Small villages and hamlets dotted the landscape, and when we pulled into the town of Choteau (pronounced “show-tow”), it was so cute we had to stop and have a look around.
Choteau seems to love summer and summertime visitors, and we were intrigued by a collection of little buildings that stood side by side on the main drag. One was an ice cream parlor and another was a one room school house!
We really liked the slightly funky spirit of Choteau and got a chuckle out of seeing two dinosaurs in town.
We always enjoy visiting mom-and-pop coffee shops, and we noticed an “Espresso” sign in front of a shop called Maddimo & Company.
Their front door was made of old barn boards and was very cool.
Inside Maddimo we found the most intriguing and inviting little boutique shop filled with home decorations and plaques with cool sayings on them and a coffee bar too.
The owner, Samantha, started chatting with us as she made our yummy drinks. She explained that she holds crafting workshops right there in the shop, and she showed us a wonderful table filled with paints and other artists’ goodies.
Samantha makes all the plaques she sells, and she teaches other people how to make them too.
One had a saying that is perfect for would-be adventurers who are on the fence about becoming full-time RVers!
Samantha also sells stencil templates so craftsy people can make sets of plaques for friends and family.
‘It’s a work in progress,” she said, gesturing around the cute little shop. Growing up in Choteau, Samantha’s family had owned a deli restaurant that they eventually sold. After she moved away and lived elsewhere for a few years, Samantha and her husband decided to move back to Choteau and, along with her mother, they bought back the deli and opened it again.
This was the first season for their new venture, and the place was hopping. How satisfying it must be to return home to your roots and buy back and reopen the family business to great success!
We continued on down the road towards Great Falls, Montana, which has always had a special place in my heart even though I’d never been there. One of my childhood idols, the figure skater John Misha Petkevich, grew up in Great Falls. For years I cherished an embroidered patch from his figure skating club in my collection of club patches, and I always wondered what his hometown of faraway Great Falls was like.
We aren’t city folk, but with a name like Great Falls, we figured this town had to have some kind of fabulous waterfall, and sure enough there are several.
We drove to Ryan Island at the edge of town, a lovely little grassy park that is accessed via a suspension bridge for walkers. Tall shade trees fill the park and a short and pretty trail takes you to an incredible view of Ryan Dam and the Missouri River spilling over.
Back in 1805 when Lewis and Clark made their 16 month trek across America from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, they came upon these waterfalls. At the time, of course, the falls flowed freely and unhindered. I got goose bumps when I read a plaque that said Merriweather Lewis had likely stood right where I was standing.
Mandan Indian Chiefs had told Lewis that his group would encounter the falls during their voyage on the Missouri River. Lewis wrote in his diary:
“…my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a column of smoke…..it began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.”
After arriving at the falls, the entire Corps of Discovery team, about four dozen people, spent the next three weeks carrying all their boats and equipment 18 miles around the falls so they could continue their journey afloat on the Missouri River.
In contrast, we had driven up in an air conditioned truck with music playing over multiple speakers and had adjusted our heated and vented electric seats just so.
Interestingly, Captain Lewis had stood pretty close to where we were standing on Thursday, June 13, 1805. It was now Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The dates were so close yet were separated by over 200 years and such radical change. How awesome!
We continued our back road RV travels in Montana heading east and south from Great Falls. Pastures and farm fields stretched in every direction on gently rolling hills.
We passed an old truck with a straw man riding a stack of hay bales bronco style in the bed. Cute!
Suddenly we saw a horse-and-buggy warning road sign, and within a few minutes we spotted a horse pulling a young Amish couple in an open two person “courting” buggy that the young men drive. We had talked to a young Amish man about his cool ride in upstate New York. He was as proud of his buggy as any teen is about their new wheels. How neat to find more Amish out here in rural Montana!
Within a few minutes we saw another Amish horse and buggy go by. How fun!
As we dropped south and approached the small town of Harlowton, Montana, we suddenly started seeing a different kind of farming: wind farming. There were rows and rows of windmills in huge clusters here and there.
We stopped in Harlowton and noticed that windmills adorned a lot of buildings and business logos.
