Tag Archives: national monuments

Visiting a volcano

 I firmly believe that if at all possible, everyone should have a chance to explore his or her surroundings.  And I tend to use the word “surroundings” loosely, generally meaning within a day trip, or, for some exceptional destinations, perhaps an overnight or a weekend. 

 I think this was brought home to me most profoundly by a woman I used to work with when I lived in a small, rather remote (when asked where it’s located, I usually say “thirty miles east of Idaho, eighty miles south of Canada”) town in Montana about twenty years ago.  She was in her forties and had never been more than thirty miles from home.  Given that the nearest city of any size was ninety miles away, and the only other town within that thirty mile limit was about a quarter the size of the one she lived in, that meant her boundaries were circumscribed in a way that I could never imagine.

 I was born in New Orleans.  I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco.  My parents always made a big deal of exploring and getting to know the area around us every time we moved.  Since then I have lived in Oregon, another part of Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Montana, and Washington state, and I have kept up the tradition of exploration.  Any circumscription of my boundaries is pretty well stretched to the point where it won’t snap back.

 Anyway.  A few years ago I discovered that my best local friend, whose father and husband were both military and so is even more well-moved than I am, had never really had a chance to explore once she moved here.  Kids and a full-time job just didn’t let her.  So I started a campaign to take her someplace she’s never visited before at least once a year.

 This year’s jaunt was to Mt. St. Helens.

 It was a beautiful, almost too warm day.  Classic Pacific Northwest August sunshine.  It also happened to be the first time I left the kittens to their own devices for the entire day; as it turned out, they managed just fine and didn’t even destroy the house. 

 But I digress.  We packed a picnic and drove the two and a half hours down I-5 and east along the Toutle River, first to Coldwater Lake, where there’s a trail/boardwalk along the lakeshore with signs telling about how the lake was formed by the 1980 eruption, and a picnic area, and a restroom that looks like a bunker for surviving nuclear war.  Now that I think about it, maybe it’s designed to help anyone stranded there survive another eruption.

 After lunch, we drove up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where we listened to a ranger talk about the eruption and went through the exhibits, where, among other things I jumped up and down on a platform to create my own tick on a seismograph.  My inner ten-year-old liked that a great deal. 

 There’s a pleasant trail leading up the hillside above the observatory, where plenty of wildflowers were in bloom.  It leads past a viewpoint, and a memorial listing all of the names of the 57 people who died in the eruption.  The views from the top are quite spectacular, but there aren’t many views in the monument that aren’t.

All in all, it was an extremely satisfactory “taking L somewhere she’s never been” day.  I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Three weeks ago, Day 11

 Lewis and Clark, well, Clark, anyway, again

My journal entry for today begins, “A week from today I will be home <sigh>.  But I still have seven days to go.  That’s a lot.”  And later in the same entry, “I’m less than 250 miles from Butte, according to the signs on the Interstate — which means I’m less than 2 full days’ drive from home — but not yet.”  These trips always go too fast.

Neither I nor my car nor the Motel 6 in Miles City blew away overnight, although not for lack of trying.  The weather had calmed down considerably by morning, thank goodness, and after a grocery run and a fruitless search for block (as opposed to bag) ice again — the last ice I’d bought was the last available block at a convenience store in Williston, which lasted approximately twice as long as the bag I’d bought before that — I got back up on the freeway and headed out.

Although I forgot to mention my third (and determinedly last) quilt shop of the trip the afternoon before in Miles City, which had some wonderful tan tone-on-tone fabric created from national park maps.  I collect national park fabrics — I once made an entire quilt made in a national park theme, as a matter of fact.  So I jumped on this one with glee. 

Anyway.  Back to I-94.  It took a couple of hours for me to get to my first stop today, Pompey’s Pillar National Monument. Pompey’s Pillar is another of those newfangled national monuments, like the Upper Missouri Breaks, administered by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the National Park Service.  I know of a third category of national monuments as well, administered by the U.S. Forest Service — an example of one of those is Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a couple of hours south of where I live, and it seems there’s at least one more category other than that.  Apparently after a certain date, who administers a newly-created monument depends on whose land it was carved from.  The land on which Pompey’s Pillar NM sits was purchased from a private individual.  I assume when that happens the monument is assigned to whichever agency seems most logical.  

At any rate, I seem to be digressing something fierce today.  Pompey’s Pillar has always been sort of a minor item on my personal bucket list.  It was named from Clark’s nickname for Sacagawea’s baby son.  Lewis was not with Clark (they had split up to cover more territory on the way home), when Clark stopped to carve the graffito on the side of the pillar that is the only tangible in situ evidence of the entire journey.  “Wm. Clark, July 25, 1806”  From my journal again, “I’ve seen a lot of old documents in my time — the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, etc.  But there’s something mindboggling about seeing the name of an explorer carved in a rock along the actual route he took.”

