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|Thursday, 29 July 2004|
|written by Teresa|
Fort Peck Lake is a huge reservoir and out of sight of the dam manages a remarkably natural appearance. In the pale light of early morning the water has a gentle subdued luminescence, a perfect stillness. It's character changes throughout the day; white riders sometimes disturb the surface only to be replaced by an unnatural shade of navy as the colour deepens under passing rain cloud. By evening the pond-like appearance returns, pale blues and pinks merge on the reflective surface, still at the end of the day.
The West End Campground overlooking the Lake seemed peaceful enough, but that was before the grass cutters arrived. They shattered the quiet, and just for good measure, a rear side window on the truck. The culprit was an airborne stone, tossed up by a passing mower. The result was a thousand pieces of glass. In between apologies, the driver shook his head in amused disbelief; this is the second window he has broken on that very pitch this summer, and he claimed that his mowing days would be over if things continued in this vein. He directed us to a shop in Glasgow, that's Montana not Scotland, and assured us he would pay for the replacement. We rang to make arrangements and as Sterling explained that we were camping at Fort Peck, the response came back, "Are they cutting the grass out there again?"
A couple of days later, we went into town to have the repair done. We arrived at the appointed time but were still ahead of the UPS truck that was carrying our window. Rather than make us wait, the owner of the shop cheerfully proclaimed that he was going to chase the delivery down, and set off in pursuit. Now admittedly Glasgow is a small town, but the gesture was remarkable and impressed us greatly. We were back on the road in less that half an hour having learnt that the small side window is the most expensive in the truck at six hundred dollars; if we ever have to break into the truck, the cheapest way is through the windscreen. Hopefully the need will never arise.
Sterling needs to fly to Denver on business and so we are heading for Great Falls. On route we stop in a small commercial campground outside Belt, enticed by the promise of a pint at the local brewpub. We have been at the campground for an hour or so when Sterling suddenly asserts that we have been here before. I assure him that we have not, but he insists, saying that if we look at the bathrooms I'll remember. Sure enough, the facilities are memorable, higgledy piggeldy, quaint, and painted blue. Four years ago we stayed here for a night in the tent, on our way to Glacier, enticed no doubt by the same promise. The town is still as tiny, the brewpub still as odd but there is no Homecoming Parade this time round, we're a bit too early.
Just outside Great Falls is the Giant Springs State Park where waters that have percolated through the limestone for centuries surface close to the Missouri River. The springs bubble up in a magical pool, with deep blue waters, bright green submerged vegetation and the absolute clarity of water filtered by a thirty-eight mile journey from its source at the Little Belt Mountains. Some of it cascades over a shelf of exposed rock, joining the river at the bottom of the small falls. The rest flows in what is said to be the shortest river in the world at just 200 feet long, but the output of three hundred and thirty eight million gallons a day, makes the spring one of the largest in the world.
The Missouri flows by, mixing the perfectly clear outpourings from the spring with it's own more burdened waters. The river is home to flocks of Canada Geese, honking as they skim across the water before landing. The seagulls make way for them, knowing their place in the pecking order, and both move as the White Pelicans with their twelve-foot wingspan glide in on the breeze. Colonies of Cliff Swallows zoom around, acrobatically feeding on the wing before returning to their mud nests that cling from overhangs on the exposed rock of the valley side. Out of the small globular nests, little heads and beaks poke from the entrance holes awaiting the next meal, and chirping enthusiastically once a parent is spotted. Down by the water, a snake lies across a rock, a bulge travelling slowly down its body as it digests. We are told that it has just eaten a fish, but there is no rod or line to be seen and we have our doubts.
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