Monday, September 6, 2010 Light to moderate rain with strong winds,
48 degrees, morning; clearing, windy, 58 afternoon MOUNTAIN TIME ZONE
As we drove north on US 85, we finally saw the oil wells we've been hearing about. The oil wells, dotting fields here and there, are unobtrusive. It's what it takes to put them there that's ugly. Piles of pipe and other unidentifiable staging equipment lays in piles near the roads. Enormous drill rigs and tank farms occupy large tracts of land while huge double tractor-trailers whiz by one after the other. RV's and FEMA-like trailers are everywhere, temporary housing for the workers. Fortunately for North Dakota, all of this activity is benefiting their economy. There is no unemployment here. In fact, employers are searching for people to fill jobs all because of the drilling and the ancillary services it takes to sustain its operation.
Whether the roads here were in bad condition before all of this work began or not, in places they are a disaster. Two sections of US 85 are unpaved. Because of the heavy rains, these sections were muddy, greasy and nearly impassable. Our vehicle slipped and slid through the mire, becoming covered with a thick coat of red gunk. Thankfully, our all-wheel drive got us through. (I have no idea how long we would have had to wait for AAA if we'd been stuck out in that remote area.)
THEODORE ROOSEVELT NP, NORTH UNIT: At this Visitors Center, we learned from a short film that this is a land of extremes. It is semi-arid, receiving only 14" of rain and 30" of snow per year. The temperatures fluctuate between -40 and 100 degrees, and the predominately west wind is relentless.
Entering the park, meadows are filled with silver sage, and stands of cottonwoods line the banks of the Little Missouri River. Further on
the awe-inspiring Badlands come into view. They are more rugged here than in the South Unit due to more rapid erosion over the years. Canyons, buttes, coulees, and draws work together to shed water into the Little Missouri River. But not only is the terrain more rugged, it is more colorful, and the rock formations more varied: some round, some pebbly, some collapsed at the bottom of a steep butte.
Our ability to get out and enjoy the park was limited because of the steady rain and strong winds. We stopped to read the informational boards and take pictures from the car. At three points we ventured down short trails to snap shots of the river, an oxbow, and an unusual rock formation---name forgotten for the moment. We were fortunate to see two herds of bison, tucking themselves close to a hill in an attempt to escape the rain.
FORT UNION TRADING POST: To avoid creating extra laundry, we took the car through a car wash on the way to the Fort Union Trading Post. Originally the fort was built on the Little Missouri River, but the river, continually meandering, has left it about a half mile away now. Fort Union was the place where the fur traders and the Indians came to do their trading. A certain protocol had to be followed: first a meal, then a time of pipe-smoking, casual conversation to catch up on happenings since their last meeting, and then the presentation of gifts to the chiefs who did the trading for their entire tribes. Negotiations could then begin, and they often continued over a period of several days. Furs of all kinds (beaver, buffalo, ermine, otter, deer, and even mice) were traded for knives, fabric, cooking utensils, dishes, and tools among many other items. Once furs were no longer fashionable, however, the fort fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down. The accurate reconstruction we visited was possible because of detailed paintings and drawings made at the time the fort was in use.
We left the fort and traveled another unpaved road, dry this time. Very few homes are along this 16 mile route. There are no towns nearby, so people must have to travel many miles to shop.
Once we reached US2W, we were traveling through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. As we've seen in the past, the towns and the homes on the reservation are ill-kept and in need of repair. Moreover, many of the homes are identical in style, shape, and color while the ubiquitous casino is just down the road. Speaking of US2, we were disturbed to see the number of crosses lining the road, marking where people had been killed. Not only were the crosses numerous, but many were in groups of two. Since the road is so straight, we were left to wonder what caused all of the accidents.
Tonight we are in Wolf Point, MT. On our trip here we noticed that train tracks follow the road---or more likely the other way around---and both follow the Missouri River. Numerous trains, both freight and Amtrak, whizz by on a regular basis.
Tonight Phil has been on the internet and on the phone searching for motel rooms for the next two nights. After lots of calling back and forth, we hopefully have one night each in sister motels, the first in East Glacier and the second in Browning. (We would have loved to stay put two nights in a row.) We had hoped that after Labor Day finding a room would no longer be such a challenge. Tomorrow we expect to have a full day of traveling, arriving in Glacier NP just in time for the next round of rain.
TODAY'S ROUTE: US85N to US2W to ND1804 to MT327 to US2W