Kind of “race through” Idaho, as before becoming a member of the “Swinging Shingles” group a few years back, spent extensive time exploring its nooks and crannies.
Slip into Montana and follow level, moderately wide, shallow, much riffled Clark River meandering between shoreline forest and tall gray rock walls. Swing onto US-93 and, coming up over a high hill into Polson, am impressed by Flathead Lake’s immense sprawl. Choose MT-35 as it has a series of state parks with campsites along the lake, but my luck doesn’t hold and all are filled. Up around Big Fork, am surprised that Rosa’s Pizza is SO good, people walk across the highway totally oblivious to the fact that vehicles outweigh them dramatically. Finally manage to find an RV park in Kalispell, and the owner seemed overjoyed to see someone who didn’t end each sentence with “Eh?”.
The next day, retrace some territory before choosing MT-83, which runs past some gorgeous lakes (alliteratively: Swan, Summit, Seeley) and through Swan River National Forest. After pausing for lunch at Seeley Lake, am VERY surprised as a youngish bear ambles across the highway about 200 yards ahead.
MT-200 turns out to be truly “Big Sky” country: vast expanses of cloudless blue sky. (Just outside Ft Shaw, come upon a sad symbol of our times: a series of roadside signs: “In GOD, we trust”; “In our COUNTRY, we trust”; “In our GOVERNMENT, we do NOT trust”). Wander about downtown Grand Falls, which has added a tribute sculpture to C. R. Russell (“Kid Russell and Moosie”). Irony abounds: an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile stands in front of an expensive hotel.
In the morning, drive US-87 past miles of golden, crew-cut wheat fields (as is true of Midwest corn, statistics fail to register how many miles of wheat are grown here). Having spent a wonderful day there a few years ago, choose Ft Benton as a spot to pause for lunch. As wind-riffled, silvered Missouri River placidly passes a long, riverside park, hardly a sound interrupts my reverie.
In tiny Big Sandy, am provided with ice cream by a young man in a Quicksilver T-shirt… ala, he’s completely unaware of a Hippie-era “Quicksilver Messenger Service” rock band. (But then, how many of the “Hollister” shirt wearers realize it’s a town known as California’s most active earthquake center: multiple, small shocks daily). Enjoying my ice cream in Fireman’s Park, a white-haired, sparrow of a woman waves me over and inquires where I’m from; suggests NOT being from Big Sandy is indiscreet and foolhardy. About “The Question”, she suggests “stop the killing”, pauses, “even if means gun controls”. Over her shoulder, just past a flag flying at half-mast due to Sikh killings in Wisconsin, watch a thick-chested, slim-hipped old rancher emerge from his SUV, and wonder whether he shares her views.
Head down MT-66 to check out St Paul’s Mission and Little Rockies Chapel in obscure Hays, and find myself alone in a Forest Service campground near Zortman.
Morning drizzle perfumes air with an alfafa aroma, and sun, well above the horizon, occasionally peeps an orange eye through lilac-blue clouds.
In Malta, have a long,detailed discussion with paleontologist Sue Frary at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. She explains those eons when MT was under water (accounting for its sandy ground). At a map which any Abstract artist would be proud of, she shows a prolific number of varied geologic zones, and how some have preserved an endless supply of dinosaur artifacts. She even personalizes her discourse with a story about how a 12-year-old boy discovered a dinosaur bone. As new finds are named after its finder, this find was named “Robert”, only to have to add an “a” when this particular animal turned out to be female.