Everything and nothing with a little sweat too

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Saturday, October 13, 2007

You know, we're quite happy with this "travelpod" site for our blog 'cos we can put our piccies in with the story. What we would like to do is stick the pin in the map a number of times for just one entry to show a "tour". So for this story the pin is stuck in our campsite (if you zoom in enough it's right on our pitch) and you will have to search out our points of interest (if you feel the need).
Helena is the state capitol and obviously has an historic downtown, this one has some really grand buildings. Helena grew as a gold rush town - the main street is actually called "Last Chance Gulch". Not a bad last chance as $3.5 billion of gold was removed in 2 years. Helena had more millionaires per capita than any other town in the United States. Many mansions were built with a number of grand business and public offices too.
We parked up to go and explore the Saturday morning farmers market first.
 


It took us a while as every time we stopped we ended up chatting for ages (seems not too many tourists from the UK reach these parts) There was the chap who makes rustic furniture and walking poles, the photographer who camps out ensuring those wonderful shots of the great outdoors just at the right time of day.
Then my favourite, the chainsaw carver,
check out the magnificent pieces on his trailer. He told us of living in his log home that he built himself and of bears coming down from the mountain into his yard, the moose that chased his dog and other adventures, sometimes the wildlife stories and hunting tales give a reality check to our sanitized way of life. For instance, when Betsy was in line waiting to pay, at a well known store that sells everything, she happened to mention that very few people in England go hunting. With a puzzled look the two camouflaged clad men asked "well what do you eat?" You see it's not only a way of life it helps to sustain life too.
Leaving the market we walked past the Cathedral
swooshing through the leaf covered streets (it really is time to head south) past many of those grand houses I mentioned.






One we didn't pass was the old Governors' mansion,


we were just in time for a guided tour and as there were no other tourists around we got a great personal tour by Bobi from the Montana Historical Society ( www.montanahistoricalsociety.org ). Yet again it's the people we meet that enhance our experiences, she had researched much of the history herself actually talking to the daughter of an ex governor getting stories like the hair on the doll in the picture is trimmings from her hair as a child. There were stories of grand events told by a cook who had worked in the kitchen for 48 years, baking bread in different colours to match the event etc. etc.












Talking of food it was time for lunch, back to Last Chance Gulch Street. We went into a soda fountain bar called "The Parrott" They make their own confectionary getting through something like 10 tons of chocolate per year. We squeezed past the queues in the front sweet shop section to sit at the wooden booths for lunch, chili seemed to be the choice so we both had chili.
Betsy couldn't resist an ice cream sundae and on the way out I couldn't resist one of the huge toffee apples covered in nuts :)
Back outside it was more historical buildings, the bullwhacker statue (remember the wagon trains before real trains?)


 then on to explore the capitol building. It's wonderful how you get free (and free) access to these public buildings and we are amazed that you are allowed to just wander around and take pictures - well it is the land of the free... Atop of the dome outside the building is the statue, "Montana" a personification of liberty, she looks down across a fantastic view of the Helena Valley.











We wandered through the hallways past government offices climbed grand staircases, looked into; the old Supreme Court Chamber, Senate Chamber, Lobby of the House of Representatives and even went for a wee in the grand black and white tiled, marbled toilets - sorry Gill no picture :)
Outside the sun was still shining and as we were both still full of chili with ice cream and toffee apple respectively, exercise was called for and handily enough Helena has a mountain - it is 5468 ft high but fortunately the start point of our climb from the car park is already 4380 ft so only the last 1088 ft to go :)
We chose the shortest route of about 1.5 miles, this means it's also the steepest route, it gets the lungs working, heart pumping, sweat glands leaking and all those other things that are supposed to be good for you. It turned out a harder climb than Rogers Pass, which was a harder climb than Bears Hump, so goodness knows what Betsy will expect of me next.



There were numerous rest stops for us on the way up and the view from the top was well worth the effort.



For the route down we decided on a little less steep and took the just over 2mile Prairie route. Working off lunch certainly made us ready for dinner... No we didn't take home the bargain of the day - one gallon of chili for $26 from "The Parrott".

Don't forget to check out Betsy's video guide from the mountain top.
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