Missouri River (Montana)

I spent a chunk of Sunday observing the Missouri River in Montana.

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Driving north to Great Falls entailed a trip of just about 90 minutes, then another 20 minutes or so out of town into increasingly desolate and arid flatlands.  The last mile took me down into the Missouri River canyon to see Ryan Falls and the dam that was built atop those waterfalls in the mid 1910s.

My four-wheel drive Chevy SUV managed the trek with ease, but I simply cannot imagine what Lewis and Clark must have felt 210 years ago when they came up these falls.  Five different waterfalls mark a drop in the river from the mountains to the unimpeded free flow the Missouri enjoys for 200 miles east of Great Falls.  L&C had to portage all of the canoes and equipment 18 miles overland to get around the great falls.  It boggles the mind.

Returning to Helena, I determined very quickly that I wanted off the freeway, and so I spent part of the driving hugging the shores of the Missouri, meandering along on the old US Highway 91.  Until the freeway came through in the 1960s, this was the only road between Helena and Great Falls, and it followed the path of the Northern Railway, which in turn essentially followed the winding, twisty path of the great river.

This slow drive south was a balm for the soul and a feast for the eyes.  I saw nature in glorious magnificence in the rugged beauty of the landscape along the lazy riverbed.

The Big Belt Mountains, on the eastern edge of the Rockies, are plenty spectacular in their own right.  The drive on Sunday was truly beautiful.

And check out Square Butte on the prairie south of Great Falls:

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