Monthly Archives: July 2020

Great Falls, Montana July 21, 2020

We arrived in Great Falls, Montana, (pop 59,000) for a two week stay. Great Falls is the third largest city in Montana. IMG_20200803_131659

It is located along the upper Missouri River where the Lewis and Clark Expedition had to portage around five waterfalls in June 1805 and then again during their return trip in 1806. IMG_20200802_133342L&C Portage Route MTIMG_20200803_131817Within a 15 mile stretch of the Missouri River there is an elevation change of 500 feet. This very difficult 18 mile portage around the falls took over 31 days. This portage was one of the most difficult of their journey. Great Falls gets its name from these five waterfalls. Today the city is called “The Electric City” because each of the falls has a hydroelectric dam. 

We spent time exploring the different falls and dams that make up Great Falls. The falls look much different today than they did during the time of Lewis and Clark because they were altered by the construction of the dams. The falls which at one time was seen as a great obstacle by Lewis and Clark is now seen as of great benefit to supply energy and power to the city. 

Of the five falls, one is not accessible by car and one is submerged. We were able to visit the other three. IMG_20200725_110316

Great Falls/Ryan Dam was the first we visited. When first seen by Lewis and Clark, a measurement of the height was taken by Clark using a sextant and a rod using geometry. Clark estimated the height to be 97 feet and ¾ inches which is remarkably accurate to the 96 feet shown by recent electronic measurements. Clark was only off by a foot! IMG_20200725_111308rThe Big Falls Missouri River MT 1910

To best view the dam and falls we walked across a suspension bridge across the Missouri River to Ryan Island Park. The upper part of the falls were covered by the 1,336 foot Ryan Dam. At first the dam was called Volta Dam after the Italian Alessandro Volta for whom voltage was named. It was later renamed Ryan Dam. IMG_20200725_105958IMG_20200725_110123PANO_20200725_111525.vr

Next up was Rainbow Falls/Rainbow Dam. Captain Lewis referred to this as “Beautiful Cascade”. The dam was constructed in 1910. IMG_20200726_115412IMG_20200726_105423IMG_20200726_105659MVIMG_20200726_105711

The last falls we visited was Black Eagle Falls/Black Eagle Dam. This falls is 26 feet high and 600 yards wide and was the first to be dammed in 1890.  We viewed the falls and dam from the Black Eagle Memorial Island Park which was accessed across a bridge. IMG_20200725_124239IMG_20200726_122717

On the riverfront trail along the Missouri River was a statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea. IMG_20200726_122751-EFFECTSIMG_20200726_122948IMG_20200726_123109IMG_20200726_110616

We also visited Giant Springs State Park, a beautiful state park. Clark first found this great spring in June, 1805 and called it the largest fountain or spring he ever saw. It is one of the largest freshwater springs in the United States. Over 150 million gallons of water flow from Giant Springs into the Missouri River everyday. MVIMG_20200726_111554IMG_20200726_112343IMG_20200726_112419

The springs are the source of the Roe River, which at one time was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest river in the world. Whether or not that record stands today, at only 201 feet in length it is definitely one of the shortest. The Roe River flows into the Missouri River, the longest river in the United States. IMG_20200726_111547IMG_20200726_111655IMG_20200726_112602

Next up we visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. It was disappointing that both the theater and entire lower level of the Center were closed due to the pandemic. IMG_20200726_114936IMG_20200726_120309IMG_20200726_120309(1)

There were still interesting exhibits and displays here about the Expedition. Meriwether Lewis wrote that he saw more buffalo in this area than he ever witnessed before. Buffalo was a staple diet for the local Native Americans and became a favorite meal for the members of the Expedition. IMG_20200726_115758IMG_20200726_115853

We stopped by the Great Falls Visitors Center which was closed but we did see a nice statue of Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, York a slave and Seaman the dog. We also found a geocache there. IMG_20200726_135500

We found a nice police memorial nearby. IMG_20200726_135702

On another very hot day we drove to the Upper Portage Camp Overlook. This area overlooks the site of the 1805 Lewis and Clark Upper Portage Camp on the banks of the Missouri River. Even though the landscape has changed over the centuries, it was still a place where we felt a deep sense of history.


