Day 38 Fort Benton, Montana: ...and Things Were Very Historical - Grampies on the Go - CycleBlaze

June 7, 2011

Day 38 Fort Benton, Montana: ...and Things Were Very Historical

All the other motels we have "washed up" in on this tour were havens of dry and warm where we revelled in the luxuries of a real bed, no rain, National Geographic Channel, the breakfast buffet, and oh my, it's all so great. However, though dry and warm (if you figure out the heater), the Fort Motel has just made us depressed. We would have thought ourselves (who think an actual shelter over a picnic table is WOW) immune to minor decor issues and a little stale cigarette smell, but apparently we are not.

Outside the Fort Motel
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Inside the Fort Motel
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More inside the Fort Motel
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So what a lift when we cycled down to Front Street

However the town is lovely.
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And the park has covered picnic shelters
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and began our exploration at the Wake Cup Cafe. High ceilings, antique furniture, elegant appointments, we love them! Then swap out the gas station packaged danish and swap in real coffee, toast, eggs, and are we ever happy!

Entrance to the Wake Cup.
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Inside the Wake Cup. We later learn that this was done by local graduates who decided to stay in town, and invest locally. Well done!
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This tributary of the Missouri runs by Simms, Fort Shaw, and Sun River, where we just were.
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The rain storms we somehow skipped between were pretty rough.
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Leaving the Wake Cup and walking our bikes down the street we experienced a small town feature. Here was Steve Gannon, Dick's son (see Day 36), who easily spotted us.

Steve Gannon finds us on the street.
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Dick had told us Steve lived in Fort Benton, and left us with his phone number, but last night we just barely made it to town and did not track him down. Steve found us, welcomed us to town and tentatively invited us to dinner with his family. Later, he seemingly just as easily nabbed us on the street and confirmed the time. Of course in our fluorescent get ups and bikes we are not exactly camouflaged, but this feat would sure be hard to replicate in Victoria!

We passed through Fort Benton last year and did walk the town, so this time was a bit of a review. That's good, because there is a lot here to absorb. Fort Benton was the last navigable point on the Missouri and the most inland port, being directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico, through the Mississippi. Until the railroad put an end to it before 1900, the river traffic made this a boom town, with a real wild west scene. It was also heavily involved with Indian wars, including an infamous chapter in the Nez Perce exodus, the Trail of Tears.

In physical terms they have a number of remaining truly historical buildings, each federally registered and with plaques on the front. Premier among these is the restored Grand Union Hotel. Again, for pick up your spirits decor, the interior is just what the doctor ordered (for us).

Inside the Grand Union
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Inside the Grand Union II
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Inside the Grand Union III
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Detail of the Grand Union outside
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Front Street, Fort Benton
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Fort Benton also features the most wonderful and extensive riverside walk, with explanatory signs every few yards. Each sign has photos on one side and explanatory story on the other. There are also monuments, from the Major Lewis and Clark memorial to the statue of "Shep" and the Mullan Road start point marker. We walked and read it all, and then cycled it as a review. Not sure if we could pass the quiz yet. I think we need another visit.

Many lovely houses in the town
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One of the former bank buildings.
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Dodie needs to fix her cough asap!
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Another former bank building. Good fries here too!
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Grand Union outside.
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This was the Wild West
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Yes, we cycled the entire Mullan Road!
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Mullan obelisk
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Map of the Mullan Road
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The Missouri River
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Conan, keep those sticks that are in your garage!
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This photo was taken through the window of the Culbertson House/Pacific Hotel. The place is for sale. We would love to buy it.
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The Culbertson House in downtown Fort Benton.
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Dodie sends some of her parents' ashes down river.
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Anchoring one end of the waterfront is the BLM Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Interpretative Center. From here they manage those who float down the river, through up to 150 miles of canyon, white cliffs, and badlands, with various campsites and pullout sites. Although we seem to be the only tourists in town right now, this float possibility seems to be a BIG THING, and the available maps make it all seems very inviting.

The center itself has some displays of the type Dodie and I adore - illustrations of the plants, animals, and landforms of the region. Plus, a very well done 1/2 hour movie. We had the staff all to ourselves, and they were wonderfully welcoming and informative. Cost, $2. The U.S. may suck on health care, but other government functions are impressive. The BLM here is actively protecting the river. Good on them!

Our own guide at the Missouri Breaks centre
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The movie was great.
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The river is clearly a wonderland for floaters
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View from the interpretative centre
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Stuffed bobcat.
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Photo evokes the old days on the River
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Yes, it was a Bull Snake we saw on the road
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But the display says the Bull Snake (above) and the Rattler (below) are easily confused
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Books we can not carry
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We easily found Steve and Peggy Gannon's house on a leafy street, and had the pleasure of meeting their four lovely children - Paige, Marissa, Leah, and Steven. It was really fun having dinner with them, since they are so sweet. More, Paige gave us a brief violin recital featuring Ashokan Farewell, Danny Boy, and a Vivaldi piece. It was great to have her play for us, and also, since we have been away from any iPods or other music source for a month, great to just hear music. Steven will be learning trombone, and gave a demonstration of getting sound out of it. For a nine year old he has strong lungs, and should do well.

Leafy street
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The town has many nice houses - here's another
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Fun with the Gannon kids I
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Fun with the Gannon kids II
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Fun with the Gannon kids III
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Fun with the Gannon kids IV
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Paige serenades us
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As with our visit with Steve's dad and stepmom, it a big attraction to see a slice of the life of real people in a place you are visiting. There is no way to get that out of a book or in a museum, and we are so grateful to those who have given us this gift.

Oh, one other "upper" today - Barack Obama greeting Angela Merkel, on the TV. It was not the greeting that gave the lift, it was just listening to the guy speak. By now we ourselves can barely remember the day of the week, but here is Obama thinking, thinking, every day, always so lucid. Any Americans reading this, **please** keep him in office!

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