Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Havre Montana, a City With Hidden Depths

Looking at old pharmacy bottles is fascinating.
September 16, 2017
Havre on Montana’s Hi-line is a railroad town that started as a supply depot and developed some colorful if violent western history. The city of less than 10,000 is the 8th largest in Montana and is less than 40 miles from the US/Canada border.
We arrived in Havre on the eve of Festival Days Weekend, and were pleasantly surprised at all of the events that were scheduled. We met people from the Dakotas, from Idaho and from Medicine Hat Alberta who had come to town for the event.
Saturday Morning a farmers market was set up in Town Square. We enjoyed making purchases from a number of vendors from a local Hutterite colony. The produce was outstanding.
There was a parade with horses and floats and firetrucks.
As part of the celebration Triple Dog Brewing Company was running pint specials. Fred enjoyed a flight of samples (most of them) and a pint of his favorite, the American Mutt.    

We entered the underground via an old tunnel with surprisingly newer signage.
Havre is famous for its underground which is presented through the Railroad Museum as a tour called Havre Beneath the Streets.
The Historic Underground and Railroad Museum is home to an impressive display of model railroads on 2 levels. There were many enthusiasts enjoying the displays including several children whose parents and grandparents were having a hard time prying them away from the running locomotives.
We purchased our tickets and started to learn about the underground while waiting for a 1 o’clock tour.
Havre, a railroad town, was built quickly and consisted of a business district that was primarily wood. Structures were close together and were connected with wooden sidewalks.
June 14th 1904 a fight in a local bar resulted in a couple of irate drinkers being ejected. Late that night they broke into the bar and set it on fire. The fire, fueled by dried wood and alcohol spread to adjoining stores and eventually consumed the entire business district.
The Great Havre Fire consumed 55 businesses.
Three things were left standing in the 10 block fire zone.
The Old State Security Bank which was constructed of stone, the vault in the Old Bank Saloon and the chimney of the Havre Hotel.
The damage was devastating and construction materials were not easily obtained. The aftermath of the fire could have destroyed the city but enterprising business owners recovered  what they could and moved into the basements and steam tunnels beneath their stores to resume operation. Tunnels were dug between stores to connect them making it easier to shop between them.

Thread display from the Mercantile store
It took 2 years to rebuild the city. During that time Havre residents conducted their business underground.
Our tour began with a short walk around the block to a set of stairs that lead us into the tunnels. While walking on the sidewalks we noticed several places where square purple stones were embedded into the concrete. Once inside the tunnels we saw that the purple stones were really glass and they served as skylights for the tunnels. The glass was originally clear but over time when exposed to heat and sun had turned purple. I had seen that phenomenon with sea glass and was delighted to realize that the sun’s rays had once again improved a man made object.

The faux wood finished post office was made to be portable.
The first “building” we came to was a post office, complete with teller’s window and post office boxes. It was not original to Havre and had been donated to the museum from Fort Assinaboine. The tour guide encouraged us to touch to wood look post office and to realize that it was made of metal not wood. He explained that this was because towns along the railroad lines frequently failed. A metal post office could be taken apart and moved to the next small town that needed one.

Look at the size of the bellows from the Blacksmith shop.

I tried not to imagine the smells that would have lingered in those tunnels
We wandered through a Mercantile Store, a Bank, and a Dentist’s office with gruesome looking tools.
The Pharmacy
These mortuary baskets would have been used to transport bodies.
There were also a Barber Shop, a Butcher, a Blacksmith, a Mortuary, a Pharmacy and the Sporting Eagle Saloon.

Poker tables original to the Underground Sporting Eagle Saloon

Bar at the Sporting Eagle Saloon
Beyond the saloon were some less respectable establishments that included an Opium Den, a Bordello and housing for Chinese immigrants that were working on the railroad lines.

The Bordello had mirrors and fancy lights

And a room full of numbered iron beds separated by gauze curtains.
Legitimate businesses had all moved back above ground by the Summer of 1906.
Interest in the underground fell aside until the 1920’s when Bootleg liquor smugglers were looking for a place to hide. There is an old still and shelves full of jugs in a back room off a dark tunnel hallway. Once prohibition was repealed in 1933 the underground rooms were used as storage for the businesses above them.

Prohibition era Bootleg still
The underground lay undisturbed until the 1990’s when a group of citizens with an interest in history decided to investigate. According to our tour guide; “We grew up here. We heard the stories. We wanted to know what was really here.”
We are so glad that their curiosity lead them to discover the history lesson that is Havre Beneath the Streets.

Havre Beneath the Streets
Frank DeRosa Railroad Museum
120 3rd Ave

Havre, Montana

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Few Days in Canada: Alberta and Saskatchewan

September 12, 2017
While planning our route to Havre Montana we realized that we were going to be less that 40 miles from the border crossing at Wild Horse.
When would we be this close to an opportunity to visit these Canada provinces again?
Not knowing the answer to that question we pointed the wheels North and headed for Alberta.

