Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

We’re Outta Here! Railroad Gold, Headwaters, and a Capitol

On Thursday, July 29, I dropped an exhausted BFF Tina Ring off at the airport in Idaho Falls for the trip back to Raleigh and her boys. (She has a new one since I last saw her, and that sounds serious!) Our grand tour was lots of fun, and it was really good to get some time together, for sure! The sun wasn’t up yet as I left the airport, so I headed over to Idaho Falls to watch the sunrise. The area around the falls is very pretty, and many people were out on the riverwalk getting their morning exercise. As you view the falls up the Snake River, you can see the Mormon Temple in the distance. It was a very cool morning, so I really enjoyed waiting for the sun.

The next stop was in downtown Idaho Falls at City Bagels and Bakery for a to-go Asiago Bagel. With the essentials on board, I turned south to Pocatello to meet Mr. Wonderful (MW). Arriving a little early, I picked up the dry cleaning (yes, you do still have to get things done living on the road), then parked at the agreed meeting point, a laundromat in a shopping plaza parking lot, and waited. It wasn’t long before Brutus and Petunia appeared, and we parked them there to run a few errands in the rental car. Those jobs done, we returned to do the laundry at The Laundry Room (clean and nice). Before we made it through the door, a man who was waiting in his car got out and started talking. He was nice and clearly lonely. He didn’t leave until our stuff was coming out of the dryers, so there was no work catch-up at all. Oh well. We headed over to Enterprise to give them back their car.

Last week, on the first night of the girl trip in West Yellowstone, we had terrible neighbors at the hotel. They were going in and out of the room and slamming doors until late. They were also in and out of their car constantly. We knew that because they kept using the fob to lock the doors, so the thing was beeping incessantly until late that night. Their vehicle was parked right next to where my rental was backed in, and it wasn’t until a day later that I saw the 1-1/4″ line of chipped off paint on the brand new Enterprise car. It was pretty bad. Well, dang! I called my insurance company to confirm the coverage and deductible, then talked to the agent when I returned the car. He thanked me for pointing it out and said not to worry about it. Awesome! He also said that I would be shocked at the kind of damage they regularly find on returned rentals with people saying it was already there, etc. As MW said later, had I not pointed it out and they found it on their own, it might have gone differently. Since I was prepared to shell out the deductible, I was pretty happy.

Chores complete, it was time to hit the road. We were heading south, contrary to our general route, back to Utah. (There is a historic site there that we have been near twice and wanted to see.) We took I-86 a couple of exits west to Arbon Valley Road south, then hit ID-38 south. Just after crossing the state line, we were back in Snowville, Utah, where we hung our hats at the Earp and James Hitching Post RV Park. I was exhausted, so it was time to relax for the rest of the day. Well, I did do a little writing, because I was way behind!

Friday we left about 8:30 AM dodging thunderstorms to check out the Golden Spike National Historic Park. This is a pretty cool place, both from a scenery perspective and by its place in history. The first railroads in the United States began operation in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until May 10, 1869 that Americans were able to ride a train from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This spot, in the middle of nowhere at Promontory Summit, is the place where the final spike was hammered in on that first transcontinental line. It is also clear evidence that Congress has been broken for a lot longer than most people think and unscrupulous government contractors have existed forever. The Central Pacific Railroad was authorized by Congress in 1862 to build a line east from Sacramento over the Sierras. In the same act, the Union Pacific Railroad was given the go-ahead to build west from Omaha. They were both given loan subsidies and land grants based on the number of miles of track laid. Both broke ground in 1863, Central in January and Union in December, but the Civil War diverted funds and attention, and it was a slow go. The Central had a tough time through the rough Sierra Nevada mountains. They also had to have all supplies shipped from the east down around Cape Horn, a 15,000-mile sea journey. The Union, on the other hand, had much easier terrain and an easier supply route. Their challenge was the constant attacks from the Sioux and Cheyenne. No easy task on either side, both progressed steadily and faster than expected towards a meeting point that had not yet been defined. The grading crews pushed hard to prepare for the tracks that followed, while a location was being discussed ad nauseam. In an effort to claim as much subsidy booty as possible, the two companies didn’t stop when they got close, but actually graded two separate, parallel lines for more than 200 miles! Seriously, blowing through rocks, building trestle abutments, the whole nine yards. Wow! Did they know it? Of course they did! In many places, the lines are within 100′ of each other. Congress finally provided enough pressure to select a meeting place, so the two companies picked Promontory Summit (not Promontory Point, which has been erroneously reported and is 35 miles south), about half way between where each company had graded to at the time. The Jupiter from Central Pacific and the No. 119 from Union Pacific met for the finale with hundreds of folks in attendance. The festivities included hammering in four ceremonial spikes in reverse order of priority…blended iron (engraved), silver (forged, not cast), and gold; silver; lesser quality gold (engraved), then THE golden spike (engraved on all four sides)…on a ceremonial tie. All of the fancy stuff was then removed, and the actual final tie and spikes were added. Today, THE golden spike, which was given to Central Pacific President Leland Stanford, resides at Stanford University. (A duplicate gold spike was also given to David Hewes, who came up with the idea to use a golden spike for the ceremony. It is on display at the California State Railroad Museum.) The blended spike was given to the Union Pacific President Oliver Ames and is displayed at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Iowa. The ceremonial laurel tie was lost in one of the San Francisco earthquakes. The other spikes are missing. The honor of pounding in the actual final spike fell to the two railroad men who had spearheaded the project…Leland Stanford and Dr. Thomas Durant, VP of Union Pacific Railroad. Both actually missed the spike on their swings, so the crew bosses for the two lines divided the blows between them and got the job done. At the park, you can see working replicas of the two engines ride out onto the site of the final spike. It really is amazing to stand there and think that thousands of men worked tirelessly to get to that point, and in doing so, changed a transcontinental crossing from 6 months to less that a week and the face of the west. Oh, one other thing, the Railroad Act of 1862 also called for stringing of a telegraph line along the entire route of the transcontinental track, ushering in the era of instant communications. The entire country celebrated both feats.

