day with a high of 65 degrees.