16 July 2010 - 1:39Trip, part 3

The next goal was Fort Peck Dam in Montana, which I have kind of wanted to visit since I read Bucking the Sun by Ivan Doig years ago. Since it is in the middle of nowhere a cross country trip seemed like the only realistic time to do this. It would have been ~14 hrs from Eau Claire, which is too much for one day (sorry, Russell). However, we made through all of Minnesota and ND and then part of Montana the first day. It was indeed big and flat, but beautiful in its way. We saw a storm but got only a few drops of rain ourselves. We took some pictures of the storm, and I got a cool picture of clouds that looked the face of a fox. John figured out how to bracket exposures on the camera, which was helpful. We got off the hwy to try to get some pictures that weren’t through bugs on the window and ended up at one of those exits where after the first few hundred feet, the road turns to dirt. I took pictures of that too. (I will post some of these pictures eventually. Really.)

After a lot of driving, we got to Glendive, MT at maybe 9 or 10 PM. This is where we would have to turn off 94 to go north to Ft. Peck, and we wanted to stay there, but apparently there were no rooms in the whole town due to an influx of people because of something to do with oil. The woman at the front desk of one hotel told us there was one motel in a town called Circle, on the way up to the dam, though she had never been there and couldn’t vouch for it. As we were leaving, a guy with a small truck who was also searching for a room came in. He was also heading north, so we followed him to Circle, where there was only one room in the motel. He kindly told us to take it, walked out the door, and got back in his truck. I am not sure if he drove to the next town or just slept in the truck. Circle is a tiny town, and the proprietor of the motel came out in her bathrobe to take our money and give us the room key. There was a three dollar discount for paying cash. The room itself was old and worn, but clean, and there was a fridge and a microwave.

Before we got back on the road in the morning, we walked around for a few minutes and took pictures. A long-haired guy mowing the lawn asked if we were photographers and started talking with us. There was an old drill bit from an oil rig sitting in the yard as decoration. It had Chinese characters on it. He told us that the joke used to be that they were drilling to China so he looked up how to say “entrance to China” in the library and painted it on the side of the drill bit. I am not sure if this is true, but it’s a good story. He asked where we were heading and when we said Ft. Peck Dam, he was the first person who didn’t look at us like we were kinda insane for this plan. He suggested we go west on 200 and then north on 24. Rte 200 was rolling hills/pasture, but 24 was full of buttes that were just gorgeous in an almost otherworldly sort of way.

Got to Fort Peck and stopped at what turned out to be the spillway to take a bunch of pictures. Then we went to the “interpretive center,” a small museum. We looked around there and learned that apparently T. Rexes are only found in North America, with a prime specimen having been found nearby. Who knew. We arranged to go on a tour of the powerhouse, which started at 1:00. We asked for a good place for lunch and were sent to a small restaurant slightly past the town itself. When we walked in and looked around, an older man sharing a table with a teenager said that we should sit with them, so we did. He was from the next town east, about an hour away. He had brought the girl, a neighbor, to help him fix up his boat and was now buying her lunch. We chatted a bit and asked about all the cows we had seen at what appeared to be small farms. Were all of these places making “grass fed beef” to sell to yuppie foodies? He said that they just get the cattle started and then sell them to the big feedlots.

The tour itself was pretty interesting. Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures, it seemed that we got to see most of the inner workings. It was striking how clean the place was, despite having been a working power plant for over 50 years. The tour guide was a nursing student on a summer job and didn’t know much beyond what she had been told, but between that info and bugging John I learned at least the basics of how dams generate power.

Then we got back on the road, driving along Route 2 across the northern part of the state. Lots of space – I understand “Big Sky Country” better now. Stopped at Havre, a town of ~9000, at about 7:00 for dinner. I asked our waiter what the next town west was that would have a place to sleep, and how far it was. He told us Chester, with two motels. Chester was an hour away so we initially decided to just stay at Havre but no luck – no one there had any rooms. One desk clerk told us that there were lots of government workers in town because of a recent flood south of the area, and we did pass some FEMA trucks in one of the hotel lots. Moving along… The first motel in Chester was full. The second one looked scarily seedy. So we called the next town… and the next one… no luck. They told us the closest hotel rooms to be had were in Great Falls, which was something like three hours south. We had hoped to stay east of Glacier National Park and drive across on Going to the Sun Road the next day (Wednesday), but it seemed that wasn’t going to happen. We drove across the south end of the park, on Route 2, and ended up in Kalispell at about 1 AM. Apparently there were no rooms in Kalispell either. After trying a couple of hotels, we ended up at a total dump called the blue & white motel, where we got what had to be the worst room in the place. Perhaps it actually was the last room available in the whole town… or state.

Wednesday morning we called hotels first thing and found a room in a better place (one that had rejected us the night before) and then headed up to Glacier. On the way we went to the Hungry Horse Dam and took some pictures of that. (This dam was John’s request.) At Glacier, our original intention was to drive Going to the Sun Road to the eastern end and then stop along the return trip, but we ended up stopping multiple times for photos. Also there was traffic, amazingly enough, largely due to construction. But we were on vacation, and we got to everything eventually, so it was no big deal. Got to Rising Sun and had lunch/dinner there. I think it was around 4:30, or maybe 5:00, by then. On the way back we stopped for a short hike along the side of St. Mary’s lake. When we got back to the trailhead we saw a bear. John took a really cute picture of him:

A picture of a Black Bear

Black Bear, Glacier National Park, 14 July 2010

Got back in the car and went up to Logan pass, where we took the obligatory continental divide photo, then back to Kalispell for the night.

Today we went back to Glacier for a couple of hours. We took a side road off to the northwest and saw completely different terrain – relatively gentle hills and lots of conifers, many of which had been burned. We went for a short hike at the very end of this road, a loop through burned area that had been regrowing for 10 or 20 years. There were conifers, birches, huckleberries, a few wild strawberries, and what appeared to be a tiny rose bush. Then it was back on the road, to Libby, MT for dinner, and on to Sandpoint, ID for the night. Tomorrow: Seattle.

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