I am visiting my sister in Montana. Or, more accurately, I am visiting her house. She is on vacation. I am housesitting with Miranda. Her dog, Tessa, requires medication and companionship. We’re having a vacation in Montana for very little expense.

I love Montana, in summer. It is very green this year and the wild flowers have begun to put on quite a show. I love the rolling prairie. The sky truly is bigger here. I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for that but I haven’t heard it yet. I just enjoy it.Pairie in bloom

Yesterday Miranda and I headed out for a hike with a new friend, Chris. Chris’ son went to school with my nephew and they graduated from high school together this year. She’s a great hiker and lucky for us, a strong runner. I realized about a half-mile down the trail that I’d left the banana muffins in the car. Chris runs regularly so she ran back to get them. What a trooper! It would have taken me much longer. And Miranda probably wouldn’t have been happy for long.

Our goal for the hike was the Cochran Dam on the Missouri River. About one weekend a month in summer, the power company that owns the dam opens it for foot traffic. This was the weekend. I spoke to the man who helps coordinate these dates and he advised that Sunday would be special because they’d have the power plant shut down for repairs and the whole river would be going over the dam. “That’ll be something to see!” He told me. I thought so too.

We awoke to slightly dicey weather; the wind here in Great Falls is famous for its ferocity and it was blowing. But it settled down to a stiff breeze and scattered clouds raced overhead and it looked like great hiking weather. We drove out to the trailhead and launched into our adventure: three miles each way on a dirt road. With a three-and-a-half-year-old.

I packed Miranda’s small backpack with her usual gear: sunglasses; flashlight (mini-mag); bandanna; sippy cup and a sweatshirt wrapped through the straps. I packed my backpack with all the necessities: two quarts of water; beef jerky; banana chips and raisins; string cheese; four nutrition bars; nuts; two rain ponchos; my wind-breaker; band-aids; a flashlight and assorted smaller items I didn’t bother to remove. Needless to say, it was heavy. Oh yeah, on top of it all, I squeezed in a bag of 6 homemade banana muffins.

Now, a disclaimer. I had no intention of forcing Miranda to walk six miles. Piggy-back is my back-up plan these days. She’s so tall, it isn’t comfortable to carry her far in front anymore. Last year, she hiked 3.6 miles after a week of two miles regularly. This year we haven’t been so consistent with our hiking so I was hoping for three miles walking–and trying not do the math on the piggy-back part.–

One of the things I love about Montana is that Lewis and Clark spent alot of time here. I try to imagine what they saw. The part of the Missouri we walked along is very wide and without much rock to interfere with boating. However, this is the Great Falls region which the Indians warned the voyageurs about; seven waterfalls in all. They had to portage through this whole area. I think it was three massive pirogues–I’ve seen a replica at the interpretive center–hauled by men over the rolling hills I love so much. Somehow, I doubt the Corps of Discovery loved this landscape. At least not during the day when they were trying to traverse it. But I do hope that each of them was able to take a break at the end of the day and appreciate the landscape around them. As far an anybody knows, they were the first whites here. I would like to think they fell in love too.

Walking is definitely a better way to get a sense of what Lewis and Clark experienced than driving in a car. The wind in your face, the sun burning down, the reality of the ground under your feet (rocky, irregular), the mosquitoes. It was not glamorous. But man, to be able to see this country, before it was tamed, that would be worth alot of hardship–to me, anyway. So we three hikers lumbered down the trail, sunscreened, insected-repellented and hatted. Hats and water bottles were probably the only equipment we shared with Lewis and Clark.

There are people who oppose damming rivers. I understand the objections; tampering with the natural order of things, interfering with wildlife habitat and so on. There are also the aesthetic considerations; I have never seen a beautiful dam. The Cochran Dam is built on the Cochran Falls and it is a shame that such a natural beauty had to be covered up. But, there is a big upside and that is the power being generated. In this age of global warming, a dam is a welcome sight to me. It represents a form of energy which does not create greenhouse gases and no one can complain about that.

The day we hikedWe made it!, the entire flow of the Missouri was going over the dam, looking like a great, man-made waterfall. It was very dramatic. Even a little majestic, if you will allow me. The spray on the south side cooled us weary hikers and reenergized us for the return trip. The noise was such that we had to yell at each other to be heard. Keep in mind, the Missouri has been at flood stage for weeks now, so this is alot of water! Miranda asked why it was brown. I could honestly say that it was mud from the flooding. Though there was some foam which was unmistakably pollution.

As you can see from the photo, we made it. Miranda hiked probably two miles and I hauled the rest. Chris graciously carried my very heavy backpack for me! I needn’t have brought the variety of snacks as Miranda survived on the banana muffins. I brought six, two for each of us. She ate four. Lewis and Clark would have loved them too.

The walk back featured a little more whining than the way out. I’m guessing Miranda walked a little more than a mile. Unfortunately, she took a spill about 150 yards from the car and got raspberries on her hand and knee. I’m afraid that spoiled her day for her. She has had so few injuries, this was possibly her worst to date. Not much blood, but scraped up skin burns so. I felt awful but wished for the days when she didn’t notice she was bleeding.

Lewis and Clark, and Pompei Charbenneau (Sacajewea’s son) would have been proud of her, I think. She wondered at flowers and bugs, marveled at the falls and hiked a remarkable distance for one of her age and size. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and hope to spend many more  in the years to come on my Montana get-aways. The Great Falls River Trail System is a gem which should be treasured.

(Here, Miranda holds one of her favorite things, a stick. She soon caught an ant on it and asked him what he was doing. The ant later bit her. Luckily, it was black, not red, so the bite was just a quick reminder not to pick up insects.)

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