Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day #2 - Montana

Where do I start? We had a big day under the big sky.

We just finished a picnic of left over pizza, apples, cheese, and bread on the floor in our bay windowed room in a Victorian mansion near downtown Helena. At this moment the cathedral bell across the street is tolling the hour. We are expecting a first class breakfast in the B & B dining room tomorrow morning.

Today the Rockies kept the clouds at bay - plenty of sun and unfortunately more than a little smoke. No visible fire even though we drove through an area with signs that announced a fire zone. It is even a bit smokey here in Helena.

I've lost track of how many mountain passes we went through today. I think it is three or four. Most of the day was spent in the mountains. We saw several crews gearing up for the snow expected tonight or tomorrow. It is good that the passes are behind us for a while.

Early in the day (we were on the road by 7:30 am) we made a spur of the moment visit to an old mission church perched on the top of a hill in Idaho. It was built in the 1840s by Jesuit monks. Another spontaneous side trip led us through the charming town of Wallace, Idaho. We left the highway again in Western Montana to eat our lunch by an old log lodge surrounded by small log cabins.

The landscape we saw today is quintessential Western Montana. Steep, pine covered, dry slopes dropping down into river valleys dotted with rustic barns, cattle, horses, and even antelope. We crossed the same river so many times I lost count. As the mountains gradually opened into wider valleys, we could easily see why this is called big sky country. The most spectacular view was from the last pass before we descended into Helena.

Our goal today was to arrive at the Montana Historical Society early enough in the afternoon to do some family research before it closed at 5:00 pm. Even after losing an hour because of the time zone, we arrived by 2:30. I spent my time looking through miles of microfilm for my grandmother's teaching certificate to no avail, but I did find marriage certificates for two of her aunts. It would be possible to spend days in the research library and still not be finished.

We took a walk around the downtown area before our picnic dinner. Many interesting old buildings from the gold mining era still line the streets. I found a school building depicted on one of my grandmother's post cards. One surprise was an 1920s masonic lodge, now civic center, with a 17 story minaret. The cathedral across the street is magnificent.

The end of another satisfying day. Tomorrow we visit the area where my mother was born on a homestead near White Sulphur Springs.

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