CORRECTION! Before I begin today's update I must make a correction pointed out to me by Reno Mike Caltagirone. We did not cross the Continental Divide yesterday in the Bitterroot Range, we crossed it this morning on highway 12 outside of Missoula.
Originally named after the BNSF railway line that cut across the northern states from Minnesota to Washington, now named after highway 2 which traverses the same states, the Hi-Line is where we find ourselves tonight in Havre, Montana. (Not pronounced like the quarterback Favre [Far-ve] or the French port Le Havre [Le Hahhv] but as Leslie told me, pronounce it like, "you can have 'er). The Hi-Line is used to describe the region between the Canadian Border and about one hundred miles south. Havre is evidently Hi-Line central. We are approximately 35 miles from the Canadian border and if we climb to the top of the silo a few properties down we could see our northern neighbor.
During some of our route today the landscape was so vast we could easily see more than 35 miles from the top of one of the hundreds of hills we climbed across the great plains. Great plains of rolling hills covered in golden wheat or golden prairie grass broken by sudden outcroppings of rock jutting up from the ground to several hundred feet or by vast cuts in the prairie made by the Missouri or other rivers and creeks. This is the Great Plains and we have several hundred more miles to cross before we enter the forests of Minnesota on Friday.
Our current location is vastly different than where we started the day in Missoula. After a breakfast at a locals spot recommended to us in the hotel bar in Pendleton we were on our way. The local spot? What is it? My sister is screaming at her screen. Paul's Pancake Parlor. Not a house, a parlor. We got to Paul's about 9:30 local and it was packed. Many of the tables were filled with older locals who seemed to meet there every morning for coffee, some eggs and definitely pancakes. If you are in Missoula there is no reason to go anywhere for breakfast but Paul's Pancake Parlor--none. (Sharon I know this is now on your travel list--tip, the standard pancake order is 4 but they will do a half order if you ask).
Pushed away from the table we jumped onto highway 200 to Great Falls and drove through what I picture as Montana from Jimmy Stewart, Van Heflin, Clint Eastwood and of course John Wayne. This was the west of the cowboys, huge open fields surrounded by heavily forested hills and sliced by fast running creeks and rivers. Ranches dotted the landscape and cattle grazed the ranges. After following the Blackfoot River ("A River Runs Through It) for many miles we climbed and crossed the Continental Divide, for real this time, and quickly dropped from over 5500 feet through the forest and to the Plains.
The change from forest and mountains to grassland was almost instant. Looking at our route using Google Maps on the satellite mode you can see the sudden change in topography and geography. It reminds me of visiting Colorado Springs with my Dad several summers ago and being on the eastern slope of the Rockies and seeing to the east the mountains suddenly stop and the plains of eastern Colorado and Nebraska beginning.