August 27 Continental Divide to Fort Peck

The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here.

Divide_to_FortPeck The wind blew hard all night, yet it never really cooled off until this morning.  We are surrounded by thin lodgepole pines with a few subalpine fir trees in this high elevation habitat, more than 5000 feet.  I was surprised at the warmth, and could feel the difference in the air.  We are over the Continental Divide and the climate is now more influenced by continental air masses rather than the Pacific air flow that controls much of the weather in the northwest.  The major difference is felt in the summer rains that happen east of the Rockies.  Out west we have a long dry summer, and the soils reflect that difference.  The deep dark soils found on the plains get summer rain. 

I was grateful that the campground seemed to be well managed, without many dead or diseased trees, especially as I watched them whirl and twirl in the high winds.  The sound was soothing during the night, and I slept really well in spite of the warmth and slight humidity.  Morning sunlight illuminated the high mountains of Glacier Park to our north as we hooked up the rig and were on the road by 7:45, hoping to make up the extra miles we would have to drive due to our early stop in the forest.  I drove, and in spite of the wind, was pleasantly surprised at how well the rig handled.  I think most of the wind was coming directly from behind, and we were being pushed along, not a bad thing for the gas mileage on this day.

FortPeck_to_Dickinson (12)Within a very short few miles we were out of the mountains, passing through East Glacier, and onto the high plains.  This part of Montana seemed very dry, with only a few wheat fields with short stubby wheat nearing harvest.  As we traveled east, the wheat fields became more prevalent, with wide strips of fallow land.  I noticed a lot off what appeared to be CRP grasslands, the Conservation Reserve Program set up to remove some fields from production, seed them to  grass for a minimum of ten years, and pay the farmers a stipend for doing so.  The main objective is to protect highly erodible lands from severe erosion, but it also helps to keep crop prices up.  Could agriculture manage at all in this country without government support?  Who knows, but I can’t imagine the free market system really working when it comes to food production.  Wonder how the big corporations would outsource it if they didn’t have the government subsidies for agriculture.

After being in the close up hills of the California foothills, covered with thick brushy vegetation, I especially appreciated the wide view of sky and plains.  Subtlety becomes the norm, with small differences providing entertainment.  As the miles slid by I noticed that the grasses on the right of ways were becoming more lush and green, reflecting the increasing precipitation as we traveled east. 

Our route is still Highway 2, so far a two lane road with excellent surface and very little traffic.  In the past, I have crossed Montana in I-90 and the difference is striking.  It’s wonderful to travel along at 60mph without having to worry about the heavy truck traffic on the interstate. We stopped in Shelby to try for an internet connection, and a phone connection to cancel our Ontario Provincial Park reservations.  It was a bit of a shock to find out that this would cost us a 50 percent fee to cancel simply because our reservations were made more than a month ago.  I debated a moment, then decided to do it anyway.  Somehow it is more enticing to travel northern Wisconsin and The Upper Peninsula of Michigan than the long miles through forest along Canadian Highway 17.  Part of this may have to do with the time I spent on google earth last week viewing the route.  While our destinations were gorgeous, most of the route of several hundred miles seemed to be through flat thickly vegetated forestlands dominated by scraggly spruce without many views.  The decision is made, the reservations cancelled, and we now have 5 extra days to travel spontaneously.  Hopefully the Labor Day weekend campers won’t be a big problem.

Divide_to_FortPeck (2) Around mid day, we reached Havre, Montana, a town I have heard of through work but never seen.  There is a soil survey office in Havre, and it’s difficult to get soil scientists to apply for the MLRA Soil Survey Leader position for some reason.  As we drove into town, Mo checked the AAA book and found information about several interesting historical sites that we decided to take the time to visit. Something I am discovering about our NUVI is that a specific address is usually required to find something.  When I search for attractions, I get things like bowling alleys and golf courses, but not campgrounds and cultural attractions like the one we wanted.  I do hope that when I get access again to, I can buy extras that hopefully include campgrounds! After a bit of a mix-up  regarding the location of 3rd Ave vs 3rd Ave W and 3rd St, Divide_to_FortPeck (6)we found the chamber of commerce.  Havre has put of lot of thought and resources into it’s historical value and we took brochures for the Havre Residential Historic District Walking Tour and the Havre Business Historic District Walking Tour.  Our main choice was the Havre Historical Underground Tour, however, so we decided to walk just a Historic Bungalow portion of the residential tour.  There were some charming bungalows, but many of them seemed to be a bit run down, without a great deal of work.  I love bungalow style, and in places like Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington, there are some gorgeous renovations of bungalows, kept true to style.  Of course, I remember the bungalows in Pasadena that I loved as a kid, and now that whole area is called Bungalow Heaven.  It’s on a destination list for another trip someday.

