Tag Archives: North Dakota

September 17: Across into Big Sky Country

I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.

This is actually in North Dakota, just before the Montana state line.  Anyway, I find it amusing.
This is actually in North Dakota, just before the Montana state line. Anyway, I find it amusing.
And on into Montana.  I've lost track of how many states/provinces I've been through at this point.
And on into Montana. I’ve lost track of how many states/provinces I’ve been through at this point.
Sunflowers!
Sunflowers!
Classic southeastern Montana scenery.
Classic southeastern Montana scenery.

I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.

Pompey's Pillar itself as seen from the highway.  It was named after Sacajawea's baby son, nicknamed Little Pomp by William Clark.
Pompey’s Pillar itself as seen from the highway. It was named after Sacajawea’s baby son, nicknamed Little Pomp by William Clark.
Seeing Clark's graffiti will never get old.  Well, it is old, but you know what I mean.
Seeing Clark’s graffiti will never get old. Well, it is old, but you know what I mean.
Looking back from the signature towards the Yellowstone River.
Looking back from the signature towards the Yellowstone River.
A better view of the river.
A better view of the river.
I've never seen pink snowberries before, but that's what they said they were at the Pompey's Pillar visitor center.
I’ve never seen pink snowberries before, but that’s what they said they were at the Pompey’s Pillar visitor center.
Pearly everlastings at Pompey's Pillar.
Pearly everlastings at Pompey’s Pillar.

From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.

I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.

September 16: Today was a Critter Day. In spades.

I don’t know what time the rain quit hammering on Merlin’s roof last night, because it was still going strong when I fell asleep. But I woke to bright sunshine and only a few fair-weather clouds, which made me very happy. It was cold, though. Not quite as cold as that night in the Colorado Rockies where it frosted on me at 9600 feet, but I’m pretty sure it got down into the forties last night after the clouds cleared off. Thank goodness for warm sleeping bags.

I got to do something this morning that I didn’t think I’d ever get back here to do. I drove the entire fourteen miles of the scenic drive at the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I think I mentioned that the last (and only, or so I thought at the time – I mean, how often does one go to North Dakota?) time I was here, the road was closed about six miles in due to slumping. Well, this morning it was open, and I drove all the way to the end. Lots of pretty scenery, and the CCC made its presence known again, and bison! A couple of lone bulls, and a small herd of females and half-grown youngsters. So that was fun.

Cottonwood forest at the not-eponymously named Juniper Campground.
Cottonwood forest at the not-eponymously named Juniper Campground.
Off through the Badlands in TRNP's North Unit.
Off through the Badlands in TRNP’s North Unit.
Golden cottonwoods and badlands.
Golden cottonwoods and badlands.
CCC viewpoint house above the Little Missouri River.
CCC viewpoint house above the Little Missouri River.
Part of the view from the viewpoint house.
Part of the view from the viewpoint house.
Bison herd in the distance.
Bison herd in the distance.
Bull bison *not* in the distance.
Bull bison *not* in the distance.  I eased around him *very* slowly, but he just ignored me, so that was good.  He’s about the same size as Merlin.

By the time I left the north unit and drove the sixty miles back down to I-94, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so after I strolled along the walk at the Painted Hills overlook, which is the only cross between an Interstate rest area and a national park visitor center that I’m aware of, I stopped in the rather self-consciously Old West town of Medora and ate lunch in the saloon (the second saloon I’ve eaten in on this trip, the first one having been in Virginia City, Nevada, way back in early June).

A view from the Painted Hills overlook.
A view from the Painted Hills overlook.