Many wildflowers were in bloom, too, along the trail and the stairs leading to the top, from which was another of those it’s-got-to-be-more-than-180-degrees-from-horizon-to-horizon views.  And the ‘interpretive’ center, which was bright new, dating from the bicentennial of the expedition in 2006, was well-done.  I picnicked there, and then drove on to Billings, just past where I-94 ends as it runs into I-90.

Billings is the biggest city in Montana, and it actually looks and feels like a city, with tall buildings and everything.  I needed to do some practical things, like get gas and cash and do laundry, so I spent a couple of hours there.  I think I was most impressed by the flowers in people’s yards.  I am inclined to notice such things, anyway, and it was early June, after all, but they really were lovely. 

 It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time I left town, and I had thought of finding another motel, but after being cheated out of camping the night before by the weather, I really wanted to camp.  Besides, the weather had cooled considerably, and I was back in the eastern foothills of the Rockies, at last.

So I drove on to the small town of Columbus, where I saw an RV park by the side of the highway.  I stopped there, only to be told I had to have an RV to stay there, but the lady said that if I went south through town to where the state highway crossed the Yellowstone River, there was a nice free municipal campground.  So I did, and there it was, right on the river, shaded by the ubiquitous but very pleasant and enormous cottonwoods, where I settled down for the night.

The river was very full, and the place was very peaceful except for two extremely unexpected sheep.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Three weeks ago, Day 6

 The Hi-Line of Montana

 Have you ever heard of the Hi-Line?    The first time I ever ran across the term was in William Least Heat-Moon’s book Blue Highways about 25 years ago.  It captured my fancy then, and I’ve thought about driving it off and on ever since. 

The easiest way to explain the Hi-Line is that it’s the stretch of U.S. Highway 2 (the northernmost east-west highway in Montana) east of the Rockies to the North Dakota state line.  I lived in Libby, a town along U.S. 2, for a few months almost twenty years ago, but it’s in far western Montana in a mountain valley, and so it doesn’t count. 

Loma, of the magnificent bed and terrific Mexican food, is about an hour south of Havre, the unofficial capital of the Hi-Line, and its biggest town.  Also the only cluster of more than one fast food place between Glacier National Park and North Dakota, not that it mattered.  I did stop for gas, and was approached by a woman carrying an iPad who was conducting a tourism survey for the University of Montana.  I answered her questions, but drew the line at taking a mail-in version along with me. 

From Havre I headed east across the plains, which aren’t nearly as flat as you’d think they are.  I swear it’s over 200 degrees from horizon to horizon, though, instead of 180.  There’s a reason they call Montana the Big Sky country.  It’s enormous here.  The clouds march across it in ranks like soldiers, except no soldiers in the field were ever that clean.

I turned south at Chinook to visit the Bear Paw Battlefield, where Chief Joseph and what was left of the Nez Perce surrendered to General Miles.  “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”  Chief Joseph has a brief role in Repeating History, setting my kidnapped tourists free.  I hope I did him justice. 

I never know what to say about places like the Bear Paw Battlefield.   It is a very lonesome place.  It doesn’t look any different from the thousands of square miles of undulating prairie surrounding it, but it is.  There weren’t even any trees, just a low place in the ground with two springs and a creek, which I’m sure is why the Nez Perce chose that place to camp.  The modern facilities are modest in the extreme — a pit toilet, a couple of sheltered picnic tables, several brass and stone monuments, and several more modern interpretive signs.  I did not walk the trail, because a) there wasn’t another soul out there, and b) there were signs all over the place warning of rattlesnakes.  Like every other battlefield I’ve been to over the years, Bear Paw Battlefield is a very sad place, permeated with memories.  I’m glad I made the detour, but it did make me feel like apologizing, if there had been someone there to apologize to.

I probably should have eaten lunch in Havre, even though it was way too early.  Chinook did not have much to offer.  The towns along the Hi-Line are sparse and tiny.  I did finally find lunch in the Indian Reservation community of Harlem, in a diner where I had another excellent hamburger and an ice cream cone.  I passed through the next town of Malta, halfheartedly looking for a grocery store and not finding one, then stopped at a BLM campground on Nelson Reservoir, a couple of miles north of the highway.  Nelson Reservior was gorgeous, especially as the sun began to set.  And I saw a white pelican floating on the water.  It was a great place to camp.  And so I did.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures