Iowa to Alaska, Days 4-5

Or, maybe, “The Case For Big Skies.”

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Yesterday was spent driving. And driving. We covered about 600 miles between Bismarck, North Dakota and Great Falls, Montana in order to maximize our time at stops further up the road.

For me, the transition from Interstate 94 to Interstate 90 represented a shift from playing tourist to simply returning home. Some of the landmarks were familiar, like the rocky buttes and greasy truck stops that seem stuck in time; and every click of the odometer delivered yet another memory to my brain’s inbox.

The boys, on the other hand, we’re inundated with unique attributes of Montana, the most obvious being an endless blue sky. Used to life in Alaska, a huge place within arm’s reach of mountain ranges large and small, Montana’s space made them feel as if they were a mere speck on the state’s earthy terrain.

We are currently bunking at the Great Falls KOA, hidden from the city’s almost incomprehensible growth by farmland and a line of strategically planted shade trees. It even comes with a nature trail and small pasture of animals.

The two night stay has been wonderful for recharging our tired batteries, weary from the fast pace of travel these last few days. The weather is in the 70s, with afternoon thunderstorms to provide further opportunities for roadschooling.

The Missouri River cuts through the city of Great Falls. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The Missouri River cuts through the city of Great Falls. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Great Falls is known as the site for Lewis and Clark’s Portage around enormous falls on the Missouri River. Local indians had told them about a great waterfall, but not several, and ultimately it took nearly a month go the short distance around, so steep it was, and so much gear they were carrying.

Today’s Great Falls is home to oil and gas refinieries, wheat farms, and Malmstrom Air Force Base. It is also one of the gateways to Glacier National Park, tomorrow’s destination.

A first; AK Kid willingly participating in a Junior Explorer program. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

A first; AK Kid willingly participating in a Junior Explorer program. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is an excellent place to begin exploring, and we found ourselves in the museum for nearly three hours after watching various movies and trying out the hands-on exhibits. Miles of riverside trails flank both shorelines, and bikes are welcome here along with walkers and runners. We grabbed a picnic and drove to Ryan Falls on the northeast side, where we had Ryan Island to ourselves. Well, almost, save for a jack rabbit, Canada goose family, and one huge snake. <—-King Snake, maybe? People who like slithering things, help me out.

The Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum was worth the time it took to secure base access, and was a short walk across manicured lawns marked by impressive static displays. As children of the Cold War, both AK Dad and I were quite awed and not a little unnerved by the Minuteman missle and launcher right in front of us.

The RV continues to perform well, and we thanked our lucky stars last night for the ability to pull over at a deserted exit, fire up the stove, and cook a quick dinner before ushering the kids into PJs and fleece blankets while buckled in for the last few hours of driving.

Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum is an excellent place to learn about Montana's position in civil defense. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum is an excellent place to learn about Montana’s position in civil defense. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

What we learned along the way :

Like Alaska, Montana also has two seasons; Winter and Construction. It is prudent to allow extra time.

Stopping to feel a prairie wind on your face is a great way to taste Montana’s planting process. Heh.

Lewis and Clark managed to keep a positive, strong team of men even though two winters and extra effort robbed them of food, shoes, and strength.

AK Kid will do Junior Explorer programs if a) a friend is along who likes such activities, and b) the interpretive ranger is a former teacher of 5th grade boys. Boom.

Glacier National Park awaits, and so does Kids to Parks Day on Saturday. We’ll be there. Follow along?

Goodnight from Big Sky country.

-EK

Links (Yes, I’m still blogging via phone )

Great Falls Visitor Bureau, www.genuinemontana.com

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and activities, www.lewisandclark.org

Great Falls KOA, www.koa.com/camp/great-falls

 

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