Then I headed into the south unit of TRNP, and took its scenic drive. The last time I was here, in June, 2012, it was 100dF, and blowing about 70 mph. Which is why I didn’t camp in the park the last time I was here. Today it’s been in the mid-60s, and the breeze has never been higher than pleasant. So I had a much better time than last time. I saw more bison (actually, where I saw more bison was at the Painted Hills rest stop, right along the freeway, which was kind of bizarre). I saw several prairie dog shows [g]. There are three huge prairie dog towns in the park – watching them scuttle around and make their incredibly loud chirps (I can hear them inside Merlin with all the windows closed and the engine running) is great fun. And for the first time in my life, I saw wild horses! Two different groups of them (are they herds if there’s only half a dozen or so individuals?), one of which crossed the road directly in front of me. Such absolutely gorgeous animals. I’ve seen wild burros before, in South Dakota’s Black Hills, but never wild horses. It was amazing.

Wild horses!  Those mounds in the front are part of a prairie dog village.
Wild horses! Those mounds in the front are part of a prairie dog village.
The other herd, which had just crossed the road when I took this photo.  Aren't they beautiful?
The other herd, which had just crossed the road when I took this photo. Aren’t they beautiful?
And one more shot of the second herd.
And one more shot of the second herd.
Prairie dog!  I almost hit one sunning himself in the middle of the road, but fortunately I was going very slow, and he got up and waddled off onto the shoulder.
Prairie dog! I almost hit one sunning himself in the middle of the road (at first I thought he was dead, that someone else had hit him), but fortunately I was going very slowly, and he got up and waddled off onto the shoulder.
Doing the lookout thing.
Doing the lookout thing.
This really isn't scoria, it's clinker (rock that has burned, believe it or not), but the local term for it is scoria.
This really isn’t scoria, it’s clinker (rock that has burned, believe it or not), but the local term for it is scoria.

I’d been sort of debating about whether to camp here or drive on to Glendive or Miles City, Montana (I’m only about 25 miles east of the Montana state line, and Glendive’s about thirty or forty miles on beyond that), for the night, but the Cottonwood campground here in the south unit looked so pleasant that I decided to stay here.

I’ll drive on to Billings (about 300 miles) tomorrow, and then we’ll see what we’ll see. It did occur to me that, coming from the northeast as I am, I could approach Yellowstone over the Beartooth Highway, which I’ve never driven the entire length of. That is if it’s still open for the season. It goes up over 10,000 feet, and is closed most of the year due to snow. It’s supposed to be one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S., though, and if it’s still open I’ll probably do it. I’ll check online tomorrow night in Billings.

September 15: In which I run into a couple of old friends. Very old friends.

I saw this on my way out of Bismarck.  Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.
I saw this on my way out of Bismarck. Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.

It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.

To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.

It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…

I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
The front of Fort Mandan.
The front of Fort Mandan.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
Inside Fort Mandan.
Inside Fort Mandan.
A blunderbuss.  I'd read about them, but I'd never seen one in person before.  The guide let me try to lift it -- it's *heavy*!
A blunderbuss. I’d read about them, but I’d never seen one in person before. The guide let me try to lift it — it’s *heavy*!
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis's Newfoundland dog.  I'm pretty sure every L&C site I've ever been to has had one.
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland dog. I’m pretty sure every L&C site I’ve ever been to has had one.

It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].

Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.

The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.

See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.

The beginning of the Badlands.
The beginning of the Badlands.

So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).

It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].

September 14: A Really Big Bison, and more history (are you tired of that yet? I’m not)

I found the World’s Biggest Bison this morning before I left Jamestown. It is a big bison, I’ll give it credit, but I saw the skull of an extinct bison this afternoon that I bet was bigger than that.

The world's biggest bison.  See the picnic table for scale?
The world’s biggest bison. See the picnic table for scale?
That sky looks like a just-rolled-out package of quilt batting.
That sky looks like a just-rolled-out package of quilt batting.
I find it amusingly practical that since they have to mow between the highway and the fence, anyway, why not bale it, too?
I find it amusingly practical that since they have to mow between the highway and the fence, anyway, why not bale it, too?
Another cute rest area, done up as an old-fashioned gas station.
Another cute rest area, done up as an old-fashioned gas station.

