Gettysburg

Monday, September 21, 2021

We pulled into Gettysburg last night, and are lodging at an inn downtown on Lincoln Square, right next door to the house where President Lincoln stayed the night before giving his Gettysburg Address at the National Cemetery.

Many of the buildings in this area date from before the war, including our inn, built in 1824. One building has a shell casing still embedded in its wall. Buildings that were here at the time are identified by sign, and many have stories of the people who lived or worked in the buildings. In spite of three days of spirited battle, only one civilian was killed during the battle.

Before visiting the park, we had breakfast at Ernie’s Texas Lunch, a diner that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and it was easy to see why it’s survived for so long. The food was good as was the service (our waitress has worked there for 33 years). We’ll probably go back tomorrow.

This is Mark’s first and my third visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. My first visit was in the early 1990s, my second in 2013. Each visit is emotional. Over three days, from July 1 through July 3, 1863, about 50,000 people were killed, injured, captured or missing.

We watched the movie, ”Gettysburg,” based on the novel ”Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara, before coming here. The movie was filmed on location here, so we could get a sense of just how large the scene of battle was, about 18 square miles, and encompassing the town of Gettysburg. We also hired a private guide, well worth the money, only $75 for two hours of driving around the battlefield and telling the story day by day.

Fighting was fierce throughout the campaign. Possibly best known of the various actions, Pickett’s Charge took place on the last day, an infantry assault by the Confederate Forces that cost them 9,000 casualties our of a force of 12,500 infantry. The Union forces lost only 1,500.

Our own state of Minnesota played a role at this battle. The 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment was indeed the very first group of volunteers to the Union. When Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey learned of the attack on Fort Sumter, he immediately volunteered 1,000 men to President Lincoln. Then he went home and recruited the volunteers, who signed up for a five-year commitment. By the time the 1st arrived at Gettysburg, there were only 262 men left. Under orders from General Winifred Scott Hancock, and let by Colonel William J. Colvill, they faced 1,200 men from General James Longstreet’s corps and Richard Anderson’s Division, protecting a vital Union position. Within minutes, 215 of these brave soldiers were wounded or killed. They attacked with bayonets, buying time for more Union forces to be brought up, earning high praise from General Hancock (“there is no more gallant deed recorded in history”) and future President Calvin Coolidge (“Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as the saviors of their country.”) Yay for Minnesota!

The State of Minnesota was the first to put up a memorial at Gettysburg Battlefield, a flower urn that resides in the National Cemetery, where 52 Minnesotans are buried.

Instead of advancing further north, Robert E. Lee was forced to withdraw his troops to Maryland. General George Meade halfheartedly pursued, but seems to have squandered the opportunity to quash the rebellion and end the war. Instead, it continued for almost two more years.

States that participated in this battle, from both sides, raised money to build and install monuments here at the park, often in the area where they played the greatest roles. Virginia’s monument has General Robert E. Lee astride his horse, looking across Pickett’s Field to where General Meade looks back.

The Gettysburg National Cemetery holds the graves of more than 3,500 Union soldiers who died on this battlefield. Initially, bodies were buried on the battlefield, in shallow graves. A few months later, a cemetery was created. Mostly Union soldiers were buried here, all but a few of the Confederate soldiers’ bodies were relocated to cemeteries in southern states. The cemetery also has graves of veterans from succeeding wars, and there are now over 6,000 soldiers buried here.

It’s been a wonderful trip, but like all good things, it’s coming to an end. We’ll be heading back to Minnesota where the temps are a bit lower than they are here. Oh well!

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Antietam

Monday, September 20, 2021

We actually began our tour of Civil War sites a couple of days ago, at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick. The museum operates the Pry House Field Hospital Museum near Antietam, so we stopped in there as well, but it was not open today. The Pry House sits on the east bank of Antietam Creek. In September, 1862, the Union Army appropriated the house for its battle headquarters. General George B McClellan and other officers observed the battle from this location.

The house was also used as the headquarters for the medical department, under Dr. Jonathan Letterman. The barn was used as a field hospital for enlisted men. Along with two other farms on the west bank of the creek, at least 1.500 men were treated for their injuries.

