After a wonderful few days in lovely north-west Oregon, Randy, Whitney and I flew to Great Falls on the morning of Aug. 18th. It was a short hop up to Seattle and then a quick flight to Montana. Great Falls is the city where I lived as a teen, and went to junior high school and graduated from Great Falls High (go Bison!). When I lived there, it seemed like an exciting place to grow up, but after returning now (and three years ago), I thought it seemed a rather sleepy place, where downtown closed shop around 6 o’clock. Granted, high school wasn’t in session when I was there, so perhaps it’s livelier when the kids are back in school and running around with their friends in the evening.
I stayed at the Midtown Motel, which isn’t a bad place to spend a few nights, and it’s connected to Perkins Restaurant, a good, convenient little eatery. Although the restaurant didn’t open until 7 a.m., I, early riser that I am, was able to get a pot of coffee from the check-in desk of the hotel at 5 o’clock. Nice! Though the motel and restaurant are good, the location is a bit sketchy; there are a lot of homeless people wandering around here, so walking alone at night might be something to avoid doing, though the denizens of the area seemed harmless enough. Still . . . This is the Great Falls that I never saw when I was a kid. Have the homeless always been in this part of town? This seemed very different from back then. I don’t recall ever seeing homeless folks when I lived here. Is this something new, a sign of the times? Or is it something that we overlooked way back when?
Anyway, later that evening, my brothers and Whitney and I met up with a niece and her husband and a few of their kids at a Great Falls Mexican culinary institution, El Comedor Restaurant. The restaurant has been around since 1970. Of course, the food is wonderful. Give it a try if you’re ever in Great Falls, and, especially, try one of their justifiably famous fluffy tacos.
Glacier National Park
Then, back to the motel and to bed early, because the next day, in the wee hours, we were driving north to one of my favorite places in the world, the beautiful Glacier National Park. It turned out to be a gorgeous, clear day, and the approximately three-hour drive is far from boring. If you’re in a big hurry (and you shouldn’t be), you can take I-15 up to Shelby and then go west to the park. But the best drive is north on US Highway 89, which follows the incredible Rocky Mountain Front all the way to the park.
Once in the park, it’s up, up, up to the Continental Divide on one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Going-to-the-Sun road. There are many places along the road to stop, get out of the car, hike, take photos and just be out in the fresh air. This was the highlight of my visit to the ‘States. It always is. I backpacked here a few times back in the day, but there are many short hikes along the road. We stopped and hiked three miles or so to St. Mary Falls, a beautiful, easy excursion. Lots of folks along the trail, as there usually are in August.
We stopped again for about an hour at (packed) Logan Pass, atop the Continental Divide, then drove down the west side to McDonald Lake and Lodge, then west out of the park, and south and east around the southern boundary of this marvelous area, and then back on US 89, we returned to Great Falls. It was a long day, but well worth the effort.
The Loss of a Friend
One thing dampened this entire trip, however. I learned that I high school buddy of mine had died recently. We had kept in touch all these years and we were able to meet up every time I had returned to Great Falls. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, and, in the back of my mind, I feared the worst. And so it was. He had died of cancer a mere month or so before this trip. We were bowling buddies from a long time ago and he was also friends with my mother before she died. In high school, we worked together as pinchasers and hung out at the long defunct Skyway Bowl, but we also bowled together at other bowling centers around town. The only center remaining in Great Falls from that time is Little’s Lanes, which is just a couple of blocks from the Midtown. After returning from Glacier, I walked to Little’s and had a couple of beers, going over old memories and reflecting on the past. Many very good memories. Rest in peace, Ken Larson.
I’ll complete part 2 of this leg of my journey in another post soon, our trip to The Gates of the Mountains. More later.
Here are a few photos of the park, just a few. I took many more and perhaps I’ll put them in a gallery when I get the chance. I’ll let you know.