This was at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is another name for state history museum [g]. After driving the hundred miles, give or take, to Bismarck, North Dakota, the cute little state capitol, population a bit over 67,000, so it’s actually bigger than Olympia, my state capitol, which is just under 50,000. The difference, of course, is that Bismarck is the second largest city in North Dakota, and Olympia – isn’t.

Anyway, I think I lost control of my sentence there, and I’m not going to fix it. I’m just going to say that after lunch I spent over two hours at the museum, which was just renovated completely a couple of years ago, and the shiny new is wonderful. There’s a whole huge room on the pre-man history, dinosaurs and glaciers and all, and a whole huge room on the dozen or so tribes of Native Americans, with these neat audios of people speaking in their own languages, and a huge room on the history since the Europeans showed up. Which they did way earlier than I thought – a French explorer made it to what’s now North Dakota in the 1730s, although the story really didn’t pick up till Lewis and Clark in the first decade of the 1800s, and after that didn’t get real steam till after the Civil War.

Interesting stuff, though. Lots of stuff about homesteading and the railroads, among other things, and populism and farmers vs. the big city and so forth.

Woolly mammoth skeleton in the lobby of the North Dakota Heritage Center.
Woolly mammoth skeleton in the lobby of the North Dakota Heritage Center.
That's one nasty looking fish, and the turtle to its right is *fifteen feet* long.
That’s one nasty looking fish, and the turtle to its right is *fifteen feet* long.
These are two extinct bison skulls (center and left) and a Bison bison (the scientific name) to skull to the right.
These are two extinct bison skulls (center and left) and a Bison bison (the scientific name) to skull to the right.
This is a wedding dress from just about the same year that Charley and Eliza got married in Repeating History, and the dress matches the description amazingly well except for the color.  Eliza's was more golden brown.
This is a wedding dress from just about the same year that Charley and Eliza got married in Repeating History, and the dress matches the description amazingly well except for the color. Eliza’s was more golden brown.
It never dawned on me that Montana and the Dakotas all became states the same year Washington did.
It never dawned on me that Montana and the Dakotas all became states the same year Washington did.
A lefse roller and lifter, just like the ones Karin used in True Gold!
A lefse roller and lifter, just like the ones Karin used in True Gold!

After I finally dragged myself out of there, I drove past the strangest-looking state capitol I’ve ever seen. It looks like a condo building from LA or something, and its nickname is the Skyscraper of the Plains (it’s by far the tallest building in Bismarck, I’ll give it credit for that). Then I drove seven miles south of the town of Mandan (sort of Moorhead to Bismarck’s Fargo, except Mandan’s on the west side of the river) to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

The Skyscraper of the Plains, aka why does that state capitol building look like Cockroach Central? (that's a Vorkosigan reference, for those who don't know)
The Skyscraper of the Plains, aka why does that state capitol building look like Cockroach Central? (that’s a Vorkosigan reference, for those who don’t know)

Fort Lincoln was George Armstrong Custer’s last post before he headed off to the Little Bighorn and got himself and a bunch of his troops killed. It’s where his wife was when she found out he was dead, too. They’ve reconstructed his house there, but really, the most interesting part of Fort Lincoln State Park is the partial reconstruction of a 500-year-old Mandan Indian village. Five round houses (as opposed to tipis) on a slope near the Missouri River, two of which have exhibits inside them. The village was abandoned in the 17th century after the first of a number of smallpox epidemics basically wiped out 4/5ths of the population.

The houses are made of the same log and sod construction that the early pioneers built their houses from. Only the shape is different.

Oh, and there’s a wonderful, built-in-the-30s-by-the-CCC visitor center, too, with good exhibits.

The reproduction of Custer's house at Fort Lincoln.
The reproduction of Custer’s house at Fort Lincoln.
A Mandan earth lodge.
A Mandan earth lodge.
Inside a Mandan earth lodge.
Inside a Mandan earth lodge.

