Giant Springs, Montana

dscn8486In the spring of 2004, I was in Montana on business when I heard about Giant Springs State Park, so I drove over to take a look. What I discovered captured my imagination, and I vowed that someday I’d return to investigate more thoroughly, perhaps to use the springs, the river, and the water process as a parable or a metaphor for what happens in a person’s life. That “someday” happened in the summer of 2016.

I had some free time before starting a new job, and decided it would be a good time to go back to Montana. However, I needed help. So I called my brother to ask if he’d go with me. Gene has a tremendous understanding of science and engineering, and I wanted him to help me make sense of the underground water system in preparation for the project.

When I mentioned that I’d like him to take a trip to Montana with me, his immediate reply was, “Are you looking for grizzlies, moose, bison, or what?”

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“Gene, I need you to become an expert on the underground water system in Montana, you have four months to learn it, and I want you to go there with me.”

He listened to what I had to say, asked a few questions, and told me he was intrigued and would consider going. Then, because he lives in Arkansas and I live in Florida, he asked, “How are we going to get there? A road trip?”

“No, I think it’d be a better use of our time to fly up there, do what we need to do, then fly home.”

Having worked for Boeing, Rockwell, and McDonnel Douglas for many years, Gene enjoys airplanes and flying. Yet, he wasn’t sure he wanted to spend that kind of money on some harebrained idea from his younger brother.

So I said, “Would you go with me if I buy the plane tickets?”

“Well, now! That makes it easier to decide. Yes, I think I would.”

Once my brother accepted the challenge, he dove into the project wholeheartedly. He read articles, searched online, and called from time to time to tell me what he was learning. I was doing much of the same reading, but his comprehension was keener and broader.

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The focus of our project was the water that gushes out of Giant Springs and forms the Roe River. Up until 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records listed the Roe River of Montana as the shortest river in the world. Guinness no longer includes “shortest river” as a category, but the Roe is still there – 201 feet of pure, crystal clear water.

The western sliver of Montana is west of the Continental Divide. On the other hand, Helena, Great Falls, and the Little Belt Mountains are immediately east of the Divide. Ironically, this means that the shortest river in the world flows into the longest river in America – the  2,341-mile Missouri.

The first English speakers to describe Giant Springs were Lewis and Clark, who explored Montana in 1805. The people of the Blackfeet Nation, however, had been using the springs as a winter water source long before Lewis and Clark arrived.

What continues to captivate my curiosity, though, is the decades-long process the water takes to get from the mountains, 60 miles away, to Giant Springs. I can do a lot of research online and in the library, but I wanted to see the springs, the terrain, the mountains, and the streams. I wanted to take pictures. So I had to go. And, I wanted Gene to go with me.

I drove from Florida to Arkansas and spent the night at Gene’s home. The next day we drove to Oklahoma City, and from there, flew to Salt Lake City, changing planes, then taking the jaunt up to Helena. Flying over Wyoming was the first time Gene saw the Grand Teton mountain range from the air, but with their majestic peaks jutting straight up, he recognized them immediately.

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After landing in Helena and checking in to the Super 8 hotel, we took some time to drive around Helena and get acquainted with the town. One of the highlights was seeing the beautiful Cathedral of St. Helena. Another was driving by Carroll College. Then we went out to dinner to go over our game plan.

The next morning, we drove 91 miles to Great Falls, MT, which is known as the “Electric City” because of its numerous dams and power plants. Along the way, we talked, sang, and laughed. We took pictures of mountains, rivers, geese, squirrels, and waterfalls, including the Black Eagle Falls, one of five waterfalls on a ten-mile stretch of the Missouri River as it runs through Great Falls.

When we got to Giant Springs State Park, we took pictures and read all the literature and signs we could find.

After a couple of hours at the Roe River, we headed east. I’d heard about a town called Stanford about an hour’s drive from Great Falls. My grandfather was Stanford Linzey, my dad was Stanford Linzey, Jr., and my brother is Stanford Linzey III. So I thought, “Hey! We’re already in Montana. Why not drive a little out of the way and have lunch in Stanford, in honor of my grampa, my dad, and their namesake – my brother?” So we did.

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We had a delightful time in Stanford, which has a population of about 400. We ate lunch in the Basin Trading Post, learned some of the history of the area, and saw the infamous White Wolf in the display case. Then we toured the town, taking more pictures, of course

From there, we drove up to the Little Belt Mountains to see the source of the water that flows underground to Giant Springs. On the way, we discovered a breathtaking gorge, carved by the Belt Creek. It was named Sluice Box State Park because the geographical structure looked like the sluice boxes used by miners to remove dirt, rocks, gravel, and sand. From the 1870s through the 1930s gold, silver, zinc, and lead were mined from these hills.

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We passed an old farm house that had burned to the ground, and imagined together what might have happened there. Then we continued driving deeper into the mountains, taking note of the many streams and creeks. At one point, Gene mentioned he’d read somewhere that for all the water you see above ground, there’s much more than that underground.

“Sort of like the iceberg principle?” I asked?

“Yes, similar. But not the same ratio.”

We drove south through the towns of Monarch, Neihart, and Showdown. Then, going down the other side of the mountains the road was being repaired, so we got in line and followed the Department of Transportation vehicle into the town of White Sulphur Springs and stopped for gas. After pulling back onto the road, a pickup truck sped dangerously around us, slamming on its brakes right in front of us. The driver got out and marched over to our car.

This representative of the great State of Montana was quite angry that I hadn’t waited for the escort before getting back on the unfinished road, and decided to make sure I understood what she thought of me and my driving. Screaming at me, she asked, “Didn’t you learn anything at all in high school drivers training class? Or are you blind?”

When I told her that yes, I did learn how to drive in high school, and I was not blind, but I just didn’t see any escort trucks anywhere, she escalated the discussion to yelling, berating, and cussing at me.

“I hope you have a fine day, too, ma’am,” I said as she stomped back her truck, climbed onto her throne, and slammed the door.

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After returning to the flatlands, we headed north and drove along a wide place in the Missouri River, stopping outside of Winston to photograph a lone pelican on the water. Then we came full circle to where we started the day, pulling into the Super 8 parking lot in Helena. We had driven over 350 miles that day in an effort to experience the setting and context where the water parable takes place. We had to see the springs and the mountains in person, get a feel for the distances involved, and take the pictures. Just as importantly, we needed to talk about what we saw while we were there, which brought the project to life in a new dimension.

That night, we went to a steakhouse to celebrate our time together and to discuss what we had seen and done, the places we visited. In the hotel later, we shared our pictures so we’d have duplicates, just in case my computer crashed or Gene were to lose his camera. If either were to happen, the other would still have a photographic record of the experience, which brings us back to the parable of the hidden waters and the invisible forces.

Using the story about the Madison Aquifer and Giant Springs as an allegory, we want to explore some of what goes on internally in human beings, and examine some of the invisible forces at work in each of us. Hopefully, the result will help us – and our readers – more effectively manage the things that have happened in our past, how we respond to them, and how we relate to the people in our lives. Please go with us on this journey. As we discovered, it’s a lot more fun to travel together.

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