Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Great Falls of the Missouri River

Wayne Phillips on a ledge

The sweep of the river

The Great Falls of the Missouri
It had been raining on and off most of the week and we could see the mountains were getting some pretty significant snow.
Luckily, we live on the prairie and there are plenty of hikes to take there when the high country is inaccessible.
We headed off to Ryan Dam, the site of the Great Falls of the Missouri, for which our fair city is named.
If you have hiked to Cochrane Dam, the usual turnaround point for River’s Edge hikers (about 7 miles roundtrip from Rainbow Dam), it is just another 40 minutes or so of walking to the Great Falls, and well worth the trip.
The trail narrows to a single strand between Cochrane and Ryan and rolls and pitches. The south flanks of the river expose an impressive, colorful rock wall.
Purple vetch in bloom along the trail
Because of the rain it is so green that it hurts the eye, so accustomed to the tawny, cured-grass browns 11 months of the year. Anyone visiting Great Falls and the prairie now could be mislead by this greenery.
The prairie is literally blooming with wildflowers. We counted at least a half-dozen varieties of vetch in purples and whites. There were whole hillsides of purple vetch to ooh and ah over.
From Rainbow to Cochrane we hiked off the designated trail, instead dropping down to deer trails that hang off the side of the south cliffs. We were able to find a good path all the way to Cochrane. This offers a good “wilderness” aspect to the hike.
At Cochrane we got back on the designated path to the Great Falls.
At the Great Falls we were able to look down on the Ryan Dam picnic area and watch the water raging over the falls and down the tailrace from the powerplant where it collides at the end of the park amidst huge rock with the Big Muddy.
We had originally set out for Box Elder Creek, another mile or two downstream, but turned around as we saw the gathering storm clouds.
We were accompanied by thunder as we hurried back to Rainbow Dam, and as we got into our car the rain began.
A word of caution: we picked up about 20 ticks along the way.

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