13 August, 2006

Trip Report, Day Five

(Thursday, July 20, 2006)

Currently I Am In: Chinook, Montana

This morning started with a clap of thunder.

The fact that bad weather was moving in seems to have caught everyone by surprise. Last night’s weather report said that there was only a very slight chance of rain, and that the morning would start out partly cloudy with rain only possible toward the mid day. Well, morning started out with rain, rain, thunder, lightning, and more rain.

So much for the weather reports.

First stop today was another historic fort site, Fort Buford State Historical Site. This one is just outside of Williston, at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. This was one of the more important military outposts in the area, right up until the early part of the 20th Century. This site at least had many artifacts original to the fort, including the original iron stove, which the area re-enactors were want to use whenever they camped out there (like, apparently, they were scheduled to do that weekend). There are only four structures left on the site, one of which was a reproduction and another had only its skeleton still standing.

Fort Buford officer's quarters.

It was mostly raining at this time, so we didn’t go out to the farther structures and only went to two larger buildings (which had indoor tours). The first building was the fort’s Officer’s Quarters, the second was the Enlisted Barracks. The boys liked the barracks, because they got to climb in the bunk beds.

I did see something rather humorous bordering the site. Right next to the Fort grounds are some private residences. One of the site’s neighbors has actually installed a pop machine in front of the house, to cater to the site’s visitors. Ah, the American Profit Motive in action.

A half mile away is the Missouri and Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, operated by the North Dakota Historical Society. Its basically a history museum for the area, showing what life has been like in that corner of the Dakotas for the last 150 years. Didn’t get any pictures of the inside. I took one of the confluence of the two rivers, but the picture proved too dark to post.

Next up would have been Fort Union National Historical Site, which was only a few miles away. But by that time the rain had really kicked up, and I think I just decided I’d seen enough fort sites for the time being. So we got back on US 2 and headed west.

As anyone who has done any traveling on US roads has probably noticed, mile posts generally run from West to East or from South to North. This means that if you are driving on a road that is heading either West or South, the milepost numbers will be decreasing by each mile, effectively giving you an idea as to how far before the road either ends or you reach the next stateline (if you go in the opposite direction, the numbers will be ascending).

Upon entering Montana on US 2, the first milepost you find says “664". That means it is 664 miles from that point to the border of the next state (Idaho).

Montana is a BIG state.

US 2 through North-Eastern Montana is mostly a two-laned highway, but it looks like that is about to change. Like North Dakota has already done with US 2 across most of its length, Montana is in the process of turning the route from a 2-laned road to a 4-laned highway. Work is already underway around Glasgow to expand the road, and there are signs up and down the road (mostly in front of businesses) urging people to support “4 for 2" (4 lanes for US 2). From what I can see along the construction sites, the plan is to do the same kind of bypassing North Dakota has already done. Which means once more, if you want to go through a small town, you will soon have to get off the main road. I know the reason why a lot of these businesses are supporting this move, but I have to wonder how supportive they’ll be when the bypasses are put in and business starts moving away from the central districts they are now.

Stopped in a little town called Dodson, Montana. By this time the weather had improved tremendously. Nice little picturesque quasi-historic hotel there; if it weren’t for the fact that I thought it was too early in the day to settle down, I might have looked to see if there was a room available. Ahh, maybe the next time I pass this way.

Finally arrived in the town of Chinook, Montana. This place really surprised me. Going through Montana today, most of the towns we encountered were dusty places, many of them seemingly (and sadly) in various states of deferred maintenance. Many of these towns were on the various Reservations we encountered along the way, but not all. And even the better off towns seemed a little on the deserted and primitive side. But not Chinook. Paved streets, side walks in even the residential neighborhoods, well-kept houses with spacious lawns, an active downtown district with no boarded-up buildings... you have to wonder what it is that this town is doing that the others aren’t. It probably helps matters that Chinook is a county seat, but none of the other Montana county seat towns we’ve encountered today (Malta, Glasgow, Wolf's Point) seem as well kept-up as this town. The place impressed me enough that we’ve gotten a hotel room at the Chinook Motor Inn, and are staying the night.

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