Medicine Hat, Alberta is the closest city to the border crossing so we opted to stay there. We found a great coffee roaster on our first afternoon in town. Mad Hatter Coffee Roastery has a great downtown location and is staffed by friendly knowledgeable people. We sipped our double shot Americano’s and spent an hour talking to local folks about places to go and things to see in their city.

The one thing that they all agreed was a don’t miss is Medalta Potteries.
Medalta’s once flourishing Clay works are preserved as they were in 1912.  The factory’s production line was state of the art for the early 20th century.

It is amazing to walk around the once bustling factory and breath in the air that still smells of clay. We were able to watch actual film of craftsmen and laborers performing the backbreaking work that it took to keep the production line going. Imagine lifting and carrying 100 lbs of wet clay many times over the course of a day, or pulling carts of green ware by hand, or painting plate after plate with the same details, or attaching handle after handle to teapots and teacups.

The room sized round kilns are now exhibit rooms. It felt odd to walk around in rooms where temperatures were once high enough to fire pottery.

Medalta made everything stoneware and pottery. We were familiar with their huge stoneware crocks that are used for food storage. The museum has examples of them in sizes from 1-40. Oddly the measurements are in american gallons because the original equipment was purchased second hand from a company in Ohio.

Medalta made dishes, for hotels and railroads and schools and hospitals.
They made giftware for business promotions and promotional dishware for tourist attractions.

We saw examples of beautifully colored mixing bowls and bakeware.
Even the bricks that line the iconic beehive kilns have Medalta’s name on them.

We found Nipper, in Alberta!
Our favorite find of the day were sets of salt and pepper shakers designed to look like Nipper the RCA dog. Nipper still lives in Albany NY at the top of what is now the Arnoff Moving and Storage Building on Tivoli Street. The 28 foot tall terrier is a Capitol District landmark and we did not expect to find him in Alberta.
The facility is still a working pottery and is a community hub in the Historic Clay District. There is a weekly Market showcasing food and other goods made by local vendors.
An ongoing hands on education program provides learning opportunities for children and adults.

Fun Fact: Medalta got it’s name from the town of MEDicine Hat and the postal code ALTA, short for Alberta.

Fort Walsh, Cyprus Hills, Saskatchewan
Fred and I have been following the story of Sitting Bull since we left South Dakota.  
Fort Walsh in Saskatchewan is the North West Mounted Police Outpost that was charged with keeping order in the Northwest Territories. We thought it was going to be a quick drive through Cyprus Hills Interprovincial Park to the fort but the Western gate of the park was closed not allowing through traffic due to the danger of wild fires. We made the trip anyway. The long way around was a lovely drive through Canada’s Northern Plains and Badlands and then up into the elevations of Cyprus Hills.

Uniform of the North West Mounted Police
Sitting Bull, unwilling to surrender to US forces, led about one thousand of his people to the Cyprus Hills near Fort Walsh the Summer after the Battle of Little Bighorn.
We wanted to hear stories of the time that they spent in Canada.

In Fort Walsh Sitting Bull and his followers had to obey the laws of Queen Victoria's England.
Sitting Bull was met by a delegation from the fort lead by by Commander James Morrow Walsh. Walsh explained to Sitting Bull that if he wanted asylum in British Territory that he must abide by British law. That law included the understanding that Sitting Bull and his warriors would not use their position in Canada to make raids in the United States.
Sitting Bull agreed to the terms and spent the next 4 years living in the Cyprus Hills. He grew to be friends with Commander Walsh who became an advocate for the Hunkpapa Leader and his family.
Life in the Cyprus Hills was difficult. Buffalo were not as plentiful this far north and he became dependent on the Canadian government for rations. His younger warriors grew tired of life in exile. Canadian government officials encouraged him to surrender as relations between the countries became strained.
Hungry, weary and wanting to find peace Sitting Bull with 180 members of his group surrendered at Fort Buford in the Summer of 1881.

Fred Here:
I have liked the name Medicine Hat having read about the area in a few western books. Plus a person I met at RPI hockey games back in the early ‘80’s was from Medicine Hat. So on Tuesday Morning we traveled about 287 miles from Glasgow, Montana crossing the border at Wild Horse up into Canada to a little campsite called Ross Creek RV Park, Medicine Hat Alberta.
One of the stops we made was to the Canalta Center Hockey Arena, home of the Medicine Hat Tigers hockey team of the WHL.
We walked around the arena, got a look at the ice, took a few photos and got a new shirt (Medicine Hat Tigers) and a few gifts for the boys.
I got to talk with a very nice lady who was in charge of season ticket sales. She was so nice and just loved talking about the Tigers players and the team in general.
This was just a great day. Would like to go back and see a hockey game.

Fred and the Medicine Hat Hockey lady talked for a very long time and actually exchanged email addresses. She offered to provide him information on any former Tigers that he was interested in learning about and encouraged him to come back and visit again.

We enjoyed a great three days in Canada, adding two new provinces to our map. The border crossings were smooth and pleasant and none of our produce was confiscated this time.

