We arrived yesterday in Great Falls, MT, a few hours north of Bozeman. We immediately noticed a number of differences between the two cities. Great Falls is only twice Bozeman’s population, but is spread across a much larger geographical area.
Great Falls lacks a large anchor employer of Montana State University’s size, although Great Falls has Malmstrom Air Force Base. And, unfortunately, the ore smelter shut down entirely and the Air Force Base reduced employment recently.
We gave downtown a good walking over and browsed their kitchen store, a tea shop, and the candy shop. Not much help to the local economy, but we bought a bamboo whisk for matcha tea and several candies. We couldn’t buy a cup of coffee after 3:30 p.m. local time although the tea shop would gladly have brewed us a cup of any of dozens of kinds of tea.
Great Falls has a very pretty county courthouse building and library. The downtown district has suffered mightily from several large shopping centers in the Great Falls suburbs. Downtown has enjoyed some financial investments toward revitalization but many businesses are shuttered. On a brighter note, nowhere have we ever found a more helpful and friendly US Post Office employee than in Great Falls.
She offered to help the client in front of us repack her box to save on excessive shipping costs, and while the young woman was emptying her box for re-packing the clerk waved us in and helped us with our stamp purchase and priority box mailing. What a refreshing improvement! We’re looking forward to our next USPS engagement next Monday in Kalispell, MT, to pick up mail and a package.
This morning we waited for the wind to abate and the outside temperature to climb above 65 before we ventured out. Finally, after lunchtime, we drove a very short ten miles to Ulm, MT, and found the First Peoples Buffalo Jump SP.
This State Park is the first of many Montana pishkuns to have an interpretive center, and this is a nice one. We enjoyed learning about some of the 300 uses the Blackfeet and other Indians had for the buffalo. And this pishkun is the largest in North America and possibly in the world.
We spent an enjoyable three hours visiting the interpretive center, talking to the rangers, and hiking the three mile trail through the prairie grasses. We wound our way to the top and found the extensive prairie dog town, full of its busy citizens.
This is a spectacular place for the vistas. We looked out in all directions and saw beautiful ranges with grasses waving gently. Today we were blessed with a soft and steady breeze keeping us cool and free from biting insects.
We paid five dollars admission for one out-of-state car, and one dollar for the hiking trail guide. The guide is a treat to use. Sixteen trail markers give you a chance to catch your breath as you climb up or down the three-mile trail and read the corresponding pages from the trail guide.
The trail guide is very well written and gives readers a sense of what was happening one thousand years ago in this same place. We gained some perspective on the buffalo’s importance to the Blackfeet Indians, and how the Indians made careful and considerate use of the gifts from the buffalo. And we sensed how well centered the Indians could be in their lives and their hunting. Don’t miss this State Park, you’ll be glad you stopped.