A Reenactment Of The Boat; In the Background In the Trees Is the Campsite

While Clark directed the portage around the falls, at this site Lewis supervised the assembly of a boat they had hauled in pieces from Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Considered an experiment, the iron boat frame was designed by Lewis in 1803. The canoe shaped frame was 36 feet long and 4 ½ feet wide with nearly 200 pounds of iron strips connected with screws. It was further strengthened with willow limbs and covered with animal skins. It was designed to carry 8,000 pounds. Lewis’ crew labored for weeks preparing 28 elk and four bison hides. Unfortunately during a trial run the boat at first floated like a cork and then sank. Lewis was devastated by the failure and ordered the boat to be buried here.

They then quickly moved upstream and made two large cottonwood boats as a replacement. The iron boat and failed experiment was never mentioned in their journals. A replica of the boat experiment is located here today. 

Meanwhile at the Lower Portage Camp, Clark and the rest of the Corps of Discovery struggled around the five falls. Four times they loaded baggage into six canoes laid upon carts and then pushed and pulled the heavy loads across 18 miles of rugged terrain. They used sails to help them whenever strong winds allowed and endured brutal hail storms. At one point they documented hail as large as seven inches in diameter that bounced 12 feet and landed 30 feet away. It left them bruised and bloodied. They endured heat, rain, prickly pear cactus, and mosquitoes. Through it all Sacajawea, having recently been deathly ill, carried her four month old baby. 

The Expedition all gathered together at the Upper Portage to rest and plan the rest of their journey before leaving on July 13, 1805. They stockpiled meat, wrote lengthy journal entries, made detailed maps, and dug a cache to store items and equipment they wouldn’t need until their return trip when they camped here again from July 13-26, 1806. It was here they celebrated the nation’s 30th Independence Day on July 4, 1805 with a feast of bacon, beans, dumplings, and bison meat as well as singing and dancing. They wrote they fought off mosquitoes and grizzly bears that harassed them daily. 

We also found a geocache here after a long search in the hot sun. 

We enjoyed our time in this historic city except for the extremely hot temperatures. 

Next up: Lewistown, Montana

Cascade, Montana July 16, 2020

This blog posting is dedicated to our good friend and blog reader Bob M. who grew up in Great Falls and Helena. Bob, you have a really beautiful home state. We are certainly enjoying our time here! 

Our current stop was south of the tiny town of Cascade, Montana near the Missouri River about thirty miles south of Great Falls for a six night stay.

This is such a beautiful part of Montana. Interstate 15 goes back and forth over the Missouri River.

One day we went sightseeing and geocaching. We saw lots of fishing and people enjoying the water. MVIMG_20200716_133334IMG_20200716_144620IMG_20200716_144955IMG_20200716_145027

Bill found a geocache located at the 1930 Hardy Bridge which crosses the Missouri River. This bridge was used in the 1987 movie “The Untouchables”. This area was portrayed as Canada in the movie. During filming a sign saying “Welcome to Canada” hung from the bridge. After filming ended they left the sign on the bridge which really confused people traveling through the area! The sign is gone today. IMG_20200716_132551IMG_20200716_132603IMG_20200716_150747

On Sunday, July 19th we took a two hour boat trip with the Gates of the Mountains boat tour company. The marina is located on the Missouri River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains between Helena and Great Falls. IMG_20200719_094659IMG_20200719_09531600000IMG_00000_BURST20200719100145261_COVER

In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled down this section of the Missouri River, marveling at the limestone cliffs at a height of 1,200 feet. The Expedition was traveling against the current as they sought the headwaters of the Missouri River. 00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200719100346470_COVERIMG_20200719_100729IMG_20200719_100815IMG_20200719_102147IMG_20200719_103309IMG_20200719_103349IMG_20200719_110619IMG_20200719_105404

From a distance, the bends in the waterways made the great stone walls appear to block passage only to then open up like gates as the expedition approached. IMG_20200719_104707IMG_20200719_105545IMG_20200719_105514

Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal, “I shall call this place: Gates of the Mountains”. 

