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.
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.
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.
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.
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.