Helen Air

Linda Burton posting from Helena, Montana – The Sleeping Giant was still snoozing when I woke up this morning. He’s straight across the valley from my hotel, a camera-zoom from my second-floor window revealed the details of his nose. The mountain goats that live in the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Area have been awake for a while, I figure,and the bighorn sheep and black bear; I imagine them roaming around looking for breakfast. I head downstairs in search of food myself. The coffee is ready in the sunny breakfast room; make your own waffles or choose sausage and eggs and biscuits and gravy; there are cheerios for the faint of heart. I slip an English muffin into the toaster and pick up the morning newspaper. “Welcome to Helena” is the header on Helena’s daily, the Independent Record; that’s www.helenair.com . The cover sheet is a Daily Visitor Guide, how nice! “Downtown Helena is a place of riches,” I read.

A piece from Downtown Helena, www.downtownhelena.com, explains and I quote, “Built on mined-out gold claims along the most historic mile in Montana, it has grown into one of the best small art towns in America!” I read further that “downtown Helena” extends from the Carousel in the Great Northern Town Center along the infamous Last Chance Gulch to the historic Firetower known as Guardian of the Gulch. Hmmm, looks like my beginning explorations are clearly defined. A carousel? A firetower? A gulch? Must see.

Also note on my calendar: Wednesday nights through September is Alive @ Five Summer Series, good food and live music downtown for families; Saturdays there is Farmers’ Market on Fuller Avenue. Every weekday the trolley runs between historic downtown and the State Capitol Complex. Saturday mornings the trolley gives free rides from downtown to trails in Mount Helena City Park.

Mount Helena City Park? There is a map of it on the back page of the Visitor section; it’s one of the biggest city parks in the nation with a 360-degree view from a thousand feet above town. (Mount Helena is 5,460 feet and downtown is 4,090 feet, you do the math.) But that view isn’t drive-up, there are numerous hiking trails that get you there: Prairie, 1906, Hogback, National Recreation, Backside, Prospect Shaft, Reeders Alley; also see the Charcoal Kilns at the Park. Nearby streets bear the names Last Chance Gulch, Dry Gulch, Oro Fino Gulch, LeGrande Cannon. More must see.

Scanning the newspaper now – the Missouri River, Canyon Ferry Lake, and Spring Meadow Lake for boating and floating and fly-fishing. Holter Museum of Art and Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts; Grandstreet Theatre for year-round amateur performances; the Montana Shakespeare Company’s plays in downtown’s Helena Performance Square. Eat at Steve’s Café on East Custer, breakfast all day, huckleberry-stuffed French toast and homemade sausage (voted best breakfast in Helena); eat at the Staggering Ox on Euclid (voted best sandwich shop in Helena); dine at On Broadway on Broadway (voted best romantic restaurant in Helena). I see a 50-cent coupon in the paper for a Moolatte at the Dairy Queen (voted #1 dessert in Helena); I see my favorite restaurant name ever, Mama Knows What’s Cookin’ (Mama makes up her mind about her menu each day, call 449-7112 if you want to know).

Just a quick scan of the Community section of the newspaper – the Lewis & Clark Library has hired a bookmobile librarian and a 32-foot-long state-of-the-art van arrives soon; Vacation Bible School starts August 12 at East Helena Methodist, attendees are asked to bring school supplies to contribute to the “Stuff the Bus” program; ground breaking for a new senior housing project takes place August 14. Virginia City hosts the Vigilante Music Festival Saturday at Depot Park, a family event; National Park Ranger and historian Lynn Meikle talks about Montana’s gold rush and land rush of 150 years ago Saturday at 2 in the Old Church at Bannack.

My coffee cup is empty, I head back upstairs. Time to get cracking; the Sleeping Giant may lie there resting all day, but according to Helena’s Independent Record, I’ve got lots to do.

The Independent Record www.helenair.com published daily, 406-447-4000. Publisher Randy Rickman, Editor Gerry O’Brien, Managing Editor Butch Larcombe.