The little side journey reminded us how much we are enjoying this flexible lifestyle that allows us to indulge in spontaneous changes in plans.

Mad Hatter Coffee Roastery
513 #rd St SE
Medicine Hat, Alberta

Medalta and the Historic Clay District
713 Medalta Ave SE
Medicine Hat, Alberta

Conalta Centre
2802 Box Springs Way NW
Medicine Hat, Alberta

Fort Walsh
Cyprus Hills Interprovincial Park
Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

Friday, September 22, 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the North Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
Theodore Roosevelt is a larger than life historic figure. Really larger than life if you consider the size of his face on Mount Rushmore!
The New York native has ties to the Adirondack Mountains that we call home.
He spent a great deal of leisure time there even writing a book about birds common to the region. Roosevelt was in the Adirondack Mountains, climbing Mount Marcy (the region’s highest peak) when William McKinley succumbed to gangrene after being shot 8 days earlier.  Roosevelt was intercepted on the mountain with news that McKinley had taken a turn for the worse. A 5 hour midnight ride over 35 miles of mountain roads took him to the North Creek train station where he learned of the President’s death. Roosevelt continued his travel by train to Buffalo where he was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States. The Adirondack Museum on Blue Mountain Lake has the “Midnight Ride” carriage on display.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency is noted for many achievements. My favorite of those are the steps that he took to preserve land for public use including the formation of the National Forest Service and the designation of National Parks and Monuments.

Roosevelt traveled to the Badlands in 1883 investing in the Maltese Cross Ranch.

Grazing bison
He returned to the Badlands in 1884 when personal tragedy struck as he lost his Mother and his first wife on the same day. Roosevelt took refuge in the stark landscape of the Badlands, starting his own Elkhorn ranch and spending most of the next 2 years working the land and healing his heart. He later credited that time as instrumental in his personal growth:

“I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota”    Theodore Roosevelt 1918

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is built on that land. It’s over 70,000 acres are divided into 3 units North, South and Elkhorn Ranch.
The North Unit includes a 14 mile scenic drive over mostly paved roads through the Badlands. That drive and a few short walks were our destination for the day.
We were surprised to see a herd of Texas Longhorns just past the Visitor Center.
The park is also home to bison, elk, pronghorn, 2 types of deer and bighorn sheep.

The orange layer is iron oxide
These Badlands are different than those we saw in South Dakota.
It is quieter here and less populated.. We only saw a dozen other vehicles on our drive, and a few backpackers. It is September and school is back in session but I suspect that the fewer numbers are because this is a more remote place.
North Dakota residents don’t seem to expect tourists. We are frequently asked “What are you doing all the way up here?” when people see our NY licence plates.
The mountains are similar in color with distinct layers of brown, tan and grey. There is a beautiful red-orange layer of iron oxide near the top of the hills and an almost perfectly straight line of silvery gray granite in the lower third.
There are some unique rock formations in the North Dakota Badlands.

Cannonball Concretion

We have seen more of those eerie petrified wood stumps.
Caprocks also called mushroom rocks occur in areas where a hard rock like granite sits on top of sandstone and the softer stone is weathered away leaving a top heavy formation. Its odd to see these in a cliff wall, they look like door frames and porch roofs.


Caprock or Cannonball Concretion? I couldn't decide.
Cannonball concretions are fascinating. They are spheres of all different sizes that were formed when suspended sand grains joined with minerals dissolved in groundwater as an ancient river carried them along. You can find them sitting alone like a lost ball at the base of a cliff or see the edges of them being exposed through the rock wall as softer stone around them erodes.
Partially exposed cannonball.
The scenic drive has some amazing overlooks.

The Little Missouri was pretty empty after a very dry season.
River Bend Overlook at about mile 9 shows the Missouri flood plain opening up below you. The views are fabulous and can be enjoyed from a rustic stone shelter built by the CCC in the 1930’s.

Stone shelter at the Riverbend Overlook
There is not much water in the Little Missouri this year but we could tell where it usually runs from the dried mud in the bottomland

Fred enjoying the view at Oxbow Overlook
Oxbow Overlook is at the end of the drive at mile 14 where the road forms a loop to send you back to the Visitor Center. There are a few trail heads here. When you walk a short trail to the edge of the cliff you can see where the river makes a big oxbow turn. The Park Ranger manning the overlook pointed out a nest of Prairie Rattlesnakes that had just hatched the week before. He warned us that the tiny creatures liked to warm themselves in the sun on the path.

Park Ranger with snake warnings at the Oxbow Overlook
We are so glad to have visited this remote park.
It may be a road less travelled but that just adds to it's peaceful beauty.
I like to think that Teddy Roosevelt would be happy at what his ranch and the surrounding Badlands have become.
When you visit. Bring your own food and water. The Visitor Center here is a small trailer without services and there are no nearby stores. You can use the restrooms at the campground but there is not a source of drinking water near them. Wear boots, because apparently the snakes like to sun themselves in the middle of the trail.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Unit Visitor Center
208 Scenic Dr.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota