The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

9 July 2004

Really good falls

I don't know if I'd call them Great Falls, but the Missouri River, splashing through town, is definitely gravity-driven, and Lewis and Clark were by all accounts duly impressed, and these days Montanans revere Lewis and Clark.

I'd also assume they're somewhat fond of gambling. Steakhouses have slots; service stations have slots. On the assumption that Dave Thomas would never have countenanced such a thing, I peeked into a Wendy's, and found no slots. I did, however, find a birthday party for a ponytailed young lady, and a small convocation of Christian bikers.

And really, this juxtaposition fits perfectly into Western tradition, where what you did was more important than who your relatives were, and while the West is no longer quite as Wild as it used to be, you can still see traces of its wildness, even in a meticulously-neat town like Great Falls, planned by Paris Gibson in an orderly, almost Minnesota-like fashion. It surprised me not at all to find that Mr Gibson originally hailed from St Paul.

The other towering figure in local history was Charles M. Russell, who came to Montana from St Louis, Missouri, consumed with the idea of becoming a cowboy. A good cowhand, he became a superlative artist, documenting the last days of the Old West right up until his death in 1926. His Great Falls home and studio are still standing, as part of a C. M. Russell Museum complex.

One of the first things I noticed when I got here was the Maple Leaf flying on the fourth flagpole at the hotel. Canada is actually pretty close by — less than 120 miles up Interstate 15 — and I'll be approaching the border more closely during the next couple of days.

Posted at 5:38 PM to World Tour '04


I don't know why, but Christian bikers never occurred to me. So much to learn when one travels - even vicariously.

Posted by: Babs at 9:35 AM on 10 July 2004

It's as good a reason for hitting the road as I can think of. There is so much out there that surely no one knows all of it, and it's not enough just to search for it on Google; you have to see for yourself.

Posted by: CGHill at 5:33 PM on 10 July 2004

Great Falls was our first stateside overnight when my wife and I moved back to the Lesser 48 from Alaska. It was where I discovered, at the gas pump, that my rusty '81 Bronco very much disliked those last five miles per hour getting up to 75. MPG dropped from 11-ish to about 8.

We kept it to 70 (or less) the rest of the way to Georgia.

Which was fine with us -- following SR 3 to Billings at a lower speed gave more time to enjoy the scenery. When I say it looked like an unmade bed, that's our idea of a compliment.

Posted by: McGehee at 11:38 AM on 11 July 2004

I spent rather a lot of time around 75 mph, and still managed 30 mpg, but times (and engine-control systems) change. And my car, which officially demands a diet of 87 octane, didn't seem to flinch when fed 85.5, which corresponds to my understanding of the laws of physics but didn't save me much money.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:05 PM on 11 July 2004

Oh, just about anything -- including a hamster-powered Yugo on three wheels and a stack of bricks -- could be happier doing 75 than that Bronco. As you say, engine-control systems have changed: my current Bronco, 15 years newer than the other, is quite happy at 80 mph with no appreciable change in mpg (generally hovering between 13 and 14).

Posted by: McGehee at 7:25 PM on 11 July 2004