Tag Archives: the Hi-Line

Three weeks ago, Day 7

A day for getting things done, among other things. 

I didn’t go very far three weeks ago today, 150 miles give or take, but I went to the grocery store, did laundry, and made some motel reservations.  And still managed to see some interesting sights.

There was no running water at the campsite.  Fortunately, there was running water at a rest area a few miles down the road, so I was able to stop and “brush my teeth, wash my face, and comb my knotty hair” as my mother would say, before I reached Glasgow, the next town along the Hi-Line, where I found, of all things, a chain grocery store (an Albertsons).  I replenished my picnicking supplies and bought a bag of ice for my cooler — I’d have preferred a block, but block ice proved ridiculously hard to find for most of this trip.

You might wonder about the names of some of these towns:  Harlem, Glasgow, Malta…  U.S. 2 runs parallel to the Northern Pacific railroad across eastern Montana, and apparently the person in charge of naming the new little communities along its route back in the 1880s decided that blindfolding himself and sticking a pin in a map of Europe was a good way to name towns.  Or at least that’s what it seemed like to me.

From Glasgow I headed down to Fort Peck Dam  on the Missouri River, which was very impressive (one of the largest earth-filled, or, more accurately, mud-filled, as I learned later, dams on the planet).  It had a wonderful ‘interpretive’ center, too, with a rather odd combination of ancient wildlife — skeletons of dinosaurs and ancient marine mammals from the famous-to-paleontologists local Hell Creek Formation (you’ve seen Jurassic Park, right?  Remember the desert where Richard Attenborough in the helicopter comes to pick up Sam Neill and Laura Dern?  That’s where they were.) — modern wildlife — the enormous reservoir backed up by the dam is surrounded by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge — and historical panels and artifacts telling the story of the construction of the dam itself as the single largest make-work project of FDR’s New Deal back in the 1930s. 

I drove across the top of the dam, too, which provided some great views.  And visited the former company town of Fort Peck, the only survivor of the many ‘instant’ communities that sprang up to house and service the thousands of men and their families who came from all over the country in search of work, spent over half a decade constructing the dam, and then vanished as suddenly as they came. 

After I made my way back up to the Hi-Line, I stopped in the small town of Wolf Point to eat lunch at a small café and to do laundry.  At that point, I was only a few miles from the next small town, Poplar, but due to highly unusual and unexpected-to-me circumstances I will attempt (they still seem incredibly odd to me even now) to explain tomorrow, I stopped there for the night, even though it was only the middle of the afternoon. 

The motel was okay, the cell phone reception was awful (non-existent except in the parking lot where I think I had one bar, which was better than the non-existent period that I’d had pretty much since Havre), the ice cream stand a block away was very welcome, and the shower facilities were — interesting.  In the Chinese sense of the term (as in the curse “may you live in interesting times”).  But given the thunderstorm that passed overhead that night, I was just darned glad to be indoors.  The lightning got way too close for comfort, in my not so humble opinion.  At least it didn’t strike my car…

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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