The Pry family were prosperous farmers before the war. Their losses were great – food stores depleted, livestock slaughtered, fences burned for fuel, hay used up. Crops in the field were consumed, seeds and farm animals lost. They ultimately moved out of state.

On September 17, 1862, just 149 years ago, Antietam became the site of the deadliest one-day battle in US military history, with 23,000 casualties. Had we arrived a couple of days ago, we could have participated in the Battle Anniversary. Hikes, tours, talks, weapon firing demonstrations, were all arranged over a 4 day period ending yesterday. Today, it’s a bit quieter here. We arrived just in time for a docent-led tour, which we appreciated.

The Battle of Antietam was part of Robert E Lee’s first invasion of the North. Lee had invaded Maryland with his full force, in an attempt to shift the focus of the war to Federal territory. He hoped to garner enough victories to propel him to the nation’s capital in Washington, DC, and to convince European nations to recognize the Confederate States of America. The losses on both sides were close enough that it was hard to say who was the victor. However, Lee’s forces were greatly diminished, and he returned to Virginia.

There were several reasons for the large number of casualties including: many raw recruits saw their first (and for many of them, their last) action on this day; and the rolling terrain made it possible to hide from the enemy until they were very close and then catch them by surprise; soldiers moving through surrounding cornfields could not see the nearby enemy, and were easily mowed down as they exited the fields.

Almost 5000 Civil War soldiers are buried in the Antietam National Cemetery. Over one-third are unknown. There are a couple hundred non-Civil War dead buried here as well, but the cemetery was closed in 1953 when it was deemed full.

Following the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, freeing the slaves of all states still in rebellion as of the following January 1. This proclamation redefined the Civil War, which was no longer just a struggle to preserve the union, but was now a war focused on ending slavery.

The drive to Gettysburg took us close to the Camp David presidential retreat located in the Catoctin Mountain Park of Maryland (not open to tourists, of course). We stopped at Sach’s Covered Bridge outside of Gettysburg, designated Pennsylvania’s Most Historic Bridge in 1938, and put on the National Historic Registry in 1980. It played a vital role for both sides during the Civil War.

Our route also took us by several scenic orchards and fruit farms. A few wrong turns provided opportunities to enjoy the beautiful countryside around Gettysburg. Apples, apricots, berries, pears, peaches, and many other fruits thrive in this area. We stopped at The Historic Round Barn & Farm Market in Biglerville, to check out some of the products from the many farms and orchards.

Just a few miles away from the Round Barn is another ”must see” attraction: Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium in Orrtanna, PA. Mr. Ed Gotwalt received his first elephant as a wedding gift, bought a few more on his honeymoon, and continued collecting, amassing a collection of about 12,000 figurines, statues and other elephant paraphernalia. Sadly, Mr. Ed passed away earlier this year, but the store is still operating, with his granddaughter and her husband as the current owners. Besides the thousands of elephant figurines, there is a great variety of candies and fudge. You won’t leave disappointed.

Tonight, we are staying in Gettysburg, and will visit that park tomorrow.

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Sunday, September 19, 2021

My only other visit to Harpers Ferry was eight years ago, with my father and brother. That particular trip was the impetus to start this blog, and I have truly enjoyed the experience of writing about my experiences.

This part of the country is full of history, and any traveler to the area should add a few days to explore sites related to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the French and Indian War as well as the Civil War. That’s a lot of warfare is less than 100 years.

West Virginia is our 50th state! Prior to 1863, it was part of the state of Virginia, and commonly called Trans-Allegheny Virginia. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, many of the delegates in the northwestern corner of the state were opposed to secession. Representatives from that area advocated for separate statehood. An election was held on October 24, 1861, with overwhelming support for the formation of a new state and constitution. A new state government was formed the following year, and the state petitioned for admission to the United States. President Lincoln stipulated that admission be predicated on the gradual abolition of slavery, and West Virginia was admitted as a state on June 20, 1863. That status was confirmed by the Supreme Court in two different cases.