The drive out to the park took us through a wide, open valley, and we were surprised to find a couple of big companies out there. There was an Autoliv facility. They make airbags and other safety equipment for cars, and this is their Pyrotechnic Processing Facility. (Where they make the explosives for air bags, I assume. Can’t think of any other safety equipment that blows up.) What surprised us the most, though, was rounding a bend and seeing rockets with NASA written on the side. You know we got excited about that. Turns out that Northrup Grumman has a huge place in the middle of this valley. Don’t have any idea what they are doing, but it must have to do with rockets! We headed back to Petunia to relax for a bit, then ran over to the Ranch House Diner to get MW some roast beast. (He ate my leftovers while I was on the chick trip and had to have more.)

The Earp and James Hitching Post RV park in Snowville, Utah, is not much to talk about. Basically a field with RV sites, it is very unkempt. When we arrived and went to the office, the wood on the porch out front was very soft and rotting. Inside, the office smelled of cat urine and was very dirty. There is also just an overall feel of things not being taken care of…bits of trash around the campground, signs in desperate need of paint and repair. We thought it looked like a park that someone bought and then didn’t have enough money to keep up. Located just off of I-84, there is traffic noise, although it isn’t too bad. There are about 34 sites that offer 50/30-amp, full hookup, some back-in and others pull-through. There appeared to be a dozen or so long-term campers there, too. They have laundry facilities onsite. (I believe she said the washers are free, and the dryers cost a little, but don’t hold me to that.) The bathhouse was in the main building, and was really just a single bathroom. MW said it was really clean the first time he used it, but went downhill a little after that. I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures. There really wasn’t much to show. For this stay in July 2021, we paid $60 for two nights.

Not typical for a Saturday, we packed up to head north, first to Holbrook. In an effort to drive some fresh pavement, we caught ID-37 up through farm country. At American Falls we took ID-39 to I-15 north. In Idaho Falls we stopped at Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch. Haven’t had wings in a while, and they were delicious! Then it was US-20 to Rigby and our destination, the Jefferson County Lake and Campground. After setting up, we headed down the road to Broulim’s for some groceries, then settled in to relax. SIDE NOTE: The grocery store had a large display of those fizzy balls for the bathtub. There were probably a good dozen different ones, but I was perplexed by the naming of a couple of them. What woman wants to take a bath in something named Gravity or Apocalypse??!! Were the marketing people just not working that day or smoking dope????

Sunday started with a bit of writing while sitting outside enjoying the cool air. Ahhhh! Later we checked in on our church service from Sneedville First Baptist. After I got cleaned up, we took a nice walk on the trail around the park. Then we headed down to Ammon, Idaho, to take in a movie, something we haven’t done in months! (“Stillwater” with Matt Damon was okay. The story is good, but they made it about 30 minutes longer than it needed to be and left a question unanswered at the end. Damon’s performance was great, but he was upstaged by LiLou Siauvaud, who played young Maya.) After the show, we headed over to Lowe’s and Home Depot trying to solve a problem. One of the drawer catches stopped doing its job a few weeks ago. The replacement we could find was not strong enough to stand up to rocking down the road, so the drawer came out, precipitating the need for not only another catch, but new drawer slides, too. Ugh! The right size was not to be found locally, so we ordered online and had them shipped to our campground for next week. Hopefully, problem solved. Back at Petunia, we had a relaxing evening.

Monday I had to catch up on some actual work after taking a break for the chick trip and being lazy the last couple of days. At mid-day we headed out to Papa Kelsey’s Pizza & Subs in Rigby. We both had Italian’s, mine half and MW’s whole. Turned out half was about two sandwiches worth! They were delicious, but too much! The rest of the evening was spent on a bit more work and some TV.

Jefferson County Lake and Campground is just off of US-20 in Rigby, Idaho. The park has a large, day use area that includes non-motorized boat rentals, a large beach, picnic tables, nice playgrounds, a couple of volleyball courts, and three pavilions. On the weekend there were quite a few people there enjoying the water and a couple of food vendors were parked around, too. A paved walking trail goes around the entire park, and it gets a lot of use. While I didn’t see anyone fishing in the lake, there were a couple of people fishing in the fast-moving stream behind our site. There was an old tennis court that did not look useable, and a basketball goal that was okay. Campsites were paved and had picnic tables, fire rings, 50-amp electric, and water. There was not a bathhouse in the campground area, but there may have been one near the beach. There were several vault toilets, though. Although the traffic noise from the highway was loud, this is still a nice park if you are looking to check out the Idaho Falls area. For this stay in August 2021, we paid $98.20 for three nights.

Tuesday it was time to head further north. We basically retraced the route Tina and I took last week up US-20 almost to West Yellowstone, then hit ID-87 north, crossing into Montana. It was both cloudy and smoky, so visibility wasn’t great. At US-287 we continued north, the road following the Madison River for quite a ways between the Gravely and Madison mountain ranges. We stopped at a rest area to walk around and look at the river. On the other side was an Incident Command Center for wildfires in the region. Those guys and gals must be exhausted! Along the river we saw several platforms built for Osprey nests and most were occupied. Wasn’t fast enough for a clear pic, though. The smoke was really thick, and for a while we could even smell it, which has not been the case up to now. We drove through Ennis, which had a real colorful, western flair, and entered wide, open grasslands again. Just west of Three Forks, we stopped for lunch at Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli. This place was too cool. They have a sign inside that says “We sow it. We grow it. We dough it.” They really do. It is a family-owned operation that farms wheat, mills flour, makes bread, and sells it in their own delis. There was a consistent line the entire time we were there, so the locals like it for sure. I had their pulled pork sandwich, and MW had the Radersburg, which had ham and all kinds of other deliciousness. I did manage to resist their cinnamon rolls that were seriously the size of a personal pizza…even the one with chocolate chips in it! The bread was truly amazing, and we will definitely stop here again if in the area.

After lunch it was on to our first planned stop of the day, Missouri Headwaters State Park. Having been to the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi, we felt it only fair that we check out the Missouri’s beginnings. It was underwhelming. Well, beautiful, but not what I expected. It seems that Lewis & Clark were tasked with following the river to its beginnings. They arrived at this location, which is where two fairly large rivers meet, and were perplexed. Which river was the primary? (If you see it now, the Madison clearly has the stronger flow and effectively slows down the Jefferson at the meeting point.) Or maybe they were just tired of the quest. Either way, they decided that the two rivers were substantial in their own right, so they named them the Jefferson and the Madison after the President and the Secretary of State at the time. They therefore declared that the Missouri River started where those two meet. See what I mean? Underwhelming. We did get to walk around a bit, though, and the weather was nice, so that’s a plus. At the site are the remnants of Gallatin City, which was founded in 1865. The original plan was to be a river port, but that didn’t pan out. When the railroad bypassed it in the 1880s, the town quickly died. Now all that is left are the skeletons of a few buildings. There was also a pretty cool story about a trapper named John Colter. It seems that he was trapping near the headwaters with John Potts when they were overtaken by Blackfeet Indians. Potts was killed, but they decided to have a little sport with Colter. The stripped him and gave him a running head start across the cactus-covered fields to the east. Colter ran like the wind over six miles to the trees along the Madison River, where he disappeared, totally perplexing the Blackfeet on his tail. It is thought that he hid in the water either under a driftwood dam or in a beaver lodge. Whatever he did, it was genius. No one saw hide nor hair of him until over a week later when he showed up at the Missouri Fur Company trading post at Fort Raymond. That is more than 200 miles east! His feet were swollen, and he was sunburned and starved, but he made it alive. That was some feat!

Back on the road, we retraced our steps back to US-287 and continued north. A few miles north, we saw a huge herd of horses on the ridge line near the road. Turned out, they were not horses at all. Someone put a LOT of money/time/effort into placing metal horse statues on the hill. After miles of flats, the Big Belt mountains began coming into view on the horizon in the smoky haze. We arrived at our destination, Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds in the west part of Helena, Montana. After getting set up, I headed to the local Verizon store hoping to get an issue solved. Checking in, the guy said there was an hour and a half wait…WHAT??!! That is crazy! There are few things in life I will stand around that long for! On the way back, I checked out the laundromat for tomorrow, then we relaxed for the evening.