Our boat was named Sacajawea 2. This tour boat company has been giving tours for over 100 years and the two hour tour was a great deal at only $14 a person (senior price). We saw four eagles, a huge eagle nest and bighorn sheep. IMG_20200719_103900IMG_20200719_103948IMG_20200719_113404IMG_20200719_113603

This actual boat was used in the Clint Eastwood 1974 movie “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”. In the movie the boat was named “Idaho Dream” a mailboat on the Snake River. Several scenes were filmed on our section of the tour. As the guide pointed out the Snake River does not look like the Missouri River. MVIMG_20200719_111637

We also saw a Native American pictograph of a bison which was hard to see in the distance. IMG_20200719_104339

We also have rock formations that appear to be various animals.


This Looks Like a Person


Do You See an Elephant?


This Looks Like Groot from the Marvel Movies


Do You See a Monkey’s Face?

We stopped briefly at the Meriwether Picnic Area, named for the area where the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery camped on July 19,1805, exactly 215 years ago on the day we took the boat trip. IMG_20200719_110553IMG_20200719_111156IMG_20200719_111004

One evening from our campsite we could see a doe and her fawn. We love Montana! IMG_20200719_185038IMG_20200719_185029

Next up: Great Falls

Butte and Helena, Montana July 5, 2020

Leaving Bozeman we headed north to a small town (Basin) about thirty miles south of Helena for a ten day stay. 

One day we drove south to the town of Butte, Montana, pop 5,700. Butte was once known as the “richest hill on earth” because of the mineral wealth that made hundreds of men wealthy and gave jobs to thousands and thousands of immigrants. While gold and silver brought the first wealth to the area, it was copper that helped it earn its nickname. It produced more than 20 billion pounds of copper, more than any other in the United States. Due to the demand for copper during the industrial revolution, Butte had electricity before NYC and other major cities. At the turn of the century it was the richest and largest city in the northwest. By 1955 most of the high grade copper was gone so they turned to extracting ore, with 48 billion dollars worth of ore extracted. As of 2017, Butte has the largest population of Irish Americans per capita of any city in the United States. IMG_20200708_124548

Just outside of Butte we stopped at an overlook to get a geocache and noticed “Our Lady of the Rockies”, a 90 foot high statue of the Virgin Mary which sits on the Continental Divide and overlooks the town. It is a nondenominational tribute to motherhood that took six years to build and was airlifted into place in 1985. It is the third tallest statue in the United States. IMG_20200708_124522IMG_20200708_124533

Our main reason for coming to Butte was to hike on the Milwaukee Road Rail-Trail, a former railroad for the former Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad which was converted to a walking and biking trail. This section of the railroad was one of the first in the country to be electrified, with Thomas Edison coming out to Butte to ride the railroad. IMG_20200708_141422IMG_20200708_143604

The trail includes two tunnels and a trestle and is 9.5 miles round trip. We made it to the two tunnels and then walked back for a total of five miles. We were tired!


First Tunnel is 550 Feet Long


Second Tunnel is 1,100 Feet Long


Another view of the Longer Tunnel

We really wanted to walk to the trestle but ten miles was too much for us. So after we got back to the car we drove to see the trestle which is 600 feet long and rises 130 feet above the valley.  IMG_20200708_170026

We had one more stop to make at the grave of Evel Knievel, the stuntman and daredevil who was born and grew up in Butte. IMG_20200708_171743IMG_20200708_171533IMG_20200708_171554

Another day we drove north from our campground to Helena, the capital of Montana, pop 28,000. If you follow our blogs you know that visiting and touring capitol buildings is always on our list of things to do. Montana became a state and Helena, became the capital in 1889. IMG_20200710_111306-EFFECTS

In 1864 four tired and discouraged prospectors looking for gold stumbled down a gulch and decided to take one last chance to strike gold. On their last chance they hit gold and a town flourished. The area became known as “Last Chance Gulch”. Today that area is Helena’s main street. The gold rush lasted long enough for 3.6 billion dollars (in today’s dollars) of gold to be extracted from Last Chance Gulch over two decades, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the United States by the late 19th century. This wealth is evident by the grand Victorian mansions we saw today. By 1888 about fifty millionaires lived in Helena, more per capita than in any city in the world. Today the majority of people in Helena are Irish and Catholic. It is the fifth least populous state capital in the United States and the sixth most populous city in Montana. By the way, in the late 1970s when repairs were being made to a bank, a vein of gold was found under the bank’s foundation. Actor Gary Cooper, actress Myrna Loy and fashion designer Liz Claiborne are from Helena. 

