Helena, Montana – The drive was beautiful (ignoring the smoke). Helena (pronounced: Hell-e-na, emphasis on the first part) is the capital of Montana but has a very “small town like” charm. Again, we found our Walmart and pulled in next to the many other RVers. We walked around the shopping center just to stretch our legs before settling in for the evening. However, we did find a few good deals at the local Big Lots that I couldn’t resist, Steve just has to find a place to store them.
We headed back to the RV, poured our wine and prepared a dinner of cheese tortellini, pesto sauce tossed with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. It was quite good with our wine. We watched a little TV on satellite and planned the activities for Friday. There are 5 or 6 things we want to see and do in Helena so we may be here for a couple of days, whatever it takes since we have no place else to be.
The one thing we did notice is that most gas stations also have a casino, a very small one at that, and many of the restaurants are also a casino, including The Claim Jumper which is a very nice restaurant that we liked in California. All liquor stores are casinos, there are more casinos than gas stations, drugstores and banks combined.
We started our day by heading first to the Visitors Center in downtown Helena. It is located in Reeders Alley which is a small group of buildings on a brick alley that was built in 1873. Next to that was the Pioneer Cabin that was built in 1864. The cabin has been restored and filled with artifacts from the period. We then headed to the Cathedral of St. Helena. The cornerstone was laid in 1908 and took almost 20 years to build. The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I will have to say it is the most beautiful church I have ever visited in the U.S. and the stain glass windows were absolutely amazing.
We decided it was time for lunch so stopped in a little local cafe where I ordered the lunch special: Borscht, Lizard Tongue Sandwich and Huckleberry tea. I am adventurous when it comes to food but it wasn’t all that strange, it was a grilled cheese sandwich with triangle slices of grilled green peppers that were supposed to look like a lizard’s tongue and quite good.
We then proceeded to walk around the historic part of town and checked out a few of the more unusual shops. We discovered that the main street which is called Last Chance Gulch got it’s name from 4 discouraged Georgian gold prospectors who stumbled down a gulch and grimly dubbed it “Last Chance Gulch” only to find gold. The city’s main street now covers the creek/gulch. The town’s name was later changed but the main street retained the name of Last Chance Gulch. We planned to take the Last Chance Tour Train later in the day but had time to visit one more location.
We drove out to the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. It was established in 1951 in a former brickyard. It features hundreds of whimsical sculptures created by resident artists. Both new and well established artists spend time at the foundation where they focus on their own creativity and train others. I spoke to one artists who has been there for 2 years and she loved the creative environment. As we walked the grounds and took photos of a number of the outdoor displays, we also think there may have been some very twisted minds that spent time there as well.
Heading back to town, we picked up the Last Chance Train Tour. A 1 hour ride that takes you through both the new and some of the more historical sites. It was interesting to see the huge mansions that those who found gold constructed, many of them so large they are now B&B’s but there are several that are still private homes. During the gold rush the town had more millionaires than any other town, no matter the size.
The tour ended at the capital building where we were able to walk the grounds and get a few pictures. It was after 5PM so we were unable to take a tour of the inside on this trip.
A breeze picked up and it seemed that some of the smoke was clearing and the skies were more clear. We plan to take the Gates of the Mountain boat ride Saturday morning before we head east. We headed back to the RV for the evening. We are in hopes that the temperature will cool down enough to turn off the generator but we will see.
The temperature did not drop so we ran the generator again all night. We’re not sure what happened to the breeze but the smoke was worse this morning instead of better so the decision was made to skip the boat ride. We have been trying to avoid the interstates as much as possible as we prefer the more scenic routes, however at this point we are tired of the smoke and want to move east until it is clear, we’re just not sure how far that is.
We started out on 12 until we got to I-90 East. We made a stop in Three Forks and refueled and stopped in a huge dynamite bakery where we had cherry turnovers for lunch. Back on the road again we passed a herd of deer, we had one deer run across the highway right in front of us, fortunately we missed him. Other than that, the scenery was pretty boring, and the skies stayed hazy until we were east of Billings. We did not stop in Billings or Yellowstone as we had been there before and we were focused on getting out of the smoke. Finally blue skies appeared, however with the clear skies, so came the heat. I guess we can’t have everything. We chose to stay at a KOA campground in Hardin tonight, time for long hot showers. Those quick little RV showers do the job but sometimes you just want to stand under a long, hot, shower. The RV park was OK but not great. The facilities were clean but definitely could use a little updating. The manager was friendly and we had a comfortable spot surrounded by fields of sugar beets and barley. It was located just off of I-90, however because of construction, we were detoured several miles. The rate was $35 and as with most other RV parks, it included Wi-Fi that did not work, a swimming pool that was already closed even though the temperature was 95 degrees and cable TV that only 2/3rds of the stations worked, however we are pretty used to that now. We just stayed the one night than we continued east, into Wyoming and onto South Dakota. I have to say, now that we are pointed in that direction, home is sounding pretty good. That kind of explains why if we are only stopping for 1 or 2 nights, we can save the $35 and watch our satellite (which also is limited) and use our own bath facilities.
Morning we hit the road around 10:30 AM. In case you hadn’t noticed, we aren’t exactly early birds when it comes to getting up and off. We like to let the morning traffic clear up a little, however since it is Sunday, we were just slow. It was pretty cloudy and windy when we left Hardin and we hit a little patch of rain. Nothing to slow us down much except that when Steve turned on the windshield wipers, the drivers side wiper flew off. We made it to the next exit that happened to have a Walmart. (We really need to buy some stock in that company.) Unfortunately, we need a 32” wiper and the largest they had was a 28”. We called around but the places that would have carried it were closed on Sundays and everyone else only had the 24”. Fortunately, it had stopped raining and looked pretty clear so Steve move the remaining wiper to the driver side and we would stop at the next town. Walmart does carry the 28″ wipers but we move the passenger side wiper in front of the driver and will wait until Monday to get the full 32″. Size does count.
We took a lot of pictures as we traveled east on I-95. The skies are still pretty hazy even this far east and the primary color of the land is brown, even so, the formations of the land were still pretty amazing to see.
After calling ahead to several small towns on our route, it was determined we were not going to find a 32” wiper today, so we decided to stay the night at a Walmart in Gillette, WY. There is an RV Superstore here that opens at 8:30 on Monday so we will make it a point to get started early and pick up the wiper and head to South Dakota. We have a reservation in a town called Mitchell, S.D. where we will park for a couple of days.
We are going to head over to a Perkins, it shares a parking lot with Walmart, and get this out tonight as the next few days will be busy for us. We are homeward bound!