Three Dopes in Three Forks

As you can see by today’s “fun fact,” not a lot going on in Bozeman. However, we thoroughly enjoyed our day in Bozeman. We nodded off to sleep watching Chapters 12 & 13 of a geology video series that Earl purchased so as to entertain us in the evening after the scenery has faded to black. Also, in his view, nothing on television is worth watching. We learned about the volcanic nature of the Hawaiian and Yellowstone hot spots.

This morning was downright lackadaisical. Earl projected an 11am departure for Helena, and we were all ready by 9:00. We were so happy chit-chatting that Barbara and I had forgotten to go on our walk/run (respectively.) We hit the road at our leisure, and I got my first introduction to conducting 17,000 lbs of steel, foam, and formica down a two-lane highway. I was surprised at how easy-going it was. A half-hour down the road yielded and unplanned visit to Madison Buffalo Jump State Park. A five mile, rutted, gravel road leads to intermittent cliffs, one of which was used by Shoshone Indians as a buffalo jump. The interpretive displays were FANTASTIC. They clued us into the strategy behind the process, how the hunters used the collected carcasses, and our favorite part was a detailed description of the seasonal lives of Native Americans. Very well laid out.

Missouri Headwaters State Park in Three Forks, MT was the main event of the day. The Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers confluence to form the longest river in the continental US. Earl and Barbara dropped me off at the first stop (confluence of the Jefferson and Madison), and they proceeded on to the main picnic area for lunch. I took a brief hike (30 minutes, with stops) to a few overlooks of the Gallatin River, the surrounding mountains, and Lewis Rock, the overlook that Meriweather Lewis climbed to survey the land, and to decide which river might be the Missouri. Imagine what went through his head, climbing to the top, surrounded by mountains, realizing that he was not far from the Continental Divide. If memory serves, he believed himself to be within 100 miles of the headwaters (of what he considered the Missouri, in this case the Jefferson). In fact, he was much closer.

Earl took the wheel after Three Forks, and chauffeured us to Helena. Mom’s goal of visiting all the state capitol buildings en route was “capital” in our minds. Parking the motorhome in this hilly, downtown area was a bit of a challenge, but Earl’s patience paid off, landing us just two blocks from the bronze(?)-domed building. With great suggestions from the entry guard, we saw the House and Senate chambers, and were actually able to enter the Old Supreme Court chamber. We had a great time looking at the murals throughout, trying to guess what landmark “Montana moment” they were trying to depict. One painting still perplexes us. “The Signing of the Enabling Act” seems (underscore “seems”) to feature Wilson, T Roosevelt, and Taft signing something. After a little probing, we discovered that Montana gained statehood in 1889, so there was NO WAY that those three guys were signing anything pertaining to Montana statehood. (And given relations between the three, do you think that any three of them would want anything to do with one another???) So, all you readers out there!! Get on Wikipedia and make something up about the Enabling Act so that Barbara and I can satisfy our curiosity.

The paintings throughout the building were impressive, expressive of the frontier mentality of the typical Montanan (I can’t say “Joe” Montana, lest it be misunderstood as THE Joe Montana). In fact, the painting adorning the House Lobby is the very same painting on the front cover of my copy of “Undaunted Courage”, Paxson’s “Lewis and Clark at Three Forks.” What struck us both about the capitol is the vibrant colors throughout the main arcade: green, red, and gold. The gold, perhaps for much-prized Montana Gold, but Barbara suggested that the bright colors give it a “Wild West saloon” feel. Whether that was their intention or not, her description is on the money.

We are spending the night in Helena, next to a Class A (the big kind of motorhome) that, for one reason or another, has situated a large (3 ft tall) stuffed goose in his front windshield. Is this the equivalent of pink flamingoes on the front lawn?

I am doubtful that Glacier NP will have WiFi access (Grizzlies often eat the routers), so if we stay in the park, we’ll go silent for three days. But if we stay in West Glacier, we may just be in touch. I’m beginning to like this kind of living:

Q: Where will we stay tomorrow?
A: Somewhere north of here.

Updated pics to the right.

“You mean there’s an exterior of Bozeman??”

The “Roaming Ranchette” or “Monroetorhome” picked up its third vagabond minutes after noon yesterday, the 13th. Within minutes on I-90, I was aware that I was dealing with two experts in motorhome travel. Earl and Barbara are at ease behind the wheel, perhaps given the 2250 miles they’ve logged since their July 4th departure (surprise, surprise, Earl is keeping score). I started reading “Undaunted Courage” on my Michigan trip, and was delighted to find that the first landmark I’d see is the Yellowstone River (I’m still in the “westward journey” portion of the book, but I admit that last night I did sneak ahead to read Clark’s description of the river on his return trip.) On our way to Bozeman we were treated to views of the Beartooth, Crazy, Bridger, Absaroka, and Gallatin ranges, all in the 100 or so miles from Billings to Belgrade (town just west of Bozeman that hosts the airport where Earl worked for seven years). The Gallatin Valley is shrouded in haze all the way around. Humidity, we wondered? Can’t be pollution, we thought. According to a helpful driver from the Avis car rental company, the haze is attributed to the wildfires raging in northern California. He says it comes and goes from day to day, subject to the changing winds.

