The Last Leg: Great Falls to Houston
Total trip miles: 7406
Great Falls is quite a pretty town and loaded with history.
Lewis and Clark sussed this place out. Apparently they saw an eagle land on an island in the Missouri river that runs through this area. They were awestruck by what became known as the Great Falls of the Missouri River. They marked it on their map to return at a future date. They named it Eagle Pass.
In the meantime, mining, trapping, and railroad companies discovered the wealth to be had in the region, and eventually dammed each of the five falls and harnessed hydroelectric power. Today the Nickname,” Electric City” still holds.
We had a superb meal at a local place called Eddie’s Supper Club. Bar none – this has to have been the BEST steak we have eaten anywhere – and I mean anywhere. Plastic table cloths, good-ole-gal waitresses, and a table by the kitchen notwithstanding, this meal topped any 5-star restaurant anywhere. The only way I can describe the steak is velvet.
After a good sleep, we set off early to make Cheyenne, Wyoming by supper time.
I swear there in NOTHING between Great Falls and Billings.
It is beautiful, but there is not a meaningful gas station, town, or road side venue for two-hundred-some-odd miles. That normally would not be a big deal since Paul and I have often pulled 18-hour stints driving this route between Calgary and Houston. But today we made the error of leaving the hotel without breakfast or even coffee thinking we would find it somewhere along the route, even though breakfast was included with the room.
What were we thinking???
Scant roadside services aside, this area is loaded with Native American history, and more specifically, Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn. I qualify that statement of history with “native” because it always chaps me that we remember the Americans who lost their lives in the battles for the conquering of the West and the decimation of the Native populations. I try as much as possible to remember the Natives who fought defending their land, as viciously and as determined as the Patriots sought to throw off the Brits in a land they had taken from Natives. I still don’t know why the American Calvary and the settlers at large were surprised when the Natives fought back.
Again, photo off the internet. We did not go there this time.
We continued on to Cheyenne, snapping a few photos along the way.
My picture turned out lousy, so I got this off the internet.
We landed in Cheyenne about six-thirty in the evening. The temperature read 60 degrees, and there was a cool wind blowing. I actually felt cold when I got out of the car. When we approached the desk, the clerk looked at me with my jacket on and scarf around my neck and smiled,
“You’re not from here, are you?”
When we told her were are from Texas she hooted and said, “Texas!? The snow up here just melted last week!”
I said, “It’s July 1st for God’s sake.”
She nodded her head, “Yep. It is.”
I remembered back to long, cold winters in Calgary.
She recommended a steakhouse for dinner, and while we had just had the perfect steak last night in Great Falls, we went anyway. I swear I was still full from that meal yesterday.
The local Haunt is T-Joes, and it is local indeed.
The legend goes that back in the sixties, a renowned rodeo rider by the name of Bill Linderman was flying to speak in a convention in Spokane, Washington, via Denver, Colorado. He allegedly stopped and had a drink in a bar in Denver, and when he was done, he paid with a check. The owner asked Linderman for an address, and he wrote down one word on the check: heaven. Later that day, Linderman died in a plane crash near Salt Lake City and forty-one passengers perished. Cowboy legend has it that Linderman escaped the flames but perished when he went back in to help with the rescue.
The steaks looked to die for but we wanted something lighter. We both ended up with chicken strips, no beer, lots of water, and an early night. We know we have a long drive tomorrow – We want to make it to Amarillo via Denver.
We’re going to visit Rita.
I met Rita several years ago. She was my piano teacher. I came to the piano later in life – Paul gave me an electric piano as a graduation gift when I finished my master’s work at Sam Houston State University. I had never played the piano but I wanted to learn. Rita and I connected immediately but we soon learned that we were better beer-drinkers than we were teacher/student. We ended the tutorials and began a remarkable friendship.
Rita now lives in Colorado teaching piano and drums to younger kids. She is magic with them and I have seen her work miracles with special-needs kids.
We went for lunch at a grill called Chuburger and then back to the studio for a recital her Summer Rock Camp kids performed.
After that we went to see where she lives, a gorgeous apartment complex with a great view of the mountains and the plans. We also wanted to visit with Rita’s rescue dog, Little Bones.
We had to leave early afternoon because we were heading for Amarillo that night, so we said our goodbyes with promises of seeing each other when she comes to Houston this Christmas.
Bye Rita! See you soon….
We refused to tackle I-25 out of Denver, (we remembered I-5 in Oregon – and this looked worse!)
…so we took an alternate route down highway 385/287 to Lamar and Springfield, to Boise City, Oklahoma, and then Amarillo.
The weather cooperated with us until about an hour out of Denver. Then the clear and sunny skies turned to hell, and around Lamar, we were toast.
You know the area… the one that is west of Kansas, and north of Oklahoma… otherwise recognized as….
I am not saying this was a tornado, but I have never experienced the like of this storm. I call it the Toilet Bowl Storm. As we drove south we noticed some grey clouds off in the distance. We remarked that somebody, somewhere is getting one hell of a rain storm.
So there we were….
… all full of oohs and ahhhs…
…over the rain that somebody, somewhere else was getting….
Little did we know we were headed right for it.
Imagine this: A bowl turned upside down over you. Rain is hammering down so hard that it sounds like hail. It falls so hard that it bounces off the car like little bullets and fills up the sides of the roads and ditches so fast you get the cold ice in your belly that tells you if you stop to wait it out, you’ll be up to your knees in water in no time. And you don’t want to be the ones on the news, clinging to the roof of the car waving your other hand in panic as the choppers swoop by for a good shot, and all the folks at home say, “Why the hell did those fools go out in this weather?!” Except that we didn’t go out in it. We were already out when it happened.
After all the years I’ve lived in Houston, I finally understand the meaning of flash floods.
Water swirls all around you. So much that you cannot see around it or past it. And it’s dark. As night. Like someone turned out the lights. In between wiper slashes, you can see the edge of the bowl just there, close as fingertips, but by God you can’t get there.
Until it comes down so hard you have zero visibility.
This was our view out our front windshield for far too many miles.
You can’t stop for fear of water filling the car. You can’t move fast because you cannot see. Fear stinks up the car.
We alternated between slips of vision and zero visibility until we reached the edge of that bowl. As the crow flies, it is 214 hours from Lamar to Amarillo. It took almost six hours to make that stretch of highway.
But then, almost as soon as we were in the storm, we were out of it.
Like it never happened.
By the time we got to Amarillo, our nerves were strung, our butts were glued to the seats, and our gas tank was on empty. The storms I can handle, but the empty light on?? We nearly got divorced over that.
We overnighted in strained silence in a very luxurious suite at the Marriott downtown. An early start the next day – we’ll be home by nightfall.
Houston never looked so good!!
You know you’re back in Texas when……