Having spent about a week some years ago exploring Glacier National Park, we changed our route when we learned the “Going to the Sun” road was still blocked by snow. We would have liked to see it again but prefer to go when we can get up to the high Alpine meadows.
Instead, we chose to follow route 220 through the Clark Fork River Valley to Missoula. What a great choice! First of all, we owe Sandpoint an apology.
Although Alie says it “has gone over to the dark side” – become chic – the views of Lake Pend Oreille along 220 were great. It was not over-built, and there were plenty of pull-outs along the road. We think we would like to live on the lake and go into Sandpoint for an occasional dinner.
Further down the valley along the Clark Fork River, we watched Western Grebes perform their spring courting dance. We are not naturalists, but fortunately we had just read a sign describing it so we understood what we were seeing. The little birds swim along together and then get up and sort of “run” together along the top of the water.
We were soon in Montana. The speed limit on the two-lane road was seventy miles per hour, but a sign pointed out that the white crosses along the way marked the places where there were highway fatalities.
We love trains and paused to count the cars. One hundred and eight did not come close to our record in New Mexico a few years ago.
Missoula, Montana sits in the flat bottom of a fertile bowl shaped valley created by the sediment of a glacial lake about one thousand feet deep ten to twenty thousand years ago. Using up some of the “points” collected for our many hotel stays this trip, we reserved a suite at the Comfort Inn. Good choice! It had two full newly decorated rooms each with a new TV and a balcony looking across the river to the University.
Driving around town before dinner, we came to Caras Park. Cabinet maker Chuck Kaparich, who had spent much childhood time on a carousel in Butte, told the city council in 1991 that he had 16,006 pieces to a carousel and could carve the horses. He said if the city promised to preserve it, he would build a “Carousel for Missoula.” They promised. Using the help of volunteers who put in one hundred thousand hours, the carousel was opened in May 1995, one of the fastest in the country. A band organ was found that is the largest continuously in use in the United States.
Then in the spring of 2001, more than four thousand volunteers came together to build a children’s playground in nine days next to the carousel. Called Dragon Hollow, it is guarded by a three-headed dragon, and has slides, an obstacle course, swings, and musical instruments like bells for the kids to bang on. The carousel was loud enough; fortunately the kids there with us were more interested in slides than bells.
Later we passed a local school, Hellgate High School. The name begged me to take a picture, but I learned later the school has a long and proud tradition. Hellgate is the narrow valley where the Clark Fork River enters Missoula. It was even narrower before the sides were carved back for a railroad, a road and an interstate highway. In the 1700s and early 1800s it was heavily forested. Blackfeet Indians used it as an ideal spot to ambush their enemies, the Salish on their way to hunting grounds. When French trappers came upon the remains of many Salish in the area, they gave it the name.
The next day after doing some maintenance chores, we drove route 200 up the Hellgate. It is a very pretty area now. We came upon a business that restores and renovates old trailers. Talking to the owner and an employee, we learned they had been in business for just four years and now employed eight people. The oldest trailer was made in 1946. The newest one they had worked on was built in the 1970s. We were particularly intrigued by the 1947 “Spartan Manor” which was built by the Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Missoula is a great place, especially for those who are “easily amused.”