By that point it was getting late, and I needed to find a place to sleep and hit a grocery store. I thought about camping at Fort Lincoln, but I hadn’t gone to the grocery store first, and it was awfully windy out there, too.

Maybe tomorrow night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If I get that far. I’m going about thirty miles north of here to Fort Mandan and the Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site first, because that’s where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter on the road (so to speak) and I’m curious.

The road inside Fort Lincoln state park, with trees beginning to turn.
The road inside Fort Lincoln state park, with trees beginning to turn.

Three weeks ago, Day 10

In which I almost blow completely off the face of the earth.

The wind was howling this morning.  Quite literally howling as it swept around the building loudly enough to wake me up.

But it was sunny and also well over 70 at eight in the morning, and I had the other half of a national park to visit, so I ate my breakfast bar and packed up my luggage, and headed west again.

Belfield is only about a dozen miles east of  Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit, which abuts the freeway for about a dozen miles on its southern edge.  Coming from the east, the first stop in the park is actually a combination rest area/visitor center/viewpoint at a place called Painted Canyon.  The name fits, I must say.  And I was grateful for the big plate glass windows in the visitor center that overlooked it, allowing me to enjoy it without getting blown off the edge of the canyon and hurled to the bottom of it.  I asked the young man staffing the desk what the weather forecast was for the rest of the day, and he said, oh, it’s supposed to get windier later.  Might even get up to 60 mph sustained.  And the temp’s supposed to go up over 90.  He smiled.  I did not.

But it was my one day to go enjoy what the South Unit had to show me, so I got back on the freeway and drove the few miles to the town of Medora, and the main entrance to the park.

Medora, North Dakota, is to TRNP’s south unit what Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is to the Great Smokies.  Not just an adjunct to the park, but sort of a theme park in its own right.  I would check it out later, though, and I headed immediately to TRNP’s main entrance, which is rather oddly situated right in town.  I showed my parks pass, acquired my brochures, and drove up and over the interstate, which actually passes through the southern edge of the park for a few miles, into the park proper.  I don’t know if the highway came first or the park did, but TR is the only national park I know of with part of a freeway running through it.  It’s much less intrusive than I’d have thought such a thing to be, though, perhaps because this southwestern corner of North Dakota is such an isolated place to begin with.

The park’s main access is via a thirty-odd mile loop road, winding up and down and around from the edge of the bluffs to down in the bottom of the valley and back several times in its course.  I drove slowly, enjoying the badlands views.  I stopped at a prairie dog town and watched the noisy antics of the whack-a-dog game they seemed to be playing with invisible hammers.  I had forgotten what a racket prairie dogs can make.  You know how some people put their fingers in their mouths to create a piercing whistle?  That’s about how loud prairie dogs are. 

I saw more beautiful views than you can shake a stick at, and walked a couple of nature trails, one of them to the top of a hill with a magnificent vista.  The only problem was trying to take photos of it while the wind was blowing hard enough that I could not hold the camera still.  I literally had my feet planted at least two feet apart and was leaning forward at about 10 degrees off plumb just to stay upright.  But it was worth it, and down in the canyon the wind wasn’t bad at all.

And it wasn’t 90 degrees quite yet.

I was about halfway around the loop before I saw my first bison, a lone male lying under an overhanging ledge out of the wind.  Smart critter.  I passed another one soon after, but I was beginning to wonder if I was going to see the main herd at all.  At last I came around a corner to see a number of mama bison and their babies, grazing peacefully while the wind whipped around them. 

They were sharing their meadow with more prairie dogs, too.  That was nifty.

I had been planning to spend the night at TRNP, in what would have been a nice campground in better weather, but I changed my mind and drove back down to Medora, first stopping at the visitor center on my way out.  My main reason was to see Theodore Roosevelt’s first ranch cabin when he came out to North Dakota as a young man (in his mid-20s, actually) after the horrible experience of losing both his mother and his young wife on the same day back in 1884.  The cabin has been moved around the U.S. several times over the years, but has come back and it now sits directly behind the visitor center.  A ranger took several of us on a tour of the three-room cabin and talked mostly about the differences between it and more typical cabins of the place and era (for starters, most cabins then and there were one-room affairs, and did not have bookcases in them). 