The town of Harpers Ferry sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. At the easternmost point, you can view three states, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

You can follow the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath on the Maryland side of the Potomac. Canal Lock 33 was on the Maryland side of the Potomac, less than a mile from Harpers Ferry. The 184.5 mile canal operated between Washington, DC and Cumberland, MD, handling freight that the often shallow Potomac could not. Built in stages between 1828 and 1850, it operated almost 100 years before being shut down in 1924.

Hikers can connect to either of the Appalachian and the Potomac Heritage Trails here in Harpers Ferry. The headquarters for the Appalachian Trail is located in Harpers Ferry, and the Potomac Heritage follows the C & O Canal Towpath.

Harpers Ferry was home to a US Armory and Arsenal, and Meriwether Lewis came here in March, 1803 to procure guns and hardware for his and William Clark’s upcoming exploration of the newly acquired land covered by the Louisiana Purchase. While waiting for the materials, he oversaw the construction of a collapsible iron boat frame that he designed. The frame, which could come apart in sections, was covered in hide, and sealed with pine tar. It was designed to be light (176 pounds) but sturdy enough to carry a load of up to 4 tons. We saw a model of this boat when we were in Great Falls, Montana. The boat was abandoned near there because there were no pine trees in the area, and substitutes for pine tar proved to be leaky.

Harpers Ferry is best known for John Brown’s Raid. Brown and his sons fought for abolition, often violently, throughout the Kansas Territory. They rented a farmouse near Harpers Ferry in 1859 to launch a war against slavery. His plan was to assist slaves in their escape from the South, via the Appalachian mountains. He hoped that a mass migration would so damage the slave economy that it would fall apart. The first, and ultimately fatal step for Brown, was to capture Harpers Ferry. Things did not go according to plan, the local Jefferson Guards were notified, and were able to seal any escape routes. Brown was captured, most of his men and both of his sons were shot. Brown, himself, was tried for murder, treason and inciting slave rebellion. Found guilty, he was hanged six weeks later.

If you decide to visit, plan on parking at the Visitor Center located outside of town, and taking the shuttle to the site. There just aren’t enough parking spaces to accommodate all of the tourists. Take some time to enjoy the lovely neighborhoods as well as the boutiques downtown. We enjoyed a stop at “True Treats,” a shop that specializes in historic candies, made with recipes dating from the 1500s into the late 1900s. We managed to control ourselves and only buy a few items, including molasses hard candies popular in the 1800s – yummy!

It’s a charming town. I was delighted to come across a ”Blessing Box” outside of an Episcopal Church, shaped like a Little Free Library. However, instead of books, it had snacks, waters, even dog treats for those who pass by.

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Fun with PawPaw

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Like many others, we have been watching the COVID news to see if it’s still safe to attend events, or even if they will still be held. Optimistic, we ordered our tickets last month. We drove from Baltimore to Frederick, Maryland today. The 6th Annual PawPaw Fest was held this afternoon.

The pawpaw grows best in shaded, moist lowlands and floodplain soils. The leaves and stems contain a compound that can repel deer and rabbit. Too bad it won’t grow here! On the other hand, the compound is good for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars that dine exclusively on the pawpaw leaves.

Pawpaws don’t generally ripen after picking, but when ripe they only last a few days before getting mushy. These traits make it difficult to ship to other parts of the country. That’s why we had to travel to Frederick, Maryland to find out for ourselves just what the fuss is all about.

But, on the way from Baltimore, we visited the Monocacy National Battlefield, just south of Frederick. Three years into the Civil War, Confederate General Jubal Early was pressing towards Washington, DC, and set up a position at Frederick. Union troops were sent to Monacacy to try to stop Jubal’s advance. Federal forces were outnumbered; they were defeated and forced to retreat. However, this battle slowed Jubal down, allowing Federal troops time to reinforce their numbers outside the Capital, enough to repel Jubal. So, in spite of the defeat at Monocacy, it was considered a strategic victory for the North, and was referred to as “The Battle That Saved Washington.”

The battlefield included several farm fields at the time of the war, and much of the area is still farmland today. The Visitor’s Center has a model of the battlefield along with a narrative that explains how the battle progressed throughout the day. Very interesting!

The Pawpaw Festival took place at Long Creek Permaculture Haven, home to several eco-zones. Mushrooms, nuts and medicinal herbs are grown here. The center of the haven is a house that was built in 2016, a circular home that makes use of its surroundings and the environment.