We arrived at the Underground Tour just in time to leave.  The tour lasted an hour and was a fascinating view into the history of Havre.  These tours are worth the time and fees just to get the inside story.  Our tour guide was informative and knowledgeable, a short nice little lady born and raised in Havre.  Even midweek, midday, there were close to a dozen people on the tour.  Viewing the maps at the end with pushpins marking visitors locations was impressive.  There were thousands of pins from all over the world. As with many other towns in the early twentieth century, Havre’s business district burned to the ground in 1904 and the businesses were forced to take up shop in their basements in order to continue to function. 

Divide_to_FortPeck (19) A quote from the brochure: “Havre was a community that was instrumental in the taming of the West.  It was a melting pot of races, and racism was prevalent.  For this reason, the ethnic mixtures of black, red, yellow, and white created an explosive atmosphere and created the rough and tough town to be tamed.  TO this mix was added the refinement of another class of people whose temperament drew them to the concert hall and theater productions that were so lavishly provided.  A cross-section of this melodrama is presented in the historical underground tours, bringing to life the successes, the good times and the tragedies of those early years.”

We saw the meat market, the bakery, the brothels, the opium dens, the hidden safe house for the Chinese who were brought to Havre to work but were treated to cruelly by the locals.  South of Havre, is Fort Assiniboine, home to the Buffalo Soldiers, black men in the US Cavalry, another story told by our diminutive guide.  Leaving the tour, we viewed the museum, with many displays about the history of Havre, and the importance of the railroad in this part of the country.  The Railroad was the driving force for settling this part of Montana and much of the west.

Divide_to_FortPeck (35) We left Havre by 2 or so, and headed east again to our original destination of Fort Peck Dam.  Prior to Havre, much of the skies were murky with haze.  I wondered about this, if you can’t find clear skies in Montana, where are they?  I suspect much of the haze was due to the bare fields and harvest in progress, but it was good to get out of it as we approached Fort Peck.  Mo picked this campground from an internet search, and we often try to find something near water so we can kayak if time allows.  We both knew that our history tour no doubt cut short any kayaking time, but still it was at first a bit disappointing to see that the campground was below the dam, and the river wasn’t even accessible from the campground directly. 

After settling in to our spacious site and making supper, we decided to explore the surrounding area on bikes.  The park is really very nice, with open space, no water at individual sites, but good water available for filling the tank, and electricity onsite.  A wonderful paved bike trail winds around the perimeter of the park, with loops circling small ponds and the banks of the wide Missouri River as it emerges from Fort Peck Dam.  We couldn’t see the lake, and the thought of camping below a huge earthen dam is a bit disconcerting, but this one has never failed, so I let that thought go completely.  Of course, no dam has ever failed till it fails, right?

Divide_to_FortPeck (25) The bike ride was wonderful, and we saw several deer and a lovely sunset.  Even though we are in eastern Montana, somehow it feels much more Midwestern, similar to Nebraska, and I kept forgetting that we were still actually in Montana.  There were even cicadas singing in some of the big cottonwood trees. It was a lovely end to a lovely day, and we capped it off by using our lovely electricity to watch a DVD, “Did you hear about the Morgans?”.  A silly bit off unlikely fluff, but not demanding in any way and of course, a bit entertaining.  I think all the funny moments in the movie are shown in the trailers. That was a bit disappointing, but it was still fun to slow down enough to watch something anyway. 

We haven’t seen television or heard any news at all since we left.  I think there is a hurricane going on somewhere in the Gulf, Danielle.  I think we will actually have cable tomorrow night, so may get caught up on news and happenings in the world outside our own cozy space with a view of the plains.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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