It was by then well past lunchtime, and I ended up in Old West Medora looking for somewhere to eat.  Medora may be a tourist town, but on this hot, windy June Tuesday, the tourists had pretty much forsaken it.  I did finally find a hamburger stand, and then poked through a few of the shops before deciding to head on west.

I drove, fighting the wind which kept trying to yank the steering wheel out of my hands every foot of the way, across eastern Montana, where the only real amusements were some of the exit signs.  I got as far as Miles City, Montana, where it was 99 degrees according to a bank sign and the local news said there’d been 70+ mph wind gusts.  I holed up in a second-story room in the air conditioning in a Motel 6 and spent most of the night waiting for the power to go out or the roof to get blown off.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html

Three weeks ago, Day 9

 Theodore Roosevelt National Park — the north unit

I believe I even had oil workers for neighbors in the campground last night.  At least they had camping gear.  One of them even had a trailer.  They were as nice and polite as could be, though, and since we all cleared out at about the same time the next morning, they didn’t even wake me up trying to get to work on time.

 Fort Buford and its campground were about an hour north of the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, just west of the town of Watford City, where I had tried to get a motel when I was going through my bout of reservation-making a couple of days before.  When I actually drove through it, I was glad I hadn’t been able to.

Do you ever create mental pictures so strong of places that you haven’t been to that when you actually arrive you think you can’t actually be in that place, it has to be wrong?  I did that with Watford City.  Maybe because it’s a town on the edge of a national park, and in my experience towns on the edges of national parks are a bit more attractive than, say, a construction site.  Watford City was one big noisy dusty construction site.  I suppose it was understandable enough given the circumstances, but still. 

But then I drove a few more miles south and the whole world changed.  The edge of the land dropped off from undulating prairie to the bluffs and buttes of the North Dakota badlands, and when I turned off from the highway onto the main (and only) road into the park, I got that lovely feeling I always get in national parks, of being in a place where nature matters.

I stopped at the visitor center, where mine was the only non-NPS vehicle in the parking lot.  TRNP’s north unit is one of the least-visited units of the national park system, and I can testify that it was pretty darned empty the day I was there — I think I saw two other cars the entire time I was in the park.  I looked at their exhibits, then I headed further into the park on a leisurely tour. 

I like badlands.  I like the texture of them and the shape of them.  I like the exposed layers and the unexpected look of the formations.  There’s just something about them that jump-starts the imagination.  Rocks shaped like cannonballs, ledges so flat and chiseled you could balance an egg on them, pyramidal rocks with more layers than an ice cream cake.  Just wonderful stuff.  The weather was nice, too, if a bit warm.  The only disappointment was that the road was only open about halfway into the park.  Apparently the land had slumped under the road, taking the pavement with it, and they hadn’t repaired it yet.  Since slumping is a major method nature uses to create badlands, I couldn’t complain, and I didn’t.  I got out and walked a small piece past the barricade, then decided that it was just a bit too lonely to walk far.  What if I had a close encounter with a bison?  They do live in the park, along with wild longhorn cattle and feral horses.  As it turned out, though, the only critters I saw in the north unit that day were birds. 

I walked a nature trail at the campground, down to the Little Missouri River, and I ate my lunch in the picnic area, well-shaded by more enormous cottonwoods.  Wrote a while.  Then I headed on south to I-94.

I have this book, called the Quilter’s Travel Companion, that lives in my car all year.  It’s basically a national phone book for quilt shops in the U.S. (and Canada, too, come to think of it).  Anyway, it had a listing for a quilt shop in the city of Dickinson, located on I-94 a few miles east of where I met up with it.  It was still the middle of the afternoon, so I decided to go see if I could find some good North Dakota-themed fabric as a souvenir (fabric is a very useful souvenir, especially after it makes its way into a quilt where it reminds the quilter of the good time she had acquiring it).  The shop was adorable.  And I found some wonderful fabric, of course. 