We took the hour long “Last Chance Tour Train” for a historical tour of Helena. IMG_20200710_105943IMG_20200710_110638Originally built as a Shrine temple in 1920, the Helena Civic Center is now owned and operated by the City of Helena.


After the train tour we did a self guided tour of the capitol building. The guided tours were canceled because of the pandemic and the capitol building was very quiet. Even the security desk was empty. IMG_20200710_120915

This painting represents the Lewis and Clark Expedition in July 1805 arrival at the Three Forks (headwaters of the Missouri River). Sacagawea’s recognition of her people’s hunting grounds from which she had been abducted five years earlier. Clark (at left) and Lewis flank Sacagawea; to the right is her husband, interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau. At the far left are explorer John Colter and Clark’s African American slave, York.
IMG_20200710_123514On September 8, 1883, at Gold Creek (approximately half way between Helena and Missoula). Former president Ulysses S. Grant wields the sledgehammer that he will use to drive the last spike for Northern Pacific Railroad.

Jeannette Rankin (1880–1973) became the first woman to serve in the United States Congress in 1916.


We always look for the Liberty Bell and Ten Commandments at each capitol site. IMG_20200710_104745IMG_20200710_105827

We could see the sleeping giant in the distance. Do you see him? IMG_20200710_123720

Next we visited the beautiful Cathedral of St Helena completed in 1914. The stained glass windows were made in Munich, Germany. IMG_20200710_141104IMG_20200710_135943IMG_20200710_140104IMG_20200710_140215IMG_20200710_140705IMG_20200710_135953IMG_20200710_140123IMG_20200710_140342IMG_20200710_140508

Next up: Great Falls, Montana


Bozeman, Montana July 1, 2020

Leaving our campground in Gardiner, Montana just outside the Yellowstone NP, we headed north to Bozeman, Montana pop 49,000.  It is the fourth largest city in Montana and the home of Montana State University. 

Bozeman was named for John Bozeman who brought the first wagon train of settlers to this area and founded the town in 1864. He blazed the trail which later became known as Bozeman Trail which was the way west for many settlers and miners. The area was a sacred hunting area to Native Americans and there were constant attacks on the settlers. When John Bozeman was killed by the Sioux, his trail remained unused for nine years because of repeated attacks. Today the Bozeman area is one of the state’s prime agriculturally productive regions.

After an easy 90 minute drive we pulled into what turned out to be our least favorite campground this year. We are not picky and do not have high expectations, but this campground was situated between an interstate highway and a railroad track. If the constant traffic noise didn’t keep you awake, the train whistles would. Added to that was an almost nonexistent Verizon signal and a high price. We told ourselves it was only for six nights and could tolerate it that long.

When I was looking for geocaches in the area, I found one located at the Little Bear School House and Museum. The one room school house is made from logs, built in 1912 and was used until 1950. In 1998 it was opened as a museum with authentic desks, ink wells, writing slates, teacher’s desk, black boards and learning materials from the early 20th century. There were also antique lunch boxes and fountain pen collections and an antique merry go round. As a former teacher I was really looking forward to the visit. It was located ten miles outside of Bozeman. IMG_20200701_120011IMG_20200701_120530

We arrived to find it closed due to the pandemic. I had checked before we left and their Facebook page said it was open. Come on people, it is not that hard to update a website’s information. We tried to look in the windows but the bright sunlight and thick screens prevented us from seeing much. These pictures were taken through the windows. IMG_20200701_120250IMG_20200701_120308

The wooden walkway leading to the front door had the names of students who had attended the school. IMG_20200701_120024

On Sunday we drove thirty miles to Missouri Headwaters State Park where the Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison Rivers converge to form the Missouri River, the longest river in North America. IMG_20200704_140556

It flows 2,341 miles before entering the Mississippi River north of St Louis, Missouri. The Mississippi River is the second longest at 2,141 miles. If you add the lengths of the Missouri and Ohio Rivers to the Mississippi, it would makes the Mississippi River the third longest river system in the world. 

In 1805, Lewis and Clark camped at the Missouri River headwaters for three days and thought their exploration of the Missouri River to its source as one of the major goals of their expedition. Lewis and Clark agreed to named the three rivers:

  • the Jefferson River after President Thomas Jefferson,
  • the Madison River after Secretary of State James Madison, and
  • the Gallatin River after Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin. IMG_20200704_142636

Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who traveled with Lewis and Clark, had roots in this area. At the age of twelve, while camped here with her people, she was kidnapped by another tribe and taken to what is now North Dakota as a slave. Charbonneau, a fur trader, purchased her. Charbonneau was hired for the Lewis and Clark Expedition as an interpreter. He brought along Sacagawea with her infant son. Her presence helped convince the Native Americans of the group’s peaceful intentions. Later Sacagawea helped them find the Shoshones where she was reunited with her brother. The Shoshone agreed to sell them the horses they desperately needed to cross the mountains. The Shoshone asked for payment in guns which they needed to fight their enemies. IMG_20200704_144927

During the Civil War entrepreneurs started a small town here in hopes of establishing a major transportation center with steamships connecting with stage lines. This never took hold and the area became a ghost town before becoming a state park in 1951.  Here stands the remnants of the Gallatin City hotel, about 1862. IMG_20200704_140753

Over the centuries the three forks of the Missouri River was a natural crossroads and meeting place for many different Indian nations to come together. Later traveling bands of hunters used the area to meet, trade and camp. Today we saw it as a popular place for people to tube down the water, pandemic or no pandemic! IMG_20200704_143028IMG_20200704_151315

Next up was the nearby Madison Buffalo Jump State Park. This is an extremely small state park accessed on a gravel road. Neither state park we visited today was manned by any park rangers. We just put our entrance fee in an envelope in a box and continued on. IMG_20200704_153934

Starting two thousand years ago and used as recently as two hundred years ago, the Madison Buffalo Jump was used to kill buffalo. Before Indians acquired horses, they sometimes stampeded large herds of buffalo off this high limestone cliff and Indians waiting at the base killed them with spears. This was most often done in the fall of the year when buffalo cows were prime and the tribes were gathering food and supplies for the winter. Highly skilled young men trained for speed and endurance wore buffalo, antelope or wolf skins to lure the buffalo to the cliff. They would excite or frighten them into a stampede over the edge. Buffalo bones are still buried at the base of the cliff. We thought about hiking to the top of the cliff but gathering storm clouds convinced us otherwise. IMG_20200704_154915IMG_20200704_154336

Another day we visited the American Computer and Robotics Museum in Bozeman. Known as the oldest continually operating museum of its kind in the world and labeled by a Harvard professor as “Inch for inch, the best museum in the world”, and given that Bill is a computer engineer, you know we just had to visit! It is a museum of the history of computers, communications, artificial intelligence and robotics. IMG_20200701_143958MVIMG_20200701_140730IMG_20200701_141708r

With that said, I have to step aside and let Bill take over from here with this part of the blog!

The museum has many real items like one of Isaac Newton’s original book 1687, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.  On loan is a Enigma Machine which the Germans believed was impossible to break but Alan Turing and his team in England developed technology to decrypt most of the German war messages during the war.



Alan Turing (1912-1954) ideas were used to create the modern computers and conceived of the field of “Artificial Intelligence”.


John von Neumann (1903 -1957) was a mathematician regarded as the one of the greatest mathematician in modern history. He made major contributions to many fields. His concept of data and program stored in the computer memory space has become the de facto standard for most computers that exist today (called the von Neumann architecture).

Here are some of the many early personal computers of the 1980’s. IMG_20200701_141847IMG_20200701_141857IMG_20200701_141904IMG_20200701_142027

One of my favorite devices is the Curta four function hand held, mechanical calculator (about the size of a soup can.) Developed in the 1930 was built until electronic calculators in the 1970s displaced them. IMG_20200701_132910

Next up: Montana’s capitol area Helena and Butte city.