Wednesday morning there was a ridiculous amount of bird noise when I woke up. The cacophony was coming from some trees on the edge of the campground, and a bunch of black and white birds that look and acts like a crows were the culprits. Turned out they were black-billed magpies, sometimes called the “noisiest birds in the west”. These definitely fit that description. After getting a little bit of work done, I headed out to take care of laundry and, hopefully, get a haircut. First up was to find an ATM, which you would think would be easy. Nope. There wasn’t one where my GPS said it should be, so I ended up backtracking for a couple of miles. It did make me drive past a giant, metal snail on wheels in a neighborhood, though. The next stop was Enterprise Clean & Coin. (It was super clean and cheap, too…$2.25 for small washers and dryers were $0.25 for 8 minutes. They had plenty of seating, including several tables with chairs to work at.) After the laundry was done, I called around to try to get a haircut. Great Clips had an hour and a half wait! Not doing that. Found Helena Hair, which was less than a half mile from me, and they said come on down. I walked in and this fellow jumped up off of the couch and took me right back. He was very nice and gave me a great cut, plus it was just $18! Awesome! I headed back to Petunia to have some lunch and get everything put away. Later in the afternoon MW and I took a ride over to the Montana State Capitol. Like in South Dakota, we were surprised when we could just pull right up out front and park. The main building was constructed between 1896 and 1902, and wings were added later. A statue called “Lady Liberty” sits atop its copper dome, which is weathered to a dark black appearance from the ground. It was originally planned for the current site of Carroll College, but the owner of the land wanted $10,000, and the new state didn’t have the funds. There is a beautiful garden out front that says “Montana 2021” in flowers. There is also a statue of Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irishman who became a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army and Governor of Montana from September 1865 to July 1867 “when he was drowned in the Missouri River, at Fort Benton, Montana”, per the plaque. That’s not the most interesting thing about him, though. Back in Ireland, he was the leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. He was convicted of sedition and sentenced to hang, but was instead sent to what is now Tasmania for life. He escaped in 1852 and made his way to New York City to begin again. Thirteen years later, he was the Governor. Some story!

As we were walking around, MW saw a sign saying the building was open. WHAT??!! We walked right in. No hassle. No questions. No metal detectors. There were a couple of security guards over to the side as we came in, but they seemed to have no interest. MW did stop to ask them if we could go upstairs. SURE!! So we did. We looked at the Montana State Constitution. We found the Secretary of State’s office. We wandered around in the rotunda. We checked out the old Supreme Court Chamber. We looked into the current Senate Chamber. There were lots of offices and people working, but there didn’t seem to be too many barriers to our wandering. I LOVED IT! There were a variety of statues and plaques to honor Montanans, and the rotunda was gorgeous.

We finished our tour and headed to another beautiful Helena site, the Cathedral of St. Helena. Modeled after the Votive Church of the Sacred Heart in Vienna, Austria, this beautiful church held its first services in 1914, but was not actually completed until 1924. Some sections were destroyed after a series of earthquakes in 1934 and were rebuilt in 1937. It is a beautiful church that stands out against the Helena skyline. I always love stained glass windows. It is such a beautiful way to tell a story. Across the street is the Chancery, which is also quite lovely.

As we left, I noticed these cool fir shrubs. I could not find out what they are called, but man, I’d love to have them in Tennessee. The last thing we went to see before heading back to camp was the Original Governor’s Mansion. The Queen Anne-style home was built in 1888 by a local entrepreneur and changed hands a couple of times before becoming the Governor’s Mansion in 1913. It was home to nine Governors through 1959, before the new residence was built. I found a pic of the current Govern’s Mansion, and I’m not sure why they ever left this beautiful place.

Lewis & Clark Fairground Campground is just that…a campground at the fairgrounds in Helena, Montana. The fairgrounds is also home to a public park with picnic areas and a large playground. The campground is located at the rear of the facility, and it is fairly quiet, except for the occasional train whistle or airplane flying over. Campsites are dirt and either back-in, 30-amp electric only or tent; both have picnic tables and fire rings. Ours was level, and the others appeared to be as well. There is a spigot as you come into the camping area. There are two vault toilets in the campground, and a bathhouse is located in the main bathroom building, but it is way too far to walk. The main negative is that there is no dump station on site. This is an easy, inexpensive place to stay if you are checking out the Helena area, though. For this visit in August 2021, we paid $44 for two nights.

That’s it for now. Next up…Bears, Blackfeet, and Glaciers. See you on the path!

Talisa

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2 Comments

  1. Cathy Shelton

    I think the shrub you saw is a Mugo Pine. Grow great in the west-not sure if they would get too much water in Tennessee.

    • Talisa

      Thanks for the info. It sure was beautiful!

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