Setting the GPS on 'Shortest Route'

Trip Start Jun 01, 2009
Trip End Oct 16, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Saturday, August 8, 2009

The harvesters have been stopped by a combination of green wheat and rain so we have a couple of days of down time.  Yesterday we did some shopping and errands but today we decided on a road trip.  We started out and realized that we needed to top up the fuel tank so turned back into Great Falls. We have found that here in the west, it is a long distance between fuel stops so you never head out with a part tank.  What we didn't realize was that we had the GPS on 'shortest route' and that by turning back we had altered our start location just enough that the route was recalculated and was entirely different from the one we were planning to follow. 

Our exploration turned out to have shades of our 'round the mountain' trip out of St. George, Utah earlier this year.  With all the rain in the last couple of days, the roads were muddy and in places a challenge.  Don loves the suzuki 4-wheel drive!  I'm not so sure about the mud in the wheel wells that still has to be removed! 

Rather than taking us out of Great Falls on a connector to hwy 200, we found ourselves skirting a large table mountain heading in a southwest direction, in what turned out to be a route running parrallel to the hwy.  What we thought would quickly turn from gravel to paved road, turned from gravel to 'dirt' road with grass between the tracks on 'unnamed roads'.  Comforted by the fact we could always turn around and retrace our track and the fact that someone had preceded us 'most' of the way since the last rain, we kept on going.

We saw some of the most beautiful country.  The rock here shows signs of 'recent' volcanic action and upthrusts and is very rugged.  At first we travelled through vast areas of wheat but soon found ourselves surrounded by range pasture and very curious cattle.  We decided that they didn't see too many vehicles.  We passed a remote Hutterite colony and crossed through a pass in a mountain range to decend into a valley of active ranches with a view to covet.  We drove along a rural road lined with wild sunflower and eventually reached hwy 287 that took us onto hwy 200, our original plan route.

Between Lincoln and Ovando we decided to turn south on hwy 141 and loop back through Helena to I-15.  If we continued to Missoula as planned we would be really late getting back to the park. Stopping at a scenic overlook along hwy 12, we had a chance to talk with a farm woman hauling hay from south of Butte to the Idaho/Montana border area.  It has rained so much there that they haven't been able to make hay.  The truck pulling the load was starting to heat up with the load she was pulling so she was taking a break before travelling the rest of the way through the Macdonald Pass -6320'. 

On the way back on I-15 we decided to check out Gates of the Mountains, and later the Holter Dam.  This put us on Frontage Road rather than the highway and we decided to travel this route to Cascade before going back on the hwy.  This road follows the Missouri River, mostly at river level and is a wonderful drive.  I think it must be the original highway route and reinforced how much you miss by travelling only on the Interstates.

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