Thursday, June 17, 2021
We picked up our rental car this morning, and headed out to explore Whitefish a little bit. We have a couple of goals for this trip – finally visit the states of Montana and Idaho, and visit several national parks. When we’re done, we’ll have only one more state to complete the entire 50 – West Virginia (scheduled for September this year.)
Then, we drove south to Missoula, stopping for a while at a couple spots on Flathead Lake. This is the largest freshwater lake in the US west of the Mississippi River, and it is considered one of the cleanest. Volunteer Park, in the town of Lakeside, has picnic areas, pebble beaches, swimming rafts and public docks. It was very well kept, clean and welcoming. Several people were enjoying the water while we were there.
During the last glaciers, a massive glacial dammed lake was formed – Lake Missoula. Flathead lake is a remnant of Lake Missoula. In 1930, Kerr Dam was built at the south end. The dam provides hydroelectric power and water for irrigation.
A few miles down the road we saw a sign for the Flathead State Park, and pulled in for some more good views. Montanans can enter any state park free, but out-of-towners are supposed to pay an entrance fee. The very kind gate staff decided that the Montana plates on our car were good enough to let us in free. Nice people are everywhere, not just in Minnesota!
Mountains were all around us on our drive – the Flathead, Swan and Mission Ranges to the east, and the Salish Range to the west. We are always impressed by the mountains we see, as the highest peak in Minnesota is only 2,300 feet high.
After checking into our lodging, we spent some time at Historic Fort Missoula, which was built in 1877 to protect settlers from native American attacks. Beginning in 1888, it housed the Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Regiment. These soldiers of color were given that nickname by the native Americans during the Indian Wars.
The fort was home to the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps in the late 1800s. Soldiers were trained for long treks, including an 1,900 mile trip to St. Louis which took 41 days. The bicycle corps idea was abandoned as the US faced imminent war with Spain.
Fort Missoula was renovated in 1904, and then used as a military training center to train truck drivers and mechanics during WWI. It became the Northwest Regional Headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, serving as a center for dozens of CCC camps until 1942.
The fort was used as a military training center to train truck drivers and mechanics of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) during World War I, but was almost abandoned by 1921. However, it was designated as the Northwest Regional Headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Fort Missoula served as the administration, training, and supply center for dozens of CCC camps in Montana, Northern Idaho, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park until June 1942. During WWII, it served as an internment camp for both Italians and Japanese. The fort was decommissioned in 1947.
We enjoyed a beautiful Iris garden at the park, sponsored by the Missoula Iris Society. I had never seen so many colors of iris before – truly lovely!