There were several varieties of pawpaw to sample, all of them delicious. There are subtle differences, with some tasting more sweet, some more mellow. We even tried some pawpaw ice cream. We purchased a few to eat, and plan to bring the seeds home to Minnesota. Whether or not they will grow there remains to be seen.

After visiting the festival, we stopped at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick. The museum has over 5,000 artifacts in its collection, only a fraction of which are actually on display. Here we were able to learn more about how injured soldiers were evacuated from the battlefield, the operations of a field hospital, and how innovations during the Civil War impacted health practices going forward. While we may think that the medicine was primitive, it was actually technologically current for that era. Unfortunately, the concept of germs was not accepted at the time, and many infections resulted from the unsanitary conditions. In fact, of the over 600,000 soldiers who died during the war, two-thirds died of disease, only one-third died of their wounds.

Tomorrow, Harpers Ferry.

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Downtown Baltimore, Maryland

Friday, September 17

Today started early with a Baltimore City & Fort McHenry Sightseeing Tour by Viator. There were several stops to give us a taste of this city’s culture and long history.

First stop was at Federal Hill which we could see from our hotel room. Federal Hill Park, south of the Inner Harbor, was a favorite place for public gatherings in Baltimore. In 1788, thousands of local citizens celebrated Maryland’s ratification of the US Constitution with a parade that ended there. One of the parade floats was a 15 foot scale model of a fully rigged sailboat, named the ”Federalist,” which was to be installed at the park. After a bit of celebrating, some of the citizens decided to push the boat down the hill and launch it in the harbor. It was later sailed down the Chesapeake and up the Potomac to be presented to George Washington at Mount Vernon.

A few years later, a military battalion was set up here during the War of 1812, blocking the enemy’s path, and the British decided to attack Fort McHenry instead. Federal Hill Park was also used by the Union Army during the Civil War, more to prevent Maryland from seceding than to protect it from the Confederacy. The views from Federal Hill were impressive, although it was a bit rainy and hazy this morning.

It was a beautiful day to stop at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. We weren’t there at the right time to watch the flag raising or lowering, which is an impressive ceremony. I had visited almost 10 years ago, and was able to experience a display about the Flag that moved me to tears. Hopefully, it won’t be long before others can have that experience again. Fort McHenry and the War of 1812 provided the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write our nation’s anthem: “The Star Spangled Banner.” On September 14, 1814, a little more than 200 years ago, Key wrote a poem called “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” about a lone flag flying at daybreak after a day-long bombardment by the British. The British weren’t able to take the fort, and they weren’t able to take down the flag. Key’s poem was later set to music and became our national anthem in 1931.

We visited the Little Italy district. Is it too early for gelato? How about pasta and wine? Next stop Fells Point, one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods, established in 1763, and once a major shipbuilding port. It is home to the oldest standing residence in Baltimore, the Robert Long House, built in 1765. For Edgar Allan Poe fans, The Horse You Came in On Saloon is rumored to be his last stop before his death.

That was a lot to do before lunch, and a great deal of history in about 10 square miles of the city. After lunch, we spent a few hours at The National Aquarium, which opened in 1981. The aquarium is home to more than 750 species. Visitors start on the main level and move up four more levels to see the exhibits. This was one of the most interesting aquariums we have ever visited.

The Marine Mammal Pavilion houses the Aquarium’s dolphin colony, consisting of four females and two males. There were no shows today, but we were able to watch them swimming in the tank.

Tonight, we enjoyed an Inner Harbor Sunset Sail, also by Viator. It was a perfect evening for sailing, with a gentle breeze and comfortable temperature.

By the way, the Domino Sugars sign is one of the largest neon signs in the country, measuring 70 feet by 120 feet. The original sign was installed in 1951, at a cost of $75,000, but had deteriorated over the years. It was shut down in February this year, new LED lights were installed for about $2 million. The sign was relit on July 4, as background to a fireworks show put on by Domino Sugars.

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Looking for PawPaw

Thursday, September 16, 2021

My husband enjoys gardening, not so much the tending of plants as the exploration of plants that might grow in our environment. Besides garlic, asparagus, onions, yams and potatoes, he has several grape vines (both for wine and for eating) and a few fruit trees. We have apple, pear, plum, and apricot trees that can survive in our grow zone, which seems to straddle zones 3 and 4.

Gardeners will know that many plants and trees are simply not sturdy enough for Minnesota winters, but Mark remains optimistic, constantly searching for what will work here. In his research, he often comes across something intriguing, something to pursue. The most recent example is the Pawpaw tree, a fruit tree that is indigenous to the United States, primarily in a band from the mid-Atlantic states to the bottom half of the mid-Western states, notably far south of Minnesota. The tree bears a fruit that has been described as a cross between a mango and a banana. The fruit doesn’t travel well, so is rarely available outside of that area or at any other time of year than now.

We haven’t had the opportunity to try this intriguing plant, so we are heading to Frederick, Maryland, for their 6th Annual PawPaw Fest!! in a few days

We flew to Baltimore today, our first flight in over a year and a half. I’m surprised we still knew where to go and what to do. The flight crew were all very welcoming, even acknowledging the length of time since our last flight. We kept our masks on, and found that, although a little inconvenient, it really wasn’t onerous.

We’ll spend a little time checking out some of the sights in this beautiful city before heading to PawPaw country.. Our hotel is conveniently located near the waterfront, and just a few blocks from the National Aquarium and Marine Mammal Pavilion.

While taking a short walk in the afternoon, I came across The Inner Harbor Water Wheel, aka Mr. Trash Wheel, one of two such waterwheels that were designed to remove trash from the harbor. As water flows through a raking system that diverts the trash to the wheel, which pulls it up a conveyor belt, and dumps it into a dumpster barge. Pretty cool!

Mostly we relaxed after a long travel day. Dinner tonight was at McCormick & Schmick’s on the Waterfront. We were joined by a cousin, and had a fabulous evening, with good company, good wine and good food.

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Many Glacier Tour, East Glacier Park

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Since we can’t drive through the park, we are retracing part the route we drove yesterday to get back to the east side. We were told that we should take an alternate route, Looking Glass Hill Road, to get to St. Mary. The road skirted the park and was a bit rough in places, but better than the road to Ryan Dam in Great Falls. The views more than made up for the twists, turns and bumps. We stopped several times to admire the views.

Luckily, we did this trip in the morning, because thunderstorms hit East Glacier shortly after noon. It’s also a lot cooler on this side. Even after the rain subsided, the mountains were mostly clouded over.

Friday, June 25

The sun was shining this morning, although there were some low lying clouds around the mountains. Today’s activity was the Many Glacier Tour. We left our lodge early since we didn’t know how much traffic there would be. The traffic wasn’t bad, but the roadwork was! We were stopped a couple of times to allow oncoming traffic to use the one-way road. Much of the road into the park was dusty gravel, but next year it will be a beautiful paved road with several pullouts for tourists like us. At one point, we were told that the wait would be 15-20 minutes. Turns out that was enough time to get some great shots of the entrance to the park.

While waiting for our tour to begin, we spotted a brown blob in the lake. It was moving! I took my camera, zoomed in, and saw a moose cow crossing Swiftcurrent Lake. Very exciting. A few minutes later, I spied a fox enjoying a snack near the lodge. This was a pretty good way to start the day!

Our boat tour began by crossing Swiftcurrent Lake in one boat, disembarking and hiking to Lake Josephine and boarding another boat to cruise that lake. Fortunately, it was a little warmer than yesterday, but it’s still cool on the water. The views were simply amazing. The glaciers are not as massive as in other parts of the world (Glacier Bay in Alaska for the United States), but the mountains and lakes more than made up for that.

After the tour, we headed back to our lodging in Whitefish. Even though we’ve driven this route three times in as many days, it doesn’t get boring. We get back on the train early tomorrow morning to return to Minnesota.

One of the things we are bringing back home is a newfound love of huckleberries, very popular in Montana at this time of year. They are closely related to both blueberries and bilberries. We have sampled huckleberry pancakes, huckleberry pie, huckleberry soda, huckleberry with dark chocolate, huckleberry syrup, but haven’t found any huckleberry liqueur yet. If we do, it will come home with us along with syrup, jam and candy.

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Going Halfway to the Sun, West Glacier Park

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The drive from Great Falls to Glacier took most of the day. We learned online that the only way to drive the Park’s Going to the Sun Road is to have an entry pass, have a park tour booked, or to stay at a lodge in the Park. The passes were gone within minutes of becoming available. We did book a tour for the east side, but all of the tours were gone on the west side, and there was no lodging available in the park. We drove into the west entry anyway, and spoke to a very helpful park volunteer. She’s from Rochester, Minnesota, and truly espoused the concept of “Minnesota Nice.” She told us that no entry pass is required after 5pm, and since the sun doesn’t set until almost 10pm, we would have plenty of time to explore. She suggested that we wait until 5:45, because a lot of people will be lined up at 5, and the wait will be shorter later. We had hoped to do the entire Going to the Sun Road, but it’s actually blocked by snow about half way through!

The road was built between 1921 -1932, and it has been named an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It’s the only road that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (snowed in today). The road is considered one of the most difficult to plow in the spring, with up to 80 feet of snow accumulating on Logan Pass. The Park’s website recommends waiting until June 20 to drive the road to be sure it is free of snow, but that still wasn’t late enough!

Established in 1910, Glacier National Park covers over 1 million acres in northwestern Montana. Besides glaciers (only about 25 considered active,) there are over 700 lakes and 200 waterfalls. The mountains in and around the park were carved by huge glaciers during the last ice age. Evidence shows that over 300 glaciers have disappeared over the past 170 years. If we’d waited much longer, we might have missed them entirely. Along with Alberta, Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, the two parks combine to serve as the International Peace Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site bin 1995. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions prevent us from visiting the Canadian side on this trip.

Our evening drive on the Going to the Sun Road turned out to be very lovely. There wasn’t as much traffic as we’d feared, and we had no problem stopping at several locations. We were able to go about 15 miles into the park before the road was closed.

Lake McDonald was simply stunning, both the water and the surrounding mountains. Like Flathead Lake, the beaches are pebble, not sand. The water is very clear; it is an oligotrophic lake (relatively low in plant nutrients and containing abundant oxygen in the deeper parts), typical of a lake that is created after a glacier disappears.

Besides all of the water in the park, there are more than 1,000 species of plants and hundreds of species of animals, including grizzlies, moose and mountain goats, the official park symbol. Sadly, we didn’t see any of them during our evening drive.

McDonald Falls was quite impressive, and we were able to view it from a few different spots.

We paid a visit to Lake McDonald Lodge as well, where Snyder Creek empties into the lake. Although the water is cool, about 68 degrees right now, we saw several people swimming and floating on the water. It looked very inviting.

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Dam Hard to Get To!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

We drove north to Great Falls, Montana, home to five hydroelectric dams on the Missouri River, including Ryan, Rainbow, Black Eagle, Morony, and Cochrane, all providing power to the area. There are also five waterfalls: Rainbow, Black Eagle, Crooked, Colter and Big Falls, all within about 10 miles of each other. We figured we’d spend a little time locating each one of them. Easier said than done!

We located the dams on the map, and thought we’d shoot for the northernmost one first – Morony Dam. After going a short distance on Hwy 87, we came to a stop for roadwork. We sat there about 15 minutes, and turned around to look for another route. Bootlegger Trail looked like it would take us north of the roadwork, which it mostly did, but we had to cross the area being worked on to get where we wanted to go. The road was being completely rebuilt, traffic was led through one way, then the opposite side was led through. We were allowed to cross to the other side when an opening occurred. Bootlegger Trail was an adventure in itself; the part that was paved was full of potholes.

Morony Dam was OK, but barely worth the trip. However, the next stop was at Ryan Dam, built at the Great Falls themselves. Here, we could walk over to Ryan Island Park for great views up and down the river, as well as of the dam and the falls. This was definitely worth the effort to get here.

We did manage to see two more of the dams and waterfalls – Black Eagle (near downtown) and Rainbow, but there were no open roads to Cochran’s.

Giant Springs Park is between Black Eagle and Rainbow, and is home to one of the largest natural springs in the US. This spring produces over 156 million gallons of water per day. The water is pure, but visitors are discouraged from drinking from the spring because of the fish and waterfowl (I guess they poop in the water!) Lewis and Clark stopped here on their journey to the Pacific in 1805. Blackfeet people used these springs for their water source in winter. Settlers began arriving in the mid-1800s, and the town of Great Falls was established in 1884. Today, some of the water is bottled for consumers.

The springs flow into the Roe River which soon empties into the Missouri River. The Roe, named for a fish hatchery in the park, is only 201 feet in length, and was once called the shortest river in the world by Guinness. However, there has been an ongoing battle with the state of Oregon over whether their own D (creative name) River is actually the shortest. The length of the D varies with the tides, 120 feet at high tide, and 440 feet at low tide. It was also once named the shortest by Guinness. To avoid the conflict, Guinness no longer lists either one. Fame is fleeting.

Final stop of the day was at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, just up the road from the park. This area was challenging for the expedition because of the number of waterfalls, so they spent a great deal of time portaging.

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Old Faithful

Monday, June 21, 2021

We drove through Grand Teton National Park again to reach Yellowstone National Park, but this time on a different route. It was great to see the Tetons with the morning sun shining on them.

After entering Yellowstone, we drove along the Lewis River, which empties into Lewis Lake, the second largest lake in the park. It’s a very popular place for fishing, with several species of fish.

Yellowstone was named our country’s first national park, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the 3,500 square miles of geysers, hot springs, wildlife and more. Millions of people visit each year. The biggest draw, of course, is Old Faithful, so named because of the regularity of its eruptions, between 60 and 110 minutes. It spouts between 100-180 feet, sending up between 3,700 – 8,400 gallons during each eruption.

We arrived at Old Faithful just after an eruption, and the next one was estimated to be about 90 minutes later. This gave us plenty of time to get my National Parks Passport Book stamped, take care of personal issues, and walk the boardwalk around the geyser. The boardwalk was already filling up with people close to the Visitor Center, but we found a less crowded spot on the other side.

The eruption started slowly, with a few minutes of teasers. At one point, we did see some water spray, but the full eruption didn’t occur for about five more minutes. It was well worth waiting for. The water from the geyser flows into the Firehole River at different spots.

The park is teaming with wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, grizzly bears, cougars, gray wolves, red fox, river otters, moose, bighorn sheep and bison. In 2020, 4,680 bison were counted in two primary breeding herds. There are at least 300 species of birds, several native fish species, frogs, salamanders and toads, and six species of snakes. We did manage to see a small herd of bison with a few young ones.

We encountered some clean up work on our way to the west entrance, caused by a landslide. Apparently, this area has not yet found its “angle of repose.” We learned this term while cruising through the Panama Canal, in a section that continues to have landslides 100 years after its opening.

We were glad we made it to Yellowstone and Old Faithful before noon. Although it was crowded, the traffic going to the park was not too heavy yet. When we were leaving, the lines of cars stretched as far as the eye could see.

After enjoying the park, we drove north to Helena. This evening, we took some time to explore Last Chance Gulch, where gold had been discovered in 1864, and the town of Helena was founded by four gold miners who struck it rich here. They had spotted signs of gold in the Helena area while on their way to the Kootenai country. They soon decided to take“one last chance” on finding gold and returned to Helena. Good decision!

Last Chance Gulch had the second biggest placer gold deposit in Montana, producing $19 million worth of gold in just four years. In 1875, the city became the capital of Montana Territory, and in 1894, the capital of the new state of Montana. William Andrews Clark, of Butte fame, had a hand in making that happen.

The historic Main Street was built here, meandering around numerous mining claims. Some say it was designed that way to reduce fatalities from stray bullets. Maybe so? The street was renamed Last Chance Gulch in 1953, but continues to function as a main street for the area. Several old structures still remain, including some cabins and commercial buildings. Many other buildings were destroyed by fire in 1928.

The area is very walkable, and the gulch is now home to shopping, entertainment and dining establishments. It was busy here tonight, and it was challenging to find a place to eat that didn’t have a long wait. We managed,though, and returned to our hotel fully sated.

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