We stayed at the shady Rest RV park last night in northern Montana – a sleepy mix of full-time and transient residents with nice shading aspen trees between the sites. Our draw here was laundry facilities and free wi-fi, both of which we were craving after a week on the road in relatively remote locations. We’ve chosen to travel east here on route 2, a “red” highway, but really a two lane, no shoulder work horse of a road connecting the widely spaced wheat farms and cattle ranges that fill the landscape.
Since leaving the mountains of western Montana, the land has been almost pancake flat, the road running just 50-60 miles south of the Canadian border. No irrigation is in place here, and the sparse yield is reflected by the sparse population. We’ve passed through three Indian reservations, firs the well-know Blackfoot reservation, then two lesser known – the Belknap and then the Fort Peck reservation. The land and it’s use on and off the reservations is almost indistinguishable, but on the reservation the federal cookie cutter houses give things away.
We are traveling roughly parallel to the Missouri River which runs west to east. It’s path to our south is visible by the tell-tale larger aspen, willow and oak trees that form its flood plain banks. Up here miles to the north it is mostly just slightly rolling prairie, plowed or fenced. The rail line runs alongside the highway – and every 30-40 miles a modest grain elevator waits on a rail siding. We’ve seen a few trains, 100’s of car long some moving, some sided, awaiting to fill a handful of cars at each elevator.
This is the route Lewis and Clark followed on their exploratory journey west. They often ventured north and south of the Missouri river in search of game, and other local knowledge. Here there are roadside markers with snippets of that trip recalled.
The sky stretches from the horizon flat ahead, left and right to fill all my vision. Entire symphonies of cloud formations can be seen with this vantage point – with the puffy cumulo-nimbus down below and the high stratus wisping along over it all. Then there are the patches of deep blue in which it all floats.
Its taken a full day, but we’ve finally crossed Montana and have entered North Dakota. Now the flat plain begins to roll – like large sea swells in the ocean of prairie land. We also turn south to make for the super highway a hundred miles to our south, through the Missouri National Forest, as population density is soon to increase on rt 2 and the town speed limits will impair our progress. The road begins to turn, first left then right, and we regain knowledge of how the steering wheel turns, after having it almost lashed in position for the last 10 hours of driving. It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of human endeavor required to transform this vast prairie landscape into cultivated field and fenced range land. Now, as far as my eye can search, there is evidence of the land being cultivated (by the way – even pockmarked with occasional duck-dipping oil well pumps).
Out here, the hay bales are not the small rectangular ones of my youth, but massive 1,000 pound rolls as tall as the truck in which we are traveling. They stretch out on the fields to the horizon in the places where hay has been harvested. I can’t even imagine the convoy of cross-country vehicles required to retrieve and transport these massive bales, probably 2-3 per truck load out to a waiting road trailer for subsequent transport to cattle ranch.
We stop for the night at Buffalo River State park, just inside the western border of Minnesota – having made it across North Dakota in basically one day’s driving. We picked an out–of-the-way regional park, off the interstate for the night, but failed to anticipate the dirt track auto raceway directly across the road from the park’s entrance. Surely they can’t race these noisy cars all night , can they?
Sun-dried tomato pesto with roasted pine nuts on whole wheat pasta with fresh grated Parmesan cheese is dinner, along with a tomato and cucumber salad and copious amounts of California Merlot.
Grisly Bear on he shore of the lake - see the tell-tale hump?
The badlands of North Dakota
We drove right beneath the right end of this rainbow... ad low and behold, my pot of gold was sitting right beside me!