Then I headed back west, Dickinson having been the easternmost point on the entire trip, and found the motel room I had managed to snag in the small town of Belfield, which is apparently just out of commuting distance for the oil workers, and on my way to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  But that was for the next day.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html

Three weeks ago, Day 8

In which I find out that there’s an oil boom in North Dakota, among other things

Everything looked freshly washed after the thunderstorm the night before, including my car, which had not been smashed by a tree during the night.  I was profoundly grateful for that last bit. 

I got rather a late start, which was fine, as I had another short mileage day ahead of me.  Not the greatest mileage in the world, as not long after I left Poplar I hit the only major road construction snag of the trip.  Fourteen miles of mud and gravel, churned up by the rains the night before.  That mud was slick.  I was glad I’d replaced Kestrel’s tires before this trip, because I suspect I would not have navigated that mess nearly as well as I did if I had not.  But eventually I made it back to the pavement.  Blissful pavement.  And when I stopped for gas in Wolf Point, the car wasn’t quite as muddy as I thought it would be, which wasn’t saying much.  So much for rain-washing.

My next stop was at the North Dakota state line to take a photo of the sign, of course, and my next stop after that was the city of Williston, North Dakota, which, I had found out while watching the local news (always entertaining in a strange place) the night before, is in the middle of an oil boom, its economy growing by leaps and bounds in stark contrast to the rest of the country.  One of the news stories I’d seen the night before told about the difficulties the Williston school district was having hiring teachers to handle the enormous influx of children this wave of prosperity has brought, not because they can’t pay enough, but because they literally have no housing for them to move into.  Another story told how the Walmart parking lot turned into an impromptu campground every night for people who had absolutely nowhere else to lay their heads.  The jobs in this booming economy are pulling people from all over the country and beyond, so it’s apparently worth it, but the city itself is in chaos.  So is the entire region, actually.  No wonder I hadn’t been able to find a place to stay closer than Poplar.

After lunch in Williston, I headed south back from the present into the past again.  My aim was Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.  Fort Union was basically Fort Benton’s predecessor, the head of steam navigation until the 1850s when steamboats that could handle the Big Muddy’s upper reaches were invented.  It sits smack on the modern-day border of North Dakota (the fort itself) and Montana (the parking lot).  It was a trading post, not a military fort, and the exhibits told about John Jacob Astor and his Northwest Company, among other things.  I had heard some of this story before (the town of Astoria in Oregon was founded by the same folks), but it’s always interesting to get another aspect of it.  And the reconstruction of the bourgeois house was interesting.   

Something else that charmed me were the ground squirrels all around the fort, behaving exactly like miniature prairie dogs.  I thought they were prairie dogs at first, but the nice lady in the visitor center set me straight about that.

My next stop was about three miles down the road at another ‘interpretive’ center, the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center,  where I was astonished to learn that the Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers take so long to get together.  When you think about it, the water from the geysers along the Firehole River, which runs into the Missouri, and the water that goes over the Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, both in Yellowstone National Park, do not actually meet and mix until they reach North Dakota, several hundred miles downstream.  I’d had no idea. 

My last stop that day was a couple of miles further on at Fort Buford, which was Fort Union’s military counterpoint, although built after Fort Union’s demise.  It is now a North Dakota State Park.  I wandered around outside for a bit before I finally figured out that, yes, it was actually open to visitors on a Sunday afternoon.  I wandered through their museum, then went on a guided tour of the other buildings, learning about life on an isolated prairie army post and enjoying myself very much.

My campground for that night was not far at all, part of the state park across the road from Fort Buford, in a lovely grove of cottonwoods.  That night was the full moon, and I took several shots of it as it rose over the trees along the Missouri River.  A really wonderful end to an interesting and surprising day.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html