We rented something considerably more maneuverable than a 34’ Fleetwood Bounder, and did a day tour of Bozeman. The Avis driver who picked us up (not the same as the aforementioned) lived on 11th street in downtown Bozeman, about 1 ½ blocks from where Barbara grew up. They even had a common friend, a boy named Tommy Martin. Mom reports that he was a wild child, who took her to construction sites to root around in materials and dirt mounds. Earl’s reply: “So you learned about architecture from an early age and from the inside out.”

The Sabo family is near and dear to E & B’s hearts. It’s evident in every account that Earl offers. We visited their house on the corner of 3rd and Harrison. Lo and behold, it’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. “Dr. F.I. Sabo” is mentioned on the placard outside the house, and E & B recall that it’s very much the same way it was in the 1950’s.

The most commonly used phrase was “It looks so different.” Case in point: It was difficult to find Montana Hall, the principal building of MSU, due to the campus sprawl. However, thanks to some minor traffic violations (service roads and sidewalks be damned!), we managed to sneak a peak at the building. Earl got out of the car gazed for a minute or two, took a picture, and returned to the car before “campus fuzz” caught on. He remembers walking from graduate housing up a long grassy slope (by my judgement, perhaps 100-200 yards) to the lone Montana Hall. Now, a sidewalk takes you past dorms, academic, and administrative buildings, among which Montana Hall is virtually lost. On it’s own, and respectfully ornate four-story building. Barbara recalls that Earl brought volumes of books from the 3rd floor library of Montana Hall down the hill to Pauline, who gobbled up every one. According to Barbara, it was Pauline’s mission in her nine years in Bozeman to exhaust the library’s holdings. As far as she knows, she came pretty close.

Several other points of interest, the pharmacy, the arcade, the train station, are no longer. Both Barbara and Earl remarked that this news comes with a touch of sadness; however, Barbara is delighted that the old city that they knew is largely intact, although much has grown up around it. Parks are still in place, schools still standing, and bungalow homes have not fallen prey to the “McMansion” craze that’s happening in so many cities. From a freshman perspective, the town is a comfortable combination of vitality and nostalgia. And who could ask for a better amphitheater than the Bridger Range to the north, the Gallatin to the southeast, the Madison to the south, and the Tobacco Root to the west.

Tomorrow we’re off to Three Forks, where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers confluence to form the Missouri River. Then to Helena.

Fun Fact: Thus far, Earl has spent $1401.26 on gasoline. After calculating, Earl barks, “Ask them, ‘How much did you pay for airfare?’”

“Thank Heaven for a Working Fridge.”

…or so Earl said when Barbara asked him to comment on the trip so far. I spoke with Barbara yesterday, my first and only check-in with them since they headed off. When asked for comment, Earl mentioned the above cryptic comment. So we have to assume that something went wrong with the RV’s refridgerator. However, Barbara reports that it is “fixed and refridgerating beautifully.”

Their week was spent traversing the eastern states of WV, OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, SD, and arrived last night in MT, probably in the town of Hardin (get out your gazeteers). Only a week out, Earl and Barbara are one day ahead of schedule, but they promise it’s not deliberate. The highlight so far was their visit to the Badlands. They didn’t expound, but I assume it was the scenery, and not the gift shops, that caught their eye. In the town of Wall, SD, they visited Wall Drug, which in Barbara’s words, is “famous for being famous.” Some time in the 1930’s, the owners advertised “Free Iced Water” to parched travelers. The self-promotion that followed made it a household name (to households that often talk about obscure tourist traps in the middle of nowhere). Wall Drug went so far as to post a road sign at the SOUTH POLE!! (Monroe Reunion 2013, anyone?) Pictures available in the slideshow below.

I am writing this from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, awaiting my flight to Denver, then to Billings. (Julie and I just spent a week with some friends in a cabin in Michigan not far from Muskegon, thus the Chicago departure.) I should join the Monroetorhome crew a little before 1:00 pm, then it’s off to Bozeman, Glacier NP, and points west.

Should the promise of internet connections at motorhome campgrounds turn out to be a case of false advertising, subsequent posts may be few and far between (literally). However, we will do our best. That’s all for now. 10 days ’til the Monroe Reunion 2008!! Thanks to Jean Cerar for her tireless work in coordinating, troubleshooting, and wrangling indecisive family members and state park officials.

And they’re off!!

Although I haven’t spoken with either Barbara or Earl (from here on out I will address them as most of you know them, rather than as “Mom” and “Grandpa.”), we have to assume that they headed off this morning from Kensington. After all, could you imagine Earl allowing himself to fall behind on Day One? We wish them Godspeed. They should be toasting marshmallows somewhere in Parkersburg, WV right about now. Just across the Ohio River they begin their stroll down “Amnesia Lane,” with visits to some key sites in Monroe, Stockton, and Lord history. Also included is Athens, OH, where Barbara went to college.

Fun Fact: Parkersburg is home to the Bureau of Public Debt, a division of the US Treasury. By the way, several “fun facts” will appear in the coming weeks. Most of this information, much like my Master’s thesis, is a series of Cut/Pastes from Wikipedia. So, let’s play a fun game! Look at the itinerary (it’ll be on the main page, eventually), and find a city that we will soon be visiting. Go on Wikipedia and contribute some odd tidbit of trivia–something completely implausible whose mere suggestion draws looks of disbelief. Then, wager with fellow Monroe’s as to whether or not I will, at some point, quote this tidbit as if it were empirical fact! I look forward to what you cook up on “Hanksville, UT.”