Even the local brewpub, Gally’s Brewing Company, had a windmill on their logo!
We decided to grab a pint and stepped inside Gally’s Brewing Company. I asked the bartender why they had a windmill on their logo and why windmills were such a popular motif all around town. She explained that the wind farms were bringing a lot of money to the community.
The brewery wasn’t open for a few more hours, so we didn’t get to taste any of their brews, but we continued chatting with the bartender and she explained a little more about these wind farms. The ranchers graze their cattle on their land and also lease it out to wind generating companies to erect windmills. The cattle just munch the grass all around the base of the windmills.
So, the ranchers make money from the leases, the community makes money from taxes that the wind generator companies pay, and there are a few more jobs to be found. “It’s a win-win,” she said with a smile.
We continued driving south towards Big Timber through this is a very quiet part of the country. There were lots of open spaces and small peaceful spots tucked under the trees alongside streams and rivers.
Big storm clouds swept across the sky, whipping themselves into a frenzied windy storm that dumped buckets of rain across the land.
Afterwards, a beautiful rainbow appeared.
And then the sun set in vibrant shades of pink and orange that filled the sky.
If you are traveling across Montana, whether with or without an RV, these quiet roads through the middle of the state make for a rewarding trip, and the village of Choteau, the waterfall and dam at Ryan Island in Great Falls, and the town of Harlowton are fun stops along the way.
Perhaps you’ll catch Gally’s Brewing Company when they’re open for business in the afternoon and you can sample some of their brew and tell us how you like them!
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More info about these areas:
- Maddimo & Co. Coffee & Gifts (Facebook page)
- Great Falls
- Ryan Island Picnic Park
- RV campgrounds near Choteau, near Great Falls and near Harlowton
- Our route from Choteau through Great Falls and Ryan Island to Harlowton towards Big Timber
Other blog posts from Montana:
- Bighorn Canyon – A River Runs Through It in Montana! 07/27/18
- Beartooth Highway Scenic Drive – Dazzling All American Road – WOW!! 07/06/18
- Glacier National Park’s “Many Glacier” – Crown of the Continent! 06/22/18
- East Glacier Scenic Drive – Treasures OUTSIDE Glacier National Park 06/15/18
- Montana Road Trip – Wildflowers, Bison, a Mission Church + Good Eats! 06/08/18
- Ross Creek Cedars & Kootenai Falls – Giant Trees & Swings in Montana! 09/03/16
- Eagles and Hummingbirds in Libby, Montana 08/31/16
- Long Ride Travel by Horse and Bicycle! 08/29/16
- Whitefish to Libby – Big Surprises on the Back Roads of Montana 08/28/16
- “Going to the Sun” from Glacier National Park’s East Side – Breathtaking! 08/21/16
- Glacier National Park’s Quieter Side – Saint Mary 08/17/16
- Glacier National Park in Montana – Mirrors at Lake McDonald 05/29/16
- Philipsburg, Montana – One of America’s Prettiest Painted Places! 05/24/16
- A Glimpse of Cowboy Life and Cattle Ranching in Montana 05/16/16
- Montana’s Bitterroot Valley – Elk, Horses, Ranches & More! 05/14/16
- Ennis, MT & Earthquake Lake – Small Town Charm & Airstream Trailers! 09/16/12
- Nevada City, MT – Rebuilding History in a Vanished Ghost Town 09/11/12
- Virginia City, MT – Living History in a Ghost Town 09/07/12
- Dillon, MT – Sculpture, History and Hot Rods! 09/02/12
- Big Hole, MT – Picture Postcard Perfect 08/29/12
- Darby, MT – Fun Surprises in the Bitterroot Valley 08/25/12
- BitterSweet Guitars in the Bitterroot, MT 08/23/12
- Bitterroot Valley, MT – Traditional Roots in the Modern Age 08/21/12
- Helmville Rodeo, MT – RV Camping with Horses 09/29/09
- Helmville Rodeo, MT – Bull-riders, Bucking Broncos and Cute Kids 09/28/09
- Stevensville, MT – Real Ranching and Grass Fed Beef! 09/05/09
- Glacier National Park, MT – Mountain Goats and